Friday, June 26th, 2015

Hispaniola Sustainability Forum Enlists Plastics, Recycling Industries in Effort to Solve Environmental Problems in Developing Countries

Spend all the money you’d like on machinery, collection bins and other pieces of recycling infrastructure; they won’t be worth much if people don’t fill them with recyclable products. The culture of recycling can often be as important as the infrastructure that supports it, and while here in the U.S. we have both, in other nations, they have neither.

DRBeachPhotoThat’s a problem that Jesús D’Alessandro, a sustainability researcher for the Universidad Iberoamericana (UNIBE) and director of the Foro Hispaniola de Sostenibilidad (FHS), is trying to bring his colleagues together to solve. “I lived in Japan for nearly four years,” he said, “and it was great to see that everyone cooperates. You have schedules issued by the municipalities and you have the days when the garbage is going to be collected, including polyethylene terephthalate (PET), glass and metals. You have to actually wash the recyclables, classify them and keep them at home until the truck comes along. It is a great example of community cooperation.”

The achievement of this level of awareness and cooperation between citizens and the public and private forces that enable this system to work is a result of a long-lasting social cohesion process in Japan, according to D’Alessandro, who noted that in his home country of the Dominican Republic, that process is only just beginning. “The work of educating the society on these basic sustainable development concepts here hasn’t yet been done with the appropriate level of seriousness,” he said.

In October D’Alessandro and other thought leaders from the region will gather for this year’s FHS. SPI first participated in last year’s edition and will be participating again this year in the shared hope that collaboration can help solve what’s both a dire situation in Hispaniola and a great opportunity—in the case of plastic waste management—for the plastics and recycling industries to crowdsource a solution to the island’s waste woes. “There are efforts from the government, but the government alone is not enough: there has to be collaboration from society,” D’Alessandro said. “We wish to integrate everyone into a single platform; everyone together dealing with these issues in real time, which is part of the virtue of the project. It’s an open platform for innovative ideas around sustainable development” that, D’Alessandro and SPI hope, can create a model for other developing nations to successfully manage their waste and recycling issues through the power of collaboration between governments, companies and thought leaders.

According to D’Alessandro, SPI’s participation is particularly valuable because of the depth of the plastic waste problem on Hispaniola (which consists of the Dominican Republic on the eastern half of the island, and Haiti on the west). “Dealing with plastics here is a big issue. Although the collecting industry has grown, there’s still very little collecting and recycling in comparison to our volumes of consumption, which makes it a huge environmental problem right now,” D’Alessandro said. “Unrecycled PET is a great problem here precisely because most of the bottles are of PET resin,” he added, noting that the transient nature of the plastic bottle adds to the problem, particularly when it’s used so frequently in a country that lacks both a culture of recycling and the infrastructure to support it. “The bottle is the item with the shortest service life, particularly the 20-ounce PET bottle. It’ll last in your hand for as little as a minute and a half,” D’Alessandro said. “That is why we have tons on the streets and, of course, there are other types of plastic packaging wasted as well, but the vast majority has longer service life and less demand.”

As any consumer in the U.S. is probably aware, PET is an extremely recyclable material, but again, in the presence of a lot of PET bottles, and in the absence of a recycling culture and recycling infrastructure, the problem has festered, creating both an environmental threat and other economic pressures on local companies and the state. “If there is no culture of recycling, and particularly a culture of classifying the garbage at home, you put all of those costs on the state, and of course the state is already struggling to face other domestic challenges,” D’Alessandro said. “We’re fostering a huge environmental problem and the state will not be able to handle it on its own. In fact, it’s not supposed to do it alone. Our generation is going to have to aid the process.”FHSLogo

The size of the problem in Hispaniola is matched only by the size of the opportunity it presents to industry and sustainability-minded policymakers and residents. Investments in technology and infrastructure on the island will go a long way toward ensuring Hispaniola isn’t consumed by a wave of PET bottles, but securing those investments, no matter how much we take them for granted here in the U.S., will require collaboration. “We’re missing an opportunity, while creating and sustaining an environmental problem,” D’Alessandro said. “We have the challenge to grasp the problem from a systemic perspective, and educate normal people about this issue.”

With any luck, D’Alessandro hopes the collaborative solutions discussed and implemented at this year’s FHS will spread beyond the shores of Hispaniola. “We wish to do this every year as long as it is possible, and so far it has been of interest to many people,” he said. “The goal is to gather everyone at a single table to discuss the challenges of society, and become a reference point for other societies in other places where this is a challenge,” a worthy goal, and one that fits firmly within SPI and the plastics industry’s pursuit of zero waste.

For more information of FHS, or to attend, visit their Facebook page here.

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

SPI Member Phoenix Technologies Seeks to Move Forward by Integrating Upstream

A photo of Phoenix's new wash line.

A photo of Phoenix’s new wash line.

Vertical integration as a business strategy has always been risky, a fact never more thoroughly illustrated than when Apple upset the natural order of the computing industry in the late 1970s by churning out units more efficiently than its competitors by using a host of independent contractors, rather than its own vertically-integrated production line.

Plastics isn’t necessarily the computing industry, and the world that Apple revolutionized was different than the world of today. Vertical integration still can present business risks to companies as an expansion strategy, but the plastics supply chain continues to be driven by the needs downstream, which is to say, driven by their brand owner customers.

Brand owners are looking for improved product quality, and a lower carbon footprint. To meet those needs, plastics companies are looking for greater control over their supply chain, hoping to make the changes necessary to meet customer expectations, whether they’re for product quality or for more sustainable and efficient manufacturing attributes. Vertical integration can offer them that control.

Case in point: SPI Member and SPI Recycling Committee Executive Member Phoenix Technologies International, a leading producer of recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET), recently announced an $18 million expansion to enable upstream production integration—the company will add a new proprietary wash line, partially replacing its need to engage a third-party wash operation to create clean flake. Previously, Phoenix typically either purchased clean flake directly or sourced it from baled bottles which have been reclaimed from curbside collection, and then engaged another company to wash it. With the new line, they can skip that last step, allowing them to take the dirty PET, wash it into clean PET flake, and recycle it into rPET.

“Combining the total supply chain, from bale to final pellet, and its processes, will allow us to optimize both the wash and flake processing components in ways that we could not when clean flake was coming from external sources,” said Phoenix President Bob Deardurff in a press release. “The new wash line also will enable Phoenix to fine-tune critical manufacturing variables so that we can better deliver processing and performance attributes of value to our customers.”

An added benefit, one that speaks directly to the demands brand owners, is that by adding its own wash line, Phoenix will be better able to manage its own environmental footprint, specifically by allowing the company to determine how much water it uses in the wash process and reduce the amount of fuel that’s used to transport materials from one location, to a third-party provider, and back again. The new line will be located in close proximity to Phoenix’s existing manufacturing plant, helping them reduce carbon emissions intrinsic in their production process. Phoenix already uses less energy per pound to manufacture rPET when compared to virgin PET; the new line further contributes to a reduction in their environmental footprint.

Again, what this integration grants Phoenix is more control over the production process, which in turn translates into a better, more rapid and ultimately more profitable response to the sustainability and product quality demands of brand owners. When the wash line becomes operational, they’ll be able to control another aspect of their business and scale it in such a way that it decreases their environmental impact while maintaining, or even enhancing, service delivery and product quality.

In short, Phoenix in many ways is reacting to a brand owner need by integrating upstream. It’s trite but, as brand owners continue to tell the plastics supply chain to jump, vertical integration seems like a uniquely appropriate response.

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

Arizona Plastic-Bag Bill a Necessary Step toward Limiting Needlessly Burdensome Regulatory Complexity

FPA_2012_winner-Hilex-Poly-KrogerLast year the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) estimated that the federal regulatory compliance burden for U.S. manufacturing companies exceeds $2 trillion on an annual basis. That’s a staggering figure on its own, but it pales in comparison to what the total eventually would be if every company had to comply with standards, laws and regulations that varied from locality to locality.

The last Census estimated that there were just over 77,000 local governments in the U.S. (excl. school districts). If the cost of compliance for manufacturers is $2 trillion now, what would it be if every one of those local governments grafted their own regulatory scheme on top of what’s already present at the state and federal levels?

Encouraging new opportunities for manufacturing growth in this country will require our legislators to think not merely of taxes, but of new regulations as well. “America’s regulatory framework is in need of a serious reboot,” SPI President and CEO William Carteaux said in the wake of the NAM report. “Comprehensive reform is necessary to allow the nation’s manufacturers to grow their businesses, hire more workers and keep America competitive abroad.”

“A modern regulatory regime based on scientific, technological and economic realities, rather than outdated facts, emotion and hearsay, will ensure the safety of workers, consumers and the environment while still fostering the innovation and job growth that manufacturing is poised to unleash,” he added.

Tailoring this regime to create adequate protections for individuals without overburdening manufacturers with redundancies, needless complications and laws based on bad science will require thoughtful analysis, enactment and implementation, not the broad-stroke, more-is-always-more approach that seems to be popular among so many activists. To this point, Arizona Senate Bill 1241, signed into law this week by Gov. Doug Ducey, is a small but meaningful victory in the battle against baseless overregulation and arbitrary statutes that make compliance a minefield for businesses.Bag2Bag-in-store-160w

By ensuring that the authority to regulate packaging and auxiliary containers rests in state capitols and not in the hands of local governments, SB 1241 certifies that businesses will have to comply with only one set of regulations in Arizona, rather than 432 different sets: one for each local government in the state (excl. school districts). It’s a pro-business bill that precludes the creation of a patchwork of new regulations. More than that, by heading off potential regulatory threats, businesses can plan for the future without worrying that new, increasingly segmented regulations could inhibit them. SB 1241 is a sign that Arizona understands how important that certainty is to business when making investments and moving forward. By providing that certainty, they’ve made it easier for companies to concentrate more on growing their business and creating jobs and less on future compliance challenges. Hopefully other states will follow in Arizona’s footsteps.

Monday, April 13th, 2015

Telling the Plastics Industry’s Story through…Food Packaging Compliance?

SPI’s Project Passport aims to make life easier for brand owners, plastics manufacturers and materials suppliers and is part of an open discussion about science, industry and consumer safety.

FoodPackaging_StockPhotoBrand owners are often correctly viewed as the conduit through which the consumer speaks to the rest of the plastics supply chain. The crazy, upside-down world in which they operate is a demanding one, where information is more available than ever before, and yet confusion continues to run rampant throughout the supply chain, starting with consumers, particularly when it comes to something as ubiquitous as the packaging in which their food is stored.

“The public is understandably confused by the conflicting messages they receive about product safety,” said Kyra Mumbauer, SPI senior director, global regulatory affairs, “and when people  get confused about the safety of the packaging their food comes in, they typically ask the brand owner, whose name is on the package itself, who then asks the manufacturer, who then asks the materials supplier before an answer is finally provided.”

Many of these requests for information go beyond what’s required from a regulatory standpoint, which only complicates the process for diligent materials suppliers and plastics manufacturers that are doing their best to assuage the concerns of their customers. “There may not be a common level of education about what is required from a regulatory standpoint,” Mumbauer said. “But if everyone that has to convey their compliance information has a baseline, then that will lead to a reduction in the number of redundant or unnecessary questions that get asked.”

For brand owners seeking information from their suppliers about the compliance of materials that went into their packaging products, the practical aspects of acquiring and sorting this information can be daunting. At the very least they’re an unnecessary time drain. “You can get 13 different letters from your suppliers that look totally different,” Mumbauer said. “It can be really time consuming and there’s no simple way to organize those documents.”

At least, there wasn’t until now.

2015-project-psspt-4cProject Passport, the latest resource from SPI’s Food, Drug and Cosmetic Packaging Materials Committee (FDCPMC) seeks to provide “a more consistent approach to communicating vital compliance information to customers and consumers in a way that’s clear, complete and easy on the eyes.” In its current form, Project Passport’s Guideline for Risk Communication for the Global Food Contact Supply Chain is comprised of three separate components, each of which offers packaging suppliers a key tool to help them communicate the safety of their products to companies and consumers further down the food packaging supply chain:

  • An Example “Food Contact Declaration of Compliance” Form – The form is generic by design so that it can be adapted to different products marketed in various jurisdictions.
  • Instructions – These basic explanations and sample customer assurance statements provide the context to help companies complete the form quickly and effectively.
  • Quick Guides – A series of topical guides is interspersed throughout the document on select topics to provide added clarity on the instructions.

These tools will make it easier for brand owners to make sense of what goes into their packaging products, while simultaneously making it easier for companies to sell their products globally by preemptively addressing the compliance concerns of their potential customers. “New regulatory affairs professionals marketing a product globally can look at this and see what they need to be conveying to their customers,” Mumbauer said, noting that Project Passport currently is designed to address the needs of U.S. and European Union regulatory authorities, and that while complying with these two jurisdictions typically qualifies a product for sale in most countries in the world, as participation increases, Project Passport will continue to expand as well. “By promoting wide adoption of this form and this guideline we’ll have a more consistent approach to communicating information,” she said.

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

SPI, Dart Container Offer Recycling Exit Strategy for EPS Plastic Foam Materials

For Dart, a leading manufacturer of single-use foodservice material, among numerous other plastic products, New York City’s decision to ban plastic foam has raised questions, but hasn’t weakened their resolve to correct some of the most pernicious myths about this material.

“We’re still talking about it and determining our next steps,” said Christine Cassidy, recycling manager at Dart Container. “Dart is one of the leading manufacturers of single-use foodservice material and about half of it is foam. We also manufacture paper, rigid plastic and compostable products. If we’re sending it out to customers we want to make sure they have outlets to recover it at the end of the day,” she said.

This commitment to providing end-of-life opportunities for their products doesn’t prevent legislatures like New York’s from acting rashly, or, given the city council’s central assertion, from acting on false information. “A lot of people say it can’t be recycled, like New York did,” Cassidy said, “but that is not true.”

Dart Container’s PS foam recycling support includes collection/shipping containers.

Dart Container’s PS foam recycling support includes collection/shipping containers.

SPI’s Recycling Committee continually aims to combat falsehoods about plastic materials and their recyclability. But in addition to campaigning against misinformation, like the kind on which New York based its EPS ban, the Recycling Committee works to make recycling easier, and more widespread. Most recently it contributed to this effort with its EPS Recycling Equipment Guide, which offers materials recovery facilities (MRFs) across the country a useful tool for purchasing the equipment they need to make EPS recycling a part of their operations.

“It’s not too much equipment,” Cassidy said, offering a counterpoint to EPS recycling opponents who argue that the process is too expensive or too complicated for EPS recycling to go mainstream. The more widespread this equipment becomes at MRFs nationwide, the more easily this material can be recycled through curbside programs, Cassidy added. “With something like curbside recycling, you can add EPS into the bins and it’ll get collected just like paper, plastic and glass, and it’s sorted just like all those other materials at the MRF,” she said, noting that “NYC found adding EPS to their recycling program would not increase mileage or routes on their collection trucks. Haulers typically operate using a certain amount of weight as a threshold. Once a truck has accumulated enough weight, they have to trek to the MRF and drop off what they have. “With foam it’s lightweight so it is able to travel in the unused space on the truck,” Cassidy said. “EPS is only 1 percent of the waste stream.” Like other material bans elsewhere in the country, the good intentions of policymakers don’t exactly translate into real environmental benefits. For example, New York’s ban on foam only applies to foodservice foam, meaning takeout containers and things of that nature, but not egg cartons or meat trays, or the type of foam used to package electronics. “Those aren’t part of the ban,” Cassidy said. “It’s a small fraction of what foam is out there.”

This is an important point. While proponents like the simplicity of material bans, it’s hard to consider them a success when so much material still ends up going to the landfill, rather than to a recycling facility. “They’re really not accomplishing much with the ban,” Cassidy deadpanned. “If they really wanted to do something meaningful, they should have accepted the offer to have it recycled.”

Public education is a great deal of the battle for Dart, and for SPI’s Recycling Committee. “I find that many people do not understand the benefits of foam or that it can be recycled. They usually do not have an alternative once they ban it. Compostable cups are an alternative only if public composting is available and consumer dispose of it in the right way. If not, it is just going to a landfill.” Cassidy said. “You’re saying ban a product that Dart is willing to help the city and municipality recycle, in order to go to a product that you’re going to send to the landfill.”

Laws like New York’s never seem to think beyond the ban; they don’t provide an exit strategy for the material that inevitably comes to take the place when plastic materials are no longer allowed. “If you ban it, what are you going to do with the replacements?” Cassidy said. “Right now many communities don’t have a solution.” All the excitement about material bans seems to drown out that fact; in the long run, whatever material is banned needs to be replaced by something. People won’t start drinking coffee straight from the pot just because they can’t find an EPS cup. The only real solution that provides a plan for what to do with all of these materials at the end of their usefulness is recycling or composting. “New York City only banned a minority of the foam in the city, and they’re landfilling the majority of it,” Cassidy said. “If they went with a recycling program, they’d be able to recycle 100 percent.”