40 Years On, TSCA Reformed Marking First Major Update to Environmental Law in 20 Years

By: Tony Deligio 22. June 2016


Plastics industry representatives and environmentalists hailed the passage of TSCA reform, a reboot four decades in the making.


The fact that representatives of both sides of the issue offered praise and criticism of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act indicates the law, which amends the Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976, represents some amount of compromise on the issue, a rare commodity in Washington DC these days.


TSCA reform was one of six measures signed on June 22, and it enjoyed bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. Apart from naming post offices, there’s not much the both parties and the president can agree on these days. Per the White House, improvements to TSCA included in the reforms include:


  • Mandatory requirement for EPA to evaluate existing chemicals with clear and enforceable deadlines;
  • New risk-based safety standard;
  • Increased public transparency for chemical information;
  • Consistent source of funding for EPA to carry out the responsibilities under the new law


In a blog post, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Gina McCarthy described the law as the first major update to an environmental statute in 20 years (emphasis McCarthy’s).


“TSCA was intended to be one of our nation’s foundational environmental laws. In terms of its potential for positive impact, it should have ranked right alongside the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, which, since the 70’s, have dramatically improved water quality and helped clean up 70 percent of our nation’s air pollution. But it hasn’t….Forty years after TSCA was enacted, there are still tens of thousands of chemicals on the market that have never been evaluated for safety, because TSCA didn’t require it.”


The original Toxic Substances Control Act, signed by President Gerald Ford in October 1976, was intended to provide the EPA:


Authority to require reporting, record-keeping and testing requirements, and restrictions relating to chemical substances and/or mixtures. Certain substances are generally excluded from TSCA, including, among others, food, drugs, cosmetics and pesticides.


Prior to its passage, the EPA’s deputy administrator, John R. Quarles testified in 1975 specifically about the risks perceived in chemicals including vinyl chloride, fluorocarbon, bischloromethylether (BCME), polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), saying these chemicals “point to the inadequacy of our present approach to controlling toxic substances.” At the time, Quarles said that every year about 600 new chemical compounds were introduced in the United States for commercial use.


William Carteaux, president and CEO of SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, thanked President Obama for signing the bill into law.


The U.S. plastics industry thanks President Barack Obama for signing this vital piece of legislation. H.R. 2576 delivers a much-needed update to the nation’s chemical regulatory infrastructure and ensures that businesses in the plastics industry can continue to meet the needs of consumers by manufacturing the safest, strongest and most technologically advanced products and materials in the world.


Andy Igrejas, the director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families—a coalition of health, environmental, labor and business organizations—noted the importance of the bill’s passage but also noted its perceived limitations.


President Obama’s signature on this bill marks both the end of a long process, and the beginning of a new chapter as the EPA puts its new authority to work. The chemical backlog is enormous. It's vital that EPA starts strong and extracts the maximum public health benefits possible from the new law. Because of the limitations in this bill, however, it will also be crucial that the growing demand for safer chemicals continue across society, from state and local governments, retailers, manufacturers and informed consumers.


Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, praised the bill’s passage, noting the ACC’s long-running interest in the reform.


The reform is a historic bipartisan achievement at a time when such achievements are increasingly rare. It is the first major environmental law passed since 1990. Under it, chemical evaluation and regulation will meet new 21st century standards, which will improve the lives of American families, support American manufacturing and bolster U.S. economic growth. Reforming TSCA has been ACC’s top priority since 2008. For the past three years, ACC and our coalition partners, the American Alliance for Innovation (AAI), have worked together to support bipartisan efforts to modernize TSCA in a way that ensures smart, effective chemical regulation.


The reform was named after former New Jersey Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg, who along with Louisiana Senator David Vitter initially introduced TSCA reform in 2013. Lautenberg passed away three years ago on June 3, 2013 at 89, not living long enough to see the law that even the Environmental Defense Fund called a “really big deal.”


Cautious Optimism for Europe’s Plastics Industry Ahead of K

By: Tony Deligio 21. June 2016

As host to the world’s largest plastics show, Germany and Europe’s economic conditions, and specifically plastics demand, come under greater scrutiny in K years.


That demand is down, according to an article from show organizer Messe Düsseldorf, citing data from industry consultant Applied Market Information (AMI), which noted that polymer consumption in 2014 is 10% below 2007 levels. AMI expects nominal growth to return, forecasting that polymer demand is expected rise an average just over 1% per year until 2019.


From 2002 to 2014, plastics production in Europe grew every year except 2009, rising 52% over that time period from 204 million tonnes in 2003 to 311 million tonnes in 2014, according to Plastics Europe. In its most recent report for 2015, which looks back at 2014 data, the trade association reported that the European plastic industry employed 1.45 million people at 62,000 companies generating more than Euro 350 billion in revenue.


That same report found that in 2014, 24.9% of total plastics demand in Europe—47.8 million tonnes—came from Germany, followed by Italy (14.3%), France (9.6%), the U.K. (7.7%) and Spain (7.4%).


Resin Suppliers Are Upbeat
Across the Atlantic, much has been made of the burgeoning production advantages enjoyed by North American resin makers thanks to the natural gas boom, which has lowered key feedstock costs. But more recently, the drop in oil prices has given a boost to Europe’s resin manufacturers who are more reliant on petroleum-derived naphtha.


The article noted that Borealis enjoyed record profits in 2015, quoting CEO Mark Garrett as saying that integrated polyolefin industry margins reached historic highs for the year.


“Despite lower feedstock costs, polyolefin prices did not retreat to the same extent, driven by a tight market as a result of solid demand combined with a supply shortfall, in particular resulting from unplanned production stops. In addition, imports of polyolefins into Europe have been uncompetitive following the weakening of the Euro. We expect this situation to ease in 2016, but we believe the integrated polyolefin industry margin will be solid.”


Messe Düsseldorf also sought the opinion of Melanie Maas-Brunner, Senior Vice President for Performance Materials Europe at BASF, who was also bullish.


“Overall, we look positively at the current state of the European plastics industry. We have seen good business growth in all our segments in 2015 and we are optimistic that those who have the right technologies, people and facilities globally will stay successful. We expect more demand from industries such as medical, transportation as well as from consumer industries such as footwear, sports and leisure. The main trends driving those needs are resource efficiency, light weighting, comfort and energy efficiency.”


Processors, Machinery Makers Optimistic
On the processing side, the report noted that Germany’s converting sector posted moderate growth in 2015, after a record 2014, while in Italy, where consumption has been flat, equipment association Assocomaplast reported a strong upward trend in orders.


Further on the machinery front, Euromap members most recent reports covering 2014 noted that the continent accounted for 40% of the global total of plastics and rubber core machinery sold—euro 13 billion out of euro 32.5 billion. Down slightly from 2013’s share of 41.5%, while China’s grew over the same time period from 30% to 33.5%.


Euromap members continue to export around four times as much core equipment as Chinese companies, in terms of value, with deliveries to Europe and the US on the rise, while shipments to BRIC countries slip. Around 43% of Euromap member exports are within Europe.


Force Majeure’s Take a Toll
A significant challenge to European plastics processors in 2015 was difficulties obtaining raw materials, with more than 40 declarations of force majeure during a period of just four months at one stage in 2015, as major polyolefin plants in Europe stood still for extended periods, “putting significant strains on relationships between suppliers and processors,” per the report, which noted that some processors “had to shut down production lines.”


Could there be relief on the way from the U.S.? The Messe Düsseldorf report noted that Ineos chartered eight ships to bring ethane from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale field across the Atlantic, with the first delivery arriving in Norway in late March. Shipments to the company’s refinery at Grangemouth, Scotland, were scheduled to start later this year, with Europe’s first shale-based polyethylene expected tocome onto the market soon after.


Ineos Chairman Jim Ratcliffe noted that U.S. shale could complement the declining supplies of gas from the North Sea, according to the report, with imports of shale-derived ethane acting as a stop-gap measure while his company investigates shale-gas deposites in the U.K. The company is set to drill numerous test cores in 2016, although it does not plan any fracking this year. 

Pictured: Ineos' new ethane storage tank, completed in July 2015 and said to be the largest in Europe.

Snuffed Out: De Facto Death for Halogenated Flame Retardants

By: Tony Deligio 16. June 2016

Market forces and self-policing are pushing the market for flame-retardant (FR) additives in a different direction.


Jesse Dulek started his presentation with a question; How many in the audience liked to burn things growing up? As a product development engineer focused on FR technologies at custom compounder RTP Company, Winona, Minn., Dulek joked that his current job entailed him getting paid for trying to light things on fire, or more accurately, seeing which compounds can keep from igniting, melting or giving off smoke. In addition to running various materials through his own crucible, Dulek’s job also lets him gauge where technology is headed based on the latest promotions from the additive manufacturers he works with.   


“I don't have any suppliers pushing new bromine-free products on me,” Dulek said, “it’s always halogen free. It’s really just a matter of time before halogen free takes over.” Speaking in Denver this May at RTP’s Engineered Plastics Workshop, Dulek and his RTP colleagues walked the attendees through various changes in an array of areas including filled plastics, coloring and, for his portion, flame retardants.


Dulek noted that the 2006 European Union passage of the RoHS (restriction of hazardous substances) directive, despite not directly dictating that FRs be halogen free, has had the effect of pushing halogenated products off the market. “The halogen free world is more complicated,” Dulek said. “We are see an evolution of economics and more and more halogen-free products coming out.”


Generally speaking, halogenated FRs work by inhibiting the chemical reaction in the gas or vapor phase as either an additive or a polymeric product. Non-halogen technologies include phosphorous, hydrated minerals or melamine cyanurate, with benefits and challenges to each.


While halogenated products in general offer lower costs, better processing, greater efficiency and higher physical properties, Dulek said halogen-free alternative have their own perks. Halogen-free products are improving in terms of ease of processing and reduced costs, with more developments on the horizon as new FR standards call for low smoke, low toxicity, less corrosiveness and a lower specific gravity—attributes that further promote halogen free.  


Dulek said RoHS mostly impacted pigments, with a lessened effect on FR, specifically eliminating heavy metals like lead, mercury, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium from colorants, as well as polybrominated biphenyls and polybrominated diphenyl ethers from FRs.


“There are still no global bans on use of halogens,” Dulek said, noting that RTP sees more self-policing. “If somebody doesn’t want them in there, we’re not in a position to deny them,” Dulek said. “All we can do is lay out the options. The biggest thing we need are new FR standards. In building or transportation, the standards are built around smoke, heat release, and toxicity, which drives towards halogen free.”


Despite no explicit bans, OEMs like HP, Dell and IBM have foresworn halogenated FRs, while labels like Blue Angel, White Swan, and Ecolabel specifically call out their elimination.


Pyromaniacs everywhere, take note (image courtesy King Plastic Corp.)

North American Plastics Machinery Shipments On the Rise in the First Quarter

By: Tony Deligio 16. June 2016

Shipments of primary plastics equipment in the first quarter were up 13.5% from the year-ago quarter.


Shipments of injection molding, extrusion, and blow molding equipment totaled $330.5 million in the first quarter of 2016, compared to $291.2 million in the first quarter of 2015, according to SPI’s Committee on Equipment Statistics (CES). SPI noted that the increase marked the second straight quarter that North American shipments registered a year-over-year increase. This total, however, was 15.4% lower than the $390.6 million posted in the preceding quarter, the final quarter of 2015, which on a seasonal basis is typically quite strong.


Break Down By Process
So how did the data break down along processing technology lines? The performance of injection molding equipment was quite strong, jumping 25.2% on a year-over-year basis, while single-screw extruders decreased 17.4 percent over the same time period. The shipments value of twin-screw extruders, including co-rotating and counter-rotating machines, rose 6.8 percent, while the shipments value of blow molding machines fell 63.5 percent, year over year. Auxiliary equipment was on the rise, jumping 13.6 percent year over year and down only 5.2 percent, compared to the seasonally strong fourth quarter.


On a broader basis, the total value for new orders of industrial machinery rose 21.0 percent in the first quarter of 2016 compared with the year-prior quarter, after rising 12.1 percent in the final quarter of 2015, according to data compiled by the Census Bureau.


Survey Optimism Also On the Rise
In the survey that accompanies the CES quarterly report, there was a small improvement in expectations, with 84 percent of respondents expecting market conditions to either hold steady or get better during the next 12 months.


On a geographic basis, North America is now expected to have the fastest market growth in the coming months, per the survey, but the outlook for Mexico is also strong. The sentiments for Asia, Europe, and Latin America also improved in the first quarter when compared with previous quarters, though they remain well below the levels expected for North America and Mexico.


As for the major end-markets, respondents to the first-quarter survey expect that medical, autos, and packaging will enjoy the strongest growth in demand, with expectations for all other end-markets expected to be steady-to-better in 2016.  

Transitioning From the World’s Factory to the World’s Designer

By: Tony Deligio 15. June 2016

China has long since aggregated the means and materials of production, but increasingly it’s seeking to lay claim to the creative origins of products—the design.


For the second show running, global materials and additive supplier BASF teamed with show organizer Adsale to feature the BASF Design Innovation pavilion as an official concurrent event during Chinaplas 2016 held this April in Shanghai. According to China’s CCTV, the country boasts more than 1000 design colleges generating 600,000 design graduates annually, with these grads filling design roles at Chinese and multinational OEMs. Will they source plastics in new designs?


Located at one of the primary entrances to the show grounds, the program covered three main themes—travel light, live cool and play safe—with five different forums and a chance to “meet the designer”, including well-known industrial designers Chris Lefteri of LKK and Yang Wenqing of LOE Design. Closing the design loop, major OEMs including Haier, Lenovo and Volkswagen also took part.


During an opening ceremony, Stephan Kothrade, president and chairman of greater China for BASF spelled out the importance design holds for China’s industry going forward. “Good product design plays a role in bridging the gap between creative ideas, form and functioning,” Kothrade said. “China faces many challenges, as well as opportunities, because of rapid urbanization.”


Kothrade said a goal of the pavilion and an area of emphasis for BASF going forward is to help establish China as a global creative power. He noted that BASF is investing in China in line with its own growth, recently expanding its innovation complex in Shanghai and launching a design competition that address challenges of urban living. Supporting associations include cida (Chinese Industrial Design Association) and the Ningbo Industrial Design Union.


At the show’s opening press conference, Adsale Chairman Stanley Chu referenced China’s 5th-year plan and how it calls for the country’s industry to utilize “advanced materials” and transition from being a low-cost-labor country.


“That’s why we have to focus more on automation and high technology and high productivity,” Chu said. “We can’t just rely on the low cost of labor and the low cost of land. We’ll have technology innovation on one side, and on the other side, product design.”


Andy Postlethwaite, BASF’s senior VP engineering plastics Asia Pacific, has also seen the rise of design in the region. “In the recent past, there has been a much stronger design presence in China,” Postlethwaite told Plastics Technology. “That shows a maturing of the industry.” In particular, Postlethwaite noted that BASF works with Chinese OEMs to educate them on plastics’ potential.


“What is possible with BASF materials,” is a key question the OEMs need to answer, according to Postlethwaite. “Unless you can communicate with designers what’s possible, they won’t know what materials to source.”


At Chinaplas, BASF highlighted numerous applications applying plastics where they traditionally aren’t used to help Chinese clients understand the potential for the material. Among these, an auxiliary window form, usually fabricated in steel, utilized a pultruded polyurethane. In the construction phase, this form is used for the window mount, with the PUR version offering one-quarter the weight and improved thermal performance.


Elsewhere on the stand, BASF showcased a composite utility pole. Postlethwaite noted that in disaster-prone or difficult-to-reach areas these light-weight poles are easier to transport, install and maintain. A recent installation survived a typhoon in Guangdong while steel and concrete poles failed. In both these cases, BASF partnered with a Chinese company for the product design and manufacture.


In China and elsewhere, the challenge for Randy Beavers, regional business director Asia Pacific for Eastman Chemical, is helping familiarize processors, designers and OEMs with the company’s Tritan copolyester resin. Beavers noted at Chinaplas that more than 98% of companies working with Tritan are totally new to Eastman, with a majority of time spent not with buying customers but with brandowners in the design phase.


To offer technical support to area molders, a little over one year ago, the company opened a lab in Shanghai to offer molding trials and simulations, with design engineers on hand to provide material recommendations, mold and part reviews, and design recommendations, including nitty gritty aspects like draft angles, wall thicknesses and mold pressures and temperatures.


The challenge, Beavers said, is a familiar one for companies like Eastman in China and throughout the world. “Brandowners and designers know plastics,” Beavers explained, “but they don’t know differences in plastics. We try to teach them differences in plastics.”


If China does indeed become a global creative power, Eastman, BASF and other material companies are actively working to ensure Chinese designs call for plastics. 

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