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Summit on Plastics and Sustainability

The Plastics Industry Association (Plastics), formerly SPI, successfully concluded its second annual Re|focus Sustainability & Recycling Summit in Orlando, FL/USA, at the end of June. The two-day summit featured recycling and plastics industry experts who presented solutions on how the industries can work collaboratively to advance manufacturers’ sustainability goals.

Dr. Deborah Mielewski (© Plastics)

Keynote presenter Dr. Deborah Mielewski, senior technical leader of materials sustainability at Ford Motor Company’s Research and Innovation Center, kicked-off this year’s Summit discussing the value of committing to sustainable practices, using sustainable materials for Ford vehicles as the example. She took an in-depth look at plant-based materials developed and implemented at Ford, such as soy-based foams, wheat straw and rice hulls.

Creating a circular economy for the plastics industry is going to take collaboration among companies that typically compete in the marketplace. Collaboration will be needed to push the concept of a circular economy in plastics, said Susan Graff, vice president of global corporate sustainability of Resource Recycling Systems, a consulting firm. "I would submit that this is a pre-competitive issue," Graff told the audience at the Re|focus Sustainability & Recycling Summit. Companies, she said, need "to put together a solution before we end up with government regulation telling us what the solution is."

The plastics industry already has worked together to help promote recycling efforts. Those, for example, include the Flexible Film Recycling Group organized through the American Chemistry Council. Keith Christman, managing director of plastics markets at ACC, said trade groups like his own provide a forum for companies to tackle issues on a pre-competitive basis.

Dr. Michael McKittrick (© Plastics)

The Summit concluded with a plenary keynote by Dr. Michael McKittrick, technology manager of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, who presented on a new vision for recovery and manufacturing. Earlier this year the Department of Energy announced a manufacturing institute tasked with identifying new and less expensive ways to reuse, recycle, and remanufacture metals, fibers, polymers, and electronic waste. The institute will leverage up to USD 70 million in federal funding and will be matched by USD 70 million in cost-share commitments from over 100 partners.

Attendees spent the rest of their time attending a series of breakout sessions on pressing topics facing both industries, such as A New Manufacturing Strategy with Recycled Content and Reducing the Manufacturing Footprint. Next year, the Re|focus Sustainability & Recycling Summit will co-locate with Plastics’ triennial tradeshow, NPE2018: The Plastics Show, bringing the entire plastics supply chain together in Orlando from May 7-11, 2018.


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