Friday, September 30th, 2016

New Research: Flexible Film Packaging Can be Recycled


production of blue household  garbage plastic bags

Flexible plastic packaging- resealable bags, pouches and other items- is becoming increasingly popular. This type of packaging protects more products and often does so with a lower environmental footprint than other packaging options. However, these materials have raised questions in materials recovery facilities (MRFs) about how they can be recycled after the end of their useful life. Luckily, a new report shows that, with the right sorting techniques, it’s very possible for single-stream MRFs to find new value in these increasingly common materials.



Resource Recycling Systems (RSS) launched its initial research findings of the “Flexible Packaging Sortation at Materials Recovery Facilities” on behalf of Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF) earlier this month. The project showed that automated sorting technologies in use today can be optimized to capture flexible plastic packaging—potentially creating a new stream of recovered materials while improving the quality of other recycling streams.




RSS, in collaboration with brand owners and other trade associations on the project, including SPI: The Plastics Industry Association, conducted research trials that included baseline testing, equipment testing and other MRF sorting technologies like screens and optical scanners. This is only the first phase, however; future research will focus on further refinements to sorting technology, economic feasibility, assessing end-use markets for the material and developing a recovery facility demonstration project.


A few key findings:bag-chips

  • 88% of the flexible material by weight flowed with the fiber streams (defined as old newspaper (ONP) and mixed paper), making it feasible to capture the majority of the material.
  • Optical sorters correctly sorted 43% of seeded flexible plastic packaging by weight.
  • Once calibrated properly, optical sorting technologies were able to successfully separate over 90% (by weight) of the seeded flexible plastic packaging from fiber.



To access the full report, click here.



Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

Operation Clean Sweep Celebrates 25 Years

25th_anniversary_logoOperation Clean Sweep (OCS) is a voluntary stewardship program for facilities that handle plastic materials. Administered jointly by SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association and the American Chemistry Council (ACC), OCS is designed to help facilities implement procedures to keep plastic materials out of our waterways and eliminate plastic pellet, flake and powder loss.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Operation Clean Sweep. Today OCS is being implemented in 23 countries around the world, by companies in 34 states in the U.S. Through the tireless efforts of OCS’ supporters and partners, the plastics industry has made significant strides towards zero plastic pellet, flake and powder loss. OCS is an ever-changing program, but the goal of eliminating pellet, flake and powder loss has not changed. Here’s a look back at some important milestones in OCS history.



The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Center for Marine Conservation (now known as the Ocean Conservancy) conducted studies that detected plastic pellets in U.S. waterways from the Atlantic to the Pacific.




SPI began working towards a solution to contain plastic pellet loss, creating educational programs for the U.S. plastics industry. Additionally, SPI’s Resin Pellet Task Force was established to educate the plastics industry and consumers about the negative consequences of plastic pellets in the marine environment.




Operation Clean Sweep was created by SPI. Companies throughout the plastics industry signed the pledge to work toward zero plastic pellet loss.




ACC partnered with SPI and created the OCS website, which offered an online manual, and other tools, to assist companies with implementing their own OCS program to reduce pellet loss.



SPI released OCS as a royalty-free license for international plastic organizations, enabling organizations like the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA), the Asociación Nacional de Industrias del Plástico (ANIPAC) and others to promote OCS to their own members and encouraging companies to implement the OCS guidelines at facilities all over the world.




OCS created a new supporter category allowing companies who do not directly manufacture or handle plastic materials to publically support the mission of OCS. Supporters of OCS pledge to encourage other companies, associations and coalitions to participate in OCS and educate customers, suppliers and member companies about the program.







Two new categories of plastics materials, plastic flakes and powder, joined plastic pellets in the OCS mission statement. The addition of these two types of material widened the scope of OCS, expanding beyond one specific aspect of the plastic life cycle to welcome recyclers and other companies that regularly handle plastic materials.



OCS 2.0 was launched. Now, OCS counts facilities rather than companies to give a more accurate representation of the industry.


2016 and Beyond  

Although OCS has made a positive impact on the plastics industry and the global marine environment, the program continues to expand through its growing number of global partnerships. No matter where your facility is located, OCS offers all plastics-handling companies an extensive manual of best management practices to implement, free of charge. If your company has not signed the pledge to join and participate in OCS, there has never been a better time to do so. Together, we can eventually achieve Operation Clean Sweep’s goal of zero pellet, flake, and powder loss.



Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Hear about the Benefits of Pursuing Zero Net Waste from SPI’s First-Ever Zero Net Waste-Designated Company

ZNWLogoWhen The Minco Group and its All Service Plastic Molding (ASPM) subsidiary set out to achieve Zero Net Waste using SPI’s program, it couldn’t have known how it would impact its operations, or its bottom line. But Minco Program Manager Andy Brewer, with the support of Vice President Dan Norris, organized and led a company Green Team which implemented the program and started monitoring their progress.

The numbers don’t lie.

Since putting the Zero Net Waste program’s tools and resources to use in their facility, ASPM has:

  • Diverted 88 percent of their total manufacturing waste away from the landfill.
  • Organized a 24-hour sort of ASPM waste.
  • Categorized their waste materials into 26 categories.
  • Decreased landfill-bound waste weights by 46 percent.
  • Projected a revenue increase of approximately $20,000 for 2017, based on their enhanced recycling efforts.

These aren’t the only benefits the company recognized by pursuing Zero Net Waste. SPI also named The Minco Group the first company to ever achieve its Zero Net Waste designation, which announces to the industry, and to the world at large, that the company has successfully taken steps to eliminate waste in plastics manufacturing in its facilities.


Minco’s Andy Brewer

The first steps, according to Brewer, were getting involved, getting buy-in, and building a team. “I’ve been working with [SPI’s Senior Director of Recycling & Diversion] Kim Holmes’ Recycling Committee and knew that my company was capable of doing our part to make the industry more sustainable,” said Brewer. “I was able to get buy-in from my colleagues by organizing a 24-hour sort in which they learned about all of the many recyclable materials we send to the landfill, in error, every day. From there, our Green Team, which manages our recycling efforts, was born.”

Brewer will lead an upcoming webinar to discuss the other benefits beyond projected revenue increases that he and his company have experience since they set about eliminating waste from their facilities. Register here and learn how your company can engage its employees and help the environment all while enhancing its bottom line through the Zero Net Waste program.

Friday, August 19th, 2016

A New Study May Make Conversations about Plastics Easier


Steve Russell, vice president of the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division

A guest post by Steve Russell, vice president of the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division.

Has this happened to you? You’re at a dinner party or family gathering or neighborhood get-together. Someone asks you what you do. A conversation about plastics ensues. And you struggle to find a really simple way to explain plastics’ many benefits and contributions to sustainability.

I’m guessing we’ve all been there.  And the answer just got easier to explain.

New study

A new study by the environmental consulting firm Trucost uses “natural capital accounting” methods that measure and value environmental impacts, such as consumption of water and emissions to air, land, and water. The authors describe it as the largest natural capital cost study ever conducted for the plastics manufacturing sector.

The results?  “Plastics and Sustainability: A Valuation of Environmental Benefits, Costs, and Opportunities for Continuous Improvement,” finds that the environmental cost of using plastics in consumer goods and packaging is nearly four times less than if plastics were replaced with alternative materials.

Trucost found that replacing plastics with alternatives would increase environmental costs associated with consumer goods from $139 billion to $533 billion annually.

Why is that? Predominantly because strong, lightweight plastics help us do more with less material, which provides environmental benefits throughout the lifecycle of plastic products and packaging. While the environmental costs of alternative materials can be slightly lower per ton of production, they are greater in aggregate due to the much larger quantities of material needed to fulfill the same purposes as plastics.

Think about it. Every day, strong, lightweight plastics allow us to ship more product with less packaging, enable our vehicles to travel further on a gallon of gas, and extend the shelf-life of healthful foods and beverages. And all of these things help reduce energy use, carbon emissions, and waste.

Why do this study?

This new study follows an earlier report called “Valuing Plastics (2014)” that Trucost conducted for the United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP). “Valuing Plastics” was Trucost’s first examination of environmental cost of using plastics. While clearly an important study, it begged the key question: compared to what? After all, consumer goods need to be made out of something.

So ACC’s Plastics Division commissioned Trucost to compare the environmental costs of using plastics to alternative materials, as well as to identify opportunities to help plastics makers lower the environmental costs of using plastics. The expanded study also broadened the scope of the earlier work to include use and transportation, thus providing a more complete picture of the full life cycle of products and packaging.

We see “Plastics and Sustainability” as a contribution to the burgeoning and vital global discussion on sustainability. Like any single study, it doesn’t “prove” that plastics are always better for the environment than alternatives. But it is an important study based on a rigorous and transparent methodology. And it provides a fuller picture of the environmental benefits of using plastics.

“Plastics and Sustainability” provides the plastics value chain with important information on plastics and sustainability so that we all can make better decisions. The entire plastics value chain is engaged in discussions with policymakers, brand owners, retailers, recyclers – and consumers – about how to be good corporate citizens and contribute to sustainability. A better understanding of the life cycle of materials will better inform these discussions and should lead all of us to more sustainable materials management decisions. This study’s findings also will help inform us how to further reduce the environmental cost of plastics.

In other words, making smart choices about what we produce and how we produce it will benefit people and the planet.

New perspective

So in light of this new study, next time you or I struggle for the right words, perhaps let’s try this:

“Did you know that replacing plastics with alternatives would actually increase environmental costs by nearly four times?”

Let me know how it goes.

You can find more information about the Trucost study and some interesting visualizations of the findings here.

Friday, August 5th, 2016

Sustainability in the Olympics: Striving to Set a Gold Standard

Rio de Janeiro, Sugarloaf Mountain by Sunset

Every four years, millions around the world turn their attention to the Olympic Games and watch athletes bike, flip, swim and run to represent their respective countries in the global competition. While spectators and athletes alike have their eyes set on bringing home the gold, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has set its own goal to minimize its environmental impact. Over the years, the Olympic Games have provided a global stage for brands and corporations to launch innovative, sustainable projects. Check out this timeline below.


The IOC adopted “Environment” as a principle of Olympism. This new principle signified the start of a unified effort to make greener plans for the world’s largest sporting event.


During the Sydney games, eco-friendly athletic attire had its Olympic debut when two runners crossed the finish line sporting Nike’s first recycled PET clothing.


The Olympic Games returned “home” to Athens for the first time since 1896. Planners installed special disposal bins for plastic bottles to help manage the environmental pressure that comes with hosting an event attended by millions.


In the Beijing games, Nike’s PET athletic line returned to the spotlight when track and field athletes from 17 different countries sported the uniforms. Coca-Cola joined the team and gave every Olympic athlete a t-shirt created with PET from five recycled water bottles. The shorts sported the slogan “I am from Earth” on the front to signify the unified effort to preserve the environment.

Sprinter getting ready to start the race


Basketball teams from Brazil, China and USA competed for the top spot in Nike shorts and uniforms made from 100 percent recycled polyester, respectively, which saved an average of 22 bottles per uniform. In addition, American sprinters wore tracksuits that were each made of material from 13 recycled water bottles.


At this year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Brazil highlighted its host country pride by installing a sculpture of the Olympic rings in Copacabana. The installation, which is 3 meters tall and 6 meters wide, was created using 65 kilograms of recycled plastic.  In addition, the medals will be held around athletes’ necks by ribbons composed of recycled plastic bottles.

  Olympic gold medal