Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

For Sorters’ Eyes Only: A Brief History of the RIC

Plastics recycling 25 years ago boiled down to two types of products: PET soda bottles and high-density (HDPE) milk jugs. But if the public, and the plastics industry, wanted to expand the plastics recycling effort, the first thing they needed was a good way to automatically identify the different plastic types.

“It was hoped that if a system was developed where the basic resin was marked on the container itself or on the articles that recyclers or sorters on the recycling line could actually identify those numbers and separate them into a variety of different bins,” said Thomas Pecorini, technology fellow at Eastman Chemical and chairman of ASTM Section D20.95.01 during a recent webinar hosted by the SPI Recycling Policy Subcommittee.

This desire gave birth to the modern resin identification code (RIC) system, created by SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association in 1988 to help make it easier for sorters and recyclers to separate different types of materials into one of six (eventually seven) different, broadly-defined resin groups. The goal then was the same as it is now; to reduce waste and ensure that the recyclable plastics entering the municipal waste stream could be collected and given a second life. The question has become, is the RIC still a vehicle for achieving that goal?

Resin ID Code Triangles

The RIC.

What began as a tool to help sorters and recyclers, however, eventually grew to become one of the hardest aspects of plastics recycling for consumers to understand. A poll conducted by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) and Earth911 between May and July found that consumers are easily confused when it comes to recycling plastics.

“With more and more plastic being produced, it’s essential that plastic products that have reached end of life enter the recycling stream,” said Robin Wiener, president of ISRI. “As long as confusion reigns, consumers are apt to throw plastics away that should be recycled. This Earth911/ISRI Opinion Poll demonstrates a strong need for additional education, particularly by municipalities, on what can be recycled and how to do it.” Among the poll’s findings was the fact that 65 percent of respondents answered that they don’t understand what is and what is not permissible when recycling plastics. Additionally, 17 percent of those consumers were most confused by the meaning of the recycling numbers, or resin identification codes (RICs).

The irony in the poll’s findings is that the RIC, created to facilitate recycling, might be making consumers less likely to recycle, simply by confusing them, but it’s important to remember that the RIC was never designed for consumers in the first place. “The RICs were never really intended to suggest that all items with a resin ID code are collected for recycling,” Pecorini said. “Moreover they were never actually meant to be used by the general public and the original system was meant to be an optional system.”

But the deceptive simplicity of the original RIC made it an obvious, although ultimately misleading education tool for municipalities hoping to outsource their sorting procedures to consumers themselves. “Municipal recycling programs tried to bring their sortation-at-home programs and they began informing the consumers that these RICs exist and used it as a public education tool to say if you had six bins in your garage you could self-sort all the different materials,” Pecorini said. “But unfortunately that also fell out of favor because the consumers didn’t want to spend that much time on recycling.”

The RIC’s legacy to the general public is the erroneous suggestion that the presence of a RIC number, surrounded by a chasing arrow, means that the item is automatically recyclable. “This has kind of created a series of problems,” Pecorini said.

As such, in 2008 SPI began working with ASTM to take control over the RIC and convert it to a globally-accepted standard that conveys more information about the material, but the process is a balancing act. Making changes to the labeling system too suddenly could negatively affect moldmakers, and adding too much information to further particularize one of the existing RICs could lead to situations like China’s where an explosion of different categories has given them a system with 140 numbers, as opposed to the RIC’s meager seven.

However, most can agree that replacing the RIC with a more productive 21st century counterpart will require more specifics to make collected articles easier to sort into recyclable groups, and that the RIC should not be used as a public education tool. But many other issues remain under consideration, and ASTM’s work will continue as they strive to set a standard that considers the needs of moldmakers, equipment manufacturers and processors as well as those of consumers. “What we see in recycling right now is transitions from a lot of consumer education and relying on the consumers to sort the material, to more automated sorting,” Pecorini said. “I personally would hope that someday we get to the point where we can tell consumers to just put all your plastics in a bin, and that may very well happen down the pike…but right now that isn’t in place.” That is certainly a vision that is shared by SPI.

Friday, August 15th, 2014

Turning the Tide on the Plastics Conversation

by Kim Holmes, SPI, Director, Recycling and Diversion

Many of the stories featured in the 2014springmagazine-coverspring 2014 issue of The SPI Magazine address the topic of plastics in the marine environment, which is undoubtedly an important issue for the industry. Marine debris stories are regularly in the news and are often the focus of recent scientific research. It is an issue that the industry must respond to swiftly and in a meaningful way.

Like marine debris issues, many of the conversations the plastics industry has with regulators and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are in response to a particular problem or challenge that has arisen. The industry will usually enter the conversation from a position of necessity, which often results in being put into a defensive position—not an easy place to be. Given the opportunity, most would like to be able to reverse the dynamic of these conversations, which would allow them the opportunity and ability to get out a more positive message. There are certainly opportunities for the plastics industry to begin the conversation. The question becomes “what would the direction of this conversation look like?”

Changing the dynamic of these conversations means the plastics industry has to make the first move, giving the public information out about the benefits of plastics, not just defending ourselves from the potential problems. Plastics present many advantages in our lives and in the environment. In fact, the more plastics are measured against other materials, the clearer their sustainability advantages become.

Light weight, less energy intensive manufacturing and production processes, minimal effluents in production, durability and expanded product life span and potential for recovery and recyclability are all areas in which plastics measure up favorably. In addition to these inherent advantages, the plastics industry is also adopting initiatives which aim to further reduce its environmental impact, protect workers and enhance the communities in which it does business. Based on what we see from our members, the industry has already expressed a true commitment to embracing the three core values of sustainability: people, planet and profit—commonly known as triple-bottom line.

As sustainability is becoming an increasingly important factor in the decision-making process of consumers and organizations throughout the supply chain, the plastics industry is finding itself in a position to shape a new conversation. Some large companies such as brand owners are starting to leverage the information in their corporate sustainability reports (CSRs) to demonstrate leadership, which in turn improves brand perception and strengthens brand loyalty.

As we enter the arena of environmental reporting, it is important to remember the distinction between promoting “green” efforts and simply “green washing.” Talking about being green becomes green washing when the environmental benefits are overstated or information that could change the overall environmental benefit of your product is intentionally omitted. This pitfall is one that many companies have been accused of over the years. The damage that can be done when a company is suspected of green washing can far outweigh the incremental positive gains from any beneficial claims. While everyone wants to showcase the benefits of a product, the information must also be accurate. This means that data collection has to be done in a methodical and transparent way, while using standard terms and definitions that are generally accepted by industry.

Last year, SPI conducted the first-ever sustainability benchmark survey of its members. In this first iteration, the survey focused mainly on environmental aspects of sustainability and served as a cursory view of our members’ thoughts about integrating sustainability practices into their business. This year, we have assembled a cross-council and cross-committee workgroup to develop a new sustainability benchmarking tool to measure all aspects of sustainability. The criteria of the tool are also more closely aligned with the corporate sustainable reporting framework offered by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). The tool will yield information on many of the same core areas that other large companies and industries use for measuring sustainability.

With the findings of the survey, SPI will be able to evaluate opportunities to further help our members integrate sustainable goals and practices into operations. Of equal importance, the tool will equip the industry with necessary data to highlight many of the positive activities happening in the plastics industry, allowing us to begin our own conversations about the benefits of the material and the industry. Participating companies can also use these findings to identify opportunity areas and set new goals around environmental and social stewardship. And for the many small- and medium-sized companies that may not have implemented sustainability benchmarking, participation in this survey will help organize the information that customers seek from suppliers.

While many large companies have already found value in publicly reporting their sustainability efforts, the overall perception of plastics as a material will benefit greatly if we as an industry can communicate our collective efforts. The participation of SPI members from across the entire supply chain is critical for this to be accomplished. Without it, the information being publicly reported will lack both integrity and accuracy.

Unfortunately, there is a reality where the negative conversations about plastics and the plastics industry will never fully die because they are rooted in emotion rather than science. However, we can bring a balance to the conversations with data-driven information about the benefits of our products and industry. This survey will be deployed in the first quarter of 2015 and we ask all members of the plastics supply chain to participate. Can we begin to turn the tide on the plastics conversation in 2014? Through our sustainability benchmarking efforts, the answer is a resounding yes. Together we can construct a message and take ownership of that conversation, but only with the help of everyone in the industry.

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Plastics Champions Host Energetic Group of Industry Officials at Annual Fly-In

Successful Event Results in 120 Meetings with Top Legislators

When given the opportunity to talk openly with Washington officials, SPI members don’t hesitate to express their views about issues important to the plastics industry. Plastics Champions from SPI and eight other organizations met on Capitol Hill July 23 for the 2014 Plastics Industry Fly-in. The annual gathering gives association members the chance to sit down face-to-face with key lawmakers and their staffs.

Frank Kuhlman, Maxi-Blast Inc.; Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) and Katie Masterson, SPI

Frank Kuhlman, Maxi-Blast Inc.; Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) and Katie Masterson, SPI

Before venturing off to the House and Senate buildings, the group of about 110 industry attendees and association representatives were provided an informative briefing by an Obama administration official and other high-level Washington leaders.

First up was Ali Zaidi, of the White House Domestic Policy Council. After talking in generalities about energy, the climate and jobs, Zaidi opened the floor to probing questions about business taxes, the Keystone XL Pipeline and business regulations.

Other speakers represented the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC).

Off to Meet the Members

Fly-in attendees, who became industry lobbyists for the day, brushed up on issues before meeting with senators like Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and House members to include and House Energy and Commerce Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Elizabeth Esty (D-Calif).

Among the key issues discussed:

Energy Policy – SPI and others support energy policy that encourages prudent development and utilization of domestic natural resources. The plastics industry supports energy recovery from non-recycled plastics, development of the Keystone XL Pipeline and responsible use of domestic energy resources that may be enabled through hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

Chemical Regulation – The federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is being reviewed by Congress, even as the Environmental Protection Agency continues to broaden the scope of regulatory activities under its existing TSCA authority. The plastics manufacturing industry supports efforts led by Senators David Vitter (R-La.) and Tom Udall (D-NM), as well as those of Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), to move consensus-based legislative proposals forward.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) meets Dow Chemical's Jeff Wooster

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) meets Dow Chemical’s Jeff Wooster

Any revision that ignores the significant socio-economic benefits of products made with chemicals, such as plastics, could threaten the industry’s ability to develop and utilize the materials that are essential to the plastics industry.

Consensus-based green building standards – The federal government needs to encourage competition among green building rating systems that do not discriminate against products with proven life-cycle benefits. The best way to advance these goals is to require rating systems to be developed in conformance with established voluntary consensus procedures.

Competition among railroads – The plastics industry supports increasing competition among railroads to ensure that goods are shipped efficiently to both

domestic and international markets. The industry urges policy reforms that encourage fairness for freight rail shippers by removing regulatory barriers to competition and ensuring captive shippers have greater access to competing freight rail service.

Science-based decision-making by plastics industry regulators – A regulatory approach based on sound science is critical to sustain the use of plastics as an important material of choice. Both individually and collectively, several key federal agencies hold enormous power over the plastics manufacturing businesses and products. Among the most important are:

At the end of the day, 120 meetings took place in Capitol Hill. Aside from SPI, other participating associations were: American Chemistry Council (ACC), American Mold Builders Association (AMBA), International Association of Plastics Distribution (IAPD), Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association (PPFA), Plastics Pipe Institute (PPI), Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors (MAPP), Vinyl Institute (VI), and Western Plastics Association (WPA).

Friday, July 11th, 2014

California’s New Tax Exemption Could Save Plastics Manufacturers Money

By Jane Adams, SPI Senior Director, State Government Affairs

Plastics manufacturing companies operating in California could benefit from a tax break that became effective July 1.

The new law allows certain businesses in manufacturing to purchase or lease manufacturing or research and development equipment at a reduced sales and use tax rate if the purchase occurred on or after July 1, according to the California Board of Equalization (BOE).

In an effort to clarify some of the nuances associated with the new law, SPI featured Lynn Whitaker from the BOE in a recent webinar. Whitaker discussed what is exempt, what is categorized as “qualified tangible personal property” and other important terms that determine the eligibility of purchases.

Any new machinery and equipment, control devices, pollution control equipment or other property to be used in the manufacturing process may qualify for the 3.3125 percent rate, down from the current 7.50 percent statewide tax rate. However, the BOE cautions that the exemption applies to the state portion of the sales and use tax, not to any local, city, county or district taxes.

Eligibility requires that the firm purchase qualified tangible personal property like machinery and equipment, including component parts and contrivances such as belts, shafts, moving parts and operating structures.

“Qualified tangible personal property” does not include:

  • Consumables with a useful life of less than one year
  • Furniture, inventory and equipment used in the extraction process or equipment used to store finished products
  • Items used primarily in administration, general management or marketing

The property must be purchased to be used primarily for the following uses:

  • Manufacturing, processing, refining, fabricating or recycling of tangible personal property
  • Research and development
  • Maintaining, repairing, measuring or testing property listed above.

To view an archived version of the webinar, “How to Benefit from the New Tax Exemptions for California Manufacturers,” click here.

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.