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.

Friday, September 19th, 2014

Curbside Collection for Capital Assets: CAMS Extends Zero-Waste Philosophy to Plastics Manufacturing Machinery and Equipment

The earliest forms of curbside recycling for consumers date back to the mid-1970s, and even today this system is the primary way that U.S. citizens participate in the effort to recycle and recover plastics. The plastics industry has set itself a goal of zero waste, and in many ways consumers are often thought of as the foot soldiers in this effort. While brand owners take much of the heat, and confusion often swirls around the technical details of what can be recycled and how, it often comes down to consumers recycling the plastics they use, and the industry processing them into new products, in a way that ideally closes the loop, gives plastic items second lives and saves high-quality usable material from the landfill.

2013-SPI-capital-asset-logo-cmyk-2SPI is committed to making it easier for consumers to recycle and reuse the plastics they encounter in their everyday lives, but has also enlisted the entire plastics industry in the pursuit of zero waste. In particular, SPI’s Recycling Committee has continually worked to educate the industry on zero-waste strategies and initiatives while also fostering expansion in the market for recycled material. Launched last year, RecyclePlastics365.org is an online plastics recycling marketplace that connects buyers and sellers of scrap plastics materials and recycling services “without the ‘needle in a haystack’ chore of sorting through the clutter of an Internet search,” said SPI Director of Recycling & Diversion Kim Holmes, adding that “SPI is committed to helping the industry divert all plastics from the landfill.”

Holmes’ statement is indicative of the supply chain-wide approach SPI has taken to reaching a 100 percent diversion rate for plastics. But while this effort has primarily focused on recovering plastic products and packaging, it’s only recently expanded to facilitate the recovery and reuse of plastics machinery and manufacturing equipment.

The plastic materials that have gone into some of the most life-changing, orbit-altering innovations of the last half a century weren’t plucked from trees. They were designed, processed and manufactured using increasingly state-of-the-art equipment on factory floors. They then went on to become the products that end up on suburban street corners once a week, in blue containers marked with the chasing arrow. While consumers can take their bottles out to the curb and their bags to the grocery store for recycling, a plant that produces or processes plastics doesn’t have those options when it comes to their old equipment. Firstly, they don’t make blue containers big enough, and moreover hauling used, underused or outdated machinery to the side of the road is a waste that would likely yield only fines and penalties.

In short, there’s never been a curbside pickup for capital equipment and machinery, but that’s what SPI, in partnership with Meadoworks, hopes to change with its recent launch of Capital Asset Management Services (CAMS). Through its online interface, similar to RecyclePlastics365.org, manufacturers can appraise their assets, dismantle and remove obsolete equipment and even find a new home for used equipment.

CAMS is both an example of the zero-waste philosophy in action and an investment in the plastics industry’s future. “The success of the entire plastics industry depends on the success of today’s manufacturing equipment,” said SPI President and CEO Bill Carteaux. “As companies continue to grow, so too must the technology they use.” Through CAMS, companies can upgrade their manufacturing equipment while also giving other companies in the market the opportunity to buy their used equipment that’s still worth using, and in the end, all parties benefit. “While participating in this program makes good business sense for today,” Carteaux said, “it also helps our competitiveness in the future.”

Columbus-recycling-binWhat makes CAMS similar to a curbside pickup service for manufacturers looking to recycle their machinery is the fact that in the same way that curbside pickup exists for the consumer’s convenience, CAMS exists for the manufacturer’s. “The key advantage of this program is that you don’t have to be an expert in asset management to benefit from expert knowledge,” said Meadoworks President Brian Walsh. “From the moment you decide to be a part of the marketplace, everything from valuation to marketing and eventually removal will be taken care of for you.”

Trading in and trading up when it comes to plastics manufacturing and processing equipment has often been a complicated, daunting process simply because there was no centralized marketplace. CAMS fills that void by connecting buyers and sellers around the world, while also providing the expertise and convenience necessary to benefit manufacturers of all sizes, supporting their growth and cementing their commitment to industrywide sustainability. At its simplest, CAMS presents an opportunity for manufacturers and processors to invest in the future of the plastics industry, which works best when it works together, inching closer and closer to zero.

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

A Skills Gap Needs a Skills Bridge: SPI Launches PlasticsU

The manufacturing industry accounts for more than 17.4 million American jobs and nearly 12 percent of the nation’s GDP, but it should account for more.

The skills gap separating manufacturing from fulfilling its true contributive potential for the American economy has been well documented, and at this point isn’t even a recent, new or isolated phenomenon. On both a global and strictly American basis, jobs in the skilled trades have been among the most abundant, and yet the most difficult to fill, for many years now, although it should be noted that part of the issue keeping people from taking jobs in this field is perception.

More than a century has passed since the first assembly line developed for the manufacture of the Ford Model T began operating, but tell someone today to picture a job in manufacturing and the image that pops into their head is still a sepia-toned photo crowded with men in flat caps and overalls performing menial tasks over and over again, until a whistle signals their release. Americans often view the factory as the product of a less enlightened era, stranded in time like a mosquito in amber, but the reality is that today’s factories are nothing like your grandfather’s. Manufacturing as an industry has kept pace with the modern world—technologically, operationally and environmentally—and in many ways it even functions ahead of its time, providing excellent support for employees and their families, enabling the innovations that MFGDay2014Logomake modern life possible and ratcheting up the possibilities for what the future will eventually look like. Events like Manufacturing Day exist to pull back the curtain on the nation’s factories, and dispel the myth that these state-of-the-art facilities are somehow antiquated.

As manufacturing in the U.S. confronts its perception gap, it’s also working to combat its more-easily-quantified skills gap: the difference between the number of workers needed, and the number of workers qualified, to keep factories humming. For the plastics industry, the nation’s third-largest manufacturing sector that already comprises nearly 900,000 American workers, the first block in the bridge that closes the plastics industry manufacturing skills gap is PlasticsU, officially launched Monday by SPI and Tooling U-SME, a leading workforce development and training provider.

“Our industry has some of the best and brightest workers, operating top-of-the-line equipment and technology,” said SPI President and CEO William R. Carteaux. “Unfortunately, many of the technological advancements made recently are being held back by a growing manufacturing skills gap, which is why SPI partnered with Tooling U-SME to launch PlasticsU.”

SPI Plastics-U-final-outlinesAimed directly at the heart of the manufacturing skills gap, PlasticsU provides manufacturers a new suite of online training programs tailored specifically to the plastics industry. Courses were designed and added in order to meet the needs of the broadest selection of stakeholders possible, meaning companies throughout the supply chain can find something helpful when it comes to training and developing their workforce. Expertise levels range from basic introductions to the most advanced studies, with more than 400 courses and more than 60 instructor-led training titles all conveniently available through the PlasticsU portal, offering companies the ease and flexibility that they need to design new workforce development programs or to augment their existing programs.

“The plastics industry will not realize its full capacity for growth and production unless companies take an active approach to workforce development,” Carteaux added. “PlasticsU offers these companies flexibility and convenience to make this process easy.”

Manufacturing in the U.S. has already made enormous strides since the recession and is poised to become an even greater part of the American economy. The industry continues to combat its perception gap, an effort to which SPI has been proud to contribute. But the manufacturing skills gap is real, and so are its limiting effects. A modernized manufacturing industry is one that has modern problems, and the manufacturing skills gap is a perfect example: a modern problem to which PlasticsU is a modern solution. As the manufacturing industry continues to build the bridge that will close its skills gap, SPI and PlasticsU makes a bold case for the bridge being made out of plastics.

Learn more about PlasticsU here.

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

A Crazy, Upside-Down World: Brand Owners, the Plastics Supply Chain and History’s Most Informed, and Most Fickle, Consumers

In the broadest terms, the challenges facing brand owners hinge on the fact that today’s market operates in a world wherein information is more available than ever before, but in a way that continues to defy logic. Consumers now make decisions about the products they buy based on information that could be correct, exaggerated, patently false or a modern combination of all three, and rely more on emotional appeal than traditional market functions such as quality, price, value or convenience.

Additionally, consumer behavior now more easily shapes the general public’s perception of a product. A liter of water could be packaged in the most recyclable container that science and progress can create, but the consumer that buys it is still required to deposit it in another container and put it out on their curb on the correct day, or, in some cases, make the effort to actually travel to a local recycling facility, with the container in tow.bottles_shutterstock_12202219

But when a consumer doesn’t do that, and the water bottle lands in the gutter or in the ocean or in the landfill, other consumers don’t blame the person that didn’t recycle that bottle. They blame brand owners.

Demands for high-quality, lightweight, convenient, recyclable packaging essentially gave birth to the modern plastics economy, and resulted in amazing innovations in materials, design and manufacturing. But the consumer’s list of demands never shrinks, only getting longer and longer until arriving at a point like today’s market where brand owners are being pulled in too many different directions. Today, having the best product, in every sense of the term, isn’t enough anymore.

“It’s a crazy upside down world where you could have a great product and be a great environmental steward and very conscious of those environmental takeouts and those assessments and lightweight your packaging and all of those other things, even including using post-consumer recycled material (PCR),” observed Neil Gloger, CEO of Intergroup International. “But you can still lose because you’re not winning the social market-share, as it were.”

This social market-share, as Gloger put it, operates in a supply chain that starts and ends with consumers, but swallows up businesses and even governments on the way, and as it runs its course each party takes steps to place increasingly complicated and frequently counterintuitive demands on brand owners. “A mom in the middle of the Midwest can’t find a place to recycle her kids’ juice boxes,” Gloger offered as an example. “Now everybody who makes juice boxes hears from a retailer, ‘if you ship us another truck of that type of packaging, we will reject it because it doesn’t conform to our packaging standards’ and that was $300 million in business you were doing that just went down the drain.”

This phenomenon of consumers creating and shaping demand happens more quickly today than it has at any other point in history, and to understand why it’s such a heavy burden for the plastics industry to accommodate the new normal, it helps to look at how packaging developed over time. “You have the old normal which was you packaged stuff because it started as a public health issue, and then it became a marketing tool and then it became ease of logistics and creating a lower carbon footprint,” Gloger said. “And we’ve progressed from that to a point where the product that you’re buying is not environmentally responsible because it’s packaged.”

The plastics supply chain developed to account for all of those desires among consumers—public health, marketing, logistics, a lower carbon footprint—but now it must be more environmentally-focused than might’ve previously seemed possible, a shift that brand owners have led admirably, though that’s not how they’re often portrayed by the media, consumers and environmental groups.

brandowners-logo-final-4c“Over the past 5-8 years the brand owners have really taken a leadership role in being responsible stewards,” Gloger said. “The organizations will say ‘they haven’t done anything,’ or ‘too little, too late,’ or ‘they’re only doing this because if they do that they won’t have to do the real work,’” he noted, adding that in many ways this has always been the case. “Say you have a modeling company that’s lightweighting packaging,” he said. “Their motivation wasn’t really to save the environment; their motivation was they wanted to save 40 percent on shipping.”

The point, however, is that the plastics supply chain, driven by consumers and led by brand owners, can operate with a profit interest in a way that satisfies consumer needs. “These things can work in synergy,” Gloger said. “I think the biggest challenge is being able to touch humanities at the same level as the other side does, with their messaging that packaging, everything that the company does, is not coming from an evil empire.”

It used to be that perception was only reality in marketing, but now perception is reality in most corners of the business world. Anthropologists could chalk this up to the advent of social media or other cultural forces, but in the meantime, operating in a way that suits the idiosyncrasies of today’s market isn’t a choice; it’s an imperative. Brand owners need to not only be environmental stewards, but they have to be storytellers as well. “If you have a mom in Iowa saying don’t buy this because the packaging just goes to the landfill, you have to be able to have somebody at the same level understand that there’s another story here, or a bigger story or a better story,” Gloger said. “The story just has to get out. It’s not about companies. It’s about people.”2014_AMFC

Gloger will discuss these issues and provide brand owner-specific solutions at SPI’s upcoming Annual Meeting and Fall Conference in Chicago from Sept. 17-19. Join us! Attendees can register on-site at the conference hotel.