Given such monumental screw-ups as the City of Toronto’s infamous flirtation with a plastic bag ban last year, we Canadians could be forgiven for thinking of these bans as our own unique problem, like snowstorms in May. Far from it. America has bag bans, too — Chicago just enacted one, as you may have heard. Fortunately, as in Canada, the U.S. plastics sector has no shortage of dedicated members battling tooth and nail to roll back anti-plastics legislation. They win some, they lose some, but they keep fighting.
Mark Daniels is one of these bag boosters, and he’s just been named Leader of the Year by the Canadian Plastics Industry Association. By day, Daniels is the senior vice president of sustainability and environmental policy for Hartsville, S.C.-based plastic bag maker Hilex Poly. After hours, though, you’ll find him on the front lines of the long, drawn-out war being waged against much of the plastics sector by environmental activists, legislators, and about nine-tenths of the global media.
And he’s no new recruit — more like a battle-scarred veteran of the type that John Wayne might have played in his heyday, albeit armed with facts and figures instead of a gun and an eye patch. Daniels serves as the chairman for the American Progressive Bag Alliance — a division of the Society of the Plastics Industry — and sits on the Board of Directors for the Western Plastics Association, the Florida Retail Federation, and the Texas Retail Association.
Stanley Bikulege, Hilex Poly’s chairman and CEO, summed up Daniels’s dedication in a nutshell. “Mark works relentlessly at defending the plastic industry while ensuring that factual information is given to the public and government bodies that will allow them to make informed decisions,” Bikulege said. “He spends his time working to educate all of those groups — NGOs, government bodies, and the public — that, if left to their own devices, would eliminate key jobs in the plastics industry while negatively impacting the environment and costing consumers money. He is a true ambassador of recycling.”
BITTEN BY THE PLASTICS BUG
A Cedar Grove, N.J. native, Daniels attended Villanova University near Philadelphia before starting his career with what was then Signode — it’s now Illinois Tool Works Inc. — a maker of engineered fasteners and components. His involvement in plastic bag making began in 1989, with a move to Key Packaging Industries in Salem, N.H., and then to Hilex Poly — known at the time as Vanguard Plastics — in 1999.
He was bitten by the plastics proselytizing bug almost immediately. “At the time I joined Key Packaging, I also became aware of an association called the Coalition of Northeastern Governors, which is a non-profit agency that encourages intergovernmental cooperation in the Northeast on issues relating to economic, environmental, and social well-being,” Daniels said. “Back then, the debate between paper bags and plastic bags was just beginning to rage, and I helped compile research to demonstrate that plastic bags were a far superior product in regards to transportation, greenhouse gas emissions, acidification, and all the life-cycle analyses. It caught my attention from the beginning, and I’ve been on a journey to educate consumers ever since.”
Even deeper extra-curricular involvement in industry associations came shortly after. “I joined the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which is the largest plastic bag industry organization in the U.S.,” Daniels said. “We promote the environmental attributes of plastic bags and educate consumers on the three-pronged approach of reducing, reusing, and recycling. We also use that approach to defend our industry against bag bans and tax ordinances.”
And not without success. “Currently, there is no state in the U.S. that has banned plastic bags, although some 20 states have contemplated it,” Daniels said. “We’re very careful to explain the factual benefits of plastic bags to legislators, which also involves countering the misinformation spread by some environmental activists, and we have been successful so far in defeating most efforts to enact bans.”
NOT JUST TALK
Closer to home, and with help from Daniels, Hilex Poly doesn’t just talk reducing and recycling, it walks it. “Hilex Poly is the largest plastic bag manufacturer in the U.S., and we also operate the country’s largest closed-loop recycling plant, a 120,000-square-foot facility in North Vernon, Ind., that opened in 2005,” Daniels said. “With more than 30,000 collection points distributed mainly across the U.S. — but also including the Sobeys and Metro chains in Canada — we collect plastic bags, sacks, and wraps. Our plant recycles over 25 million pounds of PE annually, plus our recycling partners reprocess another 15 million pounds of this returned material. It’s reinvigorated our company, and inspired a lot of other flexible packagers to follow suit.”
Additionally, Hilex Poly’s “Bag-2-Bag” recycling program was the first closed-loop recycling initiative to introduce plastic bag recycling at supermarkets and retailers that also rewarded customers with high-recycled content shopping bags.
A hardened veteran of the bag wars he may be, but Daniels remains flattered by the CPIA’s award. “I’m humbled at being selected Leader of the Year, and it’s a real honor to be respected by my peers,” he said. “But it’s also an award that should be shared by my many associates in the industry who work hard promoting plastic bags and educating the public about the tenets of reduce, reuse, and recycle.”
The Duke himself couldn’t have put it any better