Friday, September 9th, 2016

Tips for Hosting Your Own MFG Day Event

Michael Stark, SPI FLiP Chairman

Michael Stark, SPI FLiP Chairman

SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association is once again sponsoring this year’s Manufacturing Day (MFG Day) on October 7 and is encouraging every company in the plastics industry to open their doors and host an event. This year, we’re following our own advice and hosting our first-ever Plastics Education & Career Fair. We’ll be promoting MFG Day participation through October. Here are some tips from Wittmann-Battenfeld’s Michael Stark, chairman of SPI’s Future Leaders in Plastics (FLiP), for how to make the most of an event at your company.

 

 

Tips for Hosting Your Own MFG Day Event from SPI-FLiP Chairman Michael Stark

 Wittmann-Battenfeld

  • Make it interactive. If your plan is to host elementary/middle school children, make sure you have some fun activities related to your company for them to participate in. Focus on the “cool” things that you do. If able, offer giveaways.
  • Highlight the soft and hard skills the plastics industry seeks. If you are hosting high school students, broaden your scope of what you are talking about. Offer up information on all disciplines within your company such as accounting, marketing, sales, engineering, operations, etc. If college bound, the majority of these students may not realize that the degree they want to go to school for can be used in manufacturing. Most will assume it’s just a trade job on the floor, operating machinery. This is your chance to break that misconception.new-1
  • Engage in one-on-one conversations. For college level or trade school students, make sure you allow one-on-one time with your employees, and also focus on the different disciplines at your company. The students that are interested will want to learn more than you can offer in a short tour. You will want to be able to take advantage of this.
  • Work with local schools to promote your event. If you only want to invite schools, call local guidance counselors early and schedule the time. Plan to contact at least 2-3 times the number of schools you are willing to host on your list, as many will not break free for a field trip, or will be otherwise unavailable.

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  • Promote, promote, promote. If you are inviting the public, the local newspaper is one of the best ways to get the word out. If you are willing to spend some money, then radio ads also work well. Most parents still read the newspaper and will catch the ad on the radio, and encourage their kids to go. Also, most newspapers include a posting of the ad on their webpage as part of the package.
  • Consider hosting on the weekends. If the general public is your main focus, then consider doing your event on a Saturday (you can still register it as an official Manufacturing Day event on the MFG Day website – www.mfgday.com). Consider doing it in the morning to avoid schedule conflicts with sporting events and other weekend activities that happen on weekdays.
  • Make flyers. Create a flyer to distribute to schools and the local newspaper. Make it flashy with one of the best photos of your company, the most attractive statistics you have about your company, and the opportunities your company and the industry has to offer.
  • Have fun! Lastly, don’t be afraid. Your first event will be a learning experience for you to find out what works and what doesn’t. After your first year, the event will become easier.tree

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.

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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.

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

The FLiP Files: Annina Donaldson

The FLiP Files: Annina Donaldson, President, Florida Operations at Maxi-Blast, Inc. and FLiP Vice Chair

Annina-Where do you work and what’s your title?

Maxi-Blast, Inc., president of Florida Operations.

-Tell us a little about what your company does.

Maxi-Blast is a full-service supplier of plastic blast media [plastic materials that are blasted at industrial equipment and other surfaces in order to clean them] and blast cabinets [large containers in which this type of cleaning is conducted]. We manufacture non-abrasive plastic blast media used for various applications, including, but not limited to, plastics and rubber deflashing, mold & die cleaning, paint stripping, cryogenic deflashing and extrusion screw cleaning. We are the alternative to chemical and by-hand cleaning. The cabinets we manufacture are tailored to specific applications, such as our patented mobile-screw cleaning cabinet for large feed screws. We carry a stock of spare parts and provide services such as setup or troubleshooting for our cabinets.

-How did you find yourself working in the plastics industry?

I grew up in the plastics industry. My father started the business in 1979. Growing up, my siblings and I would visit him and ask to shred paper in the office or sweep the shop floor. In high school, I would do random projects filling sample bags or separating plastic. After graduate school and testing out other careers, my father asked me to interview for a full-time job working alongside him. That was 10 years ago.

-Has anyone in the industry mentored you?

Two people actually: Gail Barker and my father, Robert Donaldson. All my life, I have watched my father striving to maintain his work ethic and grow his knowledge of the industry. Working alongside him is a daily mentorship program. Gail, however, was the first person to really take me under her wing. Gail was president of Maxi-Blast when I started in January 2006, and there were even fewer women in the industry then than there are today. Every day she gave me some piece of advice about leadership, being a woman in a male-dominated industry or how to manage working with family. Gail passed away in December 2006 but the year she mentored me was, and is still, the most invaluable of my career.

-Describe in one sentence what you do on an average day.

Whatever is involved with achieving the goal of making sure the factory is running smoothly; we are making the best possible pellet on the market and handling the day-to-day operations of a business.

-What do you like most about working in the plastics industry?

That I learn something new about our industry every time I go to a trade show or go on a plant tour. I am in awe of how many different ways plastics are made or used. The industry is ever changing and reinventing itself, and I look forward to seeing what will be done next.

-What’s one thing about your personal life that you feel has been changed by having a career in plastics?

Choosing to work in the plastics industry meant working with family, thus blurring the line between personal and work life. Without the plastics industry, I wouldn’t have the chance to share a passion for a business that means so much to everyone in the family. Dinner conversations would be much different, and I wouldn’t get to see as much of my family as I do now.

-What are the major challenges you think are facing the plastics industry today? How do you think the industry can overcome them?

Getting the younger generations excited about a career in plastics manufacturing, and the misconceptions about plastics. As long as companies keep showcasing what they do and opening their doors, there is a greater chance that a millennial will be there and say, “Wow, this is for me!”

As for the misconceptions, it’s necessary to share facts with those who are not in the industry, and making sure government officials are educated before they vote on laws effecting plastics companies. Definitely a “the more you know” solution.

-Why do you think someone from your generation should consider a career in plastics?

It’s important to want to go to work everyday. A career in plastics can be lifelong and meaningful. This industry is exciting, full of potential and growing. There is also a sense of pride when you work for a company that manufactures a tangible product that you just can’t get in other industries.

-What’s one plastic product you couldn’t live without?

My American Express Card.

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

How The USDA’s BioPreferred Program Is Helping Bioplastics Expand

Since 2003, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) BioPreferred Program has focused on accelerating the development and expansion of markets for biobased products, including bioplastics. As part of SPI’s inaugural Bioplastics Week, we recently sat down with Kate Lewis, deputy program manager at USDA to learn more.

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What is the BioPreferred Program? 

The BioPreferred Program is a USDA-led initiative whose goal is to increase the purchasing and use of biobased products, including bioplastics. The Program operates through two initiatives – a voluntary certification and labeling program and mandatory federal purchasing requirements for federal agencies and contractors.

Tell us more about the mandatory purchasing requirements. 

Under federal law, government agencies and contractors are required to purchase a certain percentage of biobased goods. To date, the USDA has identified 97 categories for which agencies and their contractors have mandatory purchasing requirements. Examples of product categories include carpet cleaners, lubricants, paints and construction materials. The USDA assigns each category a minimum biobased content level. To qualify for federal purchasing, products must meet or exceed the minimum level required for their product category.

What does it mean to be a qualified biobased product? 

A qualified biobased product signifies that the product qualifies for mandatory federal purchasing (FP). This means that the product meets or exceeds the minimum biobased content requirements for one or more product categories that have been identified by USDA. Manufacturers self-identify the product’s biobased content in order to participate in this initiative. Qualified products are denoted with the FP symbol in the BioPreferred catalog.

Product ‘qualification’ is different from ‘certification’, an initiative the program also offers.

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How does the Voluntary Product Certification and Labeling initiative work? 

The Voluntary Labeling Initiative is designed to provide useful information to consumers about the biobased content of products. Voluntary labeling is a seven-step process that involves multiple application filings and product testing. The first step is to submit an application to the USDA. Upon approval, companies can begin determining the biobased content of their product by sending samples to an independent third-party lab for testing. Labs administer an ASTM D6866 test, the standard analytical method for measuring the biobased content of a product or package. As long as test results indicate that the product meets or exceeds USDA’s biobased content levels, the product can be labeled as certified and be included in the mandatory federal purchasing catalog. Once a product is certified, the company may choose to display the USDA Certified Biobased Product label.

Symbolizing the sun, soil and aquatic environments, the label informs consumers about the product’s percent of certified biobased content. Labels with an FP symbol designate that the product also qualifies for Mandatory Federal Purchasing. As part of certification, companies also receive a set of brand guidelines to follow when displaying the label on literature, advertisements and/or product packaging.

What percentage of the biobased catalog is composed of bioplastics?

Products in categories that commonly include bioplastics make up approximately 15 percent of our total catalog. When looking at only certified products, the figure is closer to 25 percent.

What are some examples of products that use the USDA Certified Biobased Product label?

To date, USDA has certified more than 2,800 biobased products – a number of which are bioplastics. From disposable tableware to bioplastic baby toys to personal care and packaging products like laundry detergent, more biobased products are being certified each day. For a complete listing of certified products, visit biopreferred.gov and click on the catalog tab.

Which product category has the most biobased products?

In terms of the sheer number of certified products, the disposable tableware product category leads the way with 218 individually certified biobased products. These products include plates, cups, bowls, trays and other food service items.

Are there any trends you see in the biobased bioplastics industry?

One trend we are seeing is an overall change in the ingredients used to create bioplastics. Presently, most biobased bioplastics are sourced from plant-based raw materials like corn and sugar cane. However, research has indicated that in the coming years, more bioplastics will likely be sourced from non-food based sources like algae, municipal waste and even waste carbon dioxide. The development and adoption of these new feedstocks will create new markets and economic opportunities, in turn further increasing the usage of renewable resources and valorizing ‘waste’ products.

USDA Economic Impact LabelWhere do you see biobased bioplastics in 20 years?

According to an Economic Impact report commissioned by the BioPreferred program in 2015, the market for bioplastics is increasing by 20 to 30 percent annually. By 2036, biobased bioplastics will likely serve as a significant economic driver as more companies continue to shift production away from petroleum-based plastics in favor of more biobased options. In fact, studies have shown that simply replacing 20 percent of the current plastics produced in the U.S. with bioplastics would yield about 104,000 new jobs.

How do biobased bioplastics support agriculture?

A rapidly growing number of biobased bioplastics are being produced and developed using agricultural feedstocks. As technology develops further, the uses for feedstocks in the development of bioplastics will continue to expand. This growth in consumption will ensure that this commodity is kept in high demand- thereby supporting increased agricultural production of feedstocks across the board.

How are you working to improve interest in the biobased bioplastics industry?

By helping bioplastics companies across every step of the value chain participate in mandatory federal purchasing and voluntary labeling initiatives, we are building a strong and enduring marketplace for biobased goods.

Friday, August 19th, 2016

A New Study May Make Conversations about Plastics Easier

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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.