Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Processor of the Year Award Validates the STIHL Approach to Automation, Employee Engagement

“For us, we can’t just hire people and put them in a job; we need to qualify them in order to do the job,” said Benjamin Hoffmann, manager of polymer technologies at STIHL Inc.

Benjamin Hoffman, manager of polymer technologies, STIHL Inc. accepts the Processor of the Year award from Plastics News Senior Reporter Bill Bregar.

Benjamin Hoffman, manager of polymer technologies, STIHL Inc. accepts the Processor of the Year award from Plastics News Senior Reporter Bill Bregar.

Plastics News named STIHL Inc. their Processor of the Year at their Executive Forum in Lake Las Vegas earlier this month. For Benjamin Hoffmann, manager of polymer technologies at STIHL Inc., who accepted the award on his company’s behalf, the occasion was cause for gratitude, but also for gratification. “For us, we wanted to see how we benchmarked against others in the industry, and see if what we’re doing was the right thing, or if there were others we could learn from. That was really why we participated,” he said. “Receiving the award is confirmation that all we’ve been doing has been in the right direction, and so we’re going to continue doing what we’ve done so far.”

When asked what distinguished STIHL processing operations from other processing operations, Hoffmann’s first thought was that company’s commitment to automation. “When you look at the size and the level of automation I think that’s where we had a lot of things to show,” he said. “The scope of the automation we have, and also the pure size of our operation were some of the main differences. We have about 90 machines. Others typically only have between 20 and 30.”

STIHL committed to the concept of factory automation early, sometime in the 2000s according to Hoffmann, but the negative connotations that often go with the term “automation” don’t apply to STIHL. “We have embraced the automation concept in order to stay competitive. By the end of this year we’ll have about 151 robots, but one of the remarkable things is that no full time employee has ever been laid off due to automation,” Hoffmann said. “Through automation, we make our processes more efficient, and give people the opportunity to train to get into higher paid jobs, like programming robots or maintaining them. It’s a huge efficiency gain for us.”

“It’s a big advantage for us because among our employees there’s no hesitation when you put a new robot on the show floor,” he added, noting that some employees even make suggestions for what can be automated next. “A lot of employees will come up and say ‘I’m doing this repetitive task, can we automate this?,’” Hoffmann said.

STIHL_PlantPhoto2STIHL has also operated an apprenticeship program since 1984, long before the manufacturing skills gap threatened companies with staffing shortages. “At that point the skills gap wasn’t that predominant,” Hoffmann said, noting that today the STIHL apprenticeship program looks much different from how it looked 30 years ago. “We have varied class sizes and apprentice programs. It used to be more of the mechanical side, but the focus has really shifted over the last two or three years to mechatronics, so really what we need are people that understand the mechanics, but also the electronics,” he said. “For us, ultimately we don’t get the skilled people out on the job market or straight from college or high school. We can’t just hire people and put them in a job; we need to qualify them in order to do the job.”

SPI operates its own workforce management tools to members (see more here) but the STIHL philosophy regarding automation as a means to increase efficiency rather than reduce head count, and its approach to educating and building its own workforce, should serve as an example of the ideal way to run a modern manufacturing facility. They remain among the most innovative, automated companies in the industry, but they still recognize that their most valuable resource is their people. Prioritizing the things that STIHL prioritizes goes a long way toward supporting the plastics industry’s continued growth and development, with an eye toward who’ll be running facilities not today, or tomorrow, but years down the road.

STIHL_PlantPhoto

“The companies that comprise SPI’s membership are on the cutting edge of their industry and are consistently innovating—technologically, operationally, environmentally—in a way that’s a credit to plastics,” said William R. Carteaux, SPI president and CEO. “STIHL makes bold, innovative investments in their operational infrastructure, all while showing as much respect for their business as for their employees, and serves as a model of modern corporate stewardship and a long-term commitment to growth and productivity. Their win of this year’s Processor of the Year Award is richly deserved.”

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

A Deep Dive: SPI Calls on Plastics Companies and Consumers to Prevent Marine Debris

FriendlyTurtle_AnimatedWebA report released by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of Southern California, Santa Barbara, and recently published in Science magazine provided an estimate of the amount of debris found in the planet’s oceans. William R. Carteaux, president and CEO of SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, issued this statement in response to the report:

“The pursuit of zero waste is chief among the goals set forth by SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association. We’re working with our members to establish practices and policies that will result in plastics products designed with expanded end of life and collection opportunities.

“Ocean litter is a global problem that threatens our health, our marine wildlife and the livelihoods of millions who depend on a healthy ocean. SPI and other plastics industry trade associations are working to combat these problems, both by taking actions to stop plastic materials from entering the marine environment and by promoting a change in attitudes to prevent the waste of plastic materials.

“SPI has always worked to support efforts to keep our oceans and waterways free of plastic debris. Nearly 30 years ago, our association helped organize the nation’s first formal beach cleanup as part of the International Coastal Cleanup Campaign, organized by the Ocean Conservancy. That event has grown from its humble beginnings on a Texas beach to a worldwide event that garners participation from more than 650,000 volunteers and removes millions of pounds of trash from beaches around the world.

William R. Carteaux, President and CEO, SPI

William R. Carteaux, President and CEO, SPI

“More than 20 years ago, we founded Operation Clean Sweep (OCS), one of SPI’s most successful programs. OCS is an industry stewardship program specifically designed to prevent resin pellet loss and help keep pellets out of the marine environment. The tools it provides to the plastics industry are being used in thousands of plants across the globe, and by all indications the program is working. Last year a study by the SEA Association documented an 80 percent decrease in concentration of pellets in the water from 1986 to 2010.

“SPI is proud to have contributed to these efforts, and continues to promote their use internationally, working with the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division to provide a royalty-free license to any global plastics organization that would like to implement the program. But we also support the cause of eliminating marine debris by supporting recycling and educating the public about the value of plastic materials. SPI works tirelessly to create new markets for recycled plastic materials, and to spur innovation that makes recycling plastic products easier and more widespread for all consumers and for all types of plastics, from polystyrene foams to rigid packaging to plastic bags and everything in between.

“SPI will continue to work and collaborate with other industry organizations to facilitate programs that increase recycling and eliminate the loss of plastic pellets and materials that end up in our oceans and waterways. By working together, we can drive the meaningful recovery of plastics products that will stop marine debris at its source.”

Monday, February 9th, 2015

SPI President and CEO: Super Bowl Waste Management Ad Misleads on Plastic Bag Recycling

By SPI President and CEO William R. Carteaux

A Waste Management advertisement that ran during the 2015 Super Bowl incorrectly suggested that plastic bags aren’t recyclable. They very much are. In fact, the lightweight plastic bags the ad suggests aren’t recyclable are 100% recyclable, thanks in great part to a number of programs put together by the plastics industry and its partners.

Some background on the ad: Waste Management created the spot as part of its “Recycle Often. Recycle Right.” campaign. The initiative’s goals are noble—improving quality at the curb, reducing contamination in materials recovery facilities (MRFs) and for recyclers. These goals are shared part and parcel by SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, at least until they get to the point where they suggest that plastic bags should be treated like trash. The ad in question depicts two animated curbside bins, one for recycling and one for garbage. The recycling one appears to be choking on a plastic retail bag, which it then coughs up as a voice says “not all plastics can be recycled” and the bag is collected by the other bin, the one made for garbage.

William R. Carteaux, President and CEO, SPI

William R. Carteaux, President and CEO, SPI

Waste Management sacrificed the facts for the sake of cuteness. Plastic bags are typically made from low-density polyethylene, a material that’s 100% recyclable. For example, one company, NOVOLEX, a member of SPI and the SPI-supported American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA), created a program years ago called “Bag-2-Bag,” which established over 30,000 plastic bag, film and wrap recycling points at grocery stores and retailers across the country. Customers can, and do, take their plastic bags back to these stations the next time they go shopping, and NOVOLEX can, and does, collect them and recycle them into new bags. Each year the company recycles more than 35 million pounds of plastic bags and polyethylene films (including product wrapping and dry cleaner bags) into new bags and other eco-friendly raw materials, demonstrating that these products are quite recyclable.

If Waste Management’s problem with plastic bags is that, when included in the recycling stream, they can gum up their machines and the operation of the MRFs, there are two solutions: they can buy equipment that enables them to recover plastic bags in the MRF environment (technologies that enable this are widely employed in Europe and in select MRFs in North America) and they can work with SPI and the APBA to educate consumers to recycle these materials properly through return-to-retail collection locations.

SPI applauds Waste Management for its dedication to sustainable practices and raising public awareness about recycling, but that’s what makes this ad such a disappointment. Rather than misleading the public, we should be working together to make plastic bag recycling easier and widespread. That way this valuable material can go on to have a second life as a new bag or another product, like plastic lumber. If the public listened to Waste Management’s Super Bowl ad, the effects could be devastating, and instead of slowing down operations in Waste Management’s MRFs or ending up in the appropriate recycling receptacles, plastic bags could end up in Waste Management’s landfills.

Plastic bags often don’t belong in a typical recycling bin, sure, but they also don’t belong in a landfill. Let’s work together to eliminate misconceptions about plastic bag recycling, and increase plastic bag recycling education.

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

SPI, Dart Container Offer Recycling Exit Strategy for EPS Plastic Foam Materials

For Dart, a leading manufacturer of single-use foodservice material, among numerous other plastic products, New York City’s decision to ban plastic foam has raised questions, but hasn’t weakened their resolve to correct some of the most pernicious myths about this material.

“We’re still talking about it and determining our next steps,” said Christine Cassidy, recycling manager at Dart Container. “Dart is one of the leading manufacturers of single-use foodservice material and about half of it is foam. We also manufacture paper, rigid plastic and compostable products. If we’re sending it out to customers we want to make sure they have outlets to recover it at the end of the day,” she said.

This commitment to providing end-of-life opportunities for their products doesn’t prevent legislatures like New York’s from acting rashly, or, given the city council’s central assertion, from acting on false information. “A lot of people say it can’t be recycled, like New York did,” Cassidy said, “but that is not true.”

Dart Container’s PS foam recycling support includes collection/shipping containers.

Dart Container’s PS foam recycling support includes collection/shipping containers.

SPI’s Recycling Committee continually aims to combat falsehoods about plastic materials and their recyclability. But in addition to campaigning against misinformation, like the kind on which New York based its EPS ban, the Recycling Committee works to make recycling easier, and more widespread. Most recently it contributed to this effort with its EPS Recycling Equipment Guide, which offers materials recovery facilities (MRFs) across the country a useful tool for purchasing the equipment they need to make EPS recycling a part of their operations.

“It’s not too much equipment,” Cassidy said, offering a counterpoint to EPS recycling opponents who argue that the process is too expensive or too complicated for EPS recycling to go mainstream. The more widespread this equipment becomes at MRFs nationwide, the more easily this material can be recycled through curbside programs, Cassidy added. “With something like curbside recycling, you can add EPS into the bins and it’ll get collected just like paper, plastic and glass, and it’s sorted just like all those other materials at the MRF,” she said, noting that “NYC found adding EPS to their recycling program would not increase mileage or routes on their collection trucks. Haulers typically operate using a certain amount of weight as a threshold. Once a truck has accumulated enough weight, they have to trek to the MRF and drop off what they have. “With foam it’s lightweight so it is able to travel in the unused space on the truck,” Cassidy said. “EPS is only 1 percent of the waste stream.” Like other material bans elsewhere in the country, the good intentions of policymakers don’t exactly translate into real environmental benefits. For example, New York’s ban on foam only applies to foodservice foam, meaning takeout containers and things of that nature, but not egg cartons or meat trays, or the type of foam used to package electronics. “Those aren’t part of the ban,” Cassidy said. “It’s a small fraction of what foam is out there.”

This is an important point. While proponents like the simplicity of material bans, it’s hard to consider them a success when so much material still ends up going to the landfill, rather than to a recycling facility. “They’re really not accomplishing much with the ban,” Cassidy deadpanned. “If they really wanted to do something meaningful, they should have accepted the offer to have it recycled.”

Public education is a great deal of the battle for Dart, and for SPI’s Recycling Committee. “I find that many people do not understand the benefits of foam or that it can be recycled. They usually do not have an alternative once they ban it. Compostable cups are an alternative only if public composting is available and consumer dispose of it in the right way. If not, it is just going to a landfill.” Cassidy said. “You’re saying ban a product that Dart is willing to help the city and municipality recycle, in order to go to a product that you’re going to send to the landfill.”

Laws like New York’s never seem to think beyond the ban; they don’t provide an exit strategy for the material that inevitably comes to take the place when plastic materials are no longer allowed. “If you ban it, what are you going to do with the replacements?” Cassidy said. “Right now many communities don’t have a solution.” All the excitement about material bans seems to drown out that fact; in the long run, whatever material is banned needs to be replaced by something. People won’t start drinking coffee straight from the pot just because they can’t find an EPS cup. The only real solution that provides a plan for what to do with all of these materials at the end of their usefulness is recycling or composting. “New York City only banned a minority of the foam in the city, and they’re landfilling the majority of it,” Cassidy said. “If they went with a recycling program, they’d be able to recycle 100 percent.”

Friday, January 30th, 2015

Atlanta Fashion Students Create Couture from Recycled Plastics

One-of-a-Kind Designs to Take Center Stage at SPI’s NPE2015 Trade Show

By Kimberly Coghill, SPI, Director of Communications

As society becomes more environmentally conscious, the fashion industry – like the plastics manufacturing industry – is rethinking some of its recycling rituals to ensure that Mother Earth doesn’t feel negative effects from its presence. To illustrate some reuses of plastics materials, SPI entered a partnership with the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Atlanta to create original clothing made from repurposed post-consumer plastic products.

Previously-used plastic shelf paper along with recovered chandelier pieces are the basis for a dress created by a SCAD student.

Previously-used plastic shelf paper along with recovered chandelier pieces are the basis for a dress created by a SCAD student.

“When SPI expanded its mission to include the pursuit of zero waste, the idea was to engage its members in addressing the issues of sustainability and recycling through sound solutions,” said Kim Holmes, SPI’s senior director of recycling and diversion. “The SCAD project is an example of SPI’s commitment to zero waste by giving plastic materials more than one life and challenging people’s thinking about what is possible with recycled materials.”

Holmes and Brad Williams, SPI’s director of trade show marketing and sales, advised the students on the use of appropriate materials while helping them locate products such as bubble wrap, plastic mesh, a parachute, vinyl, yoga mats, drawer liners, plastic foam and acrylic plastic sheets.

The result is a one-of-a-kind collection of high-fashion women’s formal wear and accessories that will premiere at the Pursuing Zero Waste Fashion Show during the opening ceremony of NPE2015, March 23, 2015 in Orlando, Fla. The outfits will be displayed throughout NPE2015 in SPI’s Zero Waste Zone.

Revelations about Plastic

Working with plastics was a lesson in itself, the SCAD students said, noting that plastic behaves favorably, but different than most fabrics. In its criteria guideline for the project, the group determined that all materials had to be recycled and if fabrics were used, they had to contain at least 25 percent post-consumer plastic.

A few students admitted to entering the project with preconceived notions that weren’t necessarily positive. They described plastics as “manmade, hard/rigid and inexpensive.” But after some research, they realized how integral plastics are to their daily lives. “From potato chip bags to hair accessories to sleeping bags and inflatable beds, it seems plastics are everywhere,” the group’s project report said, noting that as artists, they are advocates for their generation and have an opportunity to effect change. At the end of the project, students talked about their new understanding of plastics, whether recycled or re-used, as a viable material for design, and noted a desire to continue working with plastics in the future.

SPI couldn’t have scripted a better reaction, said Holmes. “SPI is driven to show that plastics are valuable, necessary materials that, if managed properly, have more than one life.”

SCAD 2 Student

Piece by piece, SCAD student Aida Bajramovic begins the process of creating an original design.

Latonya Lark, a SCAD sculpture major who usually works with wood and natural products, said she cringed slightly at the thought of using plastics for the design class. Nevertheless, she forged ahead with an open mind and was pleasantly surprised when she discovered that plastics are flexible, therefore easy to manipulate and mold, and very capable of producing attractive accessories with market appeal. After realizing the design freedom that plastic affords, Lark said she will likely continue to use plastics in her art going forward.

Classmate Aida Bajramovic agreed, using a shower curtain to create a beautiful gown that’s accessorized by acrylic prisms removed from an old chandelier. Meanwhile, Siobhan Mulhern transformed a military parachute manufactured in 1966 into a formal dress that’s lined with a military sleeping bag. She further demonstrated her talent by creating a second design using plastic bubble wrap and sliced playpen balls to make a cape that overlays a light blue bathing suit for a sporty look.

Some materials used for the project were donated by SPI via its members, while others were collected on the SCAD Atlanta campus and in second-hand and online stores.

The handmade garments displayed at NPE2015 will be based on designs selected by SPI from submissions by students at SCAD’s School of Fashion and will include 3D printed plastic accessories. Follow us on Twitter @SPI_4_Plastics and feel free to Tweet/Retweet using #SCADNPE.