Day 1: Oct. 8th, 2009

January 21, 2010

While at my first “business conference” in Atlanta for the members-only Sustainable Packaging Coalition (hereafter, SPC), I had the opportunity to chit-chat with Robert Carlson of the California Integrated Waste Management Board; he was there to participate in a break-off seminar about Extended Producer Responsibility legislation, which would make those responsible for putting products on the shelf also responsible for reclaiming a certain percentage of their products’ packaging post-consumer. Europe already has a very sophisticated EPR system in place resulting from the 1994 EU Directive on Packaging Waste, which dictated that all participating EU countries had to reclaim a certain percentage of packaging post-consumer. Belgium, for instance, is at a 96% packaging recovery rate, which is outstanding.

Anyway, before I get off track, I approached Robert during a networking break because he was the only person there wearing clogs and looking like he may have an interest in jam band music, which was my college obsession. I quickly learned that he was not dressed-to-impress because he works for the State of California; as such, he was not there to buy or sell anything, which certainly made his time there more enjoyable. Once we established shared interests over the environment and beer (he brews his own beer in his past time), we agreed to go to the hotel bar and relax. While there, I quickly learned that Rob would be a very valuable contact for me in the Sustainable Packaging industry. After a Vodka and Cranberry, I retreated to my room to catch some shut-eye before the next jam-packed day at the conference.

I didn’t see Rob again while in Atlanta; he flew back to sunny Cali and I returned to Chicago.

Back in the office, I shot Rob an email:

Hello Rob,

This is Chandler—we met at the SPC members-only meeting in Atlanta two weeks ago. How’s it going? Happy to be home?

Although I wanted to drop you a line and say “it was really great to meet you,” (which it was), I actually have a research inquiry that you may be able to help me with.

As you know, I have been researching issues pertaining to packaging and sustainability for several months. Having joined the SPC, I gained access to all their research, which documents the LCA of common polymer and fiber-based packaging materials. With this research, I have charted: (1) the energy requirements of common polymer packaging materials (how many million Btus are needed per 1,000 lbs of resin produced), (2) greenhouse gas emissions in polymer production (how many thousand lbs of CO2 equivalents are generated per 1,000 lbs of resin produced), (3) energy requirements of corrugated containerboard and boxboard production (how many million Btus are needed per 1,000 lbs of material produced), and (4) the overall emissions of common polymer packaging materials (air, water and solid waste emissions). This is all good and fine, but I am running into a problem: I can’t find the same information that I charted for plastic for paper. In other words, I would like to chart the greenhouse gas emissions generated in paper production in order to compare with the emissions generated in plastic production. The fiber-based packaging material brief supplied by the SPC simply states that “the combined total direct and indirect emissions for 2005 virgin and recycled production were 1736.3 tons.” Moreover, in regard to water waste generated by paper production, the only statistic I can find is that 91% of the total TRI chemicals discharged in the water that year were done so by paper U.S. pulp and paper mills.

Okay, I know that that is a lot of information and that you may not be the person that I need to talk to; at the same time, however, I was curious if you could point me in the direction to be able to find more information pertaining to these issues or perhaps provide me with some references within the EPA who could provide the information I am looking for.

Regardless of your feedback, I hope all is well. Are you going to any conferences this month?

Best,

Chandler Slavin

Sustainability Coordinator

Dordan Mfg. Co. Inc.

I am a long-winded emailer, so I apologize in advance. Anyway, this email marks the first of a long and fruitful exchange of information relating to packaging and sustainability; of which, recycling begins to take center stage, as you will soon see. Tune in tomorrow to see Rob’s response, which is just the tip of the iceberg in regard to the complexities surrounding the relationship between business and the environment.

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