Confronting Challenges and Looking Ahead
by Craig Saunders
IAPD President

’m so happy to see the return of the IAPD Annual Convention, coming up soon — August 16-19 — in Louisville, KY, USA. It’s one more sign of things returning to a post-pandemic “normal.” The performance plastics industry is not without its challenges, but it’s great to have in-person meetings, more staff returning to the office and even do some traveling again. It seems so long since we’ve all been together in person at an IAPD event, and I can’t wait to see you all and attend the great sessions that are lined up for us.

We have many reasons to celebrate when we’re all together again in Louisville: Our industry has been through a challenging time, first with the pandemic and now the raw material shortages and price escalations. In all the years I have been in the plastic industry, I do not quite remember a time like now when so many materials are in short supply and the amount and frequency of the price increases. However, even when facing these issues, our industry is resilient and we will forge ahead.

Thank you, volunteers
I commend the great work of every volunteer who serves on an IAPD committee, task force, common interest group (CIG) or other working group. You have all done a great job in 2020 to keep the momentum going with the work of the association. While some projects had to be postponed until travel started up again, there were also some major accomplishments. Since I don’t have space here to cover ALL the highlights, I’ll mention some here and continue the kudos in the next issue of this magazine.

The Education Committee revised and updated the Introduction to Performance Plastics training manual. This book has never looked better. The committee took a fresh look at it, rearranged the chapters in a way that makes more sense to those new to the industry and added a chapter dedicated to sustainability. The Top 26 Market one-page information sheets have been updated and have an eye-catching new look. Be sure to get a copy for anyone you know who plans to take the Performance Plastics Level I Certificate Program through IAPD University.

The Women in Plastics Committee did an incredible job of transitioning from their popular in-person educational workshops to a virtual event series. Thanks to the high-quality speakers and the reduced barriers to attending these events, more IAPD members are enjoying this program than ever before. One of the highlights for most attendees is the opportunity to network with others during the breakout sessions that are part of every event.

The Environmental Committee teamed up with the Education Committee to produce a new Sustainability Certificate Course, which can help raise awareness of the sustainability benefits of performance plastics. This message is vital to share with your customers, because if their customers aren’t already demanding it, they will soon. In addition to this educational program, the Environmental Committee is also working on the Sustainability Champions initiative, which starts with expanding the Top 26 Market information sheets with statistics about the environmental sustainability of performance plastics and will deliver webinars, articles, infographics and other tools to help you counter any negative arguments you hear about performance plastics and the environment.

Recently, a new group formed to address something that I am very passionate about: the Recycling Task Force. Their charter is to address an issue that has challenged our industry for years and is only going to become even more important in the future. The task force is composed of volunteers from IAPD’s distributor, manufacturer, resin manufacturer and recycler members who are leading the way in tackling the challenges of recycling. They are looking at the issue from a supply chain perspective and thinking about what IAPD can do, collectively, to help all its members recapture materials and repurpose them, rather than sending them to a landfill.

The chemical structure of most of the materials that our industry manufactures and distributes are thermoplastics, which make them highly recyclable. One of the major challenges is the logistics in getting the unused scrap or end-of-life products from the end user back to the manufacturer where they can be reprocessed into a sellable form. Recycling is an issue that will affect all our businesses in the future as the pressure mounts for a suitable alternative to landfills. I am confident that as recycling becomes a viable and profitable business, we, as an industry can address the challenges. Already, many end-use markets are requesting and inquiring about recycled material. Consumer product companies are leading this charge because their customers are demanding it, but it’s only a matter of time before large consumers of performance plastics start seeing it as a selling point, too.

Many companies are adopting Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria for their businesses. The criteria are a set of standards a company’s operations that socially conscience investors use to screen potential investments. Environmental criteria consider how a company performs as a steward of nature. ESG has become an important criterion for many investors. As this becomes more prevalent with publicly traded companies, there will be natural pull for these companies’ suppliers to offer environmentally friendly alternatives to existing materials. This should create the market demand to make recycled plastics acceptable thus creating opportunity for IAPD members who are engaging in these practices.

Looking ahead
The August/September issue of this magazine will be themed Women in Plastics and feature content by and about the women in the industry. I commend them for all they’ve done this past year with the virtual events and I look forward to seeing their contributions to this publication. I will also wrap up my thanks to the volunteers in the other committees who have done so much this past year to help all IAPD members and our mission.