Three years ago, the three leading plastics industry associations in the U.S. and Canada formally joined forces to create the North American Plastics Alliance (NAPA). Although we already were cooperating on many issues, we agreed that by memorializing a commitment to work together we could create efficiencies and be more effective as representatives of this large and diverse industry.
So what exactly has NAPA undertaken over these three years? Quite a bit.
Quick background: We set out in 2011 to coordinate our individual efforts on specific initiatives and programs in four areas:
• Outreach — to promote better understanding of plastics' benefits;
• Advocacy — to encourage public policy that supports the growth of the plastics industry;
• Energy recovery and recycling — to facilitate increased recycling and recovery of plastics' stored energy content; and
• Pellet containment — to extend wide-scale adoption of Operations Clean Sweep throughout North America and beyond.
While observing our anniversary in July, we proudly added another member: Anipac, the leading plastics association in Mexico. It was a gratifying way to celebrate our alliance, making it a truly North American entity. NAPA now encompasses the Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA), The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. (SPI) — and Asociación Nacional de Industrias del Plástico, AC (Anipac).
At the start, we believed that leveraging our individual programs through enhanced cooperation among alliance members would provide increased value to our associations and our member companies. And we were correct.
For example, on the outreach front, although each of our U.S. and Canadian associations has communications programs, we now routinely promote each other's content through social media, greatly expanding the reach of our individual efforts.
On the advocacy front, CPIA representatives joined with ACC and SPI in Washington for the plastics industry “fly-in” in July, demonstrating the cross-border nature of the North American industry. Representatives from seven plastics associations, along with 111 member company participants, went to Capitol Hill to meet and discuss key issues with elected officials. In total, we met with 122 members of Congress, enhancing our industry's profile in the capital and underscoring our contributions to jobs and sustainability.
The three U.S. and Canadian associations also are actively involved in energy recovery projects. In the City of Edmonton, Alberta, we're working together to determine if adding more non-recycled plastics to a system that converts waste to gas improves efficiencies and results in better synthetic fuel products. (So far the answer appears to be yes.) The system is a full-scale gasification facility that is part of Edmonton's efforts to divert 90 percent of its waste from landfills through recycling, composting, and waste-to-fuels technologies. We also are working together on plastics-to-oil projects to jumpstart technologies that convert the energy in non-recycled plastics into fuels.
Plastics recycling in the U.S. and Canada continues to show year-over-year growth, supported by a myriad of technical and communications programs to improve collection and scrap value sponsored by our associations. This fall, SPI will coordinate a meeting of North American plastics recycling association leaders to share best practices on plastics recycling and determine how to work more closely together in the future.
Efforts to improve and expand programs that help prevent resin pellets from entering waterways and the marine environment were particularly successful. In 2011 only the U.S. associations and their member companies were implementing Operation Clean Sweep. SPI created the Operation Clean Sweep initiative in 1992 to focus on proper containment of plastic pellets by resin producers, transporters, bulk terminal operators, and plastics processors.
Today, plastics associations in 12 additional countries, including Canada and Mexico, have launched Operation Clean Sweep. U.S. and Canadian associations have pledged to increase member company participation in Operation Clean Sweep this year by 30 percent and 20 percent, respectively. In addition, Plastics Europe is transitioning its member country associations to the initiative. These efforts are part of the global plastics industry's public commitment to tackle a global problem: plastic litter in the marine environment.
So what's next? There's more to do in each of these areas, and through the alliance, we're discovering new ways to be more efficient and more effective. Our industry is large, diverse and growing every day. And it's clear that our needs are best served when we all work together.
The North American plastics industry is resurging following a severe recession, with new opportunities brought on by cost-advantaged shale gas. NAPA pledges to help maximize that resurgence through cross-border cooperation and leveraged resources to enhance opportunities for the plastics industry and its products — in the U.S., Canada, and now Mexico.
William Carteaux is the president and CEO of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
Carol Hochu is the president and CEO of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association.
Steve Russell is the vice president, Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council.