Changing the perception of plastics is a challenging prospect considering the almost constant barrage of misinformation, scare-tactics, and the spread of inaccurate reporting designed to devalue, or worse, diminish, the benefits plastics play in society. It takes a strong commitment and powerful collaboration to provide opportunities to flip the perception from negative to positive.
The Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) Foundation, the philanthropic arm of SPE, has announced its continued partnership with Braskem, a leading global plastics producer, in supporting the Foundation and its mission to change the perception of plastics through science and educational programs.
"At Braskem, we believe strongly in fostering an environment focused on people creating change for our future," said Stacy Torpey, Communications Director, Braskem. "Because the SPE Foundation is the only organization with educational programs that cover the whole plastics industry value chain, it's important for us to contribute to society by supporting organizations such as SPE that have long-lasting and positive impact on our communities. Plastics are an integral part of our economy, and it's imperative to educate society about the positive impact this material has on our everyday lives."
Braskem emphasized that without plastics, many everyday conveniences and environmental benefits would be compromised.
"You can't have sustainability without plastics," explained Torpey. "Without plastic, our food wouldn't stay fresh as long, leading to more food waste, and cars would be heavier, resulting in increased fuel consumption and harmful chemical emissions. The work being done by the SPE Foundation to educate our future leaders is vital to a sustainable future."
Braskem has generously granted monetary support to the SPE Foundation for eight consecutive years, from 2016 to 2023, enabling the expansion and enhancement of the Foundation’s objective to provide positive plastics education in classrooms. This alliance between Braskem and the SPE Foundation emphasizes innovation and sustainability for students focused on creating a more sustainable world.
How Do You Define Educational Innovation? One Word: PlastiVan®
The PlastiVan® educational program, a flagship initiative of the SPE Foundation, reaches over 25,000 students annually across the United States. Through its various programmatic elements, PlastiVan® offers educational resources that promote an understanding of the history, chemistry, processing, and sustainability of plastics. The program also highlights the vast opportunities in science, technology, and engineering within the plastics industry.
In response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the PlastiVan® program adapted by developing the PlastiVideo® program by producing over 20 video resources in 2020. These resources continue to be instrumental in ensuring students can benefit from the program through virtual instruction.
“Braskem’s generosity and our long-time partnership has been transformational for our PlastiVan® program,” said Eve Vitale, SPE Foundation’s Chief Executive. “With their unrestricted giving we developed a focused sustainability curriculum. We can provide annual professional development for our Community PlastiVan® Educators, so our classroom presentations are up-to-date and relevant to students. It also comes in handy when a community wants our program but there is a funding gap. If we want to reach more students with Positive Plastics Education, the SPE Foundation needs more partners like Braskem.”
A Shared Commitment to STEM
The ongoing partnership between the SPE Foundation and Braskem represents a shared commitment to promoting STEM education, empowering students, and fostering diversity and inclusion within the plastics industry.
As part of the ongoing effort to bring plastics education to all communities, Braskem is sponsoring PlastiVan® visits this fall in communities where they do business. The PlastiVan® will be educating hundreds of students in Pittsburgh, PA, during manufacturing week at their schools and at Braskem’s Innovation & Technology Center also located in Pittsburgh. And in support of their Global Volunteer program, the PlastiVan® will be at plant locations in LaPorte, TX and Neal, WV to celebrate Braskem’s WeCare Week.
“Braskem’s educational commitment – not only to their community but to others – is unprecedented,” said Vitale. “The value they provide can be life-changing for students who may not even know about the importance and impact plastics can have in their world.”
Changing the World Through Girl Scouts
Moreover, Braskem’s donations have also supported the SPE Foundation's Girl Scout Polymer Science patch program, fostering engagement with polymer science among young girls and inspiring them to pursue careers in science and engineering.
In 2022, the SPE Foundation collaborated with the Girls Scouts of Northeast Texas to create an SPE polymer science badge based on the PlastiVan® curriculum. This exceptional initiative commenced with a successful kick-off event, attended by 200 girls and their families, where they learned about thermoplastics and their coloring process. The event, held during Hispanic Heritage Month, featured a keynote address delivered in both Spanish and English to accommodate the diverse group of attendees. This polymer science badge, marketed to 19,000 girls, empowers young girls with a passion for STEM, with data revealing that girls who are Girl Scouts aspire to leadership in STEM at a higher rate than their non-Girl Scout counterparts.
Looking ahead to 2024, the SPE Foundation plans to extend the Color Your World with Polymer Science Badge to five more Girl Scout Councils, targeting Houston, TX; Southeastern MI; Detroit, MI; Florida; and Chicago/Northern Indiana. Furthermore, in conjunction with the Institute of Packaging Professionals (IoPP), the Foundation is developing another patch centered around sustainable packaging.
Education Leads to Social Responsibility
Understanding its role in society, Braskem sees itself as an agent of transformation, aligning with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and setting ambitious targets for the years and decades to come. Braskem places particular importance on social responsibility and human rights, planning to contribute to local community development and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. By supporting the SPE Foundation, Braskem is furthering its commitment to positive social impact by educating young people about the positive aspects of plastics and their potential to create a more sustainable future.
"We understand our role in society, and we seek to be an agent of transformation," said Torpey. "Braskem, aligned with the UN's SDGs, has made strong commitments to people and the planet. One of our macro-objectives centers around social responsibility and human rights. We want to contribute to the local development of the communities where we operate and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion for all. The SPE Foundation supports our goal to educate our youth about the positive impact plastics play in our lives and how plastics can create a more sustainable future."
Changing perceptions is a huge challenge that Vitale feels organizations like Braskem are ready to embrace and collaboration is key.
“We can’t emphasize strongly enough that our industry must work together to change the perception of plastics,” said Vitale. “With strong alliances like ours with Braskem, this goal can and will be achieved.”
For more information about the SPE Foundation, the PlastiVan® program and collaboration opportunities, please visit www.spefoundation.org.
About the SPE Foundation
The Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) Foundation is the philanthropic arm of SPE, a global professional association dedicated to advancing plastics and polymer technology. The SPE Foundation supports educational initiatives that promote plastics education, diversity, equity, and inclusion, empowering students, and educators worldwide. Through programs like the PlastiVan, the SPE Foundation aims to inspire the next generation of plastics professionals and foster sustainable solutions for the future. Visit www.spefoundation.org.
With a global vision of the future oriented toward people and sustainability, Braskem is committed to contributing to the value chain for strengthening the Circular Economy. The petrochemical company’s almost 9,000 team members dedicate themselves every day to improving people’s lives through sustainable chemicals and plastics solutions. Braskem has an innovative DNA and a comprehensive portfolio of plastic resins and chemical products for diverse segments, such as food packaging, construction, manufacturing, automotive, agribusiness, healthcare, and hygiene, among others. With 40 industrial units in Brazil, the United States, Mexico, and Germany, and exports its products to clients in more than 70 countries. Braskem America is an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Braskem S.A. headquartered in Philadelphia. The company is the leading producer of polypropylene in the United States, with five production plants located in Texas, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, an Innovation and Technology Center in Pittsburgh, and operations in Boston focused on leveraging groundbreaking developments in biotechnology and advanced materials. For more information, visit www.braskem.com/usa.