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

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

Is Your Product Industrially Compostable?



Companies today are focused on creating products that are sustainable, meaning they are made with materials that minimize the impact on our environment. You may have some familiarity with biodegradable products, which are one solution to companies’ need to create environmentally-conscious products. When marketing sustainable attributes to consumers, the Federal Trade Commission has said that these claims must not be confusing, and should be supported. To aid our members and other companies, SPI recently released a Guidance Document: Industrial Compostability Claims Checklist to help evaluate your product’s or packaging’s industrial compostability claims.

There’s some confusion out there when it comes to understanding biodegradability. Let’s clear things up a bit by first explaining what it means for materials to be biodegradable.p evaluate your product’s or packaging’s industrial compostability claims.




Biodegradable means that something will be consumed completely with the assistance of microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi.

  • When a biodegradable plastic (bioplastics) is disposed, it will be broken down into biomass, carbon dioxide, and water, if in an oxygen-rich environment, or methane, if in an oxygen-poor environment.
  • There are different methods to make biodegrade materials, such as:
    • Marine degradation (degrades in the ocean),
    • Soil degradation (degrades in the soil), or
    • Home/industrial composting.

Now, let’s break down composting.


Biodegradable 1


Composting can be coined “home” or “industrial” composting.

Home composting differs from industrial composting in three major ways: 

  • Scale: Industrial composting is done by the truckload, and compost windrows (long rows of piled compost) can weigh thousands of pounds. In contrast, home composters may have a small pile or barrel
  • Management: Industrial composting is much more actively managed.
  • Temperature: In industrial composting, the compost mound is very hot due to the composted materials being shredded, turned frequently and handled with more rigor than in home composting, which is done in much cooler temperatures.

Industrial composting is very common throughout Europe. The United States has fewer opportunities to divert food/yard waste and compostable bioplastics to industrial composters. To see if there is a composter in your area, go to Each composter’s process is different, and some only accept yard waste, or only food service waste; others  do not accept bioplastics. Be sure to check before composting!

Like all plastics, bioplastics need to be properly disposed of when they’ve reached the end of their usefulness, in a way that maximizes their value, whether that’s through recycling, home composting or industrial composting.

Monday, July 25th, 2016

Summer Excursion: Members Tour EREMA, UMass Lowell and Learn About Recycling and Plastics Engineering

The plastics industry continues to find innovative ways to create products that are environmentally friendly without compromising the needs of consumers. In a world where recycling is a learned-behavior, along the way there has been urban legend that foam cups – popular in many an office and college party – are not recyclable. SPI recently held a tour of EREMA Plastic Recycling Systems in Ipswich, MA where members learned first-hand about how to turn foam materials into plastic pellets.


These foam chips are turned into plastic pellets.


Here are the plastic pellets being created.


“It seemed like a good opportunity to promote recycling of materials that aren’t typically recycled. If you use the right equipment, it can be done efficiently and you can make a good product,” said Mike Horrocks, CEO, EREMA North America, Inc.


Ing. Clemens Kitzberger, business development manager at EREMA Group GmbH, Austria and Mike Horrocks, CEO at EREMA North America, Inc.


After touring EREMA, members drove over to UMass Lowell, one of our nation’s only schools dedicated to plastics engineering. The school offers cutting-edge lab research opportunities and internship opportunities with some of the nation’s leading manufacturers and corporations.


Thursday, July 14th, 2016

The FLiP Files: Katie Masterson

The FLiP Files is a blog series spotlighting young professionals that are active in SPI’s Future Leaders in Plastics (FLiP), a group for plastics professionals under the age of 40.  For our fifth entry, we spoke to FLiP member Katie Masterson of SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association

head shot.7.22.15-Where do you work and what’s your title?

SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, Senior Program Manager Industry Affairs – Equipment Council

-Tell us a little about what your company does.

SPI represents and advocates for the full supply chain of the plastics industry. We help members be more successful in their businesses. We provide programs, education and conferences and councils and committees that bring the full supply chain together to solve industry issues.

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

When I graduated, I was interested in working in the DC area for a smaller company or a non-profit and was getting a lot of leads with associations (There are a lot of associations in the DC area!). I started my career at the American Society of Interior Designers where I worked on continuing education, specifically in the online learning environment. I was ready for a new challenge and joined SPI in 2012. I saw SPI as a good next step in diversifying my association management skills and knew I would be surrounded by peers I could learn and grow from.
Some of the programs I manage are the Committee on Equipment Statistics (CES), and the Safety Standards and Awards Program (SSA). I also assist with other Equipment Council activities, such as the Machinery Safety Standards Committee and the Equipment and Moldmakers Leadership Summit. I manage, along with other young professionals on SPI’s staff, the Future Leaders in Plastics (FLiP) group.

-Has anyone in the industry mentored you?

I was fortunate to work with Jackie Dalzell when I first started at SPI, who was always willing to share her knowledge and passion for the industry with me. Although she has since moved on , she still is a great mentor and friend.

I also have to note my Equipment Council and CES leadership, as they are always willing to answer my questions and help foster my knowledge of the industry. They are a wealth of knowledge with their tenure in the industry. I’m lucky to work for such a group.

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

My typical day varies, but can consist of CES report follow-up, reporting definition discussions, committee and subcommittee calls and web meetings, reviewing economic reports, program management planning for SSA or FLiP, meeting prep, writing update reports for committees, etc.

One thing I love about my job is when an issue arises that members would like us to address, we must look at the problem and come up with a plan to help address it. So it’s a lot of problem solving with no instruction manual, which I love.

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

It’s an industry filled with enthusiastic people who are passionate about what they do. It’s a privilege to work for such a group and hard not to catch the passion.

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

I’ve become an advocate for plastics. If a peer or friend says something un-factual about plastics, like “don’t buy that one because it’s plastic, get the glass bottle because it’s more ‘green,’” I know how to productively counteract that comment with facts like “well plastics are recyclable and it took less energy to ship this plastic bottle to this location,” etc. People can easily be reminded that plastics are needed in many facets of our everyday lives and bring a lot of good.

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

As of 2015 millennials are the largest generation in the workforce and will be taking over baby boomers’ positions and leadership roles as the baby boomers retire. I think ensuring that my generation is prepared for this transition is a challenge the industry is facing. FLiP’s Mentorship Program and more internal succession planning at plastics companies will help ease this transition. The transition to a largely millennial workforce is coming quickly and I am sure my generation is ready for the challenge, but we know we need our predecessors’ guidance to help ensure our success and the success of the industry.

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

Because there are a lot of opportunities. I was at Wittmann Battenfeld USA for Manufacturing Day 2015 and their President, Dave Preusse, highlighted to the students that there were over 30 different job types at their facility from marketing, to accounting, to engineers and technicians. I think that’s a great point. It’s rare that people know exactly what they want to do for a career, but if they know about  opportunities the plastics industry has to offer, they may consider it down the line.

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

My contact lenses. I love my glasses too, but it’s crazy that a curved piece of plastic you place on your eye can make the world beautiful and crisp.