China’s National Sword Program prompts big changes in US plastics recycling efforts

The Association of Plastic Recyclers Conference
March 11-13, 2019

The Association of Plastic Recyclers has grown to include most large brands and retailers. It has also expanded globally to harmonize with other recycling associations so that the influence of this organization cannot be overstated.

There were some clear indications at the conference that the plastic packaging industry is changing and it is being driven by not only the APR, but also key brands and retailers that are changing the way they are thinking about plastic packaging. The change in the plastic packaging industry is primarily the result of China’s National Sword Program, which has caused the biggest economic downturn to the recycling industry in its 50 year history. The focus of many presentations at the conference was to build domestic recycling infrastructure and solidarity, rather than depend on export opportunities. What does this mean for the label industry? With the many expanding commitment programs, expect to have customers ask for assurance that the labels (inks, adhesives, facestocks) that are being used on plastic packaging, primarily PET packaging, do not hinder the recyclability of that container. In short – it’s time for everyone in the label industry to become familiar with the APR Design Guide for PET Recycling.

In opening comments, APR expressed a clear concern about the many articles published on the idea that “recycling is dead.” As the only association focused one hundred percent on plastic recycling, APR has initiated an aggressive pro-recycling campaign with an influx of opinion and editorial pieces in mainstream media (not just industry publications) about to begin. The issue is not recycling, according to APR, the issue is collecting and sorting materials. APR also wants to push back on the negative connotation of single-use packaging by driving the idea that “it’s not single use if it’s recovered.”

PCR Demand: The monetization of the recycling industry comes from the market and demand for materials and products with post-consumer recycled (PCR) content will improve the economy of recycling. That’s why APR has a Demand Champions Program whereby member companies can commit to using a certain percentage of recycled content in products. UPM Raflatac and Avery Dennison are two TLMI member companies that have made such commitments and are part of APR’s Demand Champions program. They types of products they are adding PCR to are not listed, so be sure to ask if you’re interested in label products with PCR. Many brands have also made a commitment. Read all about it here.

Walmart’s New Project: Ashley C. Hall, Walmart Sustainability, reported on Walmart’s Project Gigaton in which they are working with suppliers and vendors to reduce one billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Key strategies to do this are:

· Use 20% PCR content in plastic packaging, make the package 100% recyclable, reusable, or industrially compostable by 2025. 100% of the packaging will be labeled for the customer using the How2Recycle Label.
· This impacts the label industry – Walmart acknowledged that labels and adhesives are considered negative impacts on their private label products. They want labels on Walmart private brands to be verified as not detrimental to recycling by using the APR Design Guide.
· Walmart has published a Sustainable Packaging Playbook with all the guidelines for their suppliers and ways they want you to take action now. If Walmart is your customer, expect to see this referenced in discussions.

P&G’s Alliance to End Plastic Waste: Steve Sikra, Materials Science Engineer, explained the recent launch of P&G’s new efforts to address the fundamental need for infrastructure investment across the entire packaging value chain.

· The Alliance to End Plastic Waste launched January 2019 and will be investing $1.5 B over the next five years to improve recycling infrastructure, innovation, education, and cleanup… globally.
· Members of the Alliance commit to two parts: In Part A, members commit to $500M in grants to help accelerate and incubate projects. In Part B, members commit to directing $1B of funds to investments that will impact someone outside of members’ companies.
· Current members of the Alliance can be found here.
· P&G says they will utilize the EPA’s waste hierarchy as guiding principles to make tough choices. He noted that litter is not on the EPA waste hierarchy.
· P&G will focus on package design, increasing access to recycling collection, inspiring consumer participation, and the demand side of the equation to increase markets for PCR content. This is how it becomes circular. The goal is to transform what was waste into valuable raw material. P&G is also a supporter of the New Plastics Economy.

American Chemistry Council: ACC is the trade association for chemical companies. Craig Cookson, Director of Sustainability and Recycling, focused on ACC’s collaboration with the Association of Plastic Recyclers by rolling out some aggressive goals to increase plastic recycling.

· 3.4% of global oil goes into plastics. There is a 14.6% recycling rate for plastic packaging and 70% is going to landfill.
· ACC’s 2040 goal is that 100% of plastic packaging is reused, recycled, or recovered.
· ACC’s interim goal is 100% of plastic packaging is recyclable or recoverable by 2030.
· They have 7 initiatives to achieve their commitments
o Define, inventory, and target key plastic products
o Design packaging that enables recovery
o Create circular business models
o Invest in recycling access and infrastructure
o Catalyze new technology and programs
o Educate consumers and change behavior
o Expand stakeholder partnerships
· This will impact the label industry as part of the packaging value chain. ACC will encourage the use of labels that meet the APR Design Guide, referenced previously.

More Recycling: A research and consulting firm focused on the plastic recycling industry, CEO Nina Butler provided some interesting insights and trends:

· With the warnings about plastics and packaging, the only response is to stimulate circularity and recycling.
· Due to low virgin resin prices, a major decrease in recycling collections, if we are to increase the demand for PCR, brands will need quality PCR. This means avoiding contamination from labels, adhesives, improper closures, metallics.
· Nina wrote an excellent article on what she identifies as the plastic paradox: plastics have a much lower energy footprint than alternatives to plastic, yet plastic is becoming socially unacceptable. We need to go about changing this perception with facts.

The Print and Packaging Legislative Summit

The multiple trade associations that partnered last year to host the Print & Packaging Legislative Summit have decided that, in order to produce a successful cross-industry event, the Summit will be held every other year. The next one will be in 2020.

In the “off year,” each association is free to handle a “fly in” individually. For instance, PIA has a Board-approved 2019 Key Initiative to facilitate Congressional plant tours. PIA has targeted August/September as key months for bringing lawmakers into member company plants. The purpose is to make a grassroots connection at the local level and then to advance that connection the following year by visiting the Congress on Capitol Hill. The intent is to create a continuous loop of in-state/in-district meetings and DC visits to grow grassroots relationships. This alternate year plan also acknowledges the time, labor, and financial resources it takes from associations and member companies to execute high-quality Capitol Hill fly-ins on a yearly basis.

Because there are so many new House members (almost a quarter of the House is new), the Print & Packaging “Summit Gang” is organizing an association leadership “industry orientation briefing” for House offices. The date is tentatively set for May 15 (arriving on 14th) and, so far, the following associations have committed to inviting their respective CEOs, Board Chairs, and Government Affairs Chairs to participate in a one-day meeting that would consist of a House staff orientation to the industry. The orientation would include topics on diversity, sustainability, and relevancy plus combined key policy priorities. There will also be a couple of group meetings in the Senate.

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