By Lori Brown on Jul 2, 2009

Sustainability a Focus of World's Largest Plastic Event


At last week’s NPE2009 International Plastics Showcase in Chicago, Ill., plastic industry leaders from around the globe gathered to showcase products, ideas and innovations at the largest plastics showcase in the world.

NPE2009, organized by SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, hosts approximately 75,000 plastics professionals from 120 countries, showcasing a broad array of innovations in the plastic world. This year’s NPE highlighted industry-wide sustainability efforts, from bioplastics to energy, aimed at finding solutions to environmental issues.

Bioplastics definitely made their mark at this year's NPE. PolyOne, one of nearly 40 bioplastic exhibitors, showed off their new color concentrates for bioplastics. Photo: designnews.com

Bioplastics definitely made their mark at this year's NPE. PolyOne, one of nearly 40 bioplastic exhibitors, showed off their new color concentrates for bioplastics. Photo: designnews.com

“NPE’s Business of Plastics Conference, organized by SPI, the Plastics Industry Trade Association, included multiple sessions on sustainability that encompassed such broad topics as energy efficiency, biopolymers, recycling, partnerships with US EPA as well as Earth 911’s sustainability-related activities,” says Lynne Harris, Senior Vice President of Science and Technology for SPI.

Earth911’s own Vice President of Government and Industry Affairs, Sandra Keil, spoke on an EPA-lead panel addressing the ways to improve plastics recycling. She shared some of her thoughts regarding the showcase and the discussion panel.

Before attending NPE2009, I thought I understood plastics. I left with more questions than answers. After strolling the Expo Hall for two days, I spoke with those who make molds, machines, the actual plastic polymers, the preforms, plastic recyclers and even the company that makes a small plastic lining that is inserted into plastic bottles to keep the carbonation from escaping those sparkling beverages.

I used to believe that plastics were organized nicely into #1-7, but the catch is, there are now seven types of #2 plastic. What? My first thought was, ‘how will that affect recycling?’ What makes these seven plastic #2’s different from one another? Can all seven types of #2 plastic be recycled together or will it create serious contamination?

On Thursday, I was fortunate to participate in a panel discussion headed by EPA that addressed ways to improve plastics recycling. The audience asked questions regarding the benefits of regulation, standardizing collection in the U.S. and following successful models of European countries.

All great thoughts and questions, yet plastics are evolving faster than we can set up programs for recycling. We benefit immeasurably with all the advancements in plastics, yet we are also deceiving ourselves that we can continue this habit of discarding this incredibly valuable material. My hope is that as plastics continue to advance, so will our commitment to plastic recycling.


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      • Trey Granger

        Sandra makes a good point about the numerous types of plastic and what it means for recycling. If the plastic says #2, common sense would indicate that it can be recycled with all HDPE. But it also has to do with the market for each material as to whether it’s worth the cost of recycling.

      • Jerry Dillard

        Recycling is the issue…
        It is money making for both manufactures, those that clean up and recycle processors…
        The entire plastic cycle contributes to increasing the carbon footprint, the cleanup effort, not to mention the recycling effort..

        These are fair estimates of fact…
        Plastic water bottles use 17 million barrels of Oil in their production process, this adds over 5 billion lbs. of CO2 from just the production of plastic water bottles to the carbon footprint…

        Want more truth about plastic…
        It does not leave our world…it has been in our Oceans since mans first plastic production from decades past, has brought wealth to generations before and is now devestating our planet and our health…
        Truth, plastic has been accumulating in the Pacific Ocean…
        NOw we have 6 times by weight of degraded plastic vs plankton…this is Truth, not the little truth of the self argument…We are losing millions of marine life & Birds to this…
        Google the Pacific Garbage patch and watch the video..Mother birds are feeding their hatchlings platic mistakenly consumed thinking it is plankton…Not only the parent dies so does the chickling…

        If we want a Green Economy for future generations to come,…?
        We must be willing to sacrifice our convenience & implement “sustainable material standards for all product designs.”
        It is easy for the manufactures to place a recycle emblemon the package or in the mold to say recycle,
        We now know the Truth…no more argument needed…8 times as many people do not recycle…
        This is almost 90% of the public.
        Discarding containers from packaging from food, products & drinks accumulating in our landfills, lakes, rivers & Oceans.

        Time we Connect the dots…
        Starts with oil…increases Carbon footprint
        then we make plastic containers… water bottles…baby bottles… toys…increases the carbon footprint more…all lead to Environmental Impact… health… and we canno longer afford the clean up cost adding to economic collapse… this is not sustainable.
        We use plastic… we dispose of plastic … thus the devastation is being passed from generation to generation and is finally impacting our world, all in the name of money…

        Simple this is not right and we need to make a shift…
        God provided us Air & Water…
        We are now having this destroyed by the use of plastic… this plastic stuff does not go away from our world and is only creating more devastation on our environment each decade…

        How much proof is needed…?
        We need to stop chasing the reason of money… and follow the principle of “helping and serving others.”
        In addition to the Environmental devastation we can see, what is happening that we can not see…?

        Studies are showing more than suspicion, plastic may be having a harmful affect on our health…?
        The verdict is still out…question is why take the risk… Who is happy about losing…
        Bisphenol-A has been leaching from plastic, studies have shown this is damaging our health…
        Increases risk in Breast and other Cancers, Heart Disease, Diabetese, Kindney disease & even Obesisty are now supected of being connected to our use of plastic…
        We have been microwaving our food in plastic, feeding our baby’s in plastic bottles, drinking water in plastic all with Bisphenol-A in it…
        Yes, BPA is no longer being used in plastic by manufactures… now only after we have shown the harm created…This is like a crinminal saying “I am sorry” after getting caught…
        For me to trust an industry that first had to be caught before they change…?

        Now a little positive on plastic…Plastic can have a function…
        but not when it comes to our food, packaging and water…Ingestion of chemicals in plastic for sure we don’t know the harm, but like the cigarette industry that denied “Smoking causes Cancer” for decades also,
        we now know better …We need to awaken… it is happening again…
        So long as it is Reusable & Refillable thru Filtering, plastic can bring convenience to our lives…

        Now caution once again…
        However, do we need this kind of conveneience…?
        To use for throw away packaging… just because it is cheap, this is not sustainable, we know less than 12% recycle ,so we do not need to educate a society to change…
        What we resist will persist in our lives…we have also learned this…

        Manufacturing of products need to follow a “sustainable materials standard by law.”
        Requires 3 compliances;
        1-Environmental Impact
        2-Health hazards or risk…
        3-Financial clean up cost need to be funded by the company from their profits…

        If you have doubts about this…
        Check out the Earth 911 video on plastic bottles, they are coming faster than we can clean up…

        We can not keep up with the cleaning effort, since such a small % is recycled andothers will not change, Some statistics say…
        1500 plastic watrer bottles alone are discarded into our environment every second…
        This does not even consider plastic packaging for food andother items…

        Do the math… this is mind boggling…To continue this approach makes no Eco-nomic Cents.
        The dollars we save are then wasted to cleanup after the plastic, plus more dollars are added.
        PLastic does create jobs…no doubt… however creates pollution in the current process…
        This is an industry that needs to change…