Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Seven Ways You Can Make a Difference on Earth Day

The plastics industry’s best asset is its people; always has been, always will be. The nearly one million plastics professionals in the U.S. aren’t just the fuel of a $427 billion industry. Together they comprise a community of like-minded individuals who believe in the power of plastics to make the world a better, safer, greener place.

That’s why throughout the month of April, SPI is asking every plastics professional to pledge one act of green, using the hashtag #SPIEarthDay, to reduce their environmental impact this Earth Day, April 22, 2016 (4/22/2016). Here are seven small, individual acts of green that can collectively add up to big environmental changes:

Male hand putting plastic bottle in recycling bin1. Reusing and recycling: These are as relevant and important now as they ever have been. Whether it’s taking the bags back to the grocery store or taking your old electronics to a facility where they can have a new life, recycling and reusing plastic materials adds to their value and reduces their overall environmental footprint.

2. Waste avoidance: Composting isn’t just for hipsters and Portland residents anymore. Striving for zero food waste is a lot easier than you’d think, and that’s just the beginning. Paperless banking, double-sided printing and so many other simple steps can be taken to reduce or eliminate excess paper, plastic or any other material for that matter. For plastics professionals specifically, there’s also the Operation Clean Sweep guidelines that, when implemented properly, can eliminate pellet loss in your facilities, keeping those materials out of waterways, and in your machines and products where they belong.

3. Purchasing: The plastics industry promotes the use of recycled plastic content in products as a way to extend the lifecycle of the material. What better way to support and promote the use of recycled plastic than by buying products that use it in your own day-to-day purchasing decisions.

Showerhead4. Water: If you’re looking for a weekend project, try installing a low flow shower head, toilet or faucet, or planting some plants that require less water, installing rain barrels or investing in some drought resistant landscaping. If you’re not looking for a weekend project, do any of the above, and watch your water bills decline as you strike a blow for smarter management of humanity’s most valuable resource.

5. Energy Conservation: Even something as simple as washing your clothes with cold water, or unplugging your phone charger while it’s not in use, can, collectively, save a lot of energy, reduce your own carbon footprint and make a real difference.

BlogPhoto6_Transportation6. Transportation: So much of each individual’s environmental impact is comprised of the way one gets from one place to another. Cutting out one car trip, riding a bike or using public transportation are easy ways to decrease that impact without much hassle.

7. Team Up: Again, the plastics industry isn’t just an industry, but a community of people who believe in the unlimited potential of these materials to change lives, and to change the world. Consider teaming up with others this Earth Day, whether it’s with your fellow plastics professionals, your friends, your family, your neighbors or whoever, to augment the impact of your actions and spread the word that sustainability is everyone’s responsibility.

BlogPhoto7_Team

Monday, April 4th, 2016

Bioplastics 101

Bioplastics are found in our daily lives, and people don’t know it. They drink from biobased plastic bottles or drive in cars with seats and tubing that come from biobased sources. They go to parties and eat with compostable plates and forks. At the hospital, bioplastics are found in sutures and implants.

biobased benefitsThe histories of plastics and bioplastics have always been closely linked. The first man-made plastic – celluloid – was created to replace ivory in billiard balls, and went on to imitate ivory in many other applications, including combs and piano keys. Poly(lactic acid), one of the most common biodegradable bioplastics, was commercialized in the 1950s and used for medical applications until a breakthrough in manufacturing enabled it to become a large-scale commodity plastic in the mid-1990s.

Biobased and Biodegradable

Bioplastics are plastics that are 1) biobased, meaning they come from a renewable resource, 2) biodegradable, meaning they break down naturally, or 3) are both biobased and biodegradable. There are durable bioplastics made entirely from sugar cane, and some biodegradable plastics that are derived from nonrenewable resources.

Biobased means that a percentage of the carbon found in the plastic comes from a renewable resource. Resources used to make biobased bioplastics are called feedstocks, and include corn, sugar cane, castor beans, saw dust and even algae. Some have raised concerns that making plastics from plants means that this process reduces the amount of food available, but less than .01% of the land used for growing is used to make bioplastics. That’s like saying for every 12.5 ears of corn grown, one kernel is used to produce bioplastics.

golden wheat field and sunny dayBiodegradable means that bioplastics break down completely through a natural process within a short period of time into elements found in nature. Microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, and larger creatures like earthworms, eat the plastics for food, breaking them down for energy and converting them into carbon dioxide, methane and water.

Biodegradation, however, can vary based on a lot of factors and is therefore not as helpful a term for consumers. It’s more important for them to know how to properly dispose of a biodegradable object. That is why we use terms such as “home compostable” or “industrially compostable” to help give consumers the information they need to properly dispose of certain bioplastics. Home and industrial composting differ because home systems use simple methods, such as a compost pile, with much greater variability and lower temperatures than industrial composting.

Bioplastics and Degradable Additives

Oftentimes there is confusion between bioplastics and plastics to which a degradable additive has been added. Both SPI and others have concerns about products that claim to be able to convert traditional durable plastics into biodegradable ones, and consumers should be wary of these products as well.

Bioplastics and Recycling

Bioplastics can be recyclable—even those that are biodegradable! Composting is a complement to recycling, and provides an alternate end-of-life option for plastics that cannot be recycled due to food waste contamination.

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.

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Less is Less – The Battle to Wrap It Up in Plastic

By Michael Taylor, Vice President International Affairs and Trade

When it comes to packaging – plastic is the environmental material of choice.

Plastic products are environmentally-friendly, and manufacturers who produce these versatile products take pride in their efforts to implement sensible green policies and procedures.

And, to quote David Tyler, a chemistry professor at the University of Oregon, “Plastic bags are greener than paper bags, disposable plastic cups have fewer impacts than reusable ceramic mugs, and owning a dog is worse than driving an SUV.” fish bottles

When you consider the entire “life-cycle” of packaging materials, plastics compare favorably to other materials in areas like energy and water use, air and greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste. It has been demonstrated that plastic packaging helps reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions compared to alternative materials.

How does plastic packaging help with sustainability? Simply put, plastic does more with less. It is more energy efficient to make plastic as opposed to other packaging materials, and it takes less lightweight plastic to package a product.

For example, two pounds of plastics can deliver roughly 10 gallons of beverages as compared to three pounds of aluminum, eight pounds of steel or more than 40 pounds of glass. Lighter packaging means less fuel is used in shipping. That is, plastic bags require less total energy to produce than paper bags,  and they conserve fuel in shipping (ie., one truckload for plastic bags versus seven for paper).

Replacing plastic packaging with non-plastic alternatives in the United States would:

  • Require 4.5 times as much packaging material by weight, increasing the amount of packaging used in the U.S. by nearly 55 million tons (110 billion pounds);
  • Increase energy use by 80 percent—equivalent to the energy from 91 oil supertankers; and
  • Result in 130 percent more global warming potential—equivalent to adding 15.7 million more cars to our roads.

And plastics engineers continually work to do even more with less—this process of light-weighting can help boost the environmental and economic efficiency of consumer product packaging. Since 1977, the two-liter plastic soft drink bottle shrunk from 68 grams to 47 grams, representing a 31 percent reduction per bottle. This saved more than 180 million pounds of packaging in 2006—just for two-liter soft drink bottles alone. The one-gallon plastic milk jug succeeded on a similar diet, weighing 30 percent less today than 20 years ago.

Next to lightweight (or source reduction), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifies “reuse” of packaging as the next highest priority in managing waste. Plastics packaging’s durability enables reusability in storage bins, sealable food containers and refillable sports bottles. And 90 percent of Americans report that they reuse plastic bags.

In summary, plastic is the smart material of choice because it’s light, inexpensive, versatile – and recyclable.

To learn more about plastic packaging, please view SPI’s latest Market Watch report,  “Packaging Market Watch: Plastics Wraps it Up”. It may be accessed by visiting SPI’s website at http://www.plasticsindustry.org/.

Friday, November 20th, 2015

A Green Solution to a Billion-Pound Problem

When you see a big red “STOP” sign, your first thought is “STOP!” But have you ever wondered what the sign is made out of? Or how the contents may affect you? Take a second and think about how many “STOP,” “YIELD,” “DEAD END” and countless other varieties of small, pole-mounted road signs you see on your daily commute; almost all of these are made of aluminum, though that might not be the case for much longer.

A stop sign in Pennsylvania made using EcoStrate.

A stop sign in Pennsylvania made using EcoStrate.

EcoStrate SFS, Inc., an SPI member that successfully created a substrate material sourced from 100-percent post-consumer recycled material, landed a $1-million grant from California DOT CalRecycle (sharing half of it with Reliance Carpet Cushion) to manufacture road signs made from materials such as carpet, computer carcasses and carpet padding, textile waste and other waste products. In addition to road signs, the material will also be used to build indoor/outdoor Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant signage and flooring.

For EcoStrate, the grant is the culmination of a lengthy process of developing the material and then identifying applications where it could be used. Ron Sherga, the founder and CEO of the company, identified an opportunity to take a billion-pound waste issue and create a substrate that is green in both process and solution. He then brought on Ron Simonetti as the company’s chief operations officer and they began developing the technology.

“We primarily work with three large waste streams at this point,” Simonetti said, referring specifically to the two different plastic waste streams and another stream of waste carpet that are ground and blended to eventually become the material that EcoStrate uses in its indoor and outdoor signage. “One plastics stream is electronic waste. There’s a whole industry around collecting and sorting e-waste, and primarily those guys are after the metal in those electronic products,” he said. “Currently what’s happening is that the plastics in those products are being baled and sent to China and Asia, or reused into low-end plastic products. Now we can use the waste domestically to make EcoStrate products.”

Simonetti said the situation is much the same for the appliance plastics stream as well; instead of being recycled or reused, the plastics from appliances are often baled and shipped to Asia as scrap. So, in addition to presenting a more sustainable, eco-friendly option to aluminum, the EcoStrate model also benefits recyclers by giving them another option besides baling and exporting these types of plastics. “A lot of those guys are facing green fence issues and inconsistent demand,” Simonetti said. “We are working with them to create a more consistent outlet with our product to be used in the marketplace here, domestically.” Moreover, EcoStrate engages its partners who grind up the plastic e-waste and appliance waste so that it can be used in EcoStrate’s substrate. This process too gives grinding companies a consistent outlet for business. “We’re solving problems for those industries,” Simonetti added.

And, of course, the best part about EcoStrate is that it means waste materials destined for the landfill are now being put to good use in the market, all because a company saw something that most of us never think twice about, and asked “why can’t that be made with plastic?”EcoStrateLogo

The grant from CalRecycle has boosted EcoStrate’s outlook but the work continues, on testing and on clearing their material for use across the country. “We have partners like DuPont, which has helped us to support R&D, and the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) too,” Simonetti said, noting that the market for aluminum signage in the U.S. is around 500 million square feet of material per year. “We’ve applied in all 50 states to get our product approved for use in pole-mounted signs,” Simonetti said, meaning consumers can expect to see more of EcoStrate’s materials on their commutes moving forward, whether they know it or not.