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!

Day 10: Oct. 21, 2009.

February 4, 2010

The next day I received the following email from the educational tour guide at Recycle America:

Chandler,

I just received this and will gladly answer as best I can but it will not be until tomorrow as I have tours.  I appreciate your patience. 

Lisa

Okay…what else can I do in the meantime to move this initiative forward?

I thought back to the lectures at the SPC’s members-only meeting in Atlanta. The president of Environmental Packaging International (hereafter, EPI) gave a very honest presentation about environmental marketing. Basically he explained what kinds of environmental claims on packaging are misleading or manipulative and what kinds are acceptable. Because the FTC is being restructured, he explained, they have not been able to investigate the environmental claims on packaging; however, that will change, and those making unsubstantiated or vague claims will be sought out by the FTC. Therefore, he explained, it is in all of our interest to only make claims that can be validated via scientific analysis.  

Hurray, I remember thinking. Finally, marketers will be held accountable for manipulating consumer’s desires to do well by the environment.

To be honest, I probably would not have a job at Dordan as the Sustainability Coordinator if people in our industry were not greenwashing. In other words, it was because my father, the CEO of Dordan, didn’t know how to interpret the claims being made by our competitors that he hired me to investigate them. And what I found, more often than not, was because the FTC didn’t have the man power to investigate environmental claims our industry was in sort of a Wild West limbo where marketers could get away with saying almost anything. This Wild West limbo was catalyzed by the recent consumer research that showed how most consumers would buy the product with the better environmental profile if at a comparable cost and performance to other, less environmentally friendly products. I am sure we are all familiar with this…

Anyway, I remember the President of the EPI discussing the Mobius Loop symbol and how that can be a form of greenwashing in and of itself insofar as it implies recyclability or recycled content. All of our packages have this symbol, which houses the SPI resin identification number; both the symbol and ID number were mandated by SPI (Society of Plastics Industry) decades ago.

I sent the President the following email, hoping to get some clarification about the applicability of this symbol to our packages:

Hello,

This is Chandler Slavin with Dordan Manufacturing—we spoke briefly following your presentation in Atlanta entitled, “Are the Labeling and Green Claims on Your Packaging Meeting FTC and Retailer Requirements?” First, I wanted to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for your presentation: it was the most honest, direct, and educationally insightful discussion I had yet experienced at the forum. At the same time, however, there are some questions still lingering.

For instance, you said that the mobius loop i.e. chasing arrows symbol, which houses the SPI resin identification number, implies to the consumer that the package is either: (1) made out of 100% recycled material or, (2) is 100% recyclable. After telling this to the president of our company, we were confused because we thought that this symbol was mandated by the SPI. Are you and the FTC suggesting we remove this symbol from our packages? Is there someone at the FTC we could talk with for clarification? Is there someone at SPI that would be of assistance?

Sorry for the quick-fired questions: this is all new to us and we are trying to be honest with our labeling in order to inform our customers about the sustainability of our packages. Additionally, I would really like the opportunity to talk to you about industry-led EPR initiatives in the U.S. When would be a good time to reach you?

Best,

Chandler Slavin

The same day, I received the following email from the President of the EPI:

Chandler,

The SPI code as required by 39 State Laws are allowed if used as prescribed by those laws. If you placed it in an inconspicuous location on the container (e.g., embedded in the bottom of the container) it would not constitute a claim of recyclability or recycled content and is allowed.

If you have a questions let me know, Hope this helps.

Phew…I thought to myself; we only place the chasing arrows symbol on the bottom of our packages. We are FTC clear, at least for now.

Tune in tomorrow for more recycling in America tantalizing tid bits.