Friday, September 5th, 2014

The California Bag Ban and a Lesson on How Not to Legislate

By Lee Califf, Executive Director, American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA)

The California State Senate approved SB 270 last week, sending a fee on paper bags and the nation’s first statewide ban of plastic bags to Governor Jerry Brown (D) for consideration. Several environmental groups have all but danced in the streets to celebrate the bill’s advance, despite the fact that:

  • plastic bags comprise less than a half of a percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream and banning them will have little, if any, effect on reducing litter;
  • plastic bag production generates 80 percent less waste and requires 70 percent less energy to manufacture than paper counterparts; and
  • plastic retail bags are 100 percent recyclable, reusable and made with American natural gas, an environmentally-friendlier alternative to other fossil fuels.

But each of these facts obscures a bigger point about the legislative process that brought SB 270 to Governor Brown’s desk: this so-called “environmental” legislation never had anything to do with the environment.

The Bag “Bargain”

In the process of making environmental policy choices, it often doesn’t take long for the discussion to veer away from the scientific and toward the emotional. Broad considerations for the planet’s future touch deep ideological nerves, so this makes sense, but it can often stifle conversations about actual science, as well as the real environmental ramifications of the policy proposal.apba logo_2012

Recognizing this, proponents of SB 270 decided never to entertain the very good environmentally-friendly reasons to vote against the bill, some of which are outlined above, but instead stood on the assumed truths that have similarly derailed so many other policy discussions. Furthermore, money spoke louder than environmental imperatives or the supposedly inherent evil of plastics, as supporters of the bill made grocers and unions an offer they couldn’t refuse: support SB 270 and we’ll direct the fees collected from the paper bags to you.

The Future

The bill’s lack of real environmental bona fides, along with its enactment via back-room deal, should lead anyone to scoff at the suggestion that SB 270’s success will somehow amount to a win, for any constituency, environmentally-focused or otherwise. For them it’s a symbolic victory, and while they’re celebrating the nation’s only statewide bag ban, all the baggage that comes with this deal isn’t commendable.

In many ways, the bill effectively scams consumers out of billions of dollars in bag fees. It’s a tax, of sorts, but typically taxes go back into state coffers to further benefit the public. In SB 270’s case, the fees collected from consumers won’t be used to pay for a road, a fire truck, a better school or even a marginal environmental benefit; they’ll be used to line the pockets of California grocers.

California has created a prime example of how not to legislate (fleecing consumers and damaging the state economy, all in the name of an imaginary environmental benefit), and other states might not be too eager to follow in California’s footsteps for that very reason, as well as some additional legal concerns. Most states probably won’t be willing to put this kind of fee on bags and give the money to grocery stores, and even if they were willing to do so there are some serious constitutionality questions about that. In effect it’s a tax that’s not going to the government. The private interest gets the money.

But on a more basic level, most states also wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, want to enact a tax on their citizens that essentially amounts to a form of corporate welfare for grocers, all while threatening the state’s economy. SB 270 puts 2,000 Californians that are employed at risk of being unemployed, all for the sake of a dirty deal between California grocers and union bosses. APBA stands with those workers, and with all Californians, as we continue to fight this dangerous and misguided piece of legislation.

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

SPI Members Champion Plastics in State Capitals

By Jane Adams, SPI Senior Director, State Government Affairs

Following meetings with Assemblymember Dr. Richard Pan (D-9) and Assemblymember Roger Dickinson (D-7) at the state capitol, Mike Miller, president and CEO of Sacramento-based Plastic Package Inc. (pictured), secured commitments from the lawmakers to tour his facility.

Following meetings with Assemblymember Dr. Richard Pan (D-9) and Assemblymember Roger Dickinson (D-7) at the state capitol, Mike Miller, president and CEO of Sacramento-based Plastic Package Inc. (pictured), secured commitments from the lawmakers to tour his facility.

As part of its mission to represent plastics manufacturing industry at all levels of government, SPI is actively working in the state capitols to influence public policy on issues of concern to the industry. Recently Sacramento-based Plastic Package Inc. President & CEO Mike Miller experienced firsthand the value  of the advocacy team’s work through his experience meeting with California assemblymembers. Miller, who is an active member  of SPI and the Rigid Plastic  Packaging Group, met with Assemblymember Dr. Richard Pan (D-9) and Assemblymember Roger Dickinson (D-7).

Miller briefed Pan and Dickinson on his operations and secured commitments from both men to visit his manufacturing facility. Plastic Package Inc. (www.plasticpack.com) is a source for high-quality, thin-gauge, thermoformed-plastic-packaging containers and trays. Miller also offered to organize a town hall during the visits so that company employees would have the opportunity to engage with their elected officials.

During separate visits wiAdvocacy Plastic Packaging Logo 4th other assemblymembers, SPI also briefed lawmakers about the plastics manufacturing industry’s contribution to jobs and the gross domestic product (GDP) at both the state and national levels. Discussions also included the industry’s ongoing concerns with the Safer Consumer Products regulation and its potential impact on food packaging and food contact materials. Other discussion topics focused on the state’s recycling and recovery programs, the industry’s opposition to plastic product bans and taxes as well as support for K-12 education initiatives in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

SPI Innovation in Bioplastics Award Competition Spotlights Key Plastics Sector

As an industry, plastics is poised for growth as America’s manufacturing renaissance continues. But one sector within plastics that’s key to this ongoing expansion is the bioplastics segment, which operates at the intersection of innovation, economic growth and sustainability.

“Bioplastics represent an increasingly larger part of today’s market, but the sector’s continued growth and development is pivotal to the entire plastics industry’s future, as consumers and policymakers alike work to reduce waste while creating thousands of green jobs,” said SPI President and CEO William R. Carteaux, announcing SPI’s third-annual Innovation in Bioplastics Award. “This is a segment of the industry that already has a track record for innovation, and we look forward to honoring another groundbreaking contribution with the 2015 award.”

SPI-bioplastics-cmyk-2-outlinesLed by SPI and the SPI Bioplastics Council, the competition officially opened Tuesday. Any corporation, partnership or other business entity worldwide can compete for the chance to become the next winner of a bioplastics award that acknowledges creativity and the heights of state-of-the-art innovation that, despite bioplastics’ comparative youth among plastics sectors, has come to define the industry.

Past winners include Avantium, which won the first Innovation in Bioplastics Award in 2013 for its development of polyethylene furanoate (PEF), a packaging material with superior barrier qualities that offered new opportunities to beverage makers. Teknor Apex won the 2014 Award for the development of Terraloy® PLA compounds that exhibit both high-impact and heat-resistant properties.

“Former winners of the Innovation in Bioplastics Award have continued to grow and make an impact on today’s plastics market with innovations that creatively simplify production processes and reduce greenhouse gases,” said Terry Peters, senior director of technical and industry affairs at SPI. “This contest honors the companies that keep plastics on the cutting edge by building the materials, products and processes of tomorrow.”

Entries will be judged on innovation, sustainability measures and marketplace impact and companies can submit multiple entries for different bioplastics materials, products or processes, provided that they complete and submit a separate entry form for each innovation they submit. The award application can be found on the SPI Bioplastics Council website and entries will be accepted until Nov. 14, 2014.

Learn more about the group at http://www.bioplasticscouncil.org/. Award program inquiries should be directed to Tania Farries, manager, regulatory and technical affairs at SPI, at tfarries@plasticsindustry.org.

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Manufacturing Day 2014: This Isn’t Your Grandfather’s Factory

By Adam Cromack, SPI, Marketing and Communications Specialist

MFGDay2014LogoDespite what some people may try to tell you, manufacturing in the United States isn’t dead. Today it represents more than 17.4 million American jobs, accounting for nearly 12 percent of our national gross domestic product (GDP). And as representatives of the third-largest manufacturing industry in the country, SPI knows how critical it is to get this story out in the open.

That’s why SPI member companies joined forces last year for Manufacturing Day, to tell the plastics industry’s story of how the right skills can make a difference. By opening their doors, these companies and thousands of others had a unique opportunity to share what they do with the communities where they operate. As a true grassroots initiative, everyone involved is committed to closing the gap in skilled labor, which represents the single largest challenge to manufacturing in practically every industry.

Public perception of manufacturing jobs is, to say the least, disturbing. Common myths smother the conversation, painting a picture of low-skill jobs that offer low pay and little personal reward. As SPI and its members know, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Today’s manufacturers are some of the most highly-trained, well-paid employees in the workforce, working on state-of-the-art equipment. This one fact alone represents the first hurdle that must be cleared in changing public perception. Participation in Manufacturing Day allows companies to interact directly with job seekers and students who are still forming opinions about potential careers, and starts the dialogue for a manufacturing job as a legitimate opportunity. No longer will young professionals see a factory as an antiquated dungeon filled with tired, worn-out workers unhappy with their jobs.

Manufacturing Day exists to directly confront these misconceptions, and to promote facts about the manufacturing industry that are often overlooked:

• Modern factories use an abundance of advanced technologies including automation, 3D printing, robots and screen technology.

• The average annual salary of manufacturing workers is more than $77,000.

• Manufacturing workers have the highest job security of all other jobs in the private sector.

• Ninety percent of manufacturing workers receive medical benefits from their employer.

On Oct. 3, hundreds of companies will once again open their doors to the public and show what they are really made of and, more importantly, what they are not made of. SPI is proud to continue its role as a supporting sponsor of Manufacturing Day, and is even more excited for its members to display the power of plastics manufacturing.

Learn more about Manufacturing Day and how you can get involved at www.mfgday.com.

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

The Green Fence and Why Every Recycler Needs to Pay Attention to China

China’s ravenous consumption of scrap plastics came to a not-quite-screeching, but still drastic halt near the end of 2012. At the time, however, you’d have been forgiven for dismissing the decline as a standard seasonal aberration.

For U.S. recyclers, a period of prosperity preceded China’s decision to begin enforcing laws restricting the importation of certain scrap plastic. “Everyone agrees that there was a time when there were no questions asked,” said Xavier A. Cronin, editor of a recycled plastics report at Petro-Chem Wire. “[They said] ‘as long as it’s scrap plastic, we’ll take it.’” This attitude made China a logical and lucrative market for recyclers looking to unload scrap plastic, and the industry did its best to make hay while the sun shined. Between 2010 and 2011 U.S. exports to China of “other” scrap plastic, a catch-all term that refers to a conglomerate of multiple resins in one box, polypropylene and other materials that fall into more than one category, regularly exceeded each of the four other types of plastics exports tracked by the U.S. Census Bureau, eventually hitting 526,898 tons in October 2012.

XCronin

Xavier Cronin

At that point, however, U.S. scrap plastic export volumes to China began a major dive that has yet to reverse itself, but in November 2012 it was easy to mistake the decline for the standard seasonal drop that recyclers had come to expect around the same time near the end of every year. “When we saw a drop off we thought ‘it’s November, of course there’s a drop off,’” said David Kaplan, formerly of Maine Plastics. “You don’t want to put anything in the water ahead of Chinese New Year,” he added, because millions of migrant Chinese workers go home for the New Year and many of China’s factories, recyclers included, go dark for 15 days, and what’s more is that many of the workers stay home, extending work delays for weeks. To account for this, U.S. exporters reduce their shipping volume ahead of the holiday. “The reason it didn’t gain attention at the end of 2012, ahead of the holiday season, export volumes always drop,” Kaplan said. “Nobody noticed it because they would’ve expected a decrease in exporting anyway.”

Declines in the months thereafter effectively killed any hopeful hypotheses that the November decline was just another seasonal reduction. That’s because October 2012’s reduction coincided with the institution of China’s “Green Fence,” a series of bureaucratic hurdles and newly-stringent regulations on what scrap plastic China would accept that has, and will continue, to complicate the business of exporting to China, a market that for many is too big to ignore, despite the regulations.

David Kaplan

David Kaplan

How the Green Fence came to be, however, offers an example of China’s political unpredictability that’s vital for every company in the recycling industry to understand. The Green Fence wasn’t written the night of Sept. 30 and instituted the following day. It was China’s decision to start enforcing  laws that it had previously chosen to ignore. “The green fence was the enforcement of laws that have been on the books for years,” Kaplan said. “The word enforcement is the key because [November 2012] was really when it started. It was the result    of a political move of the government to show that they were doing something about pollution issues in China. That is the general consensus; it’s not like the U.S. started shipping them anything different, they just enforced laws that had been on the books for years.”

“The data tells the story,” Cronin said. “The U.S. census shows that the scrap exports fell after the green fence enforcement bureaucracies went into effect. On the political side that’s a whole other conversation. Tomorrow they may decide to enforce a regulation from 1986.”

China’s sudden decision to start enforcing the laws that underpin the Green Fence suggests it’s anyone’s guess what China will choose to do or when they’ll choose to do it in the future. And what’s more is that China’s outsized influence on the recycling industry means that when it trains its regulatory eye on something, the whole world feels it. In many ways the Green Fence has both kept mixed scrap plastics out, and also fenced companies in from a revenue standpoint. Staying ahead of industry and regulatory trends, increasing the quality of exported material and exploring other alternative markets for scrap plastics to reduce China’s influence on your bottom line are all vital to growing business in today’s industry.

Join Cronin and Kaplan at their SPI Webinar on Sept. 4 at 2 p.m. EST to learn more about the Green Fence’s effect on the U.S. recycling industry and how your company can stay ahead of China’s unpredictable regulatory curve. Registration is free for SPI members.