Monday, January 12th, 2015

The Disaster that is the Dallas Bag Tax

IBag2Bag-in-store-160wmplementation of the Dallas, TX bag tax began on Jan. 1, and less than two weeks into its implementation, the statute has proven to be overly complicated at best, disastrous at worst.

Plastic bag taxes, including the one enacted in Dallas, are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the realities of litter reduction and the recyclability of plastic bags, and they are inherently regressive, placing the greatest burden on those who can least afford it, at a time when American families still struggle. By enacting a plastic bag tax, Dallas placed myth ahead of reality, ignoring the fact that plastic bags are 100 percent recyclable – and recycled. Over 90 percent of Americans have access to plastic bag recycling, and it is the fastest growing sector of the recycling industry at large. Most importantly, plastic bags comprise less than 0.5 percent of the municipal waste stream and traditionally less than one percent of litter. And while no amount of litter is acceptable, taxing plastic bags doesn’t lead to a reduction in litter or municipal waste because the environmental impact of plastic bags is so minimal to start with. Plastic bag taxes simply encourage shoppers to take their business elsewhere—in this case, beyond Dallas’ borders, as recent reports from residents suggest.

In addition to the unintended consequences that loom over bag taxes generally, the Dallas statute in particular contains several onerous requirements that already have led to widespread confusion and will continue to yield negative economic consequences. First, the ambiguity surrounding the list of entities required to comply with the legislation has left retailers uncertain about how to implement it. The ordinance was designed to encourage residents to use so-called reusable bags (of course, plastic bags are reusable; 9 out of 10 consumers report reusing them for other household purposes) but requires all retailers, not just grocers, to levy the fee. Residents rarely bring reusable bags into settings other than grocery stores.

Further, the Dallas bag tax statute includes arcane details about what constitutes a “reusable” bag under the ordinance. In one instance, a Dallas resident tried to reuse a traditional plastic bag but was told by a retailer that she had to pay the bag fee, despite the fact that she brought the bag from home and was reusing it as per the legislation’s intent. Dallas residents and consumers are likely to continue to be frustrated with this poorly written statute—especially if retailers choose to charge the tax across the board, even when the legislation doesn’t require it. Such are the unintended consequences—and costs to consumers—when retailers find it difficult to operate in this regulatory minefield.

This isn’t the only aspect of the Dallas ordinance that will dramatically increase the costs of consumers and businesses. The statute also requires merchants to purchase bags that are branded with their businesses names and test the reusability and thickness of the bags themselves. Small businesses and mom-and-pop shops who previously gave customers generic “Thank You” bags will be required to purchase their own customized bags—at great cost, which undoubtedly will cut into profits or require an increase in costs passed on to consumers.

Judging by the howls of residents and retailers who are opposed to the implementation of this bag tax, it’s safe to say that the statute has been a disaster. But the great irony of it all is that the law isn’t even constitutional, and the city of Dallas knew it. Last August, in response to a legislator’s inquiry, then Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (now Governor) provided his considered opinion on Dallas’ tax, summarizing that, under Texas state law, “a court would likely conclude that a city ordinance prohibiting or restricting single-use plastic bags is prohibited.”

So not only has Dallas’ plastic bag tax confused retailers, angered residents, raised costs on both and failed to have any impact on litter, it also has violated Texas state law. If these were the Dallas City Council’s goals, they succeeded. That is unlikely. Instead, their misguided attempts to legislate a 100 percent recyclable product has negatively impacted the city’s economy, made business operations more onerous and saddled residents with a regressive tax.

Promoting recycling and recycling education would have been a much better plan.

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

A Deep Dive: Achieving Zero Pellet Loss

FriendlyTurtle_AnimatedWebPlastic pellets are the number one business expense for all processors and converters. In addition to saving money, pledging to zero pellet loss will strengthen your company’s reputation in the community, operational efficiency, contribution to water quality and wildlife, as well as any existing safety and sustainability programs.

Looking beyond the company, pellet loss has many negative impacts on the entire plastics industry as a whole. Consider this:

  • Slips and falls are a major cause of industry accidents
  • Accidents mean lost work time, higher workers’ compensation costs and lower employee morale
  • Violations of stormwater regulations in states like California can result in civil penalties of up to $3,000 per incident (e.g., Cal. Code. Regs. title 23 § 13385). Any person discharging unauthorized waste in violation of CWC § 13264 could be found guilty of a misdemeanor and fined up to $1,000 per day in violation
  • Spilled pellets can eventually end up in our waterways and the ocean. Whether they’re handled in an inland plant or a seaside facility, pellets can be transported to storm drains that lead to rivers and then to the ocean — resulting in litter and posing a threat to marine life such as sea birds, turtles and fish

When your employees and vendors handle resin pellets responsibly, pellets are kept out of the natural environment. The more resin material that stays in your product line rather than becoming waste, the more efficient your overall business operations will become. Additionally, your company enhances its reputation as a good steward of the environment, which is an increasingly important factor for attracting the investment community and high quality employees.

SPI’s ultimate goal is to help all plastics manufacturers, processors, converters and transporters keep plastic pellets out of the environment and improve the state of our industry for a better future.

FIVE STEPS TO ACHIEVING ZERO PELLET LOSS

1. Commit to making zero pellet loss a priority.

2. Assess your company’s situation and needs.

  • Comply with all environmental laws and regulations that address pellet containment
  • Conduct a site audit
  • Determine if you have appropriate facilities and equipment
  • Determine if employees have and are following appropriate procedures
  • Identify problem areas and develop new procedures to address them
  • Communicate your experiences to peers in the industry

3. Make necessary upgrades in facilities and equipment as appropriate.

4. Raise employee awareness and create accountability.

  • Establish written procedures (The procedures and checklists in this manual may be modified to suit your needs. They are available in the checklists section of the Operation Clean Sweep website).
  • Make certain the procedures are readily available to employees.
  • Conduct regular employee training and awareness campaigns on Operation Clean Sweep.
  • Assign employees the responsibility to monitor and manage pellet containment.
  • Encourage each worker to sign the employee commitment pledge.
  • Solicit employee feedback on your program.
  • Use workplace reminders such as stickers, posters, etc.

5. Follow up and enforce procedures – when management cares, employees will too.

  • Conduct routine inspections of the facility grounds – production areas and parking lots, drainage areas, driveways, etc.
  • Continuously look for ways to improve the program. Share best practices through the Operation Clean Sweep website

SPI and ACC have created a number of management checklists to assist all plastics processors in implementing OCS. The checklists are divided into two categories: Management and Employees. The checklists have been created so they can be downloaded and customized for your company. These enhancements will make it easy to create forms and materials that have the greatest value for your company.

Take the pledge today at  www.opcleansweep.org

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

What the Entire Plastics Industry Can Learn from the APBA

apba logo_2012Many of you probably already know the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) as a protector of the plastics industry – and with good reason. The APBA is on the front lines of plastics advocacy, most recently gathering the roughly 505,000 valid signatures required to qualify a California referendum in opposition to SB 270, the nation’s only statewide ban on plastic bags. If this law went into effect, it obviously would set a dangerous precedent.  That’s why the APBA is working to defeat this and other erroneous pieces of legislation.  They do it often, and they do it well. In fact, signature collection is going even better than expected, and SPI and the APBA are confident that the referendum will be on the ballot in November 2016.

But that’s not all the APBA does. As we’ve highlighted here on In the Hopper and on SPI’s website, again and again (and again), the APBA also encourages innovation and promotes environmental progress.  Those efforts often get overshadowed: that is, the APBA spends so much time educating the public and serving as an example of how to proactively address challenges and capitalize on opportunities that its innovation and outreach messages get lost. But the APBA has a great deal more to offer the plastics industry at large.

abagslifelogo2For instance, you may not be aware that the APBA strongly supports A Bag’s Life, a public education campaign that unites non-profits, community and government organizations to support the common goal of promoting the three R’s—reduce, reuse, recycle. A Bag’s Life hosts many school recycling competitions around the country, including an ongoing initiative in Galveston that runs from America Recycles Day 2014 through Earth Day 2015, and which to date has resulted in the collection of roughly 1 million plastic bags and films. That’s just one event of several that is designed to teach kids and their communities how they can make a meaningful impact on the environment by increasing recycling efforts. The A Bag’s Life website also provides resources for visitors looking for locations to drop off their plastic bags and films and information on how to host a recycling event.

Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) tours Novolex's North Vernon plant.

Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) tours Novolex’s North Vernon plant.

The APBA also focuses on encouraging innovation, particularly as it pertains to closing the recycling loop on plastic bags. Recently representatives from the APBA and employees from Novolex were joined on a tour of the North Vernon, IN closed-loop recycling plant, by Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN). This tour was an opportunity to show the Congressman just how innovative Novolex’s Bag-2-Bag program is.  This groundbreaking program takes 35 million pounds of recycled bags and films a year, cleans them, processes them and repelletizes them so they can be made into new plastic bags. It’s the definition of closed-loop manufacturing, and it all takes place at a plastic bag plant, putting a new face on the industry and modeling modern, sustainable manufacturing processes.

While the APBA continues to publicly protect the industry, as well as promote environmental progress and encourage innovation, they’d like to do more.  They just need your help to do it. Proactive educational efforts that highlight the plastics industry’s inherent commitment to innovation and environmentalism will help us all. With resources from other plastics partners the APBA could learn from and do more for the industry at large. We hope you’ll visit the APBA at NPE, where the organization will see what they can learn from you and share what you can learn from them.

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Op-Ed from SPI President and CEO William Carteaux: Remember, We’re All on the Same Team

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 8, 2014 edition of Plastics News.

William R. Carteaux, President and CEO, SPI

William R. Carteaux, President and CEO, SPI

Plastics is an extremely diverse industry, with companies using several different business models to successfully sell a wide variety of products to hundreds of different sectors and customer bases. But it’s important to remember that, when it comes to how consumers and policymakers treat, regulate and think of plastics, we’re all on the same team.

So it’s sad to see that some companies in our industry can’t recognize the harm they do when they traffic in scientific misinformation to gain a competitive edge over other members of their industry. Competition and business rivalries are as old as capitalism, and often they’re what drive our companies to innovate and become stronger, ultimately pushing our entire industry forward. But when those competitions and rivalries devolve into companies using baseless, unscientific claims to scare up sales then everybody loses.

Instead of capitalizing on consumer confusion in the hopes of increasing their market share, plastics companies throughout the supply chain should be working together to address the threats facing their industry, the most notable of which is the wave of anti-plastics sentiment being stoked by anti-plastics advocates after successfully banning plastic bags in California. But plastic bags are only the beginning. Just after California’s ban was signed into law, anti-plastics groups were already hailing the bill as “a good start” and regrouping to target new materials and plastic products for regulation. At a time like this, when plastics faces such a serious threat, our industry can’t afford to give into environmental, health and safety misinformation in the hopes that doing so will give one company a boost in sales. Companies that do use unscientific claims to promote their products gain only a temporary benefit while doing a lasting disservice to their industry.

While a tide of anti-plastics sentiment threatens all of us, it’s a challenge that can be overcome if the plastics industry presents a unified front, focused on innovation and supported by the facts. Flirting with misinformation and capitalizing on public confusion might yield some temporary benefits, but in the end you’re only hurting yourself and your teammates.

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

A Deep Dive: Twenty-Eight Years and Counting, SPI Remains Committed to Eliminating Marine Debris

FriendlyTurtle_AnimatedWebTwenty-eight years ago, SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association helped organize the nation’s first formal beach cleanup, as part of the International Coastal Cleanup Campaign. With SPI’s support, the event helped bring nearly 3,000 people to a Texas beach one day in 1986 to help pick up litter, giving birth to an annual tradition that has grown to the point where in the 2013 International Coastal Cleanup, nearly 650,000 volunteers across the world picked up more than 12.3 million pounds of trash from the planet’s beaches.

Before the very first beach cleanup, the Center for Marine Conservation (CMC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a comprehensive study that revealed that plastics debris was a nationwide problem for marine wildlife, which ultimately prompted the event and SPI’s involvement. At the time, CMC asked SPI to “become part of the solution,” an invitation the association and the entire plastics accepted in 1986, and continued to accept every day thereafter.

Recent reports suggest that marine debris is still a serious problem, and SPI remains as concerned and committed to eliminating pollution in our oceans and waterways as it was nearly three decades ago. Plastics are among the many products that can find their way into oceans through accidental spills, improper consumer disposal or inefficient manufacturing processes. Marine debris impacts much more than just the appearance of the natural environment—it affects everything from the safety of the tiniest coral polyps, sea turtles and giant blue whales to local economies, fishing and navigation and even the health and safety of the humans who create the litter.

Because SPI understands its responsibility to the public and the environment, the organization has a long history of working with its members on best practices that advance business sustainability and permit companies to establish themselves as leaders in this space. The result of these efforts has been a series of programs designed to promote zero waste throughout the plastics supply chain, but as far as preventing plastics from entering in the marine environment is concerned, the flagship program is Operation Clean Sweep (OCS).

“SPI remains firmly committed to addressing the issue of marine litter with sound solutions that achieve our goal of pursuing zero waste strategies,” said SPI President and CEO William Carteaux. “Our Operation Clean Sweep program is designed to prevent resin pellet loss and help keep pellets out of the marine environment, and continues to expand globally and is now being implemented by 14 countries around the world. The global plastics industry will continue to build on the commitments we’ve made in previous years to explore marine litter solutions.”

Plastics companies that haven’t yet taken the OCS pledge to eliminate the loss of plastic pellets in their factories and facilities can, and should, do so through the OCS website. Through OCS and other SPI-led programs, the plastics industry is working to keep plastic materials out of the marine environment, and close the loop on plastics, and, with collaboration, hard work and a little bit of luck, in another 30 years, there won’t be an International Coastal Cleanup, not because it’s not important, but because hopefully by then it won’t be necessary.