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The possibilities for plastics will be focus of The Plasticity Forum

By: Gayle S. Putrich

June 20, 2014

When experts gather to talk about plastics, it’s more often than not a discussion about problems. But for at least one day in New York, it will be a discussion about possibilities.

The Plasticity Forum is a one-day event examining the future of plastic, innovations in design and materials, all aimed at preventing plastic from becoming a waste product, will be held June 24 at Tribeca Rooftop in New York.

The third annual event moves to the United States for the first time in 2014, after kicking off in Rio de Janeiro at the 2012 Rio+20 Earth Summit, followed by partnering with the Asia Society to bring the event to Hong Kong in June 2013.

A project of the Ocean Recovery Alliance and the Republic of Everyone, the Plasticity Forum aims to bring together leaders to collaborate to help scale up some of the great solutions now coming to market, the organizers say, and to showcase sustainable solutions and market opportunities for transforming plastic waste into a valuable resource.

A new report that attempts to analyze the world’s largest companies and their use of plastic as a resource also will be released and reviewed by the authors at the forum. Valuing Plastic: The Business Case for Measuring, Managing and Disclosing Plastic Use in the Consumer Goods Industry was developed by the Plastic Disclosure Project in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme and Richard Mattison, CEO of London-based research firm Trucost. 

“Natural capital valuation has the power to help organizations understand their environmental impacts, including pollution of the world’s oceans,” Mattison said. “By putting a financial value on impacts such as plastic waste, companies can further integrate effective environmental management into mainstream business. By highlighting the savings from reuse and recycling, it builds a business case for proactive sustainability improvements.”

The event will feature speakers from across the spectrum of the plastics industry, from Dell’s Director of Environmental Affairs Scott O’Connell and keynote speaker Steve Russell, American Chemistry Council vice president — who will speak on the value and possibilities of non-virgin plastic — to Sam Harrington with Ecoactive Design, a company that uses living fungi to turn agricultural crop wastes into protective packaging and foam building insulation.

Another keynote speaker, Mike Biddle, founder and director of MBA Polymers, has been involved with all three Plasticity forums, and said it was easy to get behind the event because he believes so strongly in its mission.

“I think there needs to be a big discussion about the future of the plastics industry. I’ve felt that way for 35 years,” Biddle said. “There’s a lot of pressure, frankly, about the role of plastics in our lives.”

MBA, started by Biddle in his garage nearly 20 years ago, specializes in recycling difficult waste streams; its biggest sources are auto shredder residue, electronics waste and mixed rigid plastics like those generated by municipal solid waste streams. The company turns those materials into recycled plastic resin that can be used as a drop-in for virgin resin. While the United States, and plenty of other developed countries, generate large amounts of those types of waste plastic, MBA has not seen much U.S. enthusiasm because there is not really a single facility generating enough plastics e-waste, auto residue and municipal solid waste to justify the large capital investment required for MBA processing plant — the “first mile” problem, Biddle calls it.

“Organizing the collection is the hard bit,” he says.

But things are changing, albeit slowly, he says. In his keynote and an additional panel discussion, Biddle will not just talk about MBA’s 300 million pounds per year of processing capacity in the U.S., Europe and China to turn waste into plastics but also the huge benefits of low-cost materials, the global benefits of lowering operating costs from using recycled material and the economies of scale of it all.

“What gets me excited about Plasticity,” he said, “well, one of the things, is bringing together so many great thinkers and enthusiasm from so many different perspectives.”