Good afternoon world! Thought I would catch you all before the late-afternoon slump, which is when I am accustomed to blogging. Second cup of Joe, here I come!

Today’s post takes a slight detour from the world of recycling: I wish to briefly discuss how one quantifies the environmental benefits of sourcing packaging material from recycled resin versus virgin; and, the associated environmental burdens of using inks, laminates and adhesives on fiber-based packaging.

First, the environmental benefits associated with making packaging out of recycled resin versus virgin is kinda a no brainer…one would assume that sourcing post-consumer material yields environmental benefits when compared with sourcing virgin. Luckily, the Franklin Associated recently determined that recycling plastic significantly reduces energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. According to their work, the generation of cleaned recycled resin required 71 trillion Btu less than the amount of energy that would be required to produce the equivalent tonnage of virgin PET and HDPE resin (Killinger, ACC). In other words, the amount of energy saved by recycling PET and HDPE containers including bottles in 2008 was the equivalent to the annual energy use of 750,000 U.S. homes. The corresponding savings in greenhouse gas emissions was 2.1 million tons of C02 equivalents, an amount comparable to taking 360,000 cars off the road (Killinger, ACC). You can download the full report here:  Final Recycled Resin HDPE PET Life Cycle Inventory Report.

So this is great because it finally provides justification for moving into PET and RPET packaging as that is the most readily recycled and recyclable. However, how do we show how this data actually impacts the LCA of a package? In other words, if I wanted to measure the environmental benefits associated with sourcing my packaging from RPET as opposed to PET, how would I?

And enter COMPASS, which is the SPC’s packaging environmental life cycle modeling software, which allows you to compare the “footprint” of different packaging materials and types in the design phase. Now that Franklin has provided LCI data about RPET used in packaging, COMPASS should be able to integrate the data into its software, thereby allowing users to compare packaging made from recycled PET versus virgin.

Here’s the email I sent to the creator of COMPASS:

Hey,

I hope this email finds you well.

I had sent you an email asking when COMPASS was going to be updated with the LCI RPET data released by the ACC/APR/NAPCOR, etc. This email is to follow up on that inquiry. As thermoformers of RPET, it is very important for us to be able to quantify the environmental benefits of sourcing an RPET clamshell versus a PET clamshell.

In addition, is COMPASS intending on including metrics for inks, laminates, and adhesives i.e. clay coated SBS board? A lot of research I am finding is that these chemicals greatly impact the environmental profile of a package; when will COMPASS be able to quantify these components?

Thanks for your time.

Chandler

And his response:

Hi,

See below.

Hey,

I hope this email finds you well. Thanks doing well indeed. And you?

I had sent you an email asking when COMPASS was going to be updated with the LCI RPET data released by the ACC/APR/NAPCOR, etc. This email is to follow up on that inquiry. As thermoformers of RPET, it is very important for us to be able to quantify the environmental benefits of sourcing an RPET clamshell versus a PET clamshell. As you may know, we do not add data until they are third party verified. There has been a lot of activity on the data front of late and the data verification is coordinated by the EPA, and rPET and rHDPE are among them. Once we get the go ahead, we will begin work to model the data for COMPASS. This is anticipated to start towards the end of Q3 2010.

In addition, is COMPASS intending on including metrics for inks, laminates, and adhesives i.e. clay coated SBS board? A lot of research I am finding is that these chemicals greatly impact the environmental profile of a package; when will COMPASS be able to quantify these components? The secondary materials you mention may indeed be of concern and they are on our radar, however, since GreenBlue does not collect primary LCI data, we cannot add information until they become available and are verified. There is a lot of talk in the industries about the need for such data, and the best way to convey the information. We may have spoken on this before, but coatings, inks, glues etc are generally used in a very small quantity relative to the primary materials, and the existing display mechanism may need to change to record the results for the secondary materials. Also, since LCA is not a very good mechanism for conveying toxicity, the entire secondary materials module may require some detailed thought prior to implementation. I do not have a timeline for these materials as yet since much of the work in preliminary talk stage only.

Groovy…

I then sent a similar inquiry to another contact who knows a thing or two about sustainable packaging metrics and modeling software:

Hello,

This is Chandler Slavin with Dordan Manufacturing. I hope this email finds you well.

At the meeting, a participant asked if you intended on including any metrics for the inks, laminates and adhesives used in many fiber-based packaging materials. You replied that unless you had scientific evidence that illustrated that such a metric had an impact on the overall environmental profile of a given package, you did not intend on including said metrics in the Scorecard.

I found the following statement in the U.S. E.P.A.’s TRI (Toxics Release Inventory) report, 1996:

…Coated and laminated paper products are also associated with significant reporting of releases and other waste management of TRI chemicals…Pollutants associated with various coating materials and processes have included emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and discharges of wastewater containing solvents, colorants, and other contaminants.

Download the report at: http://www.epa.gov/tri/tridata/tri96/pdr/chapt5_ry96.pdf

That being said, what are your thoughts on the inclusion of some type of metric that would attempt to quantify the environmental burdens associated with the utilization of inks, laminates, and adhesives on packaging?

Thank you for your time.

Chandler Slavin

And her response:

We aren’t opposed to including but we need to have details on what to include and how much they impact the total Life Cycle of the package.  In studies that I have seen on packaging the impact by these materials to the total package LCA are small in comparison than other parts like production of raw materials and transportation.  Prior to us adding to the scorecard we would need the data proving they are a big portion of the LCA and publicly available LCI to add to the scorecard.

Thanks for reaching out sharing some of your questions and concerns.

Hmmmmmm…

I replied the following:

During the meeting, you and your team discussed the ambiguities surrounding the “sustainable material” metric and participants articulated the desire for a “material health/toxicity” metric, in addition to, or as a component of, the “sustainable material” metric. Have you and your team given any thought to the inclusion of such a metric that does not rely on an LCA-based approach, but another “mechanism for conveying toxicity?”

I look forward to your response; thanks again for your time!

And her response:

Yes, we are analyzing the GPP metrics through the Pilot process as discussed at the meeting. 

She then provided me with a link to their website and other pertinent information; what a doll!

The GPP is the Global Packaging Project and it is super awesome! It looks to provide global metrics for quantifying the environmental profile of a material, packaging type, conversion process, etc. Tons and tons of CPGs and retailers and manufactures and packaging converters are members of this organization. I believe they are currently in a pilot phase, which is attempting to collect LCI data from primary processes.

I reached out to a representative from the GPP and she was really nice. She told me about their work and provided me with access to said work—I feel like I hit a gold mine! Unlike the Scorecard, the GPP will cover a multitude of different metrics, toxicity being among them. SOOOO I guess I am definitely not the only one interested in this and eventually, we will have much more thorough tools to measure the environmental repercussions of our packaging purchasing decisions.

Consequently, it’s only a matter of time until the greenwashers get phased out. I feel like we are in the Wild Wild West of packaging and sustainability and that eventually, some governance will come to maintain order—hopefully the GPP.

AND GUESS WHAT: The GPP is having a conference in October in PARIS. That’s right, Paris, the most romantic city in the whole wide world. I would kill to be able to go; hopefully I can make a good enough case for my Superior to consider it…

The last email that I sent along this theme was to the wonderful Robert Carlson of CalRecycle.

I wrote,

Hello there!

Question: why is an LCA-based approach not appropriate for trying to quantify the environmental ramifications of secondary materials i.e. inks, laminates and adhesives? In addition, what “other mechanisms” exist for quantifying these ramifications? How do you foresee the inclusion of this information in environmental modeling tools going forward?

Do chemical manufactures have to report their releases to the US EPA? If so, where/how can I access this information?

AND, I was reading the back of one of our competitors’ packages and the following verbiage was displayed: “This product contains a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects and other reproductive harm.” WHAT THE WHAT? What is this, where can I find out more?

Thanks buddy!

And his response:

Ok…let me try to take this piece by piece and see what I can help you with:

As far as the competitors’ package goes, there are LOTS of chemicals that require that warning, it’s all part of prop 65 (see the attached PDF for the complete list and their website http://oehha.ca.gov/prop65.html ).  There is very likely a Material Safety Data Sheet available for that product…you might check on their website.

As far as manufacturers reporting their emissions to US EPA…I’m not really sure but I don’t think they do generally.  There are very likely specific situations that are regulated and are required to report emissions to EPA…but I’m not familiar enough with them to tell you which ones are required to be reported on.

Now…on to the meat of your question…the inks, laminates and adhesives…  I’m not sure what you meant with the comment that LCA is not a good mechanism for conveying toxicity…  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that usually LCA don’t get into exposure…  If a product emits 1.2 grams of a toxic substance, that’s all that is reported…it doesn’t really get into whether it’s emitted close to people, if people have long contact time with it or short, if sensitive sub-populations are exposed or not, if the toxin is persistent or not, if workers are exposed or consumers, etc…  That may be what was meant…  It could be that a combination of an LCA (to determine the releases at various points in the process) and a toxicological assessment of some kind (to determine exposure and risk assessment) would be a better way to approach LCA for these kinds of materials.

 There are always data gaps…there always will be.  To some extent, you can’t measure what you don’t know…  BUT somebody has to collect that data!  Eventually!  So somebody is going to have to step up and foot the bill…the problem of course comes in the sense that nobody trusts industry and government is broke…

How’d I do?  Make any sense???

You did wonderful, Robert, thanks!

That’s all for now. Tune in tomorrow to learn more about packaging and sustainability and the feasibility of recycling PET thermoforms in North America.

Tootles!

GO BLACK HAWKSSSSSS

June 14, 2010

Happy Monday Funday!!!

I have returned from my travels. GO BLACK HAWKSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!

While I will fill you in on what I learned in tomorrow’s post (busy day!), I thought I would include a response to my greenerpackage.com post. Check it out (notice the “anonymous”…)

June 9, 2010, Anonymous (not verified) wrote:

Chandler – One point that can’t be argued. Packaging from trees is a sustainable option. Packaging from oil (like plastic films) is not – once its pumped out and converted into film products, there will be no more. It would be ideal to compare apples to apples and determine which causes less harm to the planet, however, the opportunity to replant trees and convert paper back into usable pulp is an obvious advantage. And the article makes a solid point that regardless of what might be possible for recycling films, consumers or municipalities rarely have the facilities for taking advantages of the possiblities of recycled film products.

June 11, 2010, Chandler Slavin wrote:

Thank you for your comments and I understand your perspective; however, I am a little confused by this statement: “Packaging from oil (like plastic films) is not [sustainable] – once it’s pumped out and converted into film products, there will be no more.” Are you simply making the argument that paper is sustainable because it comes from a renewable resource while plastic is not because it comes from fossil fuel, which is ever depleting, as dramatically illustrated by the tragic Gluf Coast Spill? If so, that argument is acceptable, but very one dimensional, in my opinion. The reason I feel that this argument is sub par is because it only highlights the different feedstocks used in the production of fiber-based packaging materials or fossil-fuel ones; what about the energy required to convert this feestock into its end-product, that is, paper or plastic? What about the resources consumed in this converstion process; the GHG equivalents emitted therefrom, the inks, laminates, or chemicals added, etc.? I guess the whole point of my post was that to view “sustainability” from one metric, be it renewable versus unrenewable feedstock, is unacceptable in trying to quantify the overall burden a specific packaging material has on the environment.

As an aside, the point about the complexities of recycling plastic packaging is appropriate; with the exception of PET bottles, the rates of recycling plastic packaging in the States is very low. However, Japan, the UK, Belguim, Germany, and many others have very high diversion rates for plastic packaging post-consumer, usually with the aid of waste-to-energy technologies. Because we live in a global market, I am sure that the products of a large CPG company, like Kodak, end up on many international shelves; therefore, the probability that the packaging will or will not end up in a landfill is constituent on the region in which it is distributed. Consequentially, it is difficult to speculate on how much packaging material a company diverts from the landfill by switching from one material to another without specifying what geographical region said packaging material resides in.

In addition, there is a lot of interest in diverting PET thermoforms from the waste stream, as there is an every growing demand for this recyclate. Many companies are now investing in the sorting and cleaning technologies necessary to reprocess these packages with PET bottles to remanufacture into new packages or products. Hence, it is only a matter of time until plastic packaging begings to be recovered post-consumer because of the inherent value of the recyclate.

Thank you for your comments; it is always good to move the dialogue forward!

Mahahahahahahhahaha. See you tomorrow!

Hey!

So in yesterday’s post I talked about an article I read on greenerpackage.com that dissapointed me due to its unfounded anti-plastic stance. I  included a letter that I had intended on sending to the disseminator of said anti-plastic stance because I didnt want to call him out in the public forum that is greenerpackage.com; however, our CEO wanted me to post a rebuttal to his comments on greenerpackage.com, so this reductionistic stance on plastic can begin to be confronted.

Here we go:

Comments: 1

0 minutes ago, Chandler Slavin wrote:

After reading the above article titled “Paper media packaging for Kodak licensee removes 98% of plastic,” I believe that KMG Digital’s Mike Golacinski may be misinformed. Speaking on behalf of a plastic thermoformer, we are disappointed when we stumble across the proclamation of misinformed or unsubstantiated environmental claims about plastic packaging. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to analyze these anti-plastic environmental claims with hopes of facilitating an honest dialogue about packaging materials and sustainability. Only when we understand the reality of the situation will we begin to make more informed packaging material procurement selections that are based on science, and not ambiguous claims.

Consider the following statement: “Many competitive products are boasting about reduction of plastics while not addressing the fundamental issue, which is to eliminate plastic packaging that produces greenhouse gases and clogs our landfills…”

First of all, the assumption that plastic packaging produces greenhouse gases is misplaced. Almost every product and service produces GHG equivalents during production and throughout the life cycle. Let’s clarify what “greenhouse gases” mean:

According to the 2009 report released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the largest factor contributing to global warming is increased greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, halocarbons, and soot. Therefore, when making claims of GHG emissions, it is helpful to indicate which chemical you are referring to, as each packaging material procurement and conversion process releases different GHG equivalents, based on the methods used.

In addition, not only should GHG equivalents generated be consideration when procuring packaging materials, but other metrics, like water discharges, air pollutants, and OSHA carcinogens should be taken into account.

While I have not been able to find the necessary data to do an apples-to-apples comparison between the GHG equivalents emitted during the production of 1,000 lbs of fiber-based packaging materials versus those emitted during the production of 1,000 lbs of a common packaging polymer, the most recent Toxics Release Inventory data released by the U.S. E.P.A. explains the following:

…Pulping processes are the pulp and paper sector’s primary source of air emissions and water discharges of pollutants. Chemical pulping (to digest a material, typically wood, into its fibrous cellulose constituents) is the most widely used pulping method (85% in 1991). Kraft chemical pulping, an alkaline process whose active components are primarily sodium sulfide and sodium hydroxide, is the sector’s greatest source of air pollutants.

…For many paper grades, bleaching follows pulping. Traditional chlorine bleaching generates chlorinated byproducts—chloroform, dioxins, furans—that pose particular environmental concerns for their persistence, bioaccumulatability, and toxicity.

…Methanol or “wood alcohol,” is the chemical with the largest TRI releases (principally air emissions) from this sector. Methanol is formed in the chemical pulping process as wood chips are “cooked” to dissolve the lignin bonds that hold cellulose fibers together…Methanol in air reacts to form formaldehyde, contributing to air pollution…119.8 million pounds of methanol were released from the pulp and paper sector in 1996.

…Coated and laminated paper products are also associated with significant reporting of releases and other waste management of TRI chemicals…Pollutants associated with various coating materials and processes have included emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and discharges of wastewater containing solvents, colorants, and other contaminants.

…Pulp and paper releases…of chemicals designated as OSHA carcinogens totaled
18.9 million pounds in 1996. The large majority (17.7 million pounds) was released to air. Three of the top 15 chemicals for on- and off-site releases in the pulp and paper sector are OSHA carcinogens: chloroform, acetaldehyde, and formaldehyde. These three chemicals accounted for 16.4 million pounds of the 18.9 million pounds of OSHA. The OSHA carcinogens with the next highest on- and off-site releases were dichloromethane (746,000 pounds) and asbestos (571,000 pounds).

…[In summary,] The pulp and paper sector reported a total of 1.60 billion pounds of TRI chemicals in production-related waste for 1996

Please visit: http://www.epa.gov/tri/tridata/tri96/pdr/chapt5_ry96.pdf to download the most recent TRI report for the paper and pulp industries.

Second, the assumption that plastic packaging “clogs our landfills” is also misinformed: According to the Container and Packaging Municipal Solid Waste data released by the U.S. E.P.A. in 2007, 52% of landfills are comprised of paper products. In addition, in the MSW report released in 2008, “paper packaging/other paper packaging” has no recovery data (“Neg.”), which implies that paper packaging does not often get recycled, contrary to popular belief. Please visit: http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2008data.pdf. On page 5 of this document you will find a break-down of the different paper products that are recycling in America: as this table illustrates, the high recovery rates for paper are attributed primarily to newspapers (87.6% recovery) and corrugated boxes (76.6%).

I apologize if the tone of this post is a bit aggressive; I am not trying to make anyone uncomfortable I just wanted to take advantage of this public knowledge exchange medium with hopes of elevating the dialogue around issues pertaining to packaging materials and sustainability. While there is a lot of confusion surrounding the sustainability of plastic packaging, I am confident that the science will catch up, the dialogues will evolve, and packaging professionals will begin making more informed packaging decisions based on sound science and not marketing claims.

In a nut shell: The anti-plastic mentality conveyed in the statements made by representatives of KMG Digital is unfounded in the scientific community and to use it to promote paper over plastics is not good for any company involved in packaging from an economic, social, political, and environmental perspective.

So yeah…that’s that. Questions, commments, concerns?

AND I am about half-way finished with my report on PET recycling for Walmart Canada–it is about 6 pages; my brain is about to explode!

See you tomorrow!

Greetings world!

So today I got a little sidetracked. I stumbled on the following article on greenerpackage.com:

Paper media packaging for Kodak licensee removes 98% of plastic

KMG Digital, the exclusive worldwide distributor of licensed KODAK Media Products, including CDs, DVDs, VHS, and more, has introduced Eco-Friendly optical media packaging that is said to remove more than 98% of all plastic packaging components from the consumer waste stream. KMG Digital is launching 10 new Kodak-branded Eco-Friendly packs. The packaging is made of paper and includes 100%-recyclable storage containers that do not include PP or PS plastics. To further expand on this green initiative, KMG Digital has also reduced the environmental footprint of its optical media packaging for Kodak-branded recordable CDs and DVDs by using soy-based inks for package printing.

According to Mike Golacinski, KMG Digital President and CEO, “Many competitive products are boasting about reduction of plastics while not addressing the fundamental issue, which is to eliminate plastic packaging that produces greenhouse gases and clogs our landfills. We’ve found a way to bring environmentally sustainable packaging to the category in a cost-efficient manner.”

Says Brad Yeager, director of marketing, “Paper and cardboard are the most efficient materials to recycle. Plastics are one of the least efficient due to sorting, overseas transportation, and re-melting. Many municipalities do not have the ability to recycle all the different types of plastic. Approximately 1,400 tons of polystyrene are deposited into landfills every day. KMG Digital wants to do our part to decrease waste.”

Wait a second…

“Many competitive products are boasting about reduction of plastics while not addressing the fundamental issue, which is to ELIMINATE PLASTIC PACKAGING THAT PRODUCES GREENHOUSE GASES AND CLOGS OUR LANDFILLS.”

What the douce?

Granted I am a little defensive of plastic packaging because it’s my life-blood and granted there are some problems with our industry’s current approaches to disposing of plastic packaging, this statement makes me sad; it is totally misinformed!

Because I got into a bit of trouble months ago when I ruffled some industry-folks’ tail feathers due to my aggressive response to a similarily constructed anti-plastics article (see http://www.greenerpackage.com/source_reduction/kodak_opts_paperboard_package_over_clamshell_digital_camera),  I chose to send the CEO of KMG Digital a letter, instead of calling him out in a public forum, which apparently, is no bueno.

Here’s my letter; I hope its not pretentious or annoying!

Dear Mr. Michael Golacinski,

My name is Chandler Slavin and I am the Sustainability Coordinator at Dordan Manufacturing, which is a national manufacturer of custom designed plastic packaging. I just read an article on greenerpackage.com that discusses KMG Digital’s 10 new Kodak-branded Eco-friendly packs, which are made primarily from paper. In this article written by Anne Marie Mohan, you are quoted saying, “Many competitive products are boasting about reduction of plastics while not addressing the fundamental issue, which is to eliminate plastic packaging that produces greenhouse gases and clogs our landfills.”

While initially I wanted to post a response to you on the greenerpackage.com website, I chose to contact you directly because I did not want to call you out in a public forum and make you uncomfortable. Additionally, as the CEO of KMG Digital, you are an important mouthpiece of the company and industry and therefore I wanted to educate you about sustainability and packaging so as to keep you from making misinformed comments in the future. That being said, shall we analyze the above statement, highlighted in bold?

First, your assumption that plastic packaging produces greenhouse gases is misplaced: Almost every product and service produces GHG equivalents during production and throughout its life cycle; however, when compared with paper production in the U.S., plastic production releases less GHG equivalents. According to the most recent Toxics Release Inventory data released by the U.S. E.P.A., pulp and paper production in 1996 generated 1,599,797,509 lbs of production-related waste i.e. Air emissions, water discharges, landfilling, etc. Please see the enclosed document titled, The Facts for more information on the GHG equivalents generated in paper production vs. plastic production.

Second, your assumption that plastic packaging “clogs our landfills” is also misinformed: According to the Container and Packaging Municipal Solid Waste data released by the U.S. E.P.A. in 2007, 52% of landfills are comprised of paper products. In addition, in the MSW report released in 2008, “paper packaging/other paper packaging” has no recovery data, which implies that paper packaging does not often get recycled, contrary to popular belief. I have included a print out of this data from the E.P.A., for your information.

Please see the enclosed documents for more information about the sustainability of paper versus plastic in the context of packaging material procurement.

Regardless of my spicy comments, I really appreciate your attempts to do good by the environmet via changing your products’ packaging. I understand that packaging plays a very vocal role in communicating the values of a brand to the consumer and that “being green” is an important value to convey. While there is a lot of confusion surrounding the sustainability of plastic packaging, I am confident that the science will catch up, the dialogues will evolve, and packaging professionals will begin making more informed packaging decisions based on sound science and not marketing claims.

Thank you for this oppurtunity to initiate a dialogue about sustainability and packaging. Please let me know if there is anything I can help you with going forward. Additionally, all of my research is available for free on our website, www.dordan.com. Check it out!

Best Wishes,

Chandler Slavin

While I am waiting for approval from my Superior to mail this letter along with some EPA data and The Facts, which makes an argument for plastic over paper in the context of sustainability (you can download The Facts at: http://www.dordan.com/sustainability_the_facts.shtml), I thought I would share it with you, my packaging and sustainability friends!

This sort of stuff drives me crazy! Being a super nerd, I dislike when anyone makes a claim that is based on assumption, rather than knowledge. Hopefully this gentleman will not be offended by this—the plastic propaganda must end, in my opinion, if we are ever going to engage in a serious and honest discussion about the environment and packaging.

Poo!

Tune in tomorrow for more exciting tid bits. And congratulations: It has been 44 days since the Gulf spill. Do you ever feel like the world is ending? Not to be mellow dramatic but seriously—we are all touting reducing emissions by some percent and here FUEL IS SPILLING INTO THE OCEAN AT AN INSANE FREQUENCY AND NO ONE WANTS TO PAY TO CLEAN IT UP. It sort of makes my job seem silly because everyone is obsessed that plastic comes from fossil fuel when obviously, said fossil fuel isn’t valuable enough to try and save…weird bears.

Tootles!

Holly Toledo!

May 21, 2010

Happy Friday!

So I have been working on a presentation on everything sustainability for one of Dordan’s customers. Sustainability and Packaging 101, per se.

Anywoo, it took me two days and 190 slides to finish, but I am FINALLY DONE!

It’s jam packed with good stuff–basically a summary of all my work to date–so check it out!

Sustainability and Packaging Presentation, Blog

Enjoy the heat-wave this weekend, my fellow Chicagoians!

Also, please do not reproduce or distribute without my written consent. Thanks!

Happy Monday Funday! I hope the weather is as beautiful for you as it is for me—sunny and 70, what more can a girl ask for?

 SO where were we…that’s right, recapping the SPC spring meeting.

Oh, before I forget, there was one more thing I wanted to tell you about the Walmart Expo.

Prior to the Expo, in preparation for the Walmart SVN meeting (Sustainable Value Network), we were asked to do a little homework: this entailed going to a local Walmart and finding a package that needed a “sustainability makeover.” We were supposed to fill out a “packaging opportunities template,” which basically inquired into how one would redesign the package to increase its environmental profile while saving costs. This is what our team came up with:

PackagingOpportunitiesTemplate, FINAL

We decided to pick on a thermoformed package because we are thermoformers, although this one looks as though it was manufactured overseas, due to the perimeter sealing. Therefore, it’s not like we would be able to steal the business…I wonder what the sustainability profile is of an overseas manufacturer versus a domestic supplier…Ha!

Anywhoozy, it turns out that during the SVN meeting several of these “packaging opportunities” were to be presented to the entire conference—and guess what—I was one of the lucky four selected to present.

Basically I suggested that the package be right-sized and thermoformed out of RPET instead of PVC. The panel then inquired into how I would convey the same marketing presence with a reduced package AND prevent against pilferage. I was stumped. Perhaps include a recyclable paperboard backing, I offered? That totally stunk, however, because it suggested that paperboard is more “sustainable” than plastic, which I would not argue having performed extensive research on the topic. AND, according to the recent E.P.A. reports, the paperboard used in clamshell alternatives (labeled “other paperboard packaging” in the MSW report) HAS NO RECOVERY DATA—literally it is listed as neg., which means negligent. I wish I had known this during my presentation as it would have served our industry well. Rats!

Visit http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2008data.pdf to see the break down of what is recycled and what is not in the paper world.

I guess my obsession with the recycle-ability of paperboard versus thermoforms can be summed up as follows:

I am at the Walmart Expo, working the booth. A prospect comes by, with whom I have had casual conversation in the past. Having seen his product at a competitor’s booth, I hassle him saying, “I saw your thermoformed trays at our competitor’s booth…and here you have been blowing me off all year…not very nice!” And he responds with, “we are getting out of thermoformed trays because they are not recycled.”

UG! What do you say to that? Prior to knowing that paperboard, which would be the alternative used for his packaging application, has no data for recovery post-consumer according to the E.P.A., I assumed that it was the more sustainable material because of its end-of-life recovery. But now that I know that in most cases, both thermoformed trays AND paperboard trays end up in landfills, I should have articulated a better argument for why thermoformed trays are still a wonderful packaging option.

It’s like when you have some kind of social confrontation and find yourself tongue-tied only to later come up with the best “come-back” ever! That’s what this was like; I needed a good come back, both for the “packaging opportunities” presentation and the fellow who thinks paperboard is better due to its end of life recovery. Next time…

A couple other points about the Walmart Expo:

As discussed in a previous post, the Walmart Scorecard has a “transport module,” which takes into account the inputs/outputs of shipping a package from the point of conversion/manufacture to the point of fulfillment. Supposedly the filled packages’ journey to the point of purchase is covered in another metric…

Anyway, I asked if the scorecard takes into account/intends to take into account the environmental ramifications of overseas manufacturers versus domestic manufactures. After all, long before my appointment at Dordan, we lost business to China because of the super duper low prices of labor and therefore commodities. And considering all this sustainability jazz, one would think that sourcing domestically would have some kind of impact on ones Score (think shipping, environmental regulations, labor regulations, etc. in China versus the States)…unfortunately, that is not the case. According to a member of the SVN, Walmart considered having a “point of origin” metric but determined that it was unquantifiable and would not resonate with their suppliers. Go figure!

A SVN member then articulated the following inquiry, which tickled me pink: Is the Scorecard going to take into account the inks, laminates, and sealants used on paperboard packaging? The member who voiced this inquiry qualified this question with some data, specifically, that even the tiny amounts of hazardous material in these various substances can have a high toxicity on the social and environmental environments.

This inquiry was answered as follows: Again, they considered adding this metric into the Scorecard but did not because they didn’t believe that these factors had a large enough effect on the overall “environmental profile” of a package. Supposedly, if we prove otherwise, they will consider adding this metric into the scorecard…

Lastly, Walmart is rolling out their Scorecard to other countries. I asked if each Scorecard used different recovery rates depending on the country it was being utilized for. In other words, Canada has a better recovery rate for most packaging materials that the U.S.; therefore, is their Scorecard going to use Canadian recovery data or American? According to the SVN, each Scorecard will be country specific, using recovery data from the country considered.

Wow, another marathon of an email. I’m sorry to keep rambling, I just have so many thoughts! I will continue tomorrow with the SPC recap and quickly move into resuming my clamshell recycling initiative.

Go packaging!

Recap # 2: Walmart Expo

April 27, 2010

Greetings world! I feel like a million bucks—finally cleaned my office and organized all the information I gathered the last several weeks traveling. I will now resume my diligent blogging!

Soooo, where did I leave off? That’s right, I still need to fill you all in on the Walmart Expo in Arkansas.

Well, first of all, Arkansas is really nice! The drive from the airport to Bentonville was beautiful—very lush and it smelled so good! It appears as though the entire town of Rogers-Bentonville has been created to sustain the Walmart community, which is crazy! All the main buyers and movers and shakers for and to Walmart live around the headquarters, which must make company outings easy and enjoyable! Everyone we met was super duper nice and the whole “dry county” thing didn’t really apply because every restaurant we went to suggested you “sign in” thereby giving the establishment the status of a “club” and consequentially allowing them to serve us booze!

The Expo itself was really exciting! It being my first time “working the booth” I was thrilled to get in front of the packaging community and talk about Dordan and all our exciting new happenings! All the passerbyers were, again, super awesome and polite and all in all it was a good show! I got to see some old packaging buddies from the SPC and meet more people within the industry. Because I have only been to one or two other conferences, I was surprised to run into people that I had met previously—I didn’t realize what a small community the sustainable packaging realm was!

Check out our beaut of a booth:

AND all the Walmarters are really, really nice. Some of the top guys came by our booth and asked how the show went and thanked us for coming. We couldn’t believe the hospitality of the entire event and look forward to participating next year! If any of you Walmarters are reading, thanks again, we had a blast!

It was really cool too because our engineers had JUST finished running our samples that we designed for the Expo literally hours before we flew out of Chicago, which gave us the ammo we needed to initiate conversations with anyone. They looked great and showcased our thermoforming capabilities; and, demonstrated the different materials we were now offering! Basically it is a fancy business card holder with cool engravings and what not and the tray is made out of a bio-based, certified compostable resin and the lid is made from supplier-certified 100% PCR PET, which derives its feedstock entirely out of bottles post-consumer. We found that having something tangible to give to passerbyers really helped initiate discussion and we got a lot of attention because of the clarity of the PCR PET. For those of you not familiar, high concentrations of post-consumer content in PET often times give the resin a sort of orangy-brown tint; our source for 100% PCR PET, however, ensures a level of clarity that we have not been able to find elsewhere. In a nut shell: Good times all around.

This is a sort of poopy picture of our sample offer; but you get the idea:

Yum!

During the Expo there were education sessions, too. I found the content of these sessions very interesting and compiled my notes to debrief our sales and marketing departments upon my return. I have included these notes below, FYI.

Walmart Expo Summary:

  • Scorecard seminar, misc.
    • ECRM created the software for the Walmart Scorecard
      • “Efficient collaborative retail marketing”
    • Direct suppliers are REQUIRED to enter packages into scorecard
      • Via “retail link” i.e. per vendor number and item number
      • Allows you to compare with packages in same product category i.e. dairy. ECRM is working to narrow the categories down so you are only compared with direct competitors.
    • Indirect suppliers do not have access to retail link.
    • Focus of Score: Material type, material weight, material distance, packaging efficiency
      • Distance: the point the package travels from point of conversion to point of fulfillment.
    • Completion rate of Scores:
      • Each item sold in Walmart has its own number. Suppliers are required to fill out a Score for each item number. Currently, COMPLETION of scores is the easiest way to influence purchasing decisions. In other words, suppliers that have more than 85% of their Scores completed receive an “A” in the Walmart world; suppliers that have 55% complete receive a “B;” everything below comes up as a “red flag” in Walmart-internal. 
    • Package modeling software: Different than the Score card but formatted the same way; this is what we subscribe to.
      • Intended for indirect suppliers to utilize the modeling software in such a way that they can approach their customers (direct suppliers to Walmart) and explain how by doing X you can improve your score and here is the proof.
      • “Reversed engineering;” encouraged doing this on competitor’s packages, too.
  • Paperboard Packaging Council seminar, misc:
    • Fiber-based packaging is a by-product of the lumber industry? I need to look into this…
    • I asked why the recovery rates for corrugated were higher than paperboard…
      • Answer: Difference is attributed to post-industrial collection (corrugate) vs. post-consumer (paperboard). I need to examine this further.
    • Fibers can be recycled 6-8 times before the fibers become too small to reprocess
    • China currently buys most of our post-consumer mixed paper and reprocesses it; we need to find a domestic source for recycled fibers.
    • All corrugated has 46% post-industrial content in the U.S.
    • SBS is almost ALWAYS virgin fiber, with the omission of MWV’s Natralock.
    • I asked what the difference in energy demands are for virgin vs. recycled paper; I received a very ambiguous answeràapparently a controversial topic.
  • Plastic fundamentals seminar:
    • Discussed the benefits of plastic such as:
      • Keeps food fresher for longer;
      • Lightweight;
      • Didn’t address fossil fuel consumption;
      • Didn’t discuss MSW rates;
      • Did say that recycling for non bottle-PET has grown from 7.5% to 11% in the last year;
    • ACC supports re-writing the Toxics Control Act, which we referenced in our first Newsletter.
    • The ACC released LCI data on RPET and recycled HDPE. HURRAY!
  • SVN meeting:
    • There are a ton of different organizations that Walmart has its involvement in; I will try to explain the various relationships as follows:
      • ISTA—transit assessment; I don’t know what this is.
      • Global Packaging Project: Walmart funds this but is not the only CPG company on the board; this looks for a GLOBAL metric for assessing the sustainability of packages and product; this is bigger than the Scorecard, as the Scorecard will be a component of these metrics; the metrics used will be country-specific. This grew out of the CONSUMER GOODS FORUM, which was originally called the GLOBAL CEO FORUM. The GPP metrics look to take into account the Scorecard metrics, COMPASS, and other existing and legitimate metrics. If one wants the inclusion of another metric, it must be reviewed for application prior to being incorporated into the GPP metrics.
      • ISO project for Sustainable Packaging: I don’t know.
      • Scorecard: For packaging only; scores based on ITEM level.
      • Supplier Sustainability Assessment: Consists of 15 questions, which are asked of all product suppliers to Walmart; “scores” based on CORPORATE level.
      • Sustainability Index: the Assessment is part of the Sustainability Index, which is a project of the Sustainability Consortium. Again, Walmart funds this organization but is not the only CPGs company that participates.
  • Points of discussion:
    • “Sustainable material” metric: What does this mean? What are the limitations?
      • Should everyone get the same “score” until clarified?
      • Should we remove the metric?
      • Is Recovery taken into consideration?
      • Is it a LCA approach?
      • Does it consider conversion or primary production?
      • What about toxics?
      • Sourcing certificates?
    • Determined that it would be helpful to have a health and safety metric AND a sustainable sourcing metric.
    • Should inks/adhesives be included in GPP and Scorecard?
      • Not until proof that it has an impactàI have proof and will see that it gets into the right person’s hands.

Sorry if the format of my notes are a little confusing. Please let me know if you would like me to expand on any of these points or provide clarification.

AND I met a gentleman that gave me a PLETHORA of information about non-bottle plastic recycling and I am forever indebted to him. Seriously, good stuff and AMAZING feedback in regard to the various approaches I was considering for our clamshell recycling initiative. Once I get through recapping my recent travels, I will resume my clamshell recycling narrative. I think we are getting somewhere

Stay tuned!

Day 5: Oct 15, 2009

January 27, 2010

Check out what I found:

 

Wow, 52% of Municipal Solid Waste was attributed to paper and paperboard products in 2007? Who’d thunk?

Okay…so while paper is the largest contributor to landfills, it has a recovery rate of above 50%. That’s pretty great. Plastic, on the other hand, has a much lower recovery rate. Why is that?

Now take a gander here:

So PET has the best recovery rate for plastic materials. We manufacture a lot of PET; that must mean a lot of our packages are recyclable. Hurray!

 And enter reality: Only PET BOTTLES are recovered in most American communities. Most other PET products, including our packages and anything labeled with the SPI resin identification #1 that does not have a thin neck ends up in a landfill. And this is because…?

 And lastly:

Okay, so there is a lot of energy stored in plastic, most of which ends up in a landfill. That seems silly, especially with the Al Gores of the world propagating the idea that we are running out of fossil fuel and must look for alternative sources for energy. Why look for energy from algae, which is awesome, don’t get me wrong, when we could just establish a better infrastructure for recovering the stored energy in plastic, a.k.a WTE? Europe is all over incineration and energy recovery…what gives?

Why not spear-head an industry-led initiative that looks to integrate non-bottle plastic packaging into the existing recycling infrastructure, I thought to myself? After all, the fact that all the plastic packaging besides bottles ends up in a landfill is bizarre; therefore, we not collaborate with those along the supply chain to find an end-of-life option for plastic packaging? Sounds like a great idea, I thought to myself.

I then followed up with Robert Carlson after my thought baby of starting a recycling initiative:

Hey Robert,

Thank you very much for the email—I understand you are busy so I really appreciate you taking the time to respond to my inquiries. I am in the process of trying to spear-head an industry led recycling program aimed at recapturing PET clamshell packages for material recovery. Yippee!

Hope all is well in sunny California. Take care and I look forward to speaking with you again in the future. If you come across anything about sustainability and packaging that you think would be of interest, please don’t hesitate to send it my way.

Best,

Chandler Slavin

Tune in tomorrow to see Robert’s feedback, which marks the beginning of a very long and convoluted attempt to alter the recycling infrastructure in America.

Day 4: Oct. 16, 2009

January 27, 2010

So what did I do with this information? Nothing; I filled it in the “miscellaneous” section of my research hoping to return to it on a rainy day. After several days of stewing over my ethical quandaries about information classified as “proprietary,” I realized that these concerns shouldn’t be the ones dictating the direction of my research. Instead, I should be concentrating on real issues; issues, that if dealt with logically and by someone with a genuine commitment to sustainability, could enhance the sustainability profile of the plastics industry. What is the main problem with our industry’s current approaches to production, use and disposal of packaging materials, I asked myself?

I thought back to the SPC meeting in Atlanta; one of the speakers was the CEO of the Fost Plus system in Belgium, which is, in a nut shell, the business manifestation of an industry-led initiative that looks to increase the material recovery rate of packaging materials post-consumer. Because Belgium foresaw the ramifications of the 1994 EU Directive on Packaging Waste, it was in their interest to set up an economically sustainable material recovery infrastructure to meet the future legislation’s requirements. And the result: Belgium is at a 96% packaging materials recovery rate. WOW.

So where does this bring me? It brings me to the real issue: the recycling infrastructure in America. Looks like it’s time to do more research. Tune in tomarow to see the latest facts and figures about recycling in America.

Day 3: Oct 13, 2009

January 25, 2010

One of my professors from undergrad, Dr. Scott Paeth, continues to be a sounding board for my inquiries about ethics, even several months into my post-grad life. As my academic advisor and my Senior Thesis mentor, I had the opportunity of developing a relationship with him that expanded beyond the parameters of the classroom; I still consider him a great friend and mentor.

Two months into my new job as the Sustainability Coordinator at Dordan Mfg., I was struggling with the “ethics of sustainability.” I shot Dr. Paeth the following email, looking for any direction to point my ethical compass towards:

Hey! 
 
How is the school year going? Good stuff? 
 
Okay, so consider the following: 
 
I went to a contract packaging facility on Friday, which basically assembles the different components of the package i.e. paper card, plastic clamshell, sticker, product, etc. They don’t make anything, they just put it together. This facility is the home of the Chia pet. Ironically, the Obama Chia is made in
China, imported to the US, packaged in the US, and then distributed in the US. Similar products are made in China, packaged in China, and then distributed in the US. How can companies market themselves as green, while the product and often tines package is made in China under lax environmental regulations and poor working conditions? 

In a nut shell: I am trying to figure out how to market ourselves as an ethical company, both environmentally and socially, but am having a difficult time because marketing in general seems disingenuous…why do consumers care about being green when they don’t even consider the people that are making the product and the conditions they are working in? 
 
Sorry to ramble– I am just so frustrated. I keep trying to sell our product to people who get their packaging from overseas. Yet they market themselves as green. I can’t tell if the green washing acts as a distraction from the reality– that the only thing that matters is money– even at the expense of people’s lives. 
 
If you have any insight, or books, or information pertaining to the ethics of advertising or environmental advertising or overseas manufacturing or anything that you think might provide some clarity to this cluster of craziness, I would be very happy. 
 
Oh, the real world is hard! 
 
I look forward to hearing from you! 
 
Best, 
 
Chandler 
 
I met up with Dr. Paeth the following week, who gave me a bunch of books on business ethics and the “corporate soul.” To be honest, however, this was the first time that I realized that his extensive knowledge didn’t apply to my new job: he was not able to provide me with the data I was requesting nor was he able to explain why certain information, even information about consumer products’ and their packages, could be classified as proprietary. I believe that this initiates the schism between the academic and the corporate for me; the great divide where one world no longer informs the other—a.k.a. “the real world.”

Paeth did hook me up with one of his colleagues in the science department. Although we never met, he suggested I look into the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which, he offered, may shed some light on why it is difficult to find environmental information on different packaging materials. While I found some vague information on this Act, it wasn’t until January 4th of 2010 that an article came out in The Washington Post that described this Act in laymen’s terms; I have included the pertinent sections of the editorial below:

Use of potentially harmful chemicals kept secret under law

By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 4, 2010; A01

Of the 84,000 chemicals in commercial use in the United States — from flame retardants in furniture to household cleaners — nearly 20 percent are secret, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, their names and physical properties guarded from consumers and virtually all public officials under a little-known federal provision.

The policy was designed 33 years ago to protect trade secrets in a highly competitive industry. But critics — including the Obama administration — say the secrecy has grown out of control, making it impossible for regulators to control potential dangers or for consumers to know which toxic substances they might be exposed to.

Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, manufacturers must report to the federal government new chemicals they intend to market. But the law exempts from public disclosure any information that could harm their bottom line.

Government officials, scientists and environmental groups say that manufacturers have exploited weaknesses in the law to claim secrecy for an ever-increasing number of chemicals. In the past several years, 95 percent of the notices for new chemicals sent to the government requested some secrecy, according to the Government Accountability Office. About 700 chemicals are introduced annually.

“You have thousands of chemicals that potentially present risks to health and the environment,” said Richard Wiles, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization that documented the extent of the secret chemicals through public-records requests from the EPA. “It’s impossible to run an effective regulatory program when so many of these chemicals are secret.”

Of the secret chemicals, 151 are made in quantities of more than 1 million tons a year and 10 are used specifically in children’s products, according to the EPA.

The identities of the chemicals are known to a handful of EPA employees who are legally barred from sharing that information with other federal officials, state health and environmental regulators, foreign governments, emergency responders and the public.

YIKES! It appears as though I have opened up a can of worms. Tune in tomorrow to see where this information takes me.