Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Strong Start for Future Leaders in Plastics

By Katie Masterson, SPI Program Manager, Industry Affairs, and FLiP Liaison

The Future Leaders in Plastics (FLiP) gained momentum this past week as a group of young leaders in plastics traveled to the SPI headquarters to  brainstorm, establish a mission for the group and further explore the benefits that SPI provides.

From left, Shreyas Naik ,Michael Stark, Brennan Georgianni, Jacob Groh, Jason Smith, Heather McKee, Gerry Benedicto, Beth Trenor, Lucas Shaffchick, Jennifer Zerda, Ricky Schultz, Shannon Stickler, Nic Nixon

Seeking representation across SPI’s membership for this brainstorm, seated members from the four Industry-sector Councils nominated a small group of young professionals under 40 years of age for this first meeting.

This group, accompanied by young leaders among SPI’s staff, kicked the meeting off on Thursday, April 24 with a tour of the Capitol and networking dinner. The next day, SPI President and CEO, William R. Carteaux highlighted the advantages of belonging to a trade association like SPI. Ted Fisher, Material Suppliers Council Chair, reinforced those benefits and provided a member perspective. Then the group launched into brainstorming and had several breakouts throughout the day where items were discussed and a plan was laid out for the direction of FLiP.

Some ideas that resulted from the brainstorm include:

  • Recognizing and bringing together young professionals at current SPI conferences and events
  • A networking reception at NPE next spring
  • Better leveraging and informing SPI benefits to  this age group
  • A mentor program

The group will be pursuing becoming an official committee of SPI’s, finalizing a mission statement and will be working with Katie Masterson and other SPI staff to draft a set of bylaws so they can begin to tackle some of these ideas and tasks that resulted from the meeting.

“We’re going to try to keep this positive forward momentum going as a result of this meeting,” said Masterson.

To be added to FLiP communication, please e-mail your contact information to: FLiP@plasticsindustry.org or contact Katie Masterson at (202) 974-5200.

(Pictured from left, Shreyas Naik, Michael Stark, Brennan Georgianni, Jacob Groh, Jason Smith, Heather McKee, Gerry Benedicto, Beth Trenor, Lucas Shaffchick, Jennifer Zerda, Ricky Schultz, Shannon Stickler, Nic Nixon and Annina Donaldson)

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Chicago Plastic Bag Ban Leaves Consumers Holding the (paper) Bag

By Michael Salmon, Public Affairs Manager

Families in Chicago, plastics industry workers and consumers will be impacted after the City Council passed a partial plastic bag ban on April 30, forcing many city businesses to go back to the more expensive and heavier paper bags, which are not as environmentally friendly as once thought.

By banning plastic bags, consumers in Chicago and other cities where plastic bags have or will be banned in the future will be going back to heavier and bulkier paper bags or reusable bags. In addition to the job loss associated with a ban on plastic bags, SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, is also concerned about replacing plastic with paper and reusable bags that are not consumer and environmentally friendly.

Here are some facts about paper, as reported by the American Progressive Bag Alliance:

Less material means less waste and fewer emissions.

  • Plastic bags generate 80% less waste than paper bags.
  • Plastic bags generate only 50% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of composted paper bags.
  • The production of plastic bags consumes less than 4% of the water needed to make paper bags.
  • A typical plastic bag weighs 4-5 grams and can hold up to 17 pounds—nearly 2,000 times its own weight.
  • Plastic grocery bags require 70% less energy to manufacture than paper bags, and produce half the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the process.
  • Plastic bags take up 85 percent less space than paper bags in landfills.
  • During their life cycle, plastic bags require about one-third less energy to make than paper bags. Plastic grocery bags are an extremely resource-efficient multi-use plastic bag choice.
  • For every seven trucks needed to deliver paper bags, only one truck is needed for the same number of plastic bags, helping to save energy and reduce emissions.
  • It takes 91% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it does to recycle a pound of paper.
  • By using plastics in their packaging, product manufacturers save enough energy every year to power a city of 1 million homes for 3-1/2 years.

In addition to recycling, a recent national survey shows that over 90% of Americans reuse their plastic bags. About 65% of Americans reuse their bags for trash disposal. Other common uses include lunch bags and pet pick-up. In this regard, the reuse of a plastic shopping bag prevents a second bag from being purchased to fulfill these necessary functions.   These replacement bags are often thicker, bigger and intended to go to the landfill, meaning the unintended consequence is that more plastic is going into the landfill.

A look at other areas in the country where rules on plastic bags were implemented recently shows that bans and taxes don’t work.

  • A ban or tax would make no difference in litter reduction since plastic bags only make up a tiny fraction (less than 0.5 percent) of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream.
  • In October 2010 along North Carolina’s Outer Banks area, the North Carolina Solid Waste and Management Annual Report for FY 2010-2011 reported that a correlation between the law and the number of bags collected is not apparent.
  • According to a study from the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), a ban on plastic bags can negatively impact retail sales in the ban area as well, shifting business to stores just outside the bag ban region. For example, in Los Angeles County, a survey taken one year after a plastic bag band was implemented revealed that the majority of stores surveyed in areas with a ban reported an overall average sales decline of nearly 6 percent while the majority of respondents surveyed in areas without a ban reported an overall average sales growth of 9 percent.

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Mend it like Beckham with a Plastics Air Boot

By Michael Salmon, Public Affairs Manager

We’ve all seen the impact plastics has in the medical arena, but the role plastics play in a medical situation really hit home at SPI recently when our own Tracy Cullen, the senior vice president of communications and marketing, had a fall and broke her foot. A majority of the plastic air boot Tracy was fitted with is made of plastic.

Bota Shell Air Ankle Walker

Bota Shell Air Ankle Walker

“My orthopaedic doctor outfitted me with a lightweight, removable plastic boot,” Cullen explained.  “It is made of a durable, semi-rigid plastic shell, and four air cells line the boot to support my foot and ankle … I simply use a plastic hand bulb to inflate and deflate the air cells as needed for a snug fit, and I’m told that  this compression will reduce swelling and pain.

The boot, a.k.a. the Bota Shell Air Ankle Walker, is made by Breg, Inc. of Carlsbad, California. The shell “offers the same support, comfort and compliance as Breg’s Vectra product line with the added convenience of a lightweight, durable, semi-rigid shell,” of plastic.

Tracy was instructed to remove the air boot to flex and exercise her foot, ankle and leg muscles  in order to prevent stiffness and muscle atrophy. And that’s precisely why this type of plastic air boot is now commonly used to treat professional athletes like David Beckam, Wayne Rooney and others who suffer from Metatarsal fractures, sprained or broken ankles. It reduces pain and overall healing time so professional athletes and association execs alike can quickly get back in the game.

It wasn’t too long ago when the doctors would have broken out the plaster and made a bulky cast on Tracy’s foot, but in the past few decades, plastics have made health care simpler and less painful. They have reduced healing time, relieved pain and cut medical costs.

“I’ll be in my air boot through my rehabilitation period until I am ready to start walking normally,” Cullen said.  “I’ll simply start walking while still in the plastic boot—there is a tough rubber sole to provide traction.”

To complement the cast, Tracy is also using a knee scooter in lieu of crutches for enhanced mobility. The knee scooter is another medical device that benefits greatly from plastics. The wheels, leg rest and brake cable coverings are all products of the plastics industry. “Crutches are so 19th century,” Cullen joked as she rolled down the hall.

As has been mentioned in previous blog posts, the plastics industry is responsible for much advancement in the world of medicine. State-of-the-art medical equipment utilizes plastic and helps people recover, rehabilitate, and regain their quality of life. Whether it is medical equipment such as stethoscopes made using polypropylene and polystyrene, or disposable medical applications (blood bags, tubing, catheters, examination gloves and inhalation masks as examples) made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyurethane, or incubator domes made from acrylic or polycarbonate to defend premature infants against infection, plastics are there.

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Hilex Poly Busts Myths About Plastics in Marine Environment

By Philip R. Rozenski, Director of Sustainability for Hilex Poly Company LLC, Policy Chair for the American Progressive Bag Alliance

As a leading American plastic bag manufacturer in the United States and operator of the nation’s largest closed-loop plastic bag recycling facility, Hilex Poly understands the importance of keeping plastic bags and films out of the environment and in the recycling stream. While we would love to Bag2Bag Logoeliminate all waste (and have in fact invested tens of millions of dollars in recycling programs), we recognize that there are times when various plastics are improperly disposed of and end up in places where they don’t belong.

At the same time, myths about plastic bag waste and litter continue to receive media and NGO (nongovernmental organization) attention that distorts our true litter problems. A perfect example where this can be seen is with marine debris. Contrary to what many people believe to be the truth, not only do plastic bags constitute a minute amount of the total overall marine litter, plastic bags are unfairly grouped with other littered items that serve as much larger threats to marine life.

BAG-2-BAG RECYCLING

To further reduce the likelihood of plastic bags becoming litter, Hilex has taken an aggressive, proactive approach to increase the amount of plastic bags that are recycled and makes recycling all plastic films convenient for consumers across the country. Through our Bag-2-Bag Recycling Program, we have distributed more than 32,000 recycling collection bins across 45 states, allowing millions of consumers to easily recycle plastic bags and wraps at grocery stores and retailers. Proving this program’s success, our recycling center in North Vernon, Ind., recycled more than 20 million pounds of bags, sacks and wraps in 2012 alone.

Bags created in our Bag-2-Bag program are made of recycled content, lower carbon emissions by 11 percent, require 20 percent less energy to produce, reduce the need for virgin material and divert millions of pounds from landfills each year through this closed-loop process. We are extremely proud that the time, money and resources we have invested in this program are paying off.

BUSTING MYTHS

We look forward to a day when the myths about plastic bag waste, including those surrounding marine debris, are recognized for what they are: myths. In the meantime, Hilex will continue to focus on solutions that make a real difference in protecting our environment. We are proud of our products, the many innovative ways people reuse them in their daily lives, and our Bag-2-Bag program which supports an effective way for consumers to recycle the plastic bags they don’t reuse – by turning them into new bags or other useful products.

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Virginia County Makes Rigid Recycling Convenient

By Jamie Clark, Vice President and General Manager of Printpack Rigid

In July, James City County, Va., and three other Virginia municipalities will join the ranks of progressive counties by offering residents the opportunity to recycle rigid plastics at the curbside. Among other plastic containers, items added to curbside pickup will include plastics like yogurt cups and grocery store clam shells.

Jamie Clark

Jamie Clark

As an officer of SPI and chairman of the affiliated Rigid Plastics Packaging Group (RPPG), my team and I helped support a study on rigid plastics recovery within the county that led to this decision. I live and work in James City County.

The Virginia Public Service Authority (VPPSA), which manages curbside collection for the four municipalities, led the initiative with support from Printpack and RPPG.  The study showed that when households were asked to recycle all rigid plastics, the entire quantity of recyclables went up by 20 percent with polypropylene and non-bottle PET making up the majority of the increase.  PET bottles, which are already included in the program, also saw a substantial bump.  Both polypropylene and PET are highly recyclable and valuable to the industry.  In addition, there was no significant increase in non-recyclable materials.

National recycling statistics show a trend in improvements in the recovery stream for rigid plastics.  Non-bottle rigid plastic recovery increased threefold from 325,440,000 pounds collected in 2007 to 933,927,245 pounds in 2011. Also, the ratio of materials staying in Canada and the U.S. as opposed to being shipped to other countries, increased from 37 percent to 61 percent, which is higher than aluminum and paper.

VPPSA officials were initially reluctant to collect all rigid plastics because they were concerned that the market for mixed plastics seemed to be centered overseas, and they wanted to be certain that if rigids were collected, they would actually be recycled. Traditionally, the only plastic materials they accepted were PET bottles and HDPE jugs with necks.

When VPPSA put out their curbside collection contract for bid, they did not include all rigid plastics in the RFQ because of the perceived lack of economic incentive and the fear that there would be cost increases associated with collecting all rigids.

With the support of SPI and the American Chemistry Council, I assured them that the domestic market was developing to handle this type of recovery. The expanded recycling won’t cost the localities more, nor will it require a change in the regional contract.  There is a market for the materials, and contractors seem to be looking for more mixed plastic.

I also pointed out that the level of polypropylene consumed in China is three to four times that in the U.S., thus we should not be surprised that Asia has high demand for this raw material. This is a good thing.

A meeting held in January 2014 to discuss expanding the region’s recycling program included Printpack executives and representatives from the SPI, the Southeast Recycling Development Council, County Waste (the MRF that won the bid substantially reducing VPPSA’s cost) and James City County’s Economic Development and General Services Departments.

County Waste officials said they were collecting rigid plastics elsewhere and were ready to collect them in our region. County Waste made the difference here – they clearly understood that maximizing collection and recycling of all rigid plastics was profitable.

The James City County Economic Development Group was instrumental in aligning the parties and moving this initiative forward.  There is good reason that Forbes Magazine ranked Virginia the best state for Business in 2013.

The grassroots efforts of Printpack associates helped generate attention to the issue. Our associates, who live in James City and the other municipalities involved, reached out to their respective local officials and let them know this was an important issue.  This resulted in several critical meetings and plant tours with influential elected officials.

Being accessible the Virginia Gazette, the local newspaper, helped promote the effort.   Environmental reporter Cortney Langley was intrigued by the story as it was a case where industry leaders were actually pushing for “the right thing to do.”  She published two stories about the initiative.

Citizens of the county can expect a simple procedure of simply separating their plastics in a separate bin to be picked up with regular waste disposal.  With local industries and citizens at large aligned, this no cost solution to aid in the recovery of plastics is projected to be a hit in our community.

If there’s a lesson for our industry – it’s that we can make a difference.   We have 900,000 people employed in our industry we need engage them all and make them ambassadors to communicate our message across the nation.