WASHINGTON (Dec. 15, 5:30 p.m. ET) — The plastics industry is moving the major responsibility for warding off local efforts to ban or tax plastic bags from the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council to the industry's main plastics association, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
At the same time, ACC is creating a new Flexible Film Recycling Group within its plastics division whose focus will be to try to improve the recycling rate of plastic film. That new group is expected to consist of resin suppliers, converters, brand owners and other value chain partners who use and/or recover flexible film packaging, according to ACC.
“The recycling rate for film drives the advocacy challenge we face,” said Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for ACC. The new flexible film recycling group will “focus on raising recycling rates for plastic film by overcoming barriers and strengthening partnerships throughout the value chain,” he said.
Russell spoke in a joint phone interview with SPI President and CEO Bill Carteaux.
As part of the shift in responsibility between the two associations, the ACC's Progressive Bag Affiliates unit — which has had the lead industry association role in warding off plastic bag bans — will shift to SPI on Jan. 1, and be renamed the American Progressive Bag Alliance.
PBA currently has seven members including Hilex Poly Co. LLC in Hartsville, S.C., — which has been in the forefront of fighting plastic bag bans — Superbag Corp., Advance Polybag Inc. and Unistar Plastics LLC.
More than 30 communities across the U.S. have enacted bans on single-use plastic bags at grocery stores, supermarkets and retailers. More than two dozen communities — including large cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin, Texas, and Eugene, Ore. — are currently looking to ban plastic bags.
“ACC and SPI have been working together over the last two years on how to be as efficient as possible and maximize the collective resources of this industry,” said Russell. “That is how this shift emerged.”
That informal cooperation between the two associations was formalized in July when SPI, ACC and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association formed the North American Plastics Alliance to better coordinate the plastics industry's efforts.
The notion of shifting the responsibilities for the two issues began shortly after NAPA was formed, Russell said.
“This kind of evolution has only been possible because of the relationship SPI and ACC have nurtured over the last two years,” he said.
Carteaux agreed. “We are constantly looking at how to maximize the efforts for the industry. By aligning our approaches, SPI and ACC can better marshal and utilize our collective resources to defend this important sector and promote film recycling.”
He said it makes sense for SPI to take on the responsibility for warding off bag bans.
“We have a grassroots network and the ability to reach out on these issues,” Carteaux said. “We don't see a fundamental change in approach [to the issue], but we believe that the grassroots network at SPI will help get the messages out on a broader scale.”
In addition, he said there would be a number of synergies between SPI's existing Flexible Film and Bag Division — which represents more than three dozen companies involved in the manufacturer of plastic film products such as bags, wraps and liners — and PBA.
“We are excited to welcome PBA into the SPI family,” Carteaux said. “This sector of our industry continues to face extraordinary challenges — predominantly at the local level — which is exactly where the SPI grassroots network can make an impact. Over the last several years, more and more of our members have gotten involved in advocacy because they need to keep their customers in business.”
He said several current PBA members are already members of SPI and that “the plan is for the remaining PBA members to become members of SPI.”
There won't be any shift in personnel as part of the changes. Carteaux said he and SPI senior vice president of government and industry affairs Jon Kurrle “would be actively engaged” in leading the group at the onset, with the help of a staff of 14 at SPI that are already involved in advocacy. He also said SPI would be using some consultants initially and adding staff to support APBA.
Shari Jackson, who currently heads PBA, will stay at ACC and support its new Flexible Film Recycling Group, which will start in early 2012.
Russell said FFRG will include some existing ACC members and some new members.
“The plan and the vision is to bring together resin suppliers, converters and brand owners who have an interest in increasing plastic film recycling,” Russell said. “We have commitments from resin suppliers, and a strong expression of interest from a brand owner, two converters” and some members of SPI and the APBA.
“We want to explore and remove the barriers to film recycling,” Russell said. “Partnering with communities will be an essential part of what we do. We also want to more closely with retailers and commercial users of plastic film to identify where opportunities for recycling exist, and to move the needle in plastic film recycling.”
According to Russell, there are now more than 12,000 at-store collection points in the U.S. for plastic film — a category that includes plastic bags, product wraps and commercial packaging such as shrink wrap.
“The opportunities to grow plastics film recycling have never been better,” he said. Specifically, Russell pointed to the opportunities to expand commercial collection of shrink wrap at retail stores and to capture commercial film packaging on pallets.
In 2009, the latest year for which statistics are available, slightly more than 854 million pounds of plastic film was recycled in the U.S., according to a report conducted by Moore Recycling Associates, Inc., based in Sonoma, Calif., on behalf of ACC.
That was just a slight increase of 2.64 percent or some 22 million pounds from 2008, and follows two consecutive years where the increase in plastic film recycling was modest at best. The amount of plastic film recycled in 2008 rose by just 0.25 percent and by just 2.24 percent from 2006 to 2007.
That makes the combined percentage increase in plastic film the past three years 5.2 percent, or about 42.4 million pounds. That's in stark contrast to 2006, when the amount of plastic film collected and recycled jumped from 652.5 million pounds to 812 million pounds, or 24.5 percent, over 2005.
ACC's most recent estimate was that plastic grocery and retail bags make up only about 17 percent of the plastic film that is collected and recycled. Agricultural film is estimated to be about three percent of the plastic film collected.
Roughly four-fifths or 80 percent of the plastic film that is recycled and collected is stretch film—that is, the plastic wrapping used around pallets and used in packaging—and poly bags.