Friday, July 17th, 2015

Proper Use of Plastics in the Microwave is Safe

By Kyra Mumbauer, SPI Senior Director of Global Regulatory Affairs

In recent weeks, mainstream media outlets have carried articles suggesting that microwaving plastics could be dangerous. As the leading association in plastics manufacturing, it is incumbent upon us to help clarify information about using plastic food containers or wraps in microwaves.

 Kyra Mumbauer

Kyra Mumbauer

The key point is that plastic wraps and containers are not dangerous to use in the microwave if they are used in accordance with the directions on their packaging or the container itself.  The public should be sure to use any plastics for their intended purpose and in accordance with directions. Many plastic wraps, packages and containers are specially designed to withstand microwave temperatures. Be sure yours is one of them by checking the item or its label.

Recent articles have also directed the public to check the Resin Identification Codes on plastic containers and to avoid microwaving containers labeled 3, 6 and 7.  Consumers must be aware that these codes have no relationship to the safety of a plastic food contact product for its intended use. Food containers and packaging materials are manufactured using many different plastics, including Codes 1-7, and all must comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) extensive regulations designed to protect public health and the environment.

Before entering the market for consumer use, the components of products that come in contact with food must be submitted for review by the FDA. The FDA has assigned an entire office, the Division of Food Contact Notifications, which employs approximately 35 chemists, toxicologists, and other scientific staff, for the purpose of evaluating the safety and environmental impact of chemicals used to produce packaging and other products that may contact food.

microwavePlastics and additives are permitted only after the FDA reviews the scientific data and finds that they are safe for their intended use, such as in microwavable plastic trays.  FDA’s review includes an assessment of the potential for substances to migrate into the food under the specific condition(s) of use, in this case at high temperatures present in microwave cooking applications.  FDA then calculates the estimated dietary exposure to any substances that could migrate, reviews all toxicological data that is available on the substances that may migrate and determines whether that data supports the safety of the potential exposure.  The higher the potential exposure to a material, the more toxicity data is needed to support the safety of that exposure.  FDA’s comprehensive regulatory scheme ensures the safety of food contact products, including microwavable plastics, allowing FDA to focus its resources on other issues, such as foodborne illness.

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

What You Missed at SPI’s International Symposium on Worldwide Regulation of Food Packaging

FDCPMC_IntlSymp_PierAside from a chance to network with 150+ experts from government, industry and scientific institutions and the largest Chinese delegation in conference history, the 12th Biennial International Symposium on Worldwide Regulation of Food Packaging featured several valuable program and after-hours highlights:

-An Update on U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Regulation of Food Contact Materials, from the FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety (OFAS) Itself:  Filled with direct, technical glimpses into the operations of the FDA and previews of updates to the Redbook and Chemistry Guidance the food packaging industry can expect to see in the coming months and years, the Symposium-opening presentation from Allan Bailey, from OFAS’ Division of Food Contact Notifications, delivered the insights that brought attendees to the conference in the first place.

FDCPMC_IntlSymp_Staff-An In-Depth Look at Food Contact Regulations Around the Globe: With panels organized according to region and representatives from Brazil, Argentina, Canada, China, Japan, Australia/New Zealand, Thailand and several from the European Union delivering presentations, this year’s program was among the most geographically diverse and thorough in Symposium history. Government officials from the various regions took this opportunity to compare their respective regulatory schemes and hear industry perspectives, an important exercise to increase alignment of the world’s food packaging regulations and allow for more efficient global marketing of these products.

-A Dinner Cruise Through the Baltimore Harbor: All attendees, speakers and guests gathered together on the Raven for a networking event and dinner cruise as the sun set on the scenic Baltimore harbor. This was just one of the event’s networking opportunities though, between breaks, lunches, dinners and receptions, the event offered attendees countless chances to meet and greet colleagues new and old and to discuss regulatory challenges with government officials at the event.FDCPMC_IntlSymp_Boat

-A Special Program on Regulation Related to the Use of Recycled Plastics in Food Contact Applications: Manufacturers and brand owners are increasingly demanding that their suppliers find ways to make their products and materials more environmentally-friendly. This opens up a new regime of requirements that suppliers have to comply with in addition to the existing food contact regulations they already have to navigate every day. Led by presentations from Jeff Wooster, global sustainability leader, performance packaging at Dow Chemical, and Dr. Forrest Bayer, Bayer Consulting & UW Imaging LLC, and enhanced by additional discussions on emerging technologies designed to make using post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials easier, this panel was full of tips and insights that attendees could put to use immediately, to start working PCR into their products and meeting brand owner-driven sustainability requirements.

FDCPMC_IntlSymp_HarborView-So many more relevant sessions and opportunities to network with experts in the field!

The International Symposium will be back in 2017, but in the meantime, SPI’s Food, Drug and Cosmetic Packaging Materials Committee (FDCPMC) offers members these opportunities throughout the year. Click here to learn more about what this committee can offer your company.

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

RGIII Should Promote Recycling Among Redskins’ Fans and Players

SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association is pleased that Robert Griffin III is taking an active interest in the health of our oceans. As the nation’s third largest manufacturing industry, we also care about the oceans and consistently take part in programs designed to prevent the loss of our raw materials and end-user products to the waterways. But, we are deeply concerned that Mr. Griffin is encouraging consumers and Redskins’ fans to stop using plastic bottles.RG3

Plastic bottles are widely recycled across the U.S., and their recycling rates continue to grow. Indeed, every ton of plastic bottles recycled saves about 3.8 barrels of oil?

After they are recycled, bottles and containers become valuable feedstock used to produce a variety of new products – from lumber for outdoor decking to carpeting, fleece jackets and t-shirts. In fact, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team just won the World Cup wearing Nike jerseys made with recycled plastic bottles.

Rather than encouraging fans to stop using plastic bottles, SPI suggests that Mr. Griffin encourage fans and other consumers to recycle plastic bottles and other appropriate products. The staff at SPI: The Plastic Industry Trade Association cordially invites Mr. Griffin and any other Redskins players to join us in touring a plastics recycling facility so that Washington’s team can learn more about recycling plastic bottles and similar materials. And one last note, to Mr. Griffin, if you take a close look at your football helmet and some of the gear used in your profession, you’ll gain a better understanding about the role plastics play in keeping you safe and hydrated on the field.

Monday, July 13th, 2015

Don’t Blame the Big Blue Bin

The Washington Post’s Defeatist Attitude Toward Recycling Harms Industry

By Kim Holmes, SPI’s Senior Director of Recycling and Diversion

SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association wants to clarify several points concerning recycling that were misrepresented in Aaron C. Davis’ June 20, 2015 article, “American Recycling is Stalling, and the Big Blue Bin is One Reason Why.”Blue Bin

Davis’ article states that, “recycling in recent years has become a money sucking enterprise,” and suggests that recycling cannot be done profitably.  It is true that some Material Recovery Facilities – or MRFs – are experiencing a confluence of factors that are creating an economically challenging business environment.

But, not all MRFs are operating in the red.  During difficult times, MRFs need to be agile, and sometimes willing to invest in equipment that will produce better quality bales of materials in more efficient ways. Unfortunately, many MRFs continue to use outdated equipment and would operate more efficiently if they invested in state-of-the-art machinery similar to what is more widely used in Europe and in some areas of the U.S. It is also important to note that Waste Management’s experience, as stated by Davis, is not representative of what is occurring at every MRF in America.

As a trade association representing the plastics industry, we work with our members to promote the benefits of recycled content to drive sustainability across the plastics manufacturing industry. In our industry, a reduction in the price of new plastics has at times narrowed the cost savings that might be found by using recycled plastics – but, that’s temporary. Indeed, there are key drivers that help sustain demand for post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics, even when they don’t present cost savings.  Those include: publically stated corporate commitments to use PCR, use of recycled content as a market differentiator, and ecolabels that encourage, and in some cases, require use of recycled content for certain products.

And while it is true that some consumers unintentionally contaminate their blue bins by depositing inappropriate items, the use of blue bins results in a significant increase in desirable recyclable commodities.  The systematic increase in recyclables that come with “the big blue bin” is why we, along with many others, have invested in programs like the Recycling Partnership.  The Recycling Partnership helps communities transition to the blue bins to increase access to recycling, and that effort is coupled with proper consumer education so an increase in contamination can be mitigated. The claim made in the article that, “Consumers have indeed been filling the bigger bins, but often with as much garbage as recyclable material,” is a false generalization. Statements like this are misleading, and frankly dissuade people for participating in recycling.

Finally, we have deep concerns about the suggestion that government intervention may be necessary to “encourage investment and ensure that profit remain a public benefit.”  Market-based solutions that work with the public sector, such as the Recycling Partnership and the Closed Loop Fund, are growing and generating positive results.  We need to support these and other privately funded efforts rather than looking to the government for solutions. Government intervention can create systems that inadvertently pick winners and losers, meaning some otherwise profitable recyclers can be put out of business when the market is disrupted.  It’s not uncommon for government intervention to create unintended, and many times, unwanted externalities.

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

Obama’s Fast Track Trade Authority Opens Markets for Plastics Industry

By Michael Taylor, SPI Senior Director, International Affairs and Trade

On June 29, 2015, President Obama signed into law Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).  TPA has been granted to all but one of our 13 presidents since President Franklin Roosevelt.  This negotiating authority allows trade agreements such as the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to move through Congress under special rules intended to speed up the process, thus it is known colloquially as “fast-track.” Congress would not be able to amend or filibuster a trade agreement, and the deal would only need 51 votes in the Senate to pass, as opposed to the 60 votes otherwise necessary.MT Cropped

The 2015 version of TPA also represents an enhanced or upgraded authority.  TPA-2015 not only gives President Obama the leverage he needs to close out negotiations on the TPP in the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region, but it ensures that the TPP will include the strongest protections in history for our workers and our environment.  Along with opening up some of the fastest growing markets in the world to Made-in-America goods and services, it will also make every word of the TPP deal available to the American people for the first time.

What does this all mean for the U.S. plastics industry?  First, free trade agreements (FTAs) like TPP benefit the industry as a whole.  In 2014, the U.S. plastics industry posted a trade surplus of $12.6 billion with the world.  At the same time looking only at our trade with those 20 countries with which we have FTAs currently, the industry recorded a trade surplus of more than $20.9 billion.  Second, the U.S. plastics industry exported goods worth more than $38.5 billion to the TPP countries in 2014 up 4.6 percent from 2013.  As we have seen in the past, more market access results in an upsurge in our exports.  A recent example here is KORUS or the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement which entered into force on March 15, 2012.  Prior to KORUS, South Korea was the tenth largest export market for the U.S. plastics industry.  Afterwards, South Korea became our seventh largest export market.  Third, more exports means more jobs.  U.S. goods and services exports support American jobs.  In 2014, U.S. exports to the EU supported 2.6 million jobs, exports to NAFTA supported 2.9 million jobs, and exports to Asia and Pacific supported 3.5 million jobs.

People concerned about American manufacturing jobs leaving the U.S. as a result of an agreement like TPP, first and foremost, do not fully appreciate the vastly improved competitive position we now occupy globally, but second, do not understand that locating a manufacturing facility in one country to supply customers around the world these days is never really simply about the cheapest labor costs per hour.

Thanks to the enhanced TPA-2015, we are guaranteed a TPP that will include the strongest protections in history for our workers and the environment.  Negotiators will also move forward on an accord with Europe, knowing that any agreement over the next six years will be subject to a straight up-or-down vote, but cannot be amended or filibustered in Congress.