Environmental Task Force

October 4, 2010

Hello and happy Monday Funday!

So, as I am sure you assumed, I have not gotten the green light to share with you the progress that is being made in recycling thermoforms. I’m sorry.

I do have a plan, however, which may be a win-win for all involved. But again, due to the sensitivity of the information and parties concerned, I can’t divulge my plan right now…but know that I am routing for you, my packaging and sustainability community, and I will do my best to get this information to the industries concerned in a timely manner…

Sooooooo the website for the Sustainable Plastics Packaging conference went live last week, which I am speaking at. Check it out: http://www.sustainableplasticspackaging.com/. Be sure to look at the agenda; I’m on it!

Ok, last Wednesday I went to Woodstock High School for the first meeting of the Environmental Task Force. The ETF is a group of administrative-type folk that discuss and implement various sustainability initiatives at the D200 Schools. This year they are having an energy contest where the different D200 schools (elementary, middle and high school) compete to see who can reduce their energy consumption the most, compared with last years’ consumption. The winner gets some kind of cash prize, which can be reinvested in other cool sustainability initiatives, like an organic garden, solar panels, or whatever.

I was invited to participate in this meeting because I had contacted the assistant to the Superintendent at the beginning of the summer to see how I could get involved and he suggested I start by sitting in on the ETF meeting.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me back up.

Last winter I contacted the City of Woodstock to see what types of packaging materials are recycled in Woodstock and by whom as part of my contextual research on recycling thermoforms. During my conversation with a rep from the City, it was articulated that funding for recycling education had been cut, due to the economy. Consequentially, students were not being taught anything about recycling.

Because I had been studying issues pertaining to waste management for several months and believe that the best way to increase recycling rates is through education, I suggested that I could fill the void left from cutting this program’s funding. Subsequently, the City rep put me in contact with the Superintendent of District 200 schools, who then put me in touch with the Assistant Superintendent. I met with Assistant Superintendent in early summer to introduce myself and what I wanted to do and he invited me to the EFT meeting to introduce me to the rest of the group so we could determine where I would fit best.

And that brings us up to last week, at the ETF meeting.

It was fun going to high school again but it was weird to be seen as on par with the administrative folk and not a student. The other participants of the ETF were the administrators of transportation, health, food, building and construction, the principal, and another guest, from SIEMENS Energy Company.

After we discussed the energy contest, I was introduced, as was the SIEMENS rep. I explained that Dordan is a company in Woodstock that wants to become further involved in the community and sees an opportunity in the context of providing free recycling education. I articulated the desire to present to students about the ABCs of recycling and perhaps help the Green Club implement different waste reduction tactics. With all things considered, I think I was well received for my enthusiasm and my ability to articulate myself well; hopefully I will become more involved in this committee and others at the Woodstock high school as the year unfolds.

The gentlemen from SIEMENS had a really cool story to tell because he works with different public schools to implement energy saving measures in exchange for allowing the students that participate in said efforts a shot at working with Northwestern Students in the implementation of their sustainability initiatives. A sort of big brother relationship, if you will, and certainly a resume booster!

The end of the meeting concluded and I emphasized to the group my eagerness to help the school with its sustainability initiatives in what ever way they see fit. I am going to present to the AP Science class about “sustainability as a career” in addition to whatever else the students are interested in a couple weeks. I will be sure to keep you posted!

That’s all for now, my packaging and sustainability friends.

I have been researching like crazy trying to find market research that proves that visual packaging not only adds to the perceived value of the product, but that “seeing it sells it,” which is attainable only through a plastic packaging medium. AND, I am so tired of hearing about the trials and tribulations of wrap rage (the reported frustration of consumers not being able to open clamshell packaging) that I am finding statistics on paper cuts vs. plastic cuts in the context of emergency room visits and in the process, found that more people injure themselves trying to pry apart frozen food then many more commonly-assumed accidents. Go figure!

See you tomorrow!

Hello and happy Tuesday! I hope everyone is having a jolly good day!

Because I just got done debriefing Dordan Sales Force about the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s meeting in Phoenix last week, why not debrief you, too, my packaging and sustainability friends?

Please note that the SPC conducts its meetings under the Chatham House Rule, which is explained as follows:

“When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”

Cool? Alright, let’s do it!

But before I begin, here’s a picture of an Arizonian cactus, which in the collective, is called “cacti;” who knew? Just try to imagine you are there in Phoenix…in a cold conference room…listening to discussions of EPR…ahhh, the memories.

As alluded to in a previous post, the topic of the fall SPC meeting in Phoenix was extended producer responsibility/product stewardship. I was first introduced to this complicated topic at the fall SPC meeting in Atlanta last year (yes, Phoenix marks my year anniversary for SPC membership!), when a representative from Environmental Packaging International (hereafter, EPI), discussed its role as a go between for industry and government in the context of complying with product stewardship/EPR legislation. Wow that was a mouth full; let me try again.

EPI, as per their website (http://www.enviro-pac.com/indexM.htm), is an organization that specializes in global packaging and product stewardship requirements. Because different countries have different EPR laws to abide by and therefore require different reporting and financing procedures, EPI provides a service to those companies required to take financial responsibility of the packaging and/or hazardous household waste they place on the market. While I am not sure what services they offer specifically, I assume it is some form of reporting/compliance/data management software, since fees are often times based on the amount of packaging material i.e. paper, glass, aluminum, etc. placed on the market by the party considered the “producer” and therefore require some diligent book keeping.

But I am getting ahead of myself. EPR is complicated; let me back up.

Traditionally, the management of waste has been the responsibility of municipalities/local governments. However, in some countries, the responsibility has been transferred onto the “producers,” which are often times defined as the brand owner or first importer, among other more ambiguous things. However, it is important to understand EPR not as a homogenous concept, but as a compilation of legislation that is created in tandem with the specific geographical area for which it extends. Therefore, what works for one country/province/state/etc. may not work for another and so on.

I believe I have mentioned Fost Plus of Belgium to you before? They are a successful example of a company that provides EPR compliance services and software to the responsible parties, insofar as Belgium is at a 96% recovery rate for packaging waste, which is unbelievable! Like EPI, I believe, though I may be misinformed, Fost Plus manages the transfer of money from industry to government, thereby demonstrating compliance with its unique set of EPR requirements. Similarly, StewardEdge of Canada offers EPR requirements compliance services and data management software for those companies bringing products/packaging to the market in Ontario and Quebec, where EPR laws are in affect.

So what does this mean?

This means that EPR is coming to the States.

While we can always say it’s cheaper to landfill and therefore EPR is a thing of the distant future, recent developments in the consumer goods industry suggest otherwise. Examples include: pressure on CPG companies for transparency throughout the supply chain; the need to quantify the environmental impacts of consumer goods’ products/packaging; recognition that effective end-of-life management is essential to sustainability; and, the increased demand for post consumer material by brand owners for incorporation in products and packaging.

Now, add these issues to the fact that many municipalities are under systemic financial stress and can’t afford to increase recovery rates for materials with a high demand, like post consumer plastic, ahem, thermoforms, and what do you get? The possibility that EPR may be coming to a city near you. Five States have all ready enacted some form of EPR, mostly on the East Coast, though it is most often times attributed to hazardous household waste, like paint and batteries, as opposed to packaging. At the same time, however, a Chicago politician recently petitioned for a ban on single-use EPS packaging (he also wanted to put a ban on barking dogs!), and Wisconsin is up to vote on a ban of all single-use packaging? While I DO NOT think that bans on any package/material type are the way to go (Libertarian by education), these developments provide insight into this tumultuous time where legislation is attempting to do good by the environment/save its few and far between pennies.

WOW. That was a mind full.

So that’s basically it, in a terribly small nut shell. I wish I could share the presentations from the SPC meeting with you as they do a MUCH better job presenting a holistic treatment of EPR in the context of the EU, Canada, and the US. Oh well…

So anyway, the SPC meeting had two panels: one dedicated to those representing municipalities/governmental officials; and, one representing industry folk/stakeholders. All the panelists were fabulous, well spoken, and insightful. Issues discussed, though I won’t delve into the details, were the need for harmonized legislation and therefore reporting (as opposed to 50 different laws governing packaging waste producers are required to comply with); individual vs. collective responsibility (individual responsibility is when a “producer” manages fees/reporting/compliance by itself whereas collective is when you pay an organization, like EPI, StewardEdge or Fost Plus, to manage your compliance for you); how EPR intersects with deposit laws; who the obligated entity is; how the fees are determined; and, how the financial responsibility is share between the government and the industry (Canada is transferring from 50% industry funding to 100%, yikes! More details to come).

Again, these are super large complicated issues and there are people far more qualified to explain than I; therefore, if you have any specific questions, email me at cslavin@dordan.com and I will see that they are directed to the appropriate contact. Agreed?

After the panelists had their time in the spot light, the SPC member companies’ representatives broke into separate groups to discuss what should be included in draft EPR and packaging legislation. The main issues addressed were:

  • The need for harmonized legislation/reporting;
  • The need for accurate, third-party verified data on recovery rates of packaging materials to base projected diversion rates upon;
  • Non-static laws that can change with the changing recovery rate of packaging materials and adapt to changing economic realities (need for transparency in the law);
  • Determine collective vs. individual responsibility, as alluded to above;
  • The need for a level-playing ground, whatever that means;
  • And much, much more (though the details have slipped my mind)…

During the panel of municipality reps, I asked how governments were going to work toward the development of local markets for post consumer materials, which would set into motion the supply and demand equilibrium necessary for the economically-sustainable recovery of different materials. After all, more than 2/3rds of the recovered material in America is shipped to international markets, which I would argue, is not necessarily sustainable (think of Chinese laborers picking through bales of misc. recovered materials; or, better yet, think of children in India moving through irresponsibility disposed of electronic waste, not to play the high emotional card or anything but you get the idea)…

I was so nervous and I had a cold so my question came across kind of like a pre-pubescent boys, and the representative who I directed the question at didn’t really know how to answer it…he explained that we live in a global market and international consumption of America’s post consumer materials is a living, breathing reality, and one that I must come to embrace. Weird bears but this idea echoes the sentiments expressed in the email included in yesterday’s post about exploiting the export markets for post consumer mixed rigids, like thermoforms…

And now I am rambling. Alright guys, I got to go; thanks for listening!

Greetings all!

Today’s post is a continuation of yesterdays and details exactly how Phil built us a composter out of post-industrial materials. Enjoy!

After we gathered our composter materials and the needed tools and amenities, we started talking through the concept

After conversing, Phil thought that it would be cool if we had two compartments for our composter because, as alluded to yesterday, this allows us to have different batches of material based on how long the material has been “composting.” Also, in having two compartments for the composter, we can play mad scientist with the bio-based resins we have sampled and see how they do in fact break down, and if so, over what kind of time frame. As discussed in a previous post, we have some concern about bio-based resins breaking down completely i.e. being completely consumed by the microorganisms present in the disposal environment. If bio-based resins do not completely break down, then we walk the risk of introducing a ton of teeny tiny plastic particulates into the environment, which could travel into our waterways, be consumed by tiny things that get consumed by bigger things and on it goes until humans are ingesting tiny bits of plastic. Yuck! The fancy term is “bioaccumulation” and it is no good.

Where was I going…oh yea: so while we won’t be able to tell, obviously, if the bio-based material breaks down completely because we don’t have insane microscopic vision, we will be able to watch the degredation process in real time, which I think is pretty neato! In theory, the second compartment could be devoted entirely to watching different bio-based resins breakdown; the remaining compost, therefore, would not be used on our farm next spring because the risk that it may contain plastic particulates. Perhaps we could even send this compost to a “lab” to determine if the plastic particulates have in fact been entirely consumed…imagine the possibilities!

Please note, however, than most bio-based resins are certified to breakdown in an industrial composting facility, which is much more sophisticated than our composter. Therefore, I am unsure if most of these materials, certified with the ASTM D6400 Standard for Industrial Compostability, will break down at all, as our composter resembles more of a home composter than an industrial one. We did, on the other hand, just sample a new bio-based resin, which has received certification for “OK to home Compost.” This stuff is definitely going in our mighty composter to see how it breaks down!

And, how cool is this, but when we decide to start playing mad scientist, I will take pictures of the degredation process over time so you can see how a converted package morphs and breaks down in the disposal environment in which it is intended for. Splendid!

Alright, let’s continue with our how-to construct a composter:

So yeah, we decided on two compartments.

Then Phil suggested that we add some kind of mechanism, which would allow us to access the compost pile without having Go Go Gadget arms. After all, the composter is over 4 feet tall, which would make access to the material difficult as would it make “tending” to the compost problematic. Phil came up with another solution: why not add a tracked, wooden component to one side of the composter, which would then receive a thin piece of wood that you could move up and down along the track! Sort of like a curtain, this wood veil could be easily manipulated by the person tending to the compost, moving it up to access the mix and moving it down to conceal the pile from critters and excessive wind, rain, sun, etc.

So that was the approach Phil took toward constructing our compost: two compartments with a retractable side wall built out of post-industrial wood pallets.

Once we were all in agreement, Phil began working on “piratizing” our pallets. This consisted of him breaking down the pallets with a pry-bar in hopes of gathering enough material to carry out his vision. 

Basically, Phil intended on have two pallets per side of the composter, with a “divider” that cut the area of the composter in half, thereby creating two compartments. In order to accomplish this he began by attaching two skids together via a drill and nails. See:

After assembling one side of the composter, Phil repeated this process and created another side wall. He then attached these together, creating an “L” form.

Prior to calling it a day, Phil attached one pallet to the newly constructed “L,” which would serve as the divider between the other compartment, yet to be created. Check it out:

The next day, Phil finished the divider wall by attaching another skid, and created the entire second compartment. Check out the skid organization:

He also designed and constructed our “opening mechanism,” illustrated here:

And TA DA, we have a fully functioning and arguably adorable composter; I’m so proud:

I can’t wait to paint it! I’m thinking polka dots!

Tune in tomorrow to learn about oxo-degradables and other biodedradable plastics.

Greetings world!

Today has been an exciting day! We mapped out the plot for our Victory Garden and began working on the compost construction! Yippee!

First, let me introduce Emily, our fabulous Woodstockian farmer, who is going to be using Dordan’s land to grow organics on next spring. These organics will then be sold to her customers, which consist of local restaurants in Woodstock and our neighboring oasis of Crystal Lake, a.k.a. my hometown!

Strinking a pose!

She is joined by her father and former high school biology school teacher, Phil. As you can see, he’s serious about composting; check out his compost themed-shirt! For those of you who can’t make out the text, I will transcribe, because it tickles my fancy:

Compost

Because a rind is a terrible thing to waste!

Here here, Phil!

Ha!

For those of you unfamiliar with the term and/or demographic—and I myself just discovered such a concept—“locavore” refers to those people who have committed to consuming food grown and harvested within a 100 mile radius of their home. From what I understand, some locavores make the commitment for a month, while others for the rest of their lives. There are locavore communities in San Fran, Boston, NYC, and pretty much any other city where conscious consumers reside. Consider the following definition of “locavores” supplied by good old Wikipedia:

Local food (also regional food or food patriotism) or the local food movement is a “collaborative effort to build more locally based, self-reliant food economies – one in which sustainable food production, processing, distribution, and consumption is integrated to enhance the economic, environmental and social health of a particular place” and is considered to be a part of the broader sustainability movement. It is part of the concept of local purchasing and local economies, a preference to buy locally produced goods and services. Those who prefer to eat locally grown/produced food sometimes call themselves locavores or localvores.

I don’t know for certain if Woodstock resturants prefer localy sourced organics because it participates in the above ideology or if it is just cheaper and/or better to buy organics from a local supplier as opposed to a national supplier and/or distributor; I can assume, however, that locally produced organics—like those grown in Dordan’s “backyard” next spring—will be free of pesticides and other chemicals and require little energy to transport when compared with those organics shipped in from national/international groweries, insofar as these organics are only traveling to resturants in Woodstock and Crystal Lake. Hurray for sustainability and Dordan being able to particpate in our communitys’ understanding thereof! And who doesn’t like a sun-warmed tomatoe on a late August afternoon?

And for those of you unfamilar with how this all came about (it is not everyday that you hear of a plastic packaging manufaturer who is converting its land into a farm!), let me provide a quick recap:

Emily is best friends with my brother’s and colleauge’s wonderful wife, Karen. Karen introduced Emily to my mother, the wife of Dordan’s CEO Daniel Slavin, as she intended on starting a garden this summer and needed some help with the layout. Emily then explained to my mother that she was in quite the pickle for next year because the land that she is currently using to grow her organics on for her various local customers will not be available next year because it is up for sale. My father and Dordan CEO Daniel Slavin then suggested that Emily come look at the plot Dordan sits on, as it is several acres big, is sheilded from the road, and gets direct sunlight for most of the day. She and her father came to look at our land several weeks ago and finally determined that it would suit their needs for next years’ harvest! And now we are converting Dordan’s “backyard,” or, more approriately, “sideyard,” to a lot for Emily to grow her organics on!

AND, as discussed in a previous post, Emily and Phil have been so generous to help us in the construction of a composter.

Which how-to would you like to hear first: how-to build a composter or how-to start a plot for farming organics? Decisions decisions…

Let us begin with a how-to make a plot for farming organics.

Please note, however, that today is Day 1 of converting the plot into farmable land. Therefore, many further steps must be taken, which of course I will share with you, my packaging and sustainability friends, in real time! By way of introduction, today consisted primarily of measuring the space and staking out the dimensions. Next step is to plow the area and begin working the soil. Details to come!

Day 1 of converting Dordan’s land into a farm suitable for growing organics: Measuring and staking out plot dimensions.

Emily’s current plot is roughly 3/4th an acre; she was hoping to map out a similar space for her plot next year on Dordan’s land.

Here’s Dordan’s sideyard, available for Emily’s farm:

Dordan land available for conversion to farm plot

And to give you some percpective, here is another shot of the land with Dordan to the right.

Available land with Dordan to the right

There are 43,560 square feet in an acre, which means we were looking to achieve a plot size of around 32,670 square feet.  

Emily and Phil began by measuring the desrirable space in Dordan’s sideyard and staking out the dimensions.

The tools needed are measuring tape, wooden stakes, and a heavy-duty hammer.

Imagine the stakes, too!

They decided to begin the plot 15 feet from Dordan’s outer wall (the wall that runs the length of the factory) and 15 feet from the brush that marked the end of our property, giving the plot a width of 45 feet.  

Measuring the width of the plot

By distancing the plot a bit from Dordan and the brush, Emily and Phil maintained that the farm would receive the best sunlight available. Moreover, this 45 foot width is comprised of the most homogenous and flat land available for conversion into a farm, which would make plowing the plot easier come fall. In addition, this placement sheilds the plot from the street and other hooligans, insofar as it is at a lower decline than the street and protected on each side by Dordan itself and the tall and unruly brush.

How Dordan can protect the plot

They then ran the measuring tape perpendicular to the stakes marking the width, until the reached where the land dibits and moves downhill.

Measuring length of plot

A man on a mission!

Where the plot will end due to existing vegetation

This totaled about 210 feel long, bringing the total lot to roughly 9,450 square feet, between 1/5th and 1/4th  an acre.

PISS, it’s not big enough, I thought to myself as I scanned the layout.

“Is it too small,” I asked with a wavering pitch?

“Ah, whatever,” Emily replied, “it will be just fine.”

Phew, I thought to myself. I love people that love the environment!

Let’s back up; I am getting ahead of myself.

The decision to use Dordan’s land did not happen overnight. There were many emails exchanged between myself and Emily as she began considering our offer as a viable business move. Below is a list of issues discussed, which anyone considering converting land into a farm for organics should consult, with Dordan’s answers in bold:

Has the land been sprayed with pesticides or chemicals? If so, when was the last time?

Yes, in the spring of 2010; we spray each spring and fall. Because the land will be converted into a farm beginning this fall, however, Emily has requested that we suspend future plans to spray as it may compromise the integrity of the organics grown in spring 2011.

Is there access to water?

Yes, we have hoses on the side of the building adjacent to the plot. We can also capture the rain collected from our roof via the downspouts in large barrels; because the plot has a gentle downcurve to it, we could use gravity to pull the collected rainwater from the barrels throughout the plot, as a form of elementary irrigation, in concept. How cool is that! (I will be honest, these weren’t all my ideas!).  

Is there access to elecetricity?

Of course, right inside the door adjacent to the outlined plot.

Is there storage space for our tools?

Yes.

Would you consider erecting some type of greenhouse next to the plot? Many types of vegetables require “starting” before spring because they have a longer growing seasons. A greenhouse therefore allows you to start the seedlings in a warm and protected environment and then transfer them to the outdoor plot when the weather beckens it.

We are totally open to looking into mini-greehouses and look forward to your suggestions.

Tune in tomorrow to learn how-to begin construction on a home-made composter. Many pictures to come!

Hello my packaging and sustainability friends!

I sound like a broken record but again, I apologize for not blogging this week; please forgive me!

I have been super busy with creating new marketing materials and restructuring our advertising mix on greenerpackage.com. Check out our new and improved Design for Sustainability white paper here: http://www.greenerpackage.com/corporate_strategy.

And my fabulous Recycling Report here: http://www.greenerpackage.com/blisters_clamshells and here http://www.greenerpackage.com/recycling.

And guess what: PlasticsNews is going to publish my recycling report in the “perspective” section. Look out for it in print in the next 3-4 weeks.

Oh and for all you Packaging World E-newsletter subscribers, look out for our Recycling Report in the August New Issue Alert, scheduled to go out tomorrow! My ad man told me that pictures of people generate more interest (and therefore clicks and leads), so I include the picture of me giving the thumbs-up sign in my ghost buster suit in the garbage during our first waste audit (the one before I got all sweaty and sad). Ha! Good times…

I don’t know if I told you guys but when Dordan was exhibiting at the Walmart Expo I met a gentleman from SupplierHub, which is this online education exchange for private packaging buyers and sellers for Walmart. Anyway he was super nice and I got him hooked on my blog (Hello if your reading this!) and now we are advertising on this site! Go Dordan!

And lastly, I have implemented some changes on Dordan’s website under the “sustainability” tab to reflect our new social and environmental sustainability efforts. While I still have to create some of the language for the new pages it is “live” so check it out; I am quite proud: www.dordan.com.

Advertising excuses aside, the main reason I haven’t been blogging is because I have been passed the Pack Expo baton, which means I am coordinating the show for the first time ever. I was totally freaking out because I just inherited this project and I thought the due date for submitting all the order forms was August 17th but its SEPTEMBER 17th, phew! So now I can relax and resume my blogging!

Ok, enough random embellishments for the day, let’s talk sustainability!

We are going to begin construction on our composter next Tuesday, yippee! I sent an email to the woman who is helping us (also the farmer who is going to use our land to grow organics for the Woodstock community), asking if we needed to begin collecting our food waste. If so, we have real motivation to begin educating our employees about source separation; that is, segregating out the food waste from the food packaging waste, garbage, and recyclables.

As an aside, we just got in some new bio-based material to sample, which is certified “OK to home compost.” This material is unique in that it exceeds the standard 120 degrees F heat deformation temperature currently dominating the market AND can break down in ANY disposal environment, besides landfill. If this is “true,” then this is crazy cool as one of my biggest concerns with biodegradable plastic packaging is that it often doesn’t make it to its intended disposal environment, which is usually an industrial composting facility (D6400 Standard for Industrial Composting). ANYWAY I’m excited to play mad scientist and test the performance of this new material’s biodegradation by tossing it our soon to be erected compost pile. While I will not be able to determine if it completely biodegrades (no plastic particulates available after 90-180 days) because I don’t have insanely microscopic eyeballs, I will be able to determine if it breaks down until no longer visible. By conducting a test of this material’s biodegradability in our compost pile, I will be more comfortable adding it to the reservoir of resins Dordan offers our customers and prospects. So that’s pretty cool…

In regard to my work with our community schools:

I met with the co-chair of the Environmental Task Force for Woodstock School District 200 yesterday. He was super duper nice and I liked him right away! The ETF, he explained, is this organization of administrative folk, including school principals, and two student representatives, who discuss and implement different sustainability initiatives at the schools. One project they are working on this fall is an energy contest, whereby the D200 schools compete to see which one can reduce their energy use the most. They envision having this big thermometer, of sorts, which shows how much energy they have used per week compared with the previous school year. Sounds neato!

The co-chair of the ETF was also interested in having me talk about the field of sustainability as a profession in hopes of generating more interest in environmental sciences. I think this is great! I can’t believe I may be one of these people that comes into schools on “career day;” how funny!

As the meeting came to an end, I provided him with a couple suggestions for how I thought my work could enhance the goals of the ETF. I offered COMPASS tutorials so students could be introduced to life cycle analysis as a methodology for assessing the sustainability of a product or service; recycling education; and, a discussion on environmental advertising and manipulative and misinformed advertising claims. I still remember taking a class in high school called Rhetorical Analysis of Media, which introduced for the first time the idea that I was being marketed to as a consumer and encouraged an awareness and analysis of said media. It was such a cool class and I would love the opportunity to encourage this kind of reflection among students in the sphere of environmental marketing claims, as so many are, in my opinion, flirting with that fine line between reality and greenwashing. In a nut shell, I am really excited to get involved with D200 schools and help spread the love of all things sustainable!

Talk tomorrow!

Hello my packaging and sustainability friends! This is officially my 50th blog post! Hurray for dedication to all things sustainable packaging!

Sorry that the link to the water scarcity mapping tool from yesterday’s post was broken…I fixed it and added another link to another tool; go crazy!

Ok, this is gunna be a biggie.

Several weeks ago I began investigating what kind of composter would be appropriate for the amount of food and yard waste generated at Dordan. To my surprise, there were like a million different kinds with different properties and I couldn’t actually speak with a Sales Rep because most of the composters available for sale via were done so through distributors and brokers and in a nut shell, a computer.

Do we want a vermin composter, I asked myself?

Do we want a tumbler?

Do we want one capable of handling a lot of material or a bit…oh I just don’t know!

I then went to my network, sending inquires to anyone I could think of that would know a thing or two about composting.

The first inquiry I sent was to the Marketing Manager of Cedar Grove, which is a super sophisticated industrial composting facility in the greater Seattle area. I met this rep at the SPC Spring meeting in Boston, so I thought she may be open to providing some guidance…

I wrote,

Hey,

This is Chandler Slavin with Dordan Manufacturing—we met briefly at the SPC meeting. I articulated gratitude for your presentation as it was really very insightful. I hope this email finds you well.

This email is sort of silly but I was wondering if you had any insight in regard to the following:

Dordan is investigating buying an on-site commercial composter for the food and yard waste generated at our facility and by our employees. Do you have any suggestions in regard to what kind of composter would work best for us or what brand to choose? I would love to talk with a Sales person of commercial composters but can’t find anyone who would be able to aid in our selection…

If you have any suggestions, please do not hesitate to ask.

Thanks for your time!

Chandler

And her response,

Thanks for the nice note, Chandler. The only small technology for on-site composting I am familiar with that I see with some regularity is the Earth Tub (link below).

http://www.compostingtechnology.com/invesselsystems/earthtub/

If you wanted a wide range of options to consider, you might want to check in with the USCC. There are many consultants that are members that may be closer to you in proximity that could offer some great advice. http://www.compostingcouncil.org/contact/

Thanks for reaching out, and good luck with your composting!

I knew I liked her…

If you follow the link embedded above, you are taken to a description of Earth Tub, which is a small and sophisticated COMMERCIAL composter. From what I understand, there is a big difference between home composting and commercial composting: home composting is for a much smaller quantity of material while commercial is usually reserved for large quantities of material. AND commercial composters are generally employed in hopes of generating quality compost for market, while home composters usually enjoy more of a trial-and-error approach, with the resulting compost consumed by the home composter’s garden or community or what not.

Okay…this is definitely too big, I thought to myself as I tried to conceptually walk through the diagram.

Next I sent an email to my friend who works in the sustainability packaging field as I assumed he would be a pro-composter knowing his genuine commitment to sustainability and all…

Hey,

Do you guys compost your food and yard waste at your company? Do you do home composting? Dordan is investigating composters for the food and yard waste our facility and employees generate and don’t know what kind or what brand is the best to go with. Any insight you could provide would be very well received.

Thanks buddy!

And his response,

Hey Chandler,

I do compost at home. I used to have a naturemill which was okay, but not odor and noise free as advertised. The benefit is that it can accept meat and dairy scraps. Now I’m doing some experimental stuff, which I would not recommend at this point. Several of my friends have had great success with vermi-composters (worms). 

Have a great weekend!

Hmmm, experimental you say? Sounds far out!

Lastly, I sent an email to good ole’ Robert Carlson, previously of the California Board of Integrated Waste Management, which now is CalRecycle. For those of you who have been following my blog for a while now, I am sure you remember Robert as the one who gave me tons and tons advice as I struggled to understand “sustainability,” let alone care out mine and Dordan’s space therein…

Anywhoo I wrote,

Hey bud,

Happy Friday!

Ok, do you have any insight in regard to the following?

Dordan is investigating buying an on-site composter for the food and yard waste our facility and employees generate. Do you have any suggestions in regard to what kind, what brand, or do you know anyone that would be willing to talk with me about the above questions? I know next to nothing about this and would really like some perspective before pulling the trigger.

Thanks!

Chan

Several minutes latter Robert called me and we discussed composting. Following the conversation, he sent me the following information, which was super helpful!

Visit these links:

http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/organics/homecompost/

http://www.composters.com/compost-tumblers.php

http://www.composters.com/vermiculture-worms.php

If you go the worm route…be sure to get the red wigglers…not the nightcrawlers.  I can point you to some sources for the worms themselves if you need that.

This is the sort of worm bin that we keep under our desks (they can be made rather easily too).

http://www.composters.com/vermiculture-worms/friendly-habitat-worm-compost-bin_50_4.php

This is the sort that many people use at home (there’s also a very popular square one).

http://groworganic.com/item_GCO201_CanOWorms.html

I like this one (regular composter, not vermi)…it’s kinda sexy and it’s so expensive that I’ve never been able to justify it for myself.

http://www.compostbins.com/general/compostumbler2composttumbler.cfm?TID=PBM004&source=channel_intelligence_gbase&ci_src=14110944&ci_sku=PBM004

Don’t forget the rain catchment system for your little victory garden!

http://www.composters.com/rain-barrels.php

http://www.gardeners.com/Two-Rain-Barrels/Watering_RainBarrels,38-665RS,default,cp.html

Let me know if you have other questions or if you find one you like but want another opinion!

He then sent me a picture of the composting bin in his office; ha! Oh those crazy Californian environmentalists…just joshing; they are my people!

Check it out, how silly:

WORRMMSSS

I spent the next several days visiting the above links, learning about the composting “formula,” and trying to determine what kind of composter Dordan should buy.

Still a little unsure, though feeling much more educated, I contacted the U.S. Composting Council, which the Rep from Cedar Grove referred me to in her email, copied above.

I went to the link she provided, spoke with the receptionist, and was transferred to the USCC’s Education Director. This guy was AWSOME! He spoke with me for as long as I desired, and provided AMAZING insight. Here is what I learned:

In order to determine what kind of compost one should buy, one needs to determine how much material will be added to the compost. Once can determine this by performing a WASTE AUDIT.

For us he recommended getting a 3X3X3 home composter, which is open to the ground.

He did not advocate a tumbler or worms because: the former doesn’t work well; the latter is used if ONLY food waste is going into the compost. Because we wish to compost our food waste along with our yard waste and possibly office waste and packaging, including bio-based plastics, this type of composter would not be the best.

As an aside, he did say that for the biodegration of bio-plastics, usually an industrial composting facility—not a home compost—is required. Regardless, we are still going to play a little mad scientist and run some internal tests to see the rate at which some of the bio-based plastics we have access to break down, if at all. We are also waiting on a sample roll of a bio-based plastic that is certified to break down in a home compost; therefore, should biodegrade in Dordan’s compost, too.

Okay, before I get off track, I sent the following email to this contact from the USCC, thanking him for his awsomeness.

Greetings,

This is Chandler with Dordan—we spoke earlier today about what kind of composter I should get for my company’s food and yard waste. Remember? Ha!

Anyway, I just wanted to say mucho gracias for chit chatting with me about composting; if you have any further suggestions, please don’t hesitate. Real quick: Do you have any information on waste audits? It sounds super fancy so I don’t know if it is necessary for our initiative, but I would like to see what that all entails…

Again, thanks a bunch for your time today!

Chandler

That day he responded,

Hi Chandler.

A quick google of “How to perform a waste audit” brought up some good examples.

Basically you need to know who much compostables you could collect per day or month.  Then you can put together a system to compost them.

There was a sustainability coordinator for a brewery at our last compost class, so I copied her on this email (Hi!) in case she has some of those resources at her fingertips.

Fall is always a great time to start a project like this because leaves are the perfect bulking agent (“brown”) to balance your food scraps (“green”) and get you pile off to a good start before winter.

Best of luck!

And to my surprise, the sustainability coordinator for a brewery responded that day! She wrote,

Chandler,

In my experience, a waste audit is far from technical or “fancy”! It literally involves digging through your trash or recycling receptacles and finding out what you have in there. We’ve done trash audits in the past and we usually do them by weight. We have one central dumpster for the brewery which we periodically take a few hours, put some gloves on, and dig through bags of trash to see what we are throwing out. We separate the trash into categories and weigh as we go so we can get a profile of what are trash consists of. Some of our categories were general as in food waste, recyclables, and breakrooms, and then we had department specific categories like brewing, filtration, sensory lab, bottle shop, etc….

You can do the same process for your recycling streams. These are VERY helpful in establishing where you are and what is the next thing to tackle. After we did a couple trash audits we realized we still had a lot of recyclables in our trash which meant we needed to do some more and/or better education for our employees on using the recycling bins etc… We also found that a significant portion of our trash was empty plastic bags from a brewing ingredient- we are looking at switching which company we buy from in order to find one with a recyclable or compostable package. We also had a lot of empty sugar bags which our paper mill decided they didn’t want because the residual sugar “gums” up their machinery- again, we’re trying to find an alternative to purchasing in that form.

In short, a trash/recycling audit can tell you a lot and give you ideas on what to do. Again, its is really simple. All we had was some gloves, a notebook and pen, a scale, and a bin to put the material in for weighing. It’s a little dirty and time-consuming but easy and well worth it.

Hope that helps.

WHAT A DOLL, I thought to myself. While I do get bogged down from time to time when I come across people that use “sustainability” while disregarding its main principles, I get super excited when I meet people that are willing to go out of their way to help, regardless of what’s in it for them. I love my “sustainability people!”

OK. Step one of action plan: Conduct a waste audit.

Tune in tomorrow to hear about my experiences dumpster diving; my first audit is this afternoon I have a fancy suit and everything!