Monday, December 1st, 2014

Wittmann Battenfeld Opens Doors to Educate Next Generation of Plastics Workers

At the heart of events like Manufacturing Day is the concept that if skilled trades are being taught in the nation’s classrooms less and less, then manufacturers themselves must pick up the slack. Opening the doors of their factories to welcome communities, educators and students allows them to educate potential future employees and demonstrate the true value of their work as well as the cutting-edge technology and processes that make manufacturing stick in the mind of the next generation of workers as a career of the future rather than a career of the past.

This year’s Manufacturing Day was a great success, and next year’s event will be too, but companies need not wait all the way until October to open their doors ever year. Welcoming the younger generation into your facilities is a good idea at any time throughout the year, and, when done diligently, can leave a lasting impact on communities, educators and the future employees of the company itself.

Wittman Battenfeld President David Preusse addresses attendees at the company's Open House and Future Careers Event.

Wittmann Battenfeld President David Preusse addresses attendees at the company’s Open House and Future Careers Event.

Wittmann Battenfeld, Inc. became the latest SPI member to do just that, opening the doors of their headquarters in Torrington, Connecticut. to the public earlier this month. Wittmann President David Preusse said that while they expected the event to draw between 60 and 80 attendees, it ended up drawing over 200. That’s because the Open House and Future Careers Event hosted at Wittmann was something of a master class on how companies can successfully plan and execute gatherings such as these at their own facilities. Welcoming in members of the community in a way that’s as beneficial to the company’s future as it is to the attendees doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen without employee wide commitment and planning. Wittmann Battenfeld’s event had all of these elements, and ended up being a rousing success because of it.

Attendees, who ranged from middle-school children up through college students, parents, professors and teachers, were all split into groups and each progressed around the factory, visiting nine different stations manned by a Wittmann employee. Guests heard from Preusse, about the background of the company, as well as some information about Wittmann Battenfeld’s products and plastics manufacturing process in general, and various other employees discussed their segments of the company, their careers and the opportunities that exist to work in robotics and plastics technology. They gave demonstrations of Wittman’s machinery in action, and some even let some of the younger attendees try out some parts of the plant’s robot controls.

The employees involved with the event were mostly on the technical side, but Preusse noted that they spoke frequently about the various career opportunities available strictly within Wittmann’s corporate structure. “There are 35 different jobs that people who work for our company have, including sales and accounting and all kinds of other jobs,” he said. “People went to the different stations and learned how we program our robots, micro-molding and material handling, and each person that they came to see introduced themselves and said a bit about their history with the company,” Preusse noted, adding that many Wittmann employees have started in one function and often moved around within the company, which only increased the opportunities available to potential future employees that were in the audience that day.

“You can move around in a company like ours, and they might not have known that,” Preusse said. “We were trying to give them a sense of something they weren’t aware of.”

Open House attendees at one of the nine different stations Wittman Battenfeld set up for them to visit.

Open House attendees at one of the nine different stations Wittmann Battenfeld set up for them to visit.

This is where a great deal of the value of events like Wittmann’s comes from; there are so many things that the younger generation doesn’t know about plastics and doesn’t know about careers in plastics and in manufacturing. Open houses invite them to learn something that they otherwise wouldn’t have about a field that’s growing, innovative and, frankly, pretty cool. The flyer Wittmann used to promote the event played up the last aspect, featuring a dynamic image of a Wittmann-branded robot inviting people to register and learn more about the robotics and automated aspects of the company’s facility. “It’s hard to say we’re having a career fair for material handling and auxiliary products in the plastics industry,” Preusse said, noting that most attendees wouldn’t be excited by technical jargon and industry-specific terms, which is why the flyer focused on robots and plastics instead.

There’s also a public service aspect inherent to events like these as well, Preusse noted. “Some high school are training and schooling [in fields like robotics and engineering] but some of the kids are going to college and finding it difficult to find jobs because they didn’t really get a chance to learn about the allure or the complexity of the plastics manufacturing industry,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that they’re just not really exposed to any of that.”

As beneficial and forward-thinking as it is for a company to host events like these in order to excite a new generation of plastics workers and advocates, in many ways it’s also a generous way to get people thinking about options that they didn’t know were available to them. “The idea was that we wanted to give back to the community,” Preusse said. “People of all ages have the chance to really get a great career out of plastics working for very successful companies with great benefits. We wanted to show them some pretty cool stuff that’s happening in the plastics industry, and host an event so that they could learn about a really cool factory right here in the countryside of Connecticut.”

Tips for Making Your Company’s Open House a Success

  • Divide and Conquer – Dividing things into different stations and functions will help keep the program itself lively and engaging. Getting your employees involved in the process will leave a bigger impact on attendees as they share their own stories and passion for their work.
  • Know Your Audience – It’s important to remember that industry terms that are common on the factory floor are largely unheard of beyond a facility’s walls. Using more relatable, understandable terms in any marketing materials and event announcements will appeal to more attendees. Also if you have a target age group in mind be sure to tailor the message in those materials to the attendees you’re hoping to welcome, like the way Wittmann’s promotional flyer focused on robots to draw in younger folks.
  • Have Additional Resources – Preusse noted that they interviewed some Wittmann employees about their plastics career histories and what they enjoyed most about working in the industry and for their company. These are posted on Wittmann’s website on the jobs page, so that attendees can read more of the stories from the employees they met as they toured the facility, increasing the event’s overall impact.

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Plastic Trade Groups Teach Kids the Three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Many legislators and policymakers across the country are justifiably concerned about litter, but have been led to believe that plastic bags are a major part of the problem. They’re not. The reality is that plastic bags make up just 0.4 percent (0.4%) of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream, according to the EPA, and traditionally are less than one percent (1%) of litter.Plastic-Bags-Closeup-260w

We as a society must have an honest conversation about litter and its reduction, but that conversation needs to be both grounded in facts and science and focused on meaningful solutions. So, when policymakers consider plastic bag bans and taxes, they should (1) be aware of just how little of the country’s litter is actually made up of plastic bags, and (2) understand that local governmental resources would be better spent elsewhere. This includes supporting broader litter education campaigns focused on changing people’s behavior instead of eliminating useful products and valuable resources.

That’s why SPI and the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) support several different organizations in order to help drive the nation’s first widespread litter reduction initiative since the 1980s. A number of different programs already operate in this space. Earlier this fall, for instance, SPI partnered with JASON Learning, a nonprofit organization managed by Sea Research Foundation, Inc., and the National Geographic Society to launch the “Think Outside the Bag!” plastic film recycling contest, which asks students to create creative public awareness campaigns about flexible film and bag recycling. Not many people know to recycle these materials and therefore dispose of them in garbage bins, where they’re eventually lost to the landfill.  Through partnerships like this one, however, SPI and JASON Learning are teaching environmentally responsible behavior to the next generation of American recyclers and empowering them to educate others so that none of this material ever is wasted.

apba logo_2012In addition, the APBA strongly supports the efforts of A Bag’s Life, a public education campaign that unites nonprofits, business, community and government organizations to raise awareness regarding and make it easier for more people to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic bags.  A Bag’s Life just launched its second-annual plastic bag collection and recycling contest in the Galveston Independent School District (GISD) on November 14, 2014, in honor of America Recycles Day. Last year this successful recycling competition resulted in the collection of over 350,000 plastic bags, and this year the number of participating schools has nearly doubled. Supported by Clean Galveston and Trex, this initiative gives students and their communities until Earth Day 2015 to make a positive environmental change. The two schools with the most recycled bags per capita will win products made from recycled plastic materials and provided by Trex.spi_logo_300x151

Initiatives like this are meaningful, long-term solutions to our nation’s litter problem. Plastic bag bans and taxes are not. SPI and the APBA look forward to working together with the aforementioned organizations, and others, trying to make a real impact on litter through recycling and recycling education.

Friday, November 7th, 2014

NYC Should Abandon Regressive Bag Tax, Join SPI, APBA to Fight Litter

Given the sky-high cost of living in New York, among the highest in the country, the average consumer doesn’t have a lot of money to spare. This is particularly true in the outer boroughs, which are home to some of the poorest congressional districts in the country. So it’s disappointing that the Big Apple is the latest metropolis to contemplate misguided legislation to tax plastic grocery bags in an attempt to address litter.

Recycled plastic bags imagePlastic bag taxes are inherently regressive, doing the most damage to the people who can least afford it. Supporters often cry that these taxes are minimal and the average citizen buying groceries should be able to afford them, but in a city where 1 in 5 people lives below the poverty line, that’s naïve, insensitive and presumptuous; these taxes can be crippling for those at the bottom of the economic spectrum, who simply are doing their best to put food on the table for their families.

Moreover, New York City (NYC) has a higher percentage of non-car owning citizens than any other city in America, making plastic bags a logical and convenient choice for the city’s many residents, who get by riding buses, taking trains and walking. The plastic bag’s popularity with urban dwellers stretches back to its origins in the mid-1960s, when suburban dwellers preferred paper bags that could stand up in the trunks of their cars. Urbanites opted for plastic bags instead, since they have handles, are lighter, can hold 1000 times their weight and are reused. New Yorkers should be allowed to continue to enjoy these benefits without having to pay for the privilege.

The market economics of NYC’s grocery stores also are uniquely suited to include plastic bags, as the city isn’t dotted with big chain establishments but with tiny, owner-operated bodegas, delis, multipurpose shops and other small businesses. A bag tax could squeeze local store owners as much as it squeezes average New Yorkers.

The fact is that supporters of the NYC bag tax are misguided in their attempts to control litter. The issue here is not material; it is behavioral. Plastic bags can and should be recycled. It’s been nearly two decades since we, as a country, had an honest conversation about litter or took the time to educate and empower the next generations of schoolchildren about how to properly dispose of and recycle everything that can be recycled.spi_logo_300x151

SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association and the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) share NYC’s concern about litter, and we are ready to have a conversation about how we can eliminate it and close the loop on plastic materials. Recycled materials of all types are valuable to innovators and businessmen and good for businesses, communities and the environment. We oppose bag taxes, which are a regressive, counterproductive and intellectually lazy response to a community and environmental issue that cries out for bold action and long-term commitment.apba logo_2012

We must educate and empower our young people to make a difference. That’s why SPI recently teamed up with JASON Learning, a nonprofit organization managed by the Sea Research Foundation, in partnership with the National Geographic Society, to launch the “Think Outside the Bag!” plastic film and bag recycling contest. By asking students to come up with creative campaigns to increase awareness about recycling flexible plastic films (i.e. dry cleaner bags), product wrapping and traditional plastic grocery bags, the contest aims to make today’s youth tomorrow’s plastic recycling and anti-litter advocates. The APBA also supports A Bag’s Life, a program that helps kids and their communities learn more about recycling plastic bags while giving them the tools they need to host their own recycling events across the country.

Rather than cynically working to reduce consumer access to materials that are convenient and environmentally friendly but arbitrarily declared undesirable, we’re working to build a lasting solution to the problem of litter by helping change consumer behavior now and in the future. The plastics industry, led by SPI and the APBA, is moving the needle on recycling and reducing litter, and we won’t stop until every plastic bag is reused or recovered and every piece of litter eliminated. Instead of merely trying to tax its way out of this problem, NYC can be the leader it always has been and join us in challenging its residents to help put an end to litter once and for all.

Friday, October 31st, 2014

SPI 2014 Student Video Contest Offers Biggest Prize Package in Contest History

$8,500 in Cash, All-Expense-Paid Trip to NPE2015 Still Up For Grabs

Entrants in the Plastic Industry’s 2014 Student Video Contest, hosted by SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association and the Future of Plastics Foundation, aren’t just competing to create the best video that smartly and creatively explores the plastics industry’s bright future. They’re also competing for the largest prize package in contest history.

SPI and the Future of Plastics Foundation, along with the contest’s generous sponsors, will award prizes to the top three submissions. Third place gets $3,500, second place gets $5,000 and, if offering the biggest prize pool in the contest’s history wasn’t a big enough milestone, for the first time ever, the grand prize winner of the Student Video Contest will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Orlando, Fla. for NPE2015, the premier event for the entire plastics industry.NPE_logo

This year’s contest asks students to submit 2-4 minute videos on the theme of “Innovating in the 21st Century,” challenging graduate and undergraduate students, as teams and/or as individuals, to explore the future of plastics in the realms of innovation, design freedom and the economics of plastics. Prior contests have focused on the history of plastics and how the world’s brightest minds have relied on these materials to carry society into the modern era, like 2012’s first and second place winners.

“But the truth is that the story of plastic’s past has already been told; we want students to tell us the story of plastic’s future,” said SPI President and CEO William R. Carteaux when this year’s contest launched. “Many of the items that we take for granted today seemed like science fiction even a decade ago, but what innovations in plastic will we be saying that about in 10, 25 or even 50 years from now? That’s the question we want our best and brightest to answer in the 2014 Student Video Contest and its theme of ‘Innovating in the 21st Century.’”

Entries will be accepted until Nov. 30. If you’re a full-time undergraduate or graduate student in a plastics program, and want a shot at $3,500, $5,000 or an all-expenses-paid trip to the world’s largest plastics trade show and conference, click over to SPI’s Student Video Contest website for details, and let us know what you think the future holds in store for the plastics industry.

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Kids “Think Outside the Bag” for Recycling Program Expansion

New Program Designed to Help Flexible Film Recycling Go Mainstream

Consumers generally know that plastic bottles and packaging can be put in a blue bin, collected and recycled. For plastic bags and films, however, there’s an added step, as curbside pickup for these materials is not widespread.  Plastic film recycling requires consumers who live in jurisdictions without single-stream recycling to collect and bring these materials back to the grocery store where they most likely acquired them in the first place.

Returning these materials to where they came from isn’t an enormous burden, but it does contribute to low collection rates (along with the fact that plastic bags are also very likely to be reused, over and over again). Until technology advances in such a way that allows recyclers to sort this material with other more rigid plastic materials (and you can trust that the recycling industry is doing everything in its power to make that a reality) and pick it up curbside, this necessary step, wherein the consumer is both sorter and shipper, will be a part of the plastic film and bag recycling process. Presently, it’s estimated that only 12 percent of this material is recycled. That’s why SPI is working with JASON Learning and looking to kids for a fresh perspective.JASONLogo

The “Think Outside the Bag!” contest is the latest in SPI’s efforts to help promote and increase recycling, and was announced Monday by SPI, its Flexible Film and Bag Division (FFBD) and JASON Learning, a nonprofit organization managed by Sea Research Foundation, Inc. in partnership with the National Geographic Society. It asks students to come up with a creative campaign to increase recycling of flexible plastic film like dry cleaner bags, product wrapping and, of course, plastic grocery bags. “We each encounter flexible film plastic products in our everyday lives,” said SPI Vice President of Industry Affairs and FFBD Liaison Patty Long. “But this material too often ends up in the trash rather than on a truck back to a processor that can turn it back into something useful.”

spi_logo_2000x1007SPI and the entire plastics industry hopes that in the future plastic bag recycling is as routine a part of American life as curbside recycling, and that more of this material ends up at recycling plants than ends up in landfills, waterways or other venues. Losing plastic films and bags isn’t merely environmentally harmful, it’s also economically wasteful, and the entire industry doesn’t want any of it slipping through the cracks. “SPI, the FFBD and JASON are committed to increasing plastic film recycling and we want students to help us make sure none of these materials end up polluting our hometowns, our waterways and our beaches,” Long added.

The contest is another in a long line of the plastics industry’s efforts to increase recycling and use the industry’s expertise to solve environmental quandaries, fitting right in with Operation Clean Sweep, the Plastics Recycling Marketplace and the Zero Waste Zone at NPE2015. In terms of combining a focus on solutions with industry engagement, SPI and JASON Learning make logical partners for the contest. “At JASON we pride ourselves on connecting students with the real professionals working in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to explore new frontiers and find new solutions to the problems threatening our environment,” said JASON Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Dr. Eleanor Smalley. “The ‘Think Outside the Bag!’ contest will teach students about the plastic film recycling process from some of the industry’s biggest players, and give them the opportunity to think critically about the challenges that keep these materials from getting recycled and how they can overcome them in their communities.”

More information and details for participating student groups are available here. SPI looks forward to seeing what students come up with, and to working with JASON and the next generation of consumers to close the loop on all plastics.