Friday, December 12th, 2014

SPI Supports Efforts to Clear Waterways of Pollution

FriendlyTurtle_WebSPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association advocates on behalf of programs designed to pursue zero waste. In response to the Five Gyres Institute’s recent release of a study that estimates the quantities of plastics in the world’s oceans (“Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea”), SPI President and CEO William R. Carteaux released the following statement:

“Marine debris is a serious pollution problem that impacts our environment, the economy and our way of life. As responsible plastics manufacturing professionals, SPI and its members are firmly committed to addressing marine litter issues with sound solutions that achieve our goal of pursuing zero waste.

Operation Clean Sweep, an international product stewardship program launched by SPI in 1994 and currently administered in conjunction with the American Chemistry Council, is credited with reducing the concentration of pellets in the waterways by 80 percent. We are extremely proud of our success in this realm and plan to continue working with our peer organizations as well as our members to make greater strides in the future.

“Along with similar-minded organizations around the globe, in 2011 SPI signed The Declaration of the Global Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter, a public commitment to address plastics in the marine environment. SPI is one of 60 associations representing 34 countries that have signed the declaration to promote policies and practices that rid our waterways of ugly, harmful marine debris.

“Plastics are renewable resources that are too valuable to lose as litter. Because of this, we’ve invested heavily in a broad range of recycling projects geared toward encouraging the public to reuse and recycle plastics products. Most recently, SPI became an inaugural member of the Recycling Partnership, a grant fund established by the Curbside Value Partnership (CVP) to support and transform public recycling performance. In this role, we advocate for expansion of programs in communities that have the capability to maximize recovery of plastic products including rigids, thermoforms and other non-bottle packaging materials.

“By supporting efforts to close the loop on all plastics materials so that none reaches the marine environment or the landfill, SPI and its partners are helping to combat marine debris and look forward to a day when plastics in the marine environment are a thing of the past.”

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Baltimore Mayor Correctly Vetoes City Ban on Plastic Bags

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake deserves all the praise she receives for vetoing the politically-motivated plastic bag ban the City Council recently passed with no debate or public discussion. Looming over this issue was a lingering question on the mind of Rawlings-Blake and the collective mind of the plastics industry: where have the voters been in this process?

The City Council certainly didn’t pay attention to them when they took an unpopular 5-cent bag fee bill and changed it at the eleventh hour, without debate or discussion, into an outright ban (members of the City Council who supported the ban said that the statewide midterm elections and a general anti-tax fervor led them to abandon the fee) and they certainly didn’t listen to local business owners who opposed a bag ban on the grounds that it would increase costs and amount to another tax that the City Council claimed it wanted to avoid.Recycled plastic bags image

In fact, according to Mark Daniels, chairman of the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA), because paper bags cost more for grocers to supply, a ban on plastic bags would increase costs for consumers. For example, Daniels noted, for a large grocery store to switch to all paper it could cost an extra $60,000 to $90,000 per store. Those costs would be passed on to consumers, meaning a family of five would see an increase in their annual grocery expenses. If the Council understood the voters’ frustration with increased taxes, it had a funny way of showing it.

The plastic bag ban has become a cause celebre for politicians hoping to score political points and a symbolic victory that is only ever just that: symbolic. Plastic bags take up less than one percent of the municipal waste stream nationwide, and while no amount of litter is acceptable, the issue requires serious solutions and actual discussion. SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association and the APBA share the Baltimore City Council’s concerns about litter, but if they’re serious about having an impact, they should be focusing on litter and recycling education rather than instituting new taxes. Of course, the City Council was never interested in serious solutions and actual discussion; this was a political ploy meant to send the mayor a message.

Baltimore’s experience is becoming all too typical, as, in the search for that symbolic victory, politicians find loopholes to jam plastic bag bans and taxes through the legislature at the expense of openness and transparency. That’s because every time one of these proposals is presented to voters, they’ve rejected it. The only ways to enact a plastic bag ban or tax seem to be to make backroom deals, play political games and silence voter input, but that’s not how government is supposed to work in America. The voters get to have their say, and each time they’ve gotten the chance to, they’ve opposed it.

Ultimately all of these factors lead SPI and the APBA to the conclusion that Rawlings-Blake’s veto was the right thing to do. This was an underhanded effort by the Baltimore City Council to circumvent normal procedures of governance in order to enact a bill Baltimoreans didn’t want, and never got a chance to object to. The veto shows that if the City Council doesn’t value Baltimore residents’ right to debate and discussion, the Mayor does.

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Plastic Trade Groups Teach Kids the Three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Many legislators and policymakers across the country are justifiably concerned about litter, but have been led to believe that plastic bags are a major part of the problem. They’re not. The reality is that plastic bags make up just 0.4 percent (0.4%) of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream, according to the EPA, and traditionally are less than one percent (1%) of litter.Plastic-Bags-Closeup-260w

We as a society must have an honest conversation about litter and its reduction, but that conversation needs to be both grounded in facts and science and focused on meaningful solutions. So, when policymakers consider plastic bag bans and taxes, they should (1) be aware of just how little of the country’s litter is actually made up of plastic bags, and (2) understand that local governmental resources would be better spent elsewhere. This includes supporting broader litter education campaigns focused on changing people’s behavior instead of eliminating useful products and valuable resources.

That’s why SPI and the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) support several different organizations in order to help drive the nation’s first widespread litter reduction initiative since the 1980s. A number of different programs already operate in this space. Earlier this fall, for instance, SPI partnered with JASON Learning, a nonprofit organization managed by Sea Research Foundation, Inc., and the National Geographic Society to launch the “Think Outside the Bag!” plastic film recycling contest, which asks students to create creative public awareness campaigns about flexible film and bag recycling. Not many people know to recycle these materials and therefore dispose of them in garbage bins, where they’re eventually lost to the landfill.  Through partnerships like this one, however, SPI and JASON Learning are teaching environmentally responsible behavior to the next generation of American recyclers and empowering them to educate others so that none of this material ever is wasted.

apba logo_2012In addition, the APBA strongly supports the efforts of A Bag’s Life, a public education campaign that unites nonprofits, business, community and government organizations to raise awareness regarding and make it easier for more people to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic bags.  A Bag’s Life just launched its second-annual plastic bag collection and recycling contest in the Galveston Independent School District (GISD) on November 14, 2014, in honor of America Recycles Day. Last year this successful recycling competition resulted in the collection of over 350,000 plastic bags, and this year the number of participating schools has nearly doubled. Supported by Clean Galveston and Trex, this initiative gives students and their communities until Earth Day 2015 to make a positive environmental change. The two schools with the most recycled bags per capita will win products made from recycled plastic materials and provided by Trex.spi_logo_300x151

Initiatives like this are meaningful, long-term solutions to our nation’s litter problem. Plastic bag bans and taxes are not. SPI and the APBA look forward to working together with the aforementioned organizations, and others, trying to make a real impact on litter through recycling and recycling education.

Friday, November 7th, 2014

NYC Should Abandon Regressive Bag Tax, Join SPI, APBA to Fight Litter

Given the sky-high cost of living in New York, among the highest in the country, the average consumer doesn’t have a lot of money to spare. This is particularly true in the outer boroughs, which are home to some of the poorest congressional districts in the country. So it’s disappointing that the Big Apple is the latest metropolis to contemplate misguided legislation to tax plastic grocery bags in an attempt to address litter.

Recycled plastic bags imagePlastic bag taxes are inherently regressive, doing the most damage to the people who can least afford it. Supporters often cry that these taxes are minimal and the average citizen buying groceries should be able to afford them, but in a city where 1 in 5 people lives below the poverty line, that’s naïve, insensitive and presumptuous; these taxes can be crippling for those at the bottom of the economic spectrum, who simply are doing their best to put food on the table for their families.

Moreover, New York City (NYC) has a higher percentage of non-car owning citizens than any other city in America, making plastic bags a logical and convenient choice for the city’s many residents, who get by riding buses, taking trains and walking. The plastic bag’s popularity with urban dwellers stretches back to its origins in the mid-1960s, when suburban dwellers preferred paper bags that could stand up in the trunks of their cars. Urbanites opted for plastic bags instead, since they have handles, are lighter, can hold 1000 times their weight and are reused. New Yorkers should be allowed to continue to enjoy these benefits without having to pay for the privilege.

The market economics of NYC’s grocery stores also are uniquely suited to include plastic bags, as the city isn’t dotted with big chain establishments but with tiny, owner-operated bodegas, delis, multipurpose shops and other small businesses. A bag tax could squeeze local store owners as much as it squeezes average New Yorkers.

The fact is that supporters of the NYC bag tax are misguided in their attempts to control litter. The issue here is not material; it is behavioral. Plastic bags can and should be recycled. It’s been nearly two decades since we, as a country, had an honest conversation about litter or took the time to educate and empower the next generations of schoolchildren about how to properly dispose of and recycle everything that can be recycled.spi_logo_300x151

SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association and the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) share NYC’s concern about litter, and we are ready to have a conversation about how we can eliminate it and close the loop on plastic materials. Recycled materials of all types are valuable to innovators and businessmen and good for businesses, communities and the environment. We oppose bag taxes, which are a regressive, counterproductive and intellectually lazy response to a community and environmental issue that cries out for bold action and long-term commitment.apba logo_2012

We must educate and empower our young people to make a difference. That’s why SPI recently teamed up with JASON Learning, a nonprofit organization managed by the Sea Research Foundation, in partnership with the National Geographic Society, to launch the “Think Outside the Bag!” plastic film and bag recycling contest. By asking students to come up with creative campaigns to increase awareness about recycling flexible plastic films (i.e. dry cleaner bags), product wrapping and traditional plastic grocery bags, the contest aims to make today’s youth tomorrow’s plastic recycling and anti-litter advocates. The APBA also supports A Bag’s Life, a program that helps kids and their communities learn more about recycling plastic bags while giving them the tools they need to host their own recycling events across the country.

Rather than cynically working to reduce consumer access to materials that are convenient and environmentally friendly but arbitrarily declared undesirable, we’re working to build a lasting solution to the problem of litter by helping change consumer behavior now and in the future. The plastics industry, led by SPI and the APBA, is moving the needle on recycling and reducing litter, and we won’t stop until every plastic bag is reused or recovered and every piece of litter eliminated. Instead of merely trying to tax its way out of this problem, NYC can be the leader it always has been and join us in challenging its residents to help put an end to litter once and for all.

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

SPI: EPS Foam Can Be Recycled, Easily and Profitably

SPI and its Recycling Committee are, once again, out to correct another misconception about plastics.

Expanded polystyrene (EPS), the kind that’s found in coolers, in takeout food packaging, in shipped cardboard boxes filled with packaging peanuts and in many other contexts, is a material that’s widely misunderstood and, in more than one corner of the consumer world, mistakenly thought to be unrecyclable.

“EPS serves many important roles in our lives,” said the SPI Recycling Committee in a new paper, titled “Unlocking the EPS Recovery Potential: Technologies Enabling Efficient Collection and Recovery.” “It insulates. It protects. It has a fraction of the environmental impact in the full life cycle compared to other non-resin alternatives. The greatest challenge for this material at end-of-life is, however, also a symptom of its best feature; it is light, creating a unique set of challenges for collection and processing.” However, as the paper outlines, when paired with the right technology solutions, these challenges are easily overcome.

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

In the just over a year that it’s been in existence, the SPI Recycling Committee has already notched success after success in moving the needle on plastics recycling, and its EPS paper is the latest effort to prolong its winning streak. “Unlocking the EPS Recovery Potential: Technologies Enabling Efficient Collection and Recovery” finds that “lack of awareness and infrastructure to support the collection of EPS has been cited as a significant barrier to expanding the collection of EPS products,” but that “having the right technology in place to support efficient collection and processing of EPS products is key to unlocking the recovery potential of these valuable materials.”

As such, the paper provides a primer to recyclers working domestically and internationally on what technologies are available to make EPS recycling possible and profitable. In addition to broadly discussing the EPS market and opportunities contained therein, “Unlocking the EPS Recovery Potential: Technologies Enabling Efficient Collection and Recovery” also includes a list, complete with information on equipment capacity and availability, of technologies recyclers can use to expand their EPS processing capability.

“Investing in technology to expand the recovery and processing of EPS can enable plastics recyclers to meet both an economic and environmental need,” said SPI President and CEO William R. Carteaux. “Increasing recycling rates for all types of PCR plastic materials is both good business and good corporate citizenship, and the SPI Recycling Committee continues to do an excellent job leveraging its unique position in SPI, and throughout the entire $374-billion plastics industry, to expand end-use opportunities for recycled plastics, including EPS.”

spi_logo_2000x1007Facts, figures and intelligence such as that contained within the Recycling Committee’s EPS report do more than just serve as valuable business tools for companies in the plastics industry. They also combat the misconceptions that keep plastic materials like EPS and others from being recycled. “People just don’t realize all the options in recycling that are out there,” said Jon Stephens, senior vice president of Avangard Innovative and chairman of the SPI Recycling Committee’s Technology and Equipment subcommittee. “Half the people don’t even know they can take their grocery bags back to the grocery store to be recycled. Once we can get this education piece out and promote recycling and let citizens know that they can recycle this material, more communities will collect it, keep it out of landfills, reduce the space and create a revenue stream for the product.”

“It’s a huge environmental benefit,” he added. “Like any other plastics packaging material, it does serve a purpose, if not for the plastics industry then for the food industry or for the packaging industry. It all serves a purpose.”