October 13, 2023

Every October, manufacturers throughout the Pittsburgh region and beyond, including our Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council (PCIC) members, celebrate National Manufacturing Month and the positive contributions manufacturing has on our society. The economic impacts are significant. According to the American Chemistry Council, the chemical and plastics industries inject over $14 billion, support over 90,000 direct and indirect jobs, and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes annually.

The impacts on our daily lives may not be as obvious. How the products we purchase from a retail shelf or online service are made is often overlooked. Manufacturing starts with chemistry, which is the building block for nearly every product we use daily. When you think about it, chemistry is responsible for nearly every healthcare product, as the building blocks for cleaner energy options, high-performing building materials, food packaging, electronics, clothing, vehicles and more.

Modern society needs continued chemical and plastics production and demand is expected to increase. The good news is that every year, manufacturers are finding new and innovative ways to make their products more sustainable. Our PCIC members are advancing sustainability, expanding advanced recycling and decarbonizing supply chains, driving substantial environmental benefits.

While innovative companies are leading the way to harness new technological innovations to reduce emissions, reduce waste, and recycle more, legislators and regulators at the state and federal levels must enact sound policies that advance sustainability efforts. Forced mandates and ultimatums stifle innovation. A better path is taking a collaborative approach.

Our members, including those in Western Pennsylvania, aren’t waiting for others to lead the way when it comes to sustainability and environmental stewardship.

Covestro has partnered with the University of Pittsburgh to unveil the first graduate-level program dedicated to furthering the circular economy. Shell Polymers Monaca utilized over 10 miles of recycled pipes and the equivalent of three million recycled grocery bags worth of plastics helped build the roads at the facility. Pittsburgh-headquartered LANXESS has developed a clear strategy and launched several major projects to become climate-neutral by 2040. BASF has entered into power purchase agreements with solar and wind projects that will make up more than 25% of the company’s North American electricity consumption.

Our industry’s leadership in this space is that it doesn’t come at the expense of economic growth and good-paying jobs. It only bolsters our status as a manufacturing powerhouse supported by a strong supply chain with a rich industrial history of innovation. For over a century, the Pittsburgh region has been home to some of the most cutting-edge industrial companies, such as Wabtech, whose locomotives and equipment keep the global rail industry moving, and U.S. Steel, whose American-made steel products support our nation’s auto sector, infrastructure projects, and home appliance manufacturing. The region’s thriving supply chain ensures that this heritage of manufacturing dominance with a focus on environmental sustainability and innovation will continue for centuries.

Balancing economic growth with environmental protection requires policymakers in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. to take constructive steps to partner with industry to develop policies and regulations that empower investments in innovation and sustainable solutions.

In 23 states, including Pennsylvania, legislation around advanced recycling, has paved the way for our members to utilize circular chemical feedstocks as inputs to manufacture new products. Enabling legislation also is generating significant new investments in advanced recycling development.

However, at the national level, the EPA is taking a different approach in its Draft National Strategy to Prevent Plastic Pollution. While well-intentioned, it fails to account for the transformational benefits of advanced recycling and risks sending U.S. chemical and plastics jobs overseas. Congress has also taken a significant interest in the role plastics and advanced recycling play in American manufacturing and environmental stewardship.

As we celebrate Manufacturing Month in 2023, we need to look to the future and chart a path forward that brings innovators, regulators, and policymakers together to develop smart policies, grounded in reality that drive real environmental solutions while unleashing economic growth. Working together, we can move toward a more sustainable future led by the men and women of our industry who are paving the way for a better tomorrow, today.

Steven Kratz is president of the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council.

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