Thursday, August 21st, 2014

The Green Fence and Why Every Recycler Needs to Pay Attention to China

China’s ravenous consumption of scrap plastics came to a not-quite-screeching, but still drastic halt near the end of 2012. At the time, however, you’d have been forgiven for dismissing the decline as a standard seasonal aberration.

For U.S. recyclers, a period of prosperity preceded China’s decision to begin enforcing laws restricting the importation of certain scrap plastic. “Everyone agrees that there was a time when there were no questions asked,” said Xavier A. Cronin, editor of a recycled plastics report at Petro-Chem Wire. “[They said] ‘as long as it’s scrap plastic, we’ll take it.’” This attitude made China a logical and lucrative market for recyclers looking to unload scrap plastic, and the industry did its best to make hay while the sun shined. Between 2010 and 2011 U.S. exports to China of “other” scrap plastic, a catch-all term that refers to a conglomerate of multiple resins in one box, polypropylene and other materials that fall into more than one category, regularly exceeded each of the four other types of plastics exports tracked by the U.S. Census Bureau, eventually hitting 526,898 tons in October 2012.

XCronin

Xavier Cronin

At that point, however, U.S. scrap plastic export volumes to China began a major dive that has yet to reverse itself, but in November 2012 it was easy to mistake the decline for the standard seasonal drop that recyclers had come to expect around the same time near the end of every year. “When we saw a drop off we thought ‘it’s November, of course there’s a drop off,’” said David Kaplan, formerly of Maine Plastics. “You don’t want to put anything in the water ahead of Chinese New Year,” he added, because millions of migrant Chinese workers go home for the New Year and many of China’s factories, recyclers included, go dark for 15 days, and what’s more is that many of the workers stay home, extending work delays for weeks. To account for this, U.S. exporters reduce their shipping volume ahead of the holiday. “The reason it didn’t gain attention at the end of 2012, ahead of the holiday season, export volumes always drop,” Kaplan said. “Nobody noticed it because they would’ve expected a decrease in exporting anyway.”

Declines in the months thereafter effectively killed any hopeful hypotheses that the November decline was just another seasonal reduction. That’s because October 2012’s reduction coincided with the institution of China’s “Green Fence,” a series of bureaucratic hurdles and newly-stringent regulations on what scrap plastic China would accept that has, and will continue, to complicate the business of exporting to China, a market that for many is too big to ignore, despite the regulations.

David Kaplan

David Kaplan

How the Green Fence came to be, however, offers an example of China’s political unpredictability that’s vital for every company in the recycling industry to understand. The Green Fence wasn’t written the night of Sept. 30 and instituted the following day. It was China’s decision to start enforcing  laws that it had previously chosen to ignore. “The green fence was the enforcement of laws that have been on the books for years,” Kaplan said. “The word enforcement is the key because [November 2012] was really when it started. It was the result    of a political move of the government to show that they were doing something about pollution issues in China. That is the general consensus; it’s not like the U.S. started shipping them anything different, they just enforced laws that had been on the books for years.”

“The data tells the story,” Cronin said. “The U.S. census shows that the scrap exports fell after the green fence enforcement bureaucracies went into effect. On the political side that’s a whole other conversation. Tomorrow they may decide to enforce a regulation from 1986.”

China’s sudden decision to start enforcing the laws that underpin the Green Fence suggests it’s anyone’s guess what China will choose to do or when they’ll choose to do it in the future. And what’s more is that China’s outsized influence on the recycling industry means that when it trains its regulatory eye on something, the whole world feels it. In many ways the Green Fence has both kept mixed scrap plastics out, and also fenced companies in from a revenue standpoint. Staying ahead of industry and regulatory trends, increasing the quality of exported material and exploring other alternative markets for scrap plastics to reduce China’s influence on your bottom line are all vital to growing business in today’s industry.

Join Cronin and Kaplan at their SPI Webinar on Sept. 4 at 2 p.m. EST to learn more about the Green Fence’s effect on the U.S. recycling industry and how your company can stay ahead of China’s unpredictable regulatory curve. Registration is free for SPI members.

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Plastic Bottles Shed Light on Needy Families

This article originally appeared on the Plastics Makes it Possible Facebook Page

In the impoverished neighborhoods in and around Manila, Philippines, millions of people live in darkness in their homes—even in the daytime. Electricity is often too expensive, and windows are a building expense that many cannot afford.

To change this, a local social entrepreneur has created a program calledPMIP Photo 73114
A Liter of Light that illuminates the homes of underprivileged families by creating solar-powered light bulbs from a resource some may find surprising: used plastic soft drink bottles.

Volunteers for A Liter of Light begin by gathering discarded, clear plastic bottles. The volunteers then fill each bottle with water and a few drops of chlorine bleach (to retard algae growth). They then fit the bottle snugly into a custom-cut hole in the roof of a home, with the bottom of the bottle extending down into the room below. This allows the clear plastic bottle and water to refract the sun’s rays and scatter light into the house. A silicone plastic sealant applied to the roof and bottle prevents water leaks during rainy tropical weather.

On a sunny day, this simple device can produce approximately 50 watts of light in an otherwise dark room.

Because plastics are lightweight and durable, the bottle lights are easy to install and are expected to last more than five years. And the materials to produce the lights cost very little—or nothing, in the case of discarded bottles gathered by volunteers—which makes it possible for A Liter of Light to help many, many people. The program envisions installing plastic bottle lights in one million homes by the end of 2012.

In an area in which some households earn less than a dollar a day, the plastic bottle lights reduce household expenses, as well as the fire hazards associated with faulty electrical wiring and candles. And when the lights need to be replaced, the plastic bottles can be recycled and new solar lights can be installed for little or no cost.

People often find creative ways to reuse plastic products. These new uses can be practical (such as reusing a plastic grocery bag as a trash can liner), or they can be fun (like making a Halloween costume out of plastic bottles). And sometimes, they can help improve people’s lives by creating a solution to a big problem—in this case, “a sustainable lighting project which aims to bring the eco-friendly bottle bulb to low-income communities nationwide.”

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Recycled Ocean Plastics Shape New Soap Bottle

By Michael Salmon, Public Affairs Manager

New soap bottle made partially from recycled ocean plastics.

New soap bottle made partially from recycled ocean plastics.

At SPI’s board meeting in Miami, Rudi Becker, from a San Francisco-based soap company called “Method” that recycles as well, highlighted a recent trip to Hawaii where he organized a series of beach cleanups on the north shore of Oahu. From the material collected on the beaches, Method and recycling partner, Envision Plastics produced a soap bottle that is a blend of recovered ocean plastic and post-consumer recycled plastic, with 10 percent coming from ocean plastics. It’s a monumental step in the efforts to raise awareness about the need to clean up the world’s oceans.

“The ocean plastics program has been particularly eye-opening,” Becker said.

Method is a smaller company in the grand scheme of home and healthcare products, but they have demonstrated strong leadership on environmental stewardship.  The Method ocean plastics soap bottle “is one way to raise awareness about the issue and use our business to demonstrate smart ways of using and reusing the plastics that are already on the planet,” their website states.  The soap bottle is available at Whole Foods Market®, methodhome.com, and many other retailers.  The Method story was a perfect addition to the content of the spring meeting, as their strategy is in line  with SPI’s zero waste strategy and support for raising awareness about the issue of plastics in the ocean.

SPI remains firmly committed to addressing the issue of sustainability and recycling with sound solutions, but has now taken the step to formalize this priority by including the pursuit of zero waste strategies in its newly approved mission statement. On the pre-consumer side, SPI’s Operation Clean Sweep program, designed to prevent resin pellet loss and help keep pellets out of the marine environment, continues to expand globally and is now being implemented in eight countries.

For others looking to make things from recycled plastic, SPI recently launched RecyclePlastics365.org, a web site that serves as a “Plastics Recycling Marketplace” that connects buyers and sellers of scrap plastics materials and recycling services.

“SPI is committed to increasing the recovery of scrap plastics, and applauds innovative solutions, such as recycling the ocean plastics used in Method’s soap bottle” said Kim Holmes, SPI’s recycling expert.

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

War College in a Plastic World

By Kim Coghill, SPI Communications Director

While the concept of leading in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world has its roots in the U.S. military, the business community has borrowed the successful approach to strategic leadership and applied it to management training across industries.

“In reality, VUCA has never been more relevant, for the military and for business,” Gen. George W. Casey Jr. (Ret.), said in a Fortune magazine article that addresses parallels between his leadership challenges in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq, and the current business environment.

Recognizing the value of VUCA leadership training, organizers of the 2014 Equipment & Moldmakers Leadership Summit in October have scheduled a half-day Executive Workshop designed to apply VUCA principles to plastics manufacturing management. The program, “Leading in a VUCA World,” will be taught by international business experts from the world renowned Thunderbird School of Global Management.

“Regardless of an organization’s size and footprint, the workshop is designed to equip attendees with strategies to overcome the challenges and seize the opportunities presented in a global industry,” said Jackie Dalzell, SPI’s director of industry affairs and staff leader for the Equipment & Moldmakers Council.

Leadership thinkers have been turning to lessons learned from the military to create paradigms for surviving and thriving in a turbulent, “permanent whitewater” world where old styles of managing predictability were falling short, Thunderbird professors Paul Kinsinger and Karen Walch said in an article titled, “Living and Leading in a VUCA World.”

Kinsinger and Walch said research shows that the keys to leading in a VUCA world include possessing the knowledge, mindfulness and ability to:

  1. Create a vision and “make sense of the world.” Sense-making is perhaps more important now than at any time in modern history for many companies, as we are not too many years away from the time when the global economy will actually be truly “global,” encompassing every country and in which competitors will be emanating from everywhere.
  2. Understand one’s own and others’ values and intentions. This speaks to having a core ability to know what you want to be and where you want to go at all times, even while being open to multiple ways to get there.
  3. Seek clarity regarding yourself and seek sustainable relationships and solutions. Leading in turbulence demands the ability to utilize all facets of the human mind. Even the most impressive cognitive minds will fall short in the VUCA world — it will take equal parts cognitive, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical intelligence to prevail.
  4. Practice agility, adaptability and buoyancy. This means the responsive and resilient ability to balance adroitly and right yourself to ride out those turbulent forces that cannot be avoided, and to pivot quickly to seize advantage of those that can be harnessed.
  5. Develop and engage social networks. The ability to recognize that the days of the single “great leader” are gone. In the VUCA world, the best leaders are the ones who harness leadership from everyone.

The Executive Workshop scheduled for the Summit is based on strategies developed by the U.S. Army College at the end of the Cold War to address threats that created a VUCA world.  Attendees will learn fundamental principles of a VUCA “antidote” combined with specific strategies resulting from in-depth research on trends impacting the plastics industry. The SPI 2014 Equipment & Moldmakers Leadership Summit is scheduled Sunday, Oct. 26 through Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014, at Loew’s Ventana Canyon in Tucson, Ariz.

Other highlights of the Summit include a Brand Owner Panel discussing technology needs to support their product innovations, what equipment manufacturers and moldmakers need to know about new and reformulated materials, update on the U.S. manufacturing renaissance and re-shoring initiatives, and much more.  Register today by clicking here, seats are filling up fast!  We look forward to seeing you in Tucson.

 

 

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Chicago City Officials Vote Against American Manufacturing, 30,000 Jobs in Jeopardy

By Lee Califf, Executive Director, American Progressive Bag Alliance

Plastics industry jobs in Illinois suffered a blow on April 24 when the Chicago City Council’s environmental committee unanimously passed a partial plastic bag ban in the city. The measure is scheduled to go before the full city council this week before it is official.

This is a concern of SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, who cites the jobs created from the plastics industry as a major plus for America’s economic recovery. The plastic bag manufacturing and recycling sector in the United States employs 30,800 people in 349 communities across the country. That’s a significant number of people in the total 900,000 employed by the U.S. plastics industry.

The plastics industry impact in Chicago is a snapshot of the entire country. An in-depth data analysis of the plastics industry’s 2012 performance globally and in the U.S. is detailed in the newly released reports titled, “The Definition, Size and Impact of the U.S. Plastics Industry,” and “Global Business Trends, Partners, Hot Products.”

The report contained the following numbers:

  • $41.7 billion – the U.S. plastics industry’s payroll in 2012
  • 1.4 million – the number of jobs attributed to the plastics industry when suppliers are added
  • $456 billion – the total U.S. shipments attributed to the plastics industry when suppliers are added
  • 6.7 of every 1,000 non-farm jobs – in the U.S. are in the plastics industry
  • 15.8 of every 1,000 non-farm jobs – in Michigan are in the plastics industry
  • 15.4 of every 1,000 non-farm jobs – in Indiana are in the plastics industry
  • 13.3 of every 1,000 non-farm jobs – in Ohio are in the plastics industry
  • 1 – California (because it is the largest state) has the most plastics industry employees (74,000)
  • 50 – number of states where plastics industry employees and manufacturing activities are found

SPI’s economic reports are free of charge for members. For non-members, the cost of each report is $395. Both reports may be downloaded at http://www.plasticsindustry.org/store