Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Out of the Mouths of Babes: Student Perspectives on Plastic Film and Bag Recycling from the SPI/JASON Learning “Think Outside the Bag!” Contest

JASONLogoOf all the excellent material in the more than 100 entries received as part of SPI and JASON Learning’s recently-concluded “Think Outside the Bag!” contest, the “What We Learned” or “Challenges We Faced” slide (or some variant thereof) that was included in each of the submitted presentations might be the most illuminating for the plastics industry at large.

Hosted by SPI’s Flexible Film and Bag Division, the “Think Outside the Bag!” competition challenged young people to get creative by designing a poster and a public awareness campaign that aimed to get their fellow students, schools and communities involved in collecting and recycling plastic bags and other flexible plastic film products. It also asked participating students to discuss what they learned in the process, and to identify the challenges they faced in trying to get people to recycle their plastic films and bags. Across the three participating grade bands (K-4, 5-8, 9-12) some similar insights and challenges kept coming up.spi_logo_2000x1007

“The people we knew were most supportive.”

The wisdom of the “Think Globally, Act Locally” mantra proved itself once again in the “Think Outside the Bag!” contest, as most participants found the most support closest to home. Whether it was their classmates, their parents, their friends or whomever, most entries found reaching out and asking the people they knew to help out to be a simple, effective start. It’s a testament to the power of starting locally, and also a testament to how infectious the recycling mentality can be. All it takes is one ardent recycler to turn the residents of an entire household into advocates, and that’s a powerful thing to remember.

“We found out that most plastic films are from things that we do not expect like bread bags or newspaper bags or even the container around salad.”

Participating students learned a great deal about plastics from the contest, most notably the fact that bags aren’t the only plastic films that are recyclable. Of the students that knew bags were recyclable, it seemed that not as many of them knew that food and product wrapping and other items fell into the same category.

Recycled plastic bags image“It wasn’t as easy as we thought to convince some people that recycling plastic bags is important.”

Most of the participating students cited concern for the environment as a major reason why they felt plastic film and bag recycling was such a worthy cause. Nonetheless, getting people on board with how vital the recycling process is wasn’t as simple a process as some students hoped or expected. Many of the entries relied on their poster to make their environmental message as clearly as possible, and aimed to inspire people to think about their use of plastic films and bags in order to reduce litter and make a meaningful impact on the environment.

“After some brainstorming we started presenting the poster to our families, showing them the process and specifically that plastic bags and plastic film COULD be recycled.”

Not-so-simply put, it’s hard to get people to recycle something when they don’t know that the thing you want them to recycle is recyclable.

The most basic, fundamental challenge that students encountered that could be keeping plastic film and bag recycling rates mired around 12 percent is the fact that, across the country, a lot of people still don’t think plastic bags or films are even recyclable. More than 90 percent of the nation has access to plastic film and bag recycling (most commonly through a retail take-back program), but this myth still exists.

Having to essentially educate fellow students, friends, family and community members and business leaders about the recyclability of these materials was a common refrain in terms of the biggest hurdles the students faced in their efforts, with some participants saying that conducting their campaign was a two-step process: first they had to get the hang of teaching people, then they had to actually present their awareness campaign.

In short, the students had to educate themselves before they educated their families and friends, and once they did it seemed that simply knowing that plastic films and bags were recyclable went a long way toward getting someone to actually change their behavior, and go through the process of recycling these materials.

See the winning entries on SPI’s website here and JASON’s website here.

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

Thinking Globally, Acting Locally: SPI Adopts Block in Front of its DC Headquarters in Honor of Earth Day 2015

EarthSPI took the adage “Think Globally, Act Locally” to heart this Earth Day by adopting the block where its DC headquarters are located as part of Washington DC’s Clean City Initiative.

After moving its Washington offices to 1425 K St. NW, located in the heart of downtown DC near the White House and National Mall, SPI decided to put its money where its mouth is: under the Adopt-A-Block Program, SPI will be responsible for cleaning and maintaining the north side of K Street NW, between 14th and 15th streets.

Taking part in Washington’s effort to curtail pollution emphasizes SPI’s desire to operate as a national trade association that’s invested in the community,” said William R. Carteaux, SPI president and CEO. “We advocate for responsible management of resources while minimizing the environmental impact—and that starts with our block. Through this program, SPI will collect trash and ensure that what’s suitable for recycling is appropriately separated and recycled.”

As part of its commitment to the Adopt-A-Block Program, SPI will be responsible for conducting a quarterly clean-up day complemented by weekly litter pickups throughout the next two years. The city encourages residents and businesses to become active in neighborhood beautification programs to improve the quality of life in Washington and to work toward discouraging unwanted, illegal activity.

“Teamwork between government and citizens is key,” said Wilson Reynolds, director of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of the Clean City. “By involving residents in each community, we can maintain a beautiful living and business environment. We believe that success begins with one citizen and one community deciding to make a difference, and we welcome SPI to our family of sponsors.”clean_city_logo

“It’s a privilege to work in a city that takes pride in its appearance and encourages participation among the business and residential communities in maintaining a healthy, livable environment,” Carteaux added. “We recognize that a corporate-government partnership is critical to this effort, therefore we’re proud to enter a relationship with Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of the Clean City to contribute to the appearance of our nation’s capital.”

Additional information on the Adopt-A-Block program may be obtained by consulting the Adopt-A-Block Program Guide or by contacting Washington DC city offices at (202) 724-8967.

Monday, April 20th, 2015

On Earth Day, a Chance to Tell the Plastics Industry’s Sustainability Story

There’s a difference between the way people in plastics view themselves and the way people outside of plastics view the industry. To bridge the gap between those two views, the plastics industry has to tell the general public the things it already knows: that plastics has played a vital role in supporting environmental stewardship, that the industry continues to play that role today, from its day-to-day operations to its forward-thinking innovations, and that it’s continually working on ways to make life in the future longer, cleaner and greener than it’s ever been before.

Earth-NASA-2The plastics industry has countless sustainability stories, and SPI knows its members are the ones to tell them. That’s why SPI and the SPI Recycling Committee launched the Sustainability Benchmarking survey in January, the results of which will go on to create the Sustainability Benchmark Tool, which plastics companies will be able to use in the future to see how green they are, and how they can be greener. An informational webinar on the survey and the effort will be hosted on Earth Day, April 22, offering all plastics companies a perfect, timely chance to do their part telling their industry’s environmental story.

“As the 3rd largest manufacturing sector in the United States, the plastics industry has a great economic story to tell, but we also have an important environmental story to tell as well,” said SPI Chairman of the Board of Directors Fred Daniell, president of Kureha America LLC. “The industry is achieving environmental success through the sustainability benefits of our products and the strides the industry is taking to ensure the manufacturing of those products are done in a way that is efficient and minimizes the environmental impacts where possible.”

But instead of just being another voice in the crowd, SPI needs good, hard information from its members in order to truly tell a sustainability story that leaves an impression, and doesn’t falter when critiqued. “We know the industry has good stories, but we need the data to be able to tell that story,” said SPI Senior Director of Recycling and Diversion Kim Holmes. “This is what we’ll capture in the Sustainability Benchmarking Tool effort.”

Daniell echoed Holmes, noting that “the information gathered through this effort will give us the data we need to tell that positive environmental story and shape the conversations about our industry,” he said. “Our advocacy at SPI is based on sound science, and science is based on data. We need your help to build the database necessary to turn our anecdotal debate into data-driven policy.”

PrintDoing your part to communicate the industry’s environmental success stories will afford your company a number of direct benefits, including:

  • Benchmarking your company’s sustainability practices,
  • Undertaking an inventory of sustainability activities if your company has not yet done this,
  • Generating varying levels of reports through the tool to share with customers, or being the critical first step in generating your own corporate sustainability report,
  • Identifying areas of success and opportunities for improvement,
  • Having the information to tell about your own sustainability activities to your employees, community and customers.

But participation in the Sustainability Benchmark Tool survey will yield its own benefits in the form of a potent instrument for illustrating all the good that plastics do for the environment each and every day. In an age of constant cultural sharing and storytelling, it’s often the loudest, clearest voice that cuts through the clutter and makes a lasting impact on public perception. For the sake of all the plastics industry has done, and will do to make life more sustainable, efficient and environmentally sound, we hope you’ll join us in this effort to speak as one industry, sharing the story of all the environmental benefits that plastic provides.

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

Putting Life Back Into Life—A Conversation with Two SCAD Design Students and Their Project Coordinator about the Pursuing Zero Waste Fashion Show

NPE2015 opened in style this morning with the Pursuing Zero Waste Fashion Show, which showcased garments designed by students from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) made using only post-consumer recycled plastic materials. After the Fashion Show the garments were moved to the Zero Waste Zone in the South Hall, where they’ll stay for the remainder of NPE._F4C5072_web

SPI caught up with two of the students who participated in the project and attended the show, Adewunmi Adetayo and Siobhan Mulhern, and SCAD School of Design Resources and Projects Coordinator Tenley Gilstrap to talk about their work with SPI, what it was like working with recycled plastics, 3D printing and what they hope everyone gets out of seeing their designs.

SPI: How did this project get started and how did things work?

Tenley Gilstrap: SPI came to SCAD and they were interested in collaborating. Here at SCAD we have what we have the CLC, also known as the Collaborative Learning Center. The CLC is where we engage students with real world company experience.  Companies that we’ve partnered with include anyone from Coca-Cola, to HP to Gulfstream.

The companies sit down with SCAD and try to figure out what the deliverables could be that could actually come from a great partnership and then we try to structure an actual course around the goals and the outcomes and what we actually want to accomplish.

Siobhan Mulhern: They created what they called the zero waste design lab. They gathered 9 students—eight of us were senior design fashion students and one sculpture student. And they basically asked us to create a line of garments made out of post-consumer recycled plastics.

TG: The sculpture student is responsible for most of the jewelry in the show and also in the catalog that was created from the course. (more…)

Friday, March 20th, 2015

A Deep Dive: Prince Charles Promotes Recycling, Behavioral Change to Combat Marine Debris during Washington Visit

“Stimulating a second life for plastics is…essential; they are too valuable to be thrown away,” said the Prince of Wales in his comments as prepared for delivery in a speech at the Hay Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C.

FriendlyTurtle_AnimatedWebDuring his visit to Washington, D.C. this week Prince Charles delivered a speech on the threat posed by ocean litter and debris and made recommendations for how the world should address the problem. Among those solutions were recycling, recovering or reusing plastics, and for both consumers and the plastics industry to take strides to give every plastic product a second life.

“A truly integrated, systemic solution to this challenge will need to go beyond simply containing the flow of waste and will require a critical examination of how waste is created within our supply chains and economies in the first place,” the Prince of Wales said in his address as prepared for delivery and published on the Prince of Wales’ official website, outlining three specific long-term solutions to the challenge of eliminating plastic waste from the world’s oceans and waterways. “First of all, improving waste management, so that all plastic waste is collected and then either recycled or used for energy production, is a key factor in decreasing the problem of litter,” he said. “Secondly, governments around the world need to integrate the issue of marine littering into their national waste management strategies. Countries with advanced waste management systems and landfill restrictions have demonstrated that even though this path can be more complex and time-consuming, there is no alternative to achieving a long-lasting behavioral change.”

“Thirdly, both the consumer and industry need to consider the value of plastics and thus need to pay the real cost (including externalities). Stimulating a second life for plastics is therefore essential; they are too valuable to be thrown away!” Prince Charles added.

SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association agrees, and has worked tirelessly to expand recycling, promote zero waste manufacturing processes and educate the public on the inherent value of plastic materials. SPI promotes the concept of a shift away from a “throw-away” society where items are created, used and then thrown away, advocating for a global transition to what Prince Charles described in his remarks as “a more ‘circular’ economy—that is to say, one in which materials are recovered, recycled and reused.”

More than 20 years ago, SPI helped found Operation Clean Sweep, an industry stewardship program specifically designed to prevent resin pellet loss and help keep plastic materials out of the marine environment. While OCS continues to grow, SPI has more recently made the pursuit of zero waste one of its chief priorities, working with its members and the entire plastics industry to establish practices and policies that make it easier for all plastic materials and products to be recycled and given the second life they deserve, and that our environment so sorely demands.

“SPI is proud to have contributed to these efforts, and continues to promote their use internationally… But we also support the cause of eliminating marine debris by supporting recycling and educating the public about the value of plastic materials,” said SPI President and CEO William Carteaux last month. “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,” Carteaux added.