Friday, November 20th, 2015

A Green Solution to a Billion-Pound Problem

When you see a big red “STOP” sign, your first thought is “STOP!” But have you ever wondered what the sign is made out of? Or how the contents may affect you? Take a second and think about how many “STOP,” “YIELD,” “DEAD END” and countless other varieties of small, pole-mounted road signs you see on your daily commute; almost all of these are made of aluminum, though that might not be the case for much longer.

A stop sign in Pennsylvania made using EcoStrate.

A stop sign in Pennsylvania made using EcoStrate.

EcoStrate SFS, Inc., an SPI member that successfully created a substrate material sourced from 100-percent post-consumer recycled material, landed a $1-million grant from California DOT CalRecycle (sharing half of it with Reliance Carpet Cushion) to manufacture road signs made from materials such as carpet, computer carcasses and carpet padding, textile waste and other waste products. In addition to road signs, the material will also be used to build indoor/outdoor Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant signage and flooring.

For EcoStrate, the grant is the culmination of a lengthy process of developing the material and then identifying applications where it could be used. Ron Sherga, the founder and CEO of the company, identified an opportunity to take a billion-pound waste issue and create a substrate that is green in both process and solution. He then brought on Ron Simonetti as the company’s chief operations officer and they began developing the technology.

“We primarily work with three large waste streams at this point,” Simonetti said, referring specifically to the two different plastic waste streams and another stream of waste carpet that are ground and blended to eventually become the material that EcoStrate uses in its indoor and outdoor signage. “One plastics stream is electronic waste. There’s a whole industry around collecting and sorting e-waste, and primarily those guys are after the metal in those electronic products,” he said. “Currently what’s happening is that the plastics in those products are being baled and sent to China and Asia, or reused into low-end plastic products. Now we can use the waste domestically to make EcoStrate products.”

Simonetti said the situation is much the same for the appliance plastics stream as well; instead of being recycled or reused, the plastics from appliances are often baled and shipped to Asia as scrap. So, in addition to presenting a more sustainable, eco-friendly option to aluminum, the EcoStrate model also benefits recyclers by giving them another option besides baling and exporting these types of plastics. “A lot of those guys are facing green fence issues and inconsistent demand,” Simonetti said. “We are working with them to create a more consistent outlet with our product to be used in the marketplace here, domestically.” Moreover, EcoStrate engages its partners who grind up the plastic e-waste and appliance waste so that it can be used in EcoStrate’s substrate. This process too gives grinding companies a consistent outlet for business. “We’re solving problems for those industries,” Simonetti added.

And, of course, the best part about EcoStrate is that it means waste materials destined for the landfill are now being put to good use in the market, all because a company saw something that most of us never think twice about, and asked “why can’t that be made with plastic?”EcoStrateLogo

The grant from CalRecycle has boosted EcoStrate’s outlook but the work continues, on testing and on clearing their material for use across the country. “We have partners like DuPont, which has helped us to support R&D, and the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) too,” Simonetti said, noting that the market for aluminum signage in the U.S. is around 500 million square feet of material per year. “We’ve applied in all 50 states to get our product approved for use in pole-mounted signs,” Simonetti said, meaning consumers can expect to see more of EcoStrate’s materials on their commutes moving forward, whether they know it or not.

Friday, October 30th, 2015

From 4D Printing to Walmart’s “Made in America” Campaign, GPS 2015 Hits a Homerun in Chicago

Economists Discuss the Impact of China Across the U.S. and World Markets

ChicagoSkylineChina is still the elephant in the room. Whether the topic is labor, supply and demand or economic growth, it seems like the China-effect is at the center of conversation.  In opening remarks at the Global Plastics Summit 2015 (GPS), IHS Chief Economist Nariman Behravesh helped attendees put China in perspective; less than 1 percent of the U.S. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is exported to China. Therefore China doesn’t have the same impact on the U.S. economy as it does on the rest of the world.

The big hemorrhage in China is its mining and heavy manufacturing sectors, said Behravesh, indicating that the two sectors are experiencing a recession compared to China’s booming service sector.  But, China’s Achilles Heel is not unlike ours, or many other countries – a dwindling workforce. And while China announced its decision to relax its one child policy, Behravesh said the damage is done and China will not be able to sustain growth.

Dwindling WorkForce

A common theme throughout GPS was the looming threat of few skilled workers to take positions being vacated by Baby Boomers. Every society needs a healthy workforce not only to create goods and services, but also to consume them, said demographic expert Ken Gronbach.

So for China and other industrialized countries, a solution requires more than procreation. The next generation needs to be taught that innovative plastic products are necessary and that they are safe.

Getting Past the Negatives

But the industry must overcome negativity associated with manufacturing and plastics. Consider that the bulk of GPS’s presentations focused on markets and trends for associated materials like polyethylene, polypropylene and others. After delivering a presentation on materials, Paul Caprio, president of KraussMaffei Corp., gleefully pointed out that “plastics professionals are the only people who appreciate and can get excited about these materials.” Outside of our industry, “plastic is a dirty word and it’s a huge challenge for us to change this,” he said.

Indeed it is, Gronbach cautioned, “If you don’t deal with public opinion, it will deal with you. The largest generation of people ever born are currently 11 to 30 years old and they think all the time and they are coming straight for you.”

So What Do We Do?


Skylar Tibbits

In addition to telling the positive stories about plastic, perhaps one solution is to sell tomorrow’s professionals on cutting-edge technology like 4D printing. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researcher Skylar Tibbits led a lively discussion about the future of plastics noting “we use plastics in almost everything we do.”

Tibbits and his team at MIT have been working to develop the next generation of printing called 4D printing. What’s fascinating about 4D printing is that it results in a transformative product like a robot that has the ability to solve problems. Through the use of 4D printing, future products (think dental and medical devices) will be resilient and change with humans and the environment.

The consensus at GPS is that the U.S. needs advanced manufacturing such as 4D printing.

If It’s Not the China-Effect, It’s the Walmart-Effect

Representing the brand owner angle, Chris Quinn, president and CEO of the Step2 Company, mentioned Walmart’s celebrated move to buy $50 billion in U.S. made products over the next 10 years. “We now have a case to drive more manufacturing back to the U.S.,” he said, indicating that Walmart’s campaign will undoubtedly influence others to make similar declarations.

For the international community, there’s implied quality in U.S.-produced goods. And from the standpoint of the manufacturer, there are multiple benefits to operating in the U.S. such as the protection of intellectual property, internet security benefits, and better control over transportation costs and logistics.

“After all, who wants to be in the footwear business when the port of L.A. shuts down two months before school starts?” Quinn asked. “Not me. Transporting from Odessa to Mobile is better.” (Los Angeles Times, Line of ships waiting off coast grows as ports shut down for holiday, Feb. 16, 2015.)GPSSquare

For additional information or pictures from GPS, contact Kimberly Coghill at

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Plastics Enhance Delivery of Medical Care

The plastics industry is positioned to play a significant role in the healthcare and medical device space as the demand for services and single-use products grows in conjunction with the graying population, a study released by SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association said. In its report, “Plastics Market Watch: Healthcare & Medical Devices,” SPI discusses advances in plastics that have enabled the material to gradually displace traditional medical devices made of metal, ceramics and other substances.Market Watch 2

Due to plastics’ extraordinary versatility and the constant development of new blends, it seems extremely unlikely that plastics will be replaced by another material, at least not in the foreseeable future. The change now underway is exciting and foretells longer and healthier lives for humanity – and new applications for plastics.

“Increasing reliance on plastics has generated remarkable breakthroughs in technology that not only enhance delivery of medical care but also provide increased usage of plastics,” William R. Carteaux, SPI’s president and CEO, said. “This has been, and continues to be, a win-win for the plastics and healthcare industries.”

Using this as a backdrop, the report draws on the work of Ken Gronbach, a multi-generational marketing expert and author of “The Age Curve: How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Storm,” to explain the future market and the population that’s driving it.

Gronbach said the world’s population is setting up healthcare’s perfect storm. “There will be a collision of the largest generations ever to become elderly with the age sector that demands the most healthcare services. In many cases, worldwide the number of 70-plus year old people will double. When a market doubles in demographic size, the demand for products and services related to that market more than doubles – a phenomenon called ‘the multiplier effect,’” he said.

All of the critical data – soaring populations, rising middle classes, aging population, advances in medical technologies – point to an ever stronger market for medical devices which today are largely comprised of plastics.  In earlier years, the growth of plastics in healthcare, particularly medical devices, came largely from material substitution, but that transition has been accomplished. Now the growth of the medical device market is almost synonymous with rising demand for plastics, or so it would seem. The shift to non-invasive medical protocols in particular will reduce the demand for many plastic basics of medical care.

For equipment manufacturers, the changing face of modern medicine means smaller equipment, but that will not directly impinge on plastics. Resin suppliers will not see much change because not a huge amount of resin goes into medical equipment. The market for plastics in medical devices is stable and growing, but producers must monitor the market carefully, anticipate changes coming down the road and be prepared to meet them. They must also keep tabs on the regulatory landscape for one can never be sure which way the political fortunes will blow in response to inflammatory news stories or consumer complaints.

Major shifts in the provision and funding of healthcare in this country will drive increased focus on reducing costs at all levels of the medical care industry, and a series of breakthroughs in medical science promise a variety of less physically intrusive medical therapies that will reduce the need for disposable medical devices, which are largely composed of plastics. In the distant future, these forces will to some extent counter the generally positive trajectory for use of plastics in medical devices. But for the foreseeable future, the role of plastics in modern medicine is dominant and likely to remain so.

SPI plans to conduct presentations and webinars in conjunction with this report to discuss our findings, and hope that these will provide important food for thought, whether you are an equipment manufacturer, materials supplier, processor, recycler or brand owner. Future reports issued later this year will focus on Plastics in Packaging, and Plastics in Building & Construction. “Plastics Market Watch: Automotive & Transportation” may be accessed by clicking here.

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Why Your Company Should Take a Fresh Look at Bioplastics

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recognized SPI’s Bioplastics Division (BPD) recently for its contributions to a new report detailing the state of the American bioeconomy. For bioplastics specifically, the report indicates that bioplastic bottles and packaging contributed 4,000 jobs and $410 million to the U.S. economy in 2013, and that investments in the sector yield outsized results elsewhere in the supply chain. For example, every dollar generated by the bioplastics sector generates an additional $3.64 elsewhere in the supply chain, while every job created within bioplastics results in another 3.25 jobs in adjacent sectors.

SPI_BPD_Logo_AltThe report is full of good news for the bioeconomy generally, and for bioplastics specifically, but it’s worth noting that $410 million accounts for about a tenth of a percent of the entire $380-billion U.S. plastics industry. There’s an enormous opportunity for companies that haven’t explored the sector recently to grow their business using these materials, if all they did was give bioplastics a second look. “Bioplastics is in need of an infusion, not so much of capital, but of market awareness,” said BPD Chairman Keith Edwards of BASF. “The investment has been made. There’s a lot of production capacity and there are materials available, they’re working technically and in most cases they’re working commercially. What we still lack is a lot of market understanding of the benefits and the uses of bioplastics.”

Edwards noted that misconceptions about availability, technical performance and commercial viability continue to haunt bioplastics, but that none of these factors are issues for the sector anymore. “In the past you could use these materials but you could only convert like a tenth of what you had, and now you can convert everything,” he noted. “There’s definitely still a perception that they’re either not available or technically, from a material property standpoint, they can’t do what you want them to do, but the third thing is that commercially people think they’re all too expensive which, in a lot of cases, they’re not, at least not to the same extent they used to be.”

The issue is that many companies probably already performed their own assessment on bioplastic materials within the last ten years, which, in the scheme of long-term investments in production changes, might as well have been yesterday. “A lot of companies did their big study five years ago and think ‘well I know everything I need to know about bioplastics, thank you,’” Edwards noted. “Trying to get them now to stop and do that assessment again, since they just did it, is hard because people are so busy, companies are busy and they’re chasing new business.”

But Edwards also notes that an investment in bioplastics doesn’t have to just be for show; it can also present a company with real strategic business advantages. “What we’re trying to convince the market of is ‘hey there’s new business to chase that no one else is chasing if you will employ some of these bioplastic technologies,’” he said, “’because now you can make claims that they can’t make, and you can do things that they can’t do.’”

These awareness challenges and business opportunities aren’t unique to bioplastics, and a corollary can even be found elsewhere in the broader plastics industry. “To me it’s the same as the recycling angle,” Edwards said. “What was true of recycled materials in the past is not necessarily true today, and the recycling industry is telling companies to come back and look, because these things are much better than they used to be. It’s the same thing with bioplastics.”

All of this is to suggest that innovation and growth in materials science, performance and commercial viability are happening so quickly now that a company that waits to reassess every half-decade or so could very well be missing out on a huge opportunity, especially as these factors pertain to bioplastics. These materials can do much more than the market is giving them credit for, and once companies begin to come to terms with this fact, the USDA can expect that the next time it measures the size and impact of the bioplastics industry, it’ll account for more than a tenth of a percent of the entire U.S. plastics industry. “If your company looked at bioplastics five years ago and the materials didn’t have the right heat resistance or they cost three times as much or they just couldn’t be used, you need to come back and look,” Edwards said. “What was true five years ago, isn’t true today.”

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

What You Missed at SPI’s International Symposium on Worldwide Regulation of Food Packaging

FDCPMC_IntlSymp_PierAside from a chance to network with 150+ experts from government, industry and scientific institutions and the largest Chinese delegation in conference history, the 12th Biennial International Symposium on Worldwide Regulation of Food Packaging featured several valuable program and after-hours highlights:

-An Update on U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Regulation of Food Contact Materials, from the FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety (OFAS) Itself:  Filled with direct, technical glimpses into the operations of the FDA and previews of updates to the Redbook and Chemistry Guidance the food packaging industry can expect to see in the coming months and years, the Symposium-opening presentation from Allan Bailey, from OFAS’ Division of Food Contact Notifications, delivered the insights that brought attendees to the conference in the first place.

FDCPMC_IntlSymp_Staff-An In-Depth Look at Food Contact Regulations Around the Globe: With panels organized according to region and representatives from Brazil, Argentina, Canada, China, Japan, Australia/New Zealand, Thailand and several from the European Union delivering presentations, this year’s program was among the most geographically diverse and thorough in Symposium history. Government officials from the various regions took this opportunity to compare their respective regulatory schemes and hear industry perspectives, an important exercise to increase alignment of the world’s food packaging regulations and allow for more efficient global marketing of these products.

-A Dinner Cruise Through the Baltimore Harbor: All attendees, speakers and guests gathered together on the Raven for a networking event and dinner cruise as the sun set on the scenic Baltimore harbor. This was just one of the event’s networking opportunities though, between breaks, lunches, dinners and receptions, the event offered attendees countless chances to meet and greet colleagues new and old and to discuss regulatory challenges with government officials at the event.FDCPMC_IntlSymp_Boat

-A Special Program on Regulation Related to the Use of Recycled Plastics in Food Contact Applications: Manufacturers and brand owners are increasingly demanding that their suppliers find ways to make their products and materials more environmentally-friendly. This opens up a new regime of requirements that suppliers have to comply with in addition to the existing food contact regulations they already have to navigate every day. Led by presentations from Jeff Wooster, global sustainability leader, performance packaging at Dow Chemical, and Dr. Forrest Bayer, Bayer Consulting & UW Imaging LLC, and enhanced by additional discussions on emerging technologies designed to make using post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials easier, this panel was full of tips and insights that attendees could put to use immediately, to start working PCR into their products and meeting brand owner-driven sustainability requirements.

FDCPMC_IntlSymp_HarborView-So many more relevant sessions and opportunities to network with experts in the field!

The International Symposium will be back in 2017, but in the meantime, SPI’s Food, Drug and Cosmetic Packaging Materials Committee (FDCPMC) offers members these opportunities throughout the year. Click here to learn more about what this committee can offer your company.