Sustainability a Focus of World's Largest Plastic Event

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At last week’s NPE2009 International Plastics Showcase in Chicago, Ill., plastic industry leaders from around the globe gathered to showcase products, ideas and innovations at the largest plastics showcase in the world.

NPE2009, organized by SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, hosts approximately 75,000 plastics professionals from 120 countries, showcasing a broad array of innovations in the plastic world. This year’s NPE highlighted industry-wide sustainability efforts, from bioplastics to energy, aimed at finding solutions to environmental issues.

Bioplastics definitely made their mark at this year's NPE. PolyOne, one of nearly 40 bioplastic exhibitors, showed off their new color concentrates for bioplastics. Photo:

Bioplastics definitely made their mark at this year's NPE. PolyOne, one of nearly 40 bioplastic exhibitors, showed off their new color concentrates for bioplastics. Photo:

“NPE’s Business of Plastics Conference, organized by SPI, the Plastics Industry Trade Association, included multiple sessions on sustainability that encompassed such broad topics as energy efficiency, biopolymers, recycling, partnerships with US EPA as well as Earth 911’s sustainability-related activities,” says Lynne Harris, Senior Vice President of Science and Technology for SPI.

Earth911’s own Vice President of Government and Industry Affairs, Sandra Keil, spoke on an EPA-lead panel addressing the ways to improve plastics recycling. She shared some of her thoughts regarding the showcase and the discussion panel.

Before attending NPE2009, I thought I understood plastics. I left with more questions than answers. After strolling the Expo Hall for two days, I spoke with those who make molds, machines, the actual plastic polymers, the preforms, plastic recyclers and even the company that makes a small plastic lining that is inserted into plastic bottles to keep the carbonation from escaping those sparkling beverages.

I used to believe that plastics were organized nicely into #1-7, but the catch is, there are now seven types of #2 plastic. What? My first thought was, ‘how will that affect recycling?’ What makes these seven plastic #2’s different from one another? Can all seven types of #2 plastic be recycled together or will it create serious contamination?

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On Thursday, I was fortunate to participate in a panel discussion headed by EPA that addressed ways to improve plastics recycling. The audience asked questions regarding the benefits of regulation, standardizing collection in the U.S. and following successful models of European countries.

All great thoughts and questions, yet plastics are evolving faster than we can set up programs for recycling. We benefit immeasurably with all the advancements in plastics, yet we are also deceiving ourselves that we can continue this habit of discarding this incredibly valuable material. My hope is that as plastics continue to advance, so will our commitment to plastic recycling.