Monday, March 21st, 2016

Five Regulatory Issues to Watch in 2016

This year is proving to be packed with regulatory activity at the federal level for two big reasons: first, with Congress focused on elections, federal agencies can take actions with less scrutiny than they might’ve faced in any other year, and second, this is President Obama’s last opportunity to make lasting policy changes. Stateside, California will remain active from a regulatory standpoint this year as well, because…well…it’s California.

While SPI addresses countless issues stemming from the federal agencies’ semi-annual agendas, federal courts and the states, here is a sampling of issues that impact the plastics industry.

Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP)

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its final FSVP rule in November 2015 under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). FSVP governs food that is imported to the United States and ensures that those importing food are doing so in a manner that is as safe as possible for the American public. SPI worked with FDA to ensure that the rule would include an explicit exemption for food contact substances, but unfortunately the final rule did not provide any such exemption. By default, this means the rule encompasses food packaging. SPI members could be subject to onerous and unnecessary requirements to conduct food safety hazard assessments and audits of their foreign suppliers if they manufacture food contact substances. SPI is currently working with FDA on the issue and hopes to see some clarifying action by the agency in 2016.

Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses

The pending Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses rule is one of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) highest priorities. A final rule is under review at the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB), Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). SPI submitted comments on the November 2013 proposal, which would require the electronic transmission (annual or quarterly, depending on the number of employees) of information that is currently recorded, but not reported, to OSHA or its designee. Significant concerns include maintaining employee confidentiality, particularly with the posting of information on a public website, as well as employer and agency resource burdens.

Combustible Dust Rule

OSHA does not have a comprehensive standard to address combustible dust, though it is now in the definition of “hazardous chemical” in the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). Combustible dust incidents have resulted in fires and explosions, and rulemaking activity was first published in the Unified Agenda in spring 2009. The next step is seeking small business input, required under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA), but there are continuous delays. SPI will monitor OSHA’s progress. SPI is also watching combustible dust activity under the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) and comment on National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards 654 and 652. SPI is currently developing comments for the revision of NPFA 652, due June 29.

Risk Management Plan Rule

EPA began the rulemaking process for revisions to the Risk Management Plan (RMP) Rule with a Request for Information (RFI) in 2014. RMP requires facilities that meet threshold quantity requirements of specific regulated substances to develop plans in case there is an accidental release. After the SBREFA process, EPA released a proposed rule in February 2016. SPI will file comments. OSHA is now convening a SBREFA panel for potential revisions to the Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals (PSM) standard, for which OSHA issued an RFI in December 2013. SPI will continue monitoring.

California’s 75% Initiative – Manufacturers’ Challenge 

In 2011 California passed legislation that sets a non-mandatory target of a 75% reduction of solid waste to landfill through reduction, recycling, or composting by 2020. The “75% Initiative,” as it’s referred to, is being implemented by CalRecycle, the state agency that handles recycling and recovery efforts. The Manufacturers’ Challenge is a program that is intended to target packaging materials and sets a goal of a 50% reduction of packaging to landfills by 2020. SPI has submitted comments and met with CalRecycle, and also participated in the Manufacturers’ Challenge meeting, which took place on January 5, 2016. More updates on the initiative and CalRecycle’s outreach efforts to manufacturers could occur in 2016, and SPI will keep the plastics industry informed as they arise.

Monday, March 7th, 2016

The FLiP Files: FLiP Chairman Michael Stark

The FLiP Files is a blog series spotlighting young professionals that are active in SPI’s Future Leaders in Plastics (FLiP), a group for plastics professionals under the age of 40.  For this first entry, we spoke to FLiP Chairman Michael Stark, of Wittmann Battenfeld.

Michael Stark, SPI FLiP Chairman

Michael Stark, SPI FLiP Chairman

-Where do you work and what’s your title?

Divisional Manager, Material Handling and Auxiliaries for Wittmann Battenfeld, Inc.

-Tell us a little about what your company does.

The Wittmann Battenfeld Group is one of the largest manufacturers of injection molding machines, robots, automation systems and auxiliaries for the plastics industry worldwide.

-How did you find yourself working in the plastics industry?

It all started with a good paying internship at Ball Corporation when I was in college. They injection molded preforms and stretch blow-molded Pepsi bottles. I was not familiar with the plastics industry prior. I remember getting goosebumps standing in front of some large injection molding machines and I’ve been obsessed with this industry ever since.

-Has anyone in the industry mentored you?

Naturally it’s been my boss, our U.S. President, David Preusse, and our global CEO Michael Wittmann.

-Describe in one sentence what you do on an average day.

One sentence would look like this: “There is no average day.” And that’s what I love most about what I do. There is such a range of things I’m involved in. It keeps me fresh and motivated, all the time. I handle large contract negotiations and staff management of 30-plus people all the way down to getting my hands dirty on top of machinery at a customer’s facility, and everything in between.FLiP_logo-2

-What do you like most about working in the plastics industry?

Hands down it’s the people. This industry has some of the most exciting, diverse, humble and hardworking individuals I’ve ever met. I left the industry for a short clip and ended up coming back for more. Second to that, it’s tangible. I can put my hands on what I’ve done. 

-What’s one thing about your personal life that you feel has been changed by having a career in plastics?

There hasn’t been much of a deep-rooted change in my personal life, I feel; I’ve always been the same Type-A kind of guy. However I will say that I’m a plastics advocate with friends and family as a result. I’m always checking labels on products to see if my company was involved in the equipment or the project.  I’m always preaching about proper recycling at home and wherever I go. I’m always the one picking plastic plates out of the trash at a family BBQ and putting them in the recycling, explaining why and what to look for. Heaven forbid a generalist friend or family member gets me going on plastics being bad!

-What are the major challenges you think are facing the plastics industry today? How do you think the industry can overcome them?

Really big picture is the image of the industry. Forget about increased fuel economy by lightweighting cars with plastics, or saving some lives with a new plastic implantable or device. All of that good is easily outweighed the minute someone Instagrams a picture of plastic litter. I often wonder if they picked the litter up after they took the picture? This image has trickled down into the younger labor force and has aided in creating the skills gap we face in plastics, and all manufacturing in the US. The only way around it is for the industry to collectively stand up and advocate and educate the public, and promote the industry. It helps everyone in the chain, from the molding shop looking to hire some fresh talent, all the way to the consumer of a plastic product. Initiatives like FLiP (Future Leaders in Plastics) are a great start.

-Why do you think someone from your generation should consider a career in plastics?

Michael Stark, addressing student visitors to Wittmann Battenfeld on Manufacturing Day 2015.

Michael Stark, addressing student visitors to Wittmann Battenfeld on Manufacturing Day 2015.

It’s exciting, action packed, fast moving, challenging and rewarding. If you want to be a part of something that touches everyone’s lives, and be on a team of great people, then get involved! If you roll out of bed aspiring to have a dry 8-5 staring at a computer monitor, not making much of an impact, then this might not be for you.

-What’s one plastic product you couldn’t live without?

Tough question! I couldn’t type my response without this plastic keyboard… I just got a phone call from a customer on my plastic phone, crunched some numbers for him on my plastic calculator, and that’s just the last five minutes of my life. On a more personal level, I couldn’t live without my daughter, who wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for plastics being involved in her 8 days of NICU care when she was born.

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Four Reasons Why New Duty Drawback Rules Will Benefit U.S. Plastics and Other Manufacturers

The Senate approved a compromise version of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 (H.R. 644) today. The bill would make American manufacturers more competitive globally by streamlining trade flows, reducing paperwork burdens for smaller shipments and, notably, making duty drawback more available to companies of all sizes.

ExportingPhotoTrade

Duty drawback is an oft-overlooked portion of U.S. trade law but it’s a powerful tool, defined as the refund, reduction or waiver of customs duties assessed or collected upon importation of an article or materials which are subsequently exported or destroyed. In English, that translates to, “if the U.S. charges a duty on something you import, but you use that imported item to produce an item that’s eventually exported, the U.S. will refund the duty it originally charged you.”

This is an especially powerful tool for plastics companies, but successfully taking advantage of it can often be too burdensome for many smaller organizations. Here are four reasons why that’s about to change, and why the new duty drawback provisions included in H.R. 644 are good for U.S. plastics.

1. The new statute makes drawback more available to companies of all sizes: successfully claiming drawback often means heavy paperwork; officials must be able to draw a clear line from the goods upon which the duty was first imposed to the exported good they eventually were a part of. Rather than tackle that process, many companies will opt to just pay the duty. The new bill, however, simplifies the process, giving more exporters an opportunity to reduce their costs with drawback.

2. It includes improvements to substitution: Part of drawback for manufacturers is the concept of substitution, which stipulates that when merchandise that’s “commercially interchangeable” with imported merchandise upon which a duty, tax or fee is levied is ultimately exported or destroyed, the exporter can claim drawback on those goods they imported. The issue is that qualifying such goods for drawback to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is an extremely onerous, subjective process. The new drawback provisions make the concept of “commercial interchangeability” an objective matter by basing this assessment on where each imported or exported merchandise falls on the globally-accepted Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the U.S., eliminating the need for subjective interpretation on the part of CBP.Bottling Process

3. Shorter time frames: Typically drawback requires rulings and approvals prior to filing claims, but the new statute would eliminate the 6-12 month wait time that usually separates the request for approval for drawback and the date the first claim can be filed. This means companies claiming drawback can get their money quicker.

4. More time to file: Under the new statute, time frames will be simplified so instead of allowing drawback on only imported goods that were exported within three years of importation, companies can expand that time limit to five years. This would take off some of the pressure, and alleviate some of the recordkeeping burden on both CBP and on drawback claimants.

H.R. 644 is a solid bill with lots of pro-export, pro-manufacturing provisions, which is why SPI advocated for it. If the administrative hurdles, confusing time frames and arcane details have kept your company from taking advantage of duty drawback, now might be the time to take a second look.

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

A Day of Firsts: SPI Does the Iowa Caucus

By Mark Garrison, Senior Vice President, Membership and Business Development, SPI

This is my first blog—ever. There were a lot of firsts for me on the day of the Iowa caucuses. First time in Des Moines, first time to attend a caucus, first time to attend a presidential candidate’s primary after-party, and the first time I rode in a Bentley. More on the Bentley later.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

SPI hosts several regional events throughout the country. All are open (at no cost) to both members and non-members. However, this is one was a little different. Our member host, i2tech, also known as Innovative Injection Technologies, certainly made an event for the ages.  It was unique right from the start. Those of us who were able to come in the night before were treated to a production of “Caucus – The Musical.” Two hours of political fun and hilarity. The actor who played Ronald Blunt (aka Trump), should be nominated for a Tony award.  The funny one-liners came so fast, I honestly can’t remember my favorite one.

Our event hosts, Bob and Josh Janeczko, planned out a very busy caucus day.  We started with a plant tour of the i2tech facility.  I2tech is a custom injection molder, with 31 molding machines.  The largest being a 3300 ton Milacron. Some of their customers include John Deere, Arctic Cat, Dee Zee and Kongsberg. After the tour, Jennifer Jacobs, chief politics reporter for the Des Moines Register (and also, Bob’s daughter), spoke to our group and brought us up to “political speed” on the events that were about to unfold during the caucuses later that evening.

JenniferJacobs_IMG

Jennifer Jacobs, politics reporter for the Des Moines Register, talking to SPI.

After dinner and some networking, we were off to see a caucus event. Most people are accustomed to pulling a lever behind a closed curtain. I wanted to witness a Democratic caucus because it is the exact opposite. The democrats in Iowa do things in a very public way when they caucus, persuading the undecided voters and competing candidate voters to literally come over to their side of room before the final head count   is taken and votes are final. We heard many impassioned speeches. And most were well thought out. However, my favorite speech of the night actually had very little substance, which is probably why I liked it so much. It was from a Clinton voter trying to convince an undecided voter that he should caucus with them. His exact words were “you need to vote for Hillary because Hillary looks so much better in person than on TV.” I doubt that was the right approach, as I watched that undecided voter get up and head straight over to Bernie Sanders’ side of the room.

With the caucus behind us and the night still young, our group headed downtown to see what candidate after-party we could crash.  As it turns out, crashing one of these parties really isn’t all that hard.  Simply show up, sign in, provide an email address and before you know it, you’re standing in the middle of the Marriott ballroom with several hundred excited supporters waiting for Marco Rubio to show up and give a speech. I guess I was excited to be there as well because I posted on social media what I was up to. Not long after my post, I received a text during the middle of Rubio’s speech. Apparently the back of my head made it on TV when the camera scanned the crowd. I guess I’m famous now.

The end to my evening was a ride back to my hotel in a Bentley. A Bentley! There is no better way to end a great day than a ride in a Bentley. Thanks again Bob and Josh at i2Tech! Can we do it again in four years?

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

Snowzilla: No Match for Plastics

MiaHeadshotBy Mia Freis Quinn, SPI Vice President of Communications

I thought we’d be losing our minds by now, Day 6 of Snowzilla, the blizzard that dumped two feet of snow on the Washington, D.C. area.

But we’re not, somehow?  How is that?  My husband, our two young sons and I are (literally) digging the mountains of snow outside.  What went right during this storm for us?  The top 6 highlights:

1. Good Food.  We didn’t just stock up for this storm, we finally got it right and did it well.  Two of everything.  Brie.  But also salad.  Good wine.  Ingredients for our favorite recipes.  And, our Blue Apron box arrived two days before the storm.  We were hardly slapping together PB & J’s to get through; we were indulging in cod & potato brandade.

SnowzillaFood2. Sleds!  Sledding!  These plastic beauties delivered.  One neighborhood kid created a “luge” track for our block in his front yard, which my son must have gone down 30 times (while the adults enjoyed beverages around a fire pit).

SnowzillaSledAt four months in to my tenure at SPI, I find I’m way more aware of how much and how often plastic touches my life. And during this storm plastic was everywhere – all four of our shovels (especially prominent in the kids’ shovels), the sleds, our snowball makers, our boot trays, and other essential items, which brings me to…

3. Extra Insulation.  My biggest worry was that we’d lose power and freeze in our drafty house (we don’t have a fireplace).  So Friday morning I hit the hardware store and bought electric outlet sealers, window insulation and insulating tape.  All brought to you by…plastic.

4. Open-ended Play.  Santa brought my boys a plastic set of sticks and connectors that’s a fort-builder’s dream.  And every snow day needs a good fort.

SnowzillaFort

Other all-star entertainment items include our ever-reliable Magnatiles, Playmobil and Legos.  And keeping it uber-simple – the Costco bag of red solo cups – hours of building.  Again, all brought to you by…plastics.

SnowzillaCups

5. The Denver Broncos.  My hometown team, led by Peyton Manning, came through against the Patriots this weekend, and the victory was sweet! Fellow Broncos fans in our neighborhood shoveled themselves out, converged in our living room, and we all dined on Cincinnati Chili in homage to my husband’s fallen Bengals.

6. No Milk Panic.  Tip:  For all you who have declared during a storm “We’ve already run out of milk!  Now what!?” – buy several containers of organic milk next time.  The expiration dates are ridiculous!  You could stockpile it and be hunkered down for a few months.

Have there been some rough moments?  You bet. At one point this chili my neighbor left in my fridge fell out and crashed to the ground. I wish she’d used a plastic container.

SnowzillaChili