Orlando, Fla. — Kim Holmes says she's seen a change during her time at the country's largest trade group serving the plastics industry.
The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. has been around for nearly 80 years, but it's only been during the past three or so that there's been an effort to make plastics recycling a core issue for the organization.
Hired in 2013, the senior director of recycling and diversion only had to look around at SPI's inaugural Re|focus Recycling Summit & Expo to see that the topic was important to about 500 attendees.
“I think the mental shift that's come over the past couple of years is we had the prime industry and we had the recycling industry,” she said, operating separately.
“I think what we're beginning to see is the normalizing of recycling as part of the industry. I think people are really beginning to think differently about the ecology of our industry. I think recycling not only is becoming a mainstream piece of it, it has to be. We're seeing a total shift,” said the senior director of recycling and diversion at SPI.
“And I think that's being demonstrated and reflected with what we're seeing within the organization,” Holmes said. “Recycling is being integrated across the organization.”
Holmes initially started working with SPI about three years ago on a consulting basis and became a full-time employee about 2½ years ago. She remembers SPI CEO Bill Carteaux telling her two things: members will be supportive and it will be difficult to select priorities because there is so much to work on.
One of SPI's priorities has been to increase the focus on recycling throughout the organization and the plastics industry as a whole.
“I think the timing was so right for this,” said Kendra Martin, senior director of industry affairs at SPI. “It's hard not to accept this when you've seen such positive movement.”
Current market conditions that are lowering the price for recycled plastics are creating challenges, Holmes said.
But, she added, the recycled plastics industry has to be about more than just price.
“Part of this mental shift is there's many different value propositions to using recycled content beyond just the cost savings. Recycled content had the perception that it was cheaper and it was inferior material. The cheaper part is going away [due to low virgin resin prices]. But the myth that it is an inferior material is also getting debunked. Recycled plastics are going into these higher applications,” Holmes said.
“People are reimagining recycled plastics,” she said.
These days, about 75 SPI companies are involved in the group's Recycling Committee, up from an initial interest of about 40 when Holmes was first hired.
And the work is now broadening out to include a look at sustainability.
“I want to continue with our momentum and continue to look at end-of-life stuff. But I think there's a lot of opportunity on the sustainability side. I think we are beginning to look at opportunities to harmonize sustainability reporting throughout the supply chain,” Holmes said.
“We're encouraging our members to be very lifecycle analysis driven,” Holmes said. “You can't overlook some of the other environmental gains that stand to be made beyond just that recycling piece.”
As part of that larger focus, SPI has just published its 2015 sustainability report based on a member survey conducted last year.
A total of 39 companies took part in the survey, and those firms have more than 200 sites around the world.
The most frequent environmental goal, cited by 21 of those firms, is reduction of energy use. That's followed by reduction of the carbon footprint for production and operations as well as water reduction, both by 16 companies.
Recovery and recycling targets checked in next with 12 companies listing that as an environmental goal.
SPI also asked respondents to rank motivating factors for using recycled content. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being a very strong motivator, cost savings came out on top with an average of 3.8. Just behind that, use of recycled content driven by targets or goals scored an average of 3.6. The third-highest motivating factor, with an average score of 3.4, was use of recycled content when requested by customers.
Use of recycled content as a market differentiator was next with an average of 3.2, and use of the material as part of a carbon footprint reduction strategy had an average of 2.7.