Day 9: Oct. 20, 2009

February 3, 2010

Sorry I didn’t post yesterday! I was on a deadline to finish a condensed version of my research on sustainability and packaging titled, The Facts. Check it out under the sustainability tab at www.dordan.com

Okay, back to the story:

The day after I received the “ok” from Robert, I sent the Environmental Director of Starbucks the following email:

Hello,

My name is Chandler Slavin—I am the Sustainability Coordinator at Dordan Manufacturing, a Midwestern based custom thermoformer. I was given your information from Robert Carlson with the California Integrated Waste Management Board, whom I met in Atlanta at the SPC members-only fall meeting. I believe I also met you (sort of) in one of the break out seminars on “Closing the Loop” (where you the one who asked how Starbucks cups could be integrated into the existing recycling infrastructure?)

Anyway, Robert said you may be of assistance because you were involved with implementing the pilot recycling program in several New York Starbucks stores and I am trying to implement a pilot recycling program in the Midwest for reclaiming thermoform PET clamshells, blisters and components. I have so many questions for you I don’t know where to start: Are the Starbucks cups compatible with the existing recycling infrastructure i.e. can they be recycled with other paper/cardboard products or do they need to be sorted? If sorted, by whom and where? Did you begin with the municipalities and the local MRFS to determine what can be recycled in your region and what is needed to allow a new product into the recycling stream? Where is the funding for this program coming from?

Yikes! The list could go on and on. Would it be possible to speak with you about your sustainability efforts at Starbucks over the phone? I would love to set up a phone interview with you at your earliest convenience. Please let me know when and where I can reach you.

Thank you so much for your time and I look forward to speaking with you soon!

Best,

Chandler

After sending, I automatically received an “out of the office” reply. Rats!

Luckily I scheduled a fieldtrip to the Recycle America Waste Management Facility in Grayslake with the Institute of Packaging Professionals. It was the first time I got to see a modern MRF in action!

The Dordan Sales Force and I set out on our journey to Grayslake; the wind was in our hair, the pastoral scenery was all around, and Tony’s Famous Subs were in sight. After a scrumptious filling of salami and ham, we made it to the recycling facility.

The two hours we spent at the Grayslake facility were jammed packed: we had a tour of the facility, got to watch live footage of the process of recycling, and had a Q&A session. During the Q&A session, my fears were confirmed: Most plastic clamshells do not get recycled at this current time, even if they make it to the material recovery facility. Ug!

While Waste Management says that it accepts plastics 1-7 for recycling and tries to find an end-market for these materials, only PET beverage bottles are currently being processed at this facility because of the current market demands; this changes with the ebbs and flow of the market, however. Our educational tour guide did explain that this is because the buyers of the PET bales specify that they do not want any thermoforms in the bale, even if it is the same material type.

As an aside, on the East and West coasts, mixed rigid plastic packaging is collected and recycled because of the different markets available and the overseas demand.

The day after our field trip, I sent the following email to our educational tourguide:

 Hello,

This is Chandler Slavin—we met yesterday at the Recycle America Waste Management facility in Grayslake. I was with the Institute of Packaging Professionals and I kept asking about how we could create a recycle stream for non-beverage PET flake i.e. clamshells, blisters and trays.

I just wanted to drop you a quick email thanking you for allowing us to visit the facility and for presenting such an honest discussion of waste management and recycling in this region.

Being a representative from the plastic packaging industry, I was wondering if I could pick your brain in regard to the following:

  1. As you explained, you would like to find a home for every kind of material; however, that is not always the case because a material’s ability to be recycled is often determined by the quantity of material available in the waste stream. Watching the live feed video yesterday, I was startled to observe that no clamshells, blisters, or plastic packaging of any kind was making its way through your sorting system. Why is that? Is there just not that much plastic packaging out there, (which I find unbelievable), or, are these materials being sent somewhere else or just thrown in the garbage? If sent somewhere else, where? And if just thrown into the garbage, why?
  2. If I want to attain my goal of being able to implement a recycling program for non-beverage PET flake in this region, where do you suggest I start? Should I begin a dialogue with all the plastic packagers in the region to find a way to reclaim our packages in order to divert them from ending up in a landfill? Should I begin with the local municipalities? Or with the waste management facilities?
  3. How do you feel about incineration as a form of waste management?
  4. Today in the packaging world, there is a lot of marketing that positions one packaging material as more “environmentally friendly” than another; often this debate places paper in opposition to plastic. After performing several months of research on this debate, I have discovered that while plastic comes from oil (which is obviously not a renewable resource) and requires more energy to create than paper, it doesn’t release as many VOC and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as does the paper and pulp mills in the US. Therefore, it is a trade off and packaging material should be selected on a case-by-case basis depending on the application of the package. I was just wondering, where do you stand in the paper versus plastic debate? How can plastic packaging become more sustainable?

 kay, that is a lot of questions. I would love the chance to speak to you about this in person or over the phone. When is a good time to reach you?  

If there is anything I can do for you—be it supply you with some of the research I have compiled on the sustainability of packaging materials, or speak to students about our sustainability efforts in the plastic packaging industry, please let me know.

Again, it was a pleasure to meet you and I look forward to speaking with you again!

P.S. Could you please provide the contact information of your “plastic marketing guy?” Moreover, is there someone in your organization that could provide me with the contact information of someone in the local municipalities?

Best,

Chandler

Tune in tomorrow to see our educational tour guide’s answers.

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