Day 28: Nov. 27th, 2009

March 18, 2010

Hello! I am sorry I didn’t post yesterday but guess what: I have been invited to participate in a committee in Canada that looks to find a way to recycle thermoforms! I am positively thrilled that this movement i.e. sustainability, is catching on. Hopefully it is here to stay! In Canada, as is the case in the U.S., thermoforms are not recycled. Canada does have some EPR legislation in place, however, such as the Ontario Stewardship Act, which makes producers (brand owners) and private label suppliers responsible for financing 50% of packaging waste recovery. Because of this legislation, Canada has a much better packaging recovery rate than the U.S., although I am not sure what their percentage of recovery is. Additionally, Canada has a much better infrastructure for industrial composting; apparently, of all the municipalities in Canada, 40% have access to industrial composting facilities. This is good because as PLA makes its introduction into the Canadian market it can actually be composted, which in the U.S. is not the case due to the limited availability of industrial composting facilities.

I suppose I have rambled enough. Shall we resume our recycling narrative?

After my interview with the Environmental Director of Starbucks I felt as though I had a better understanding of how to implement a pilot recycling program in order to provide justification for integrating a new material into an existing materials’ recovery infrastructure i.e. Starbucks cups in corrugated recycling infrastructure; however, I still felt discouraged. As the email from my most recent post implies, clout is necessary for the implementation of a corporately-motivated recycling program. While Dordan is a very respected thermoformer with loyal customers and a tight supply chain, we are not a mega-huge corporation that is able to bring together governmental bigwigs and other movers and shakers in order to facilitate the introduction of a new material into the recycling infrastructure. From what I understand, municipalities decide what can be recycled based on the market and available contracts with collectors, processors, etc. Therefore, it is a top-down sort of thing, and unless we get those at the top interested, it is difficult to introduce a new material into the recycling infrastructure i.e. clamshells in the PET bottle infrastructure. And, Dordan is a quality thermoformer i.e. we run less quantity in order to maintain a higher quality, thereby resulting in less of our packages on the market than some other large-production houses. Perhaps if we were responsible for putting an insane amount of packaging on the market that ends up in a landfill post-consumer we would have a better shot at reclaiming our packages post-consumer because we would have the quantity necessary to find an end market. That is why in previous posts I had emphasized the necessity of collaboration among other thermoformers because of the issue of critical mass: unless there is enough of one kind of material, there is not going to be an end-market for it. Because there are so many PET bottles on the market, the quantity is there, and an end market exists. Therefore, if we all used the same, lets say, resin for consumer goods packaging, then there would be enough of this one type of material to collect and source out to interested parties.

You dig?

Tune in tomorrow to learn more about recycling in America!

Day 27: Nov. 24th, 2009

March 15, 2010

Helllllloooooo world!

I hope everyone had a nice weekend. Chicago was crazy with the Chi-Irish! I left my apartment Saturday afternoon to discover that my street had been taken over by rowdy drunks…good times!

Shall we resume our recycling narrative?

Today’s the day, I remember thinking when I arrived to the office: Today I finally get my much-anticipated phone interview with the Environmental Director of Starbucks about the pilot recycling program he implemented for Starbuck’s coffee cups in several NY stores!!!

Here goes nothing; deep breath.

            Ring, ring…

                        …Thirty minutes later…

Phew. I can stop sweating now. He was super nice, I thought to myself as I looked over the notes I took. While it was still fresh, I compiled the information and sent my team the following email:

Hey guys,

I just got off the phone with the Environmental Director of Starbucks; he was really cool and very insightful. This is what I learned:

  1. Starbucks found a university that creates the standards for corrugated boxes. They then tested their cups with the corrugated to see if it had a positive or neutral effect on the fiber. To their delight, the university determined that the cups actually yield a positive value on the fiber feedstock because of its high quality composition. In other words, the cups strengthened the OTC.
  2. They then found Pratt Industries, which is a cardboard manufacturer from Australia who is trying to make in inlet into the North American market, to process their cups with the corrugated material.
  3. They made a donation to Global Green, which is an NGO who created the CORR project, which looks to reclaim corrugated material. Upon their contribution, they had access to all of their research and contacts within various municipalities.
  4. From there they set up a store trial, where they had their customers separate the cup from the lid, to be collected in the warehouse of a MRF until the quantity necessary to find an end market accumulated. Their customers were happy to do this because they have been asking for this for a while.
  5. They focused on expanding the existing OCC recycling infrastructure, not creating a new market or closed loop system. They opted for the OCC market because most communities have access to these programs because corrugated is one if the mostly recycled fiber materials (OCC market as opposed to the mixed paper waste market, which is much more regionally specific, as is the case with the markets for mixed plastic waste that reside predominantly on the East and West coasts for shipment to Asia for energy recovery via incineration).
  6. They then plan to use the pilot project as a case study for why more buyers of OCC from MRFs should accept Starbucks cups on the bales.
  7. They held a cup summit and because of their large pull in the market place, were able to invite powerful players in various municipalities, resin manufacturers (Dow), retailers, MRFs, etc. to create a momentum that cities would like to tap into for their own PR initiatives (municipalities compete with how much material they are saving from landfills i.e. “zero waste” PR).

*Basically, if there is enough volume of any reclaimed material, there can be an end market for it. This implies that we must collaborate with North American manufacturers of thermoformed non-food plastic packaging in order to find the quantity necessary to find a buyer for the end-of-life market.

I know this is not on the top of our list of priorities, but it is a good long-term goal. Until the market picks up, however, I find it difficult to imagine that our competitors would want to engage in this type of recycling initiative. Moreover, we are not Starbucks, so spear-heading something like this on altruism alone probably won’t take us very far. I honestly think that collaboration is the way to go…

We are still waiting to hear back the results from the MRF to see if our RPET is compatible with the PET bottles via optical sorting, If so, we have already tackled one of the components of the above  approach. I think that we should continue to find ways to enhance the existing infrastructure; all we need is collaboration to produce the quantity necessary to find an end-market for it.

I’ll keep you posted!

Chandler

Tune in Wednesday to learn more about recycling in America!

Day 25: Nov. 20th, 2009

March 9, 2010

Goooooood day! I finally finished my report on Extended Producer Responsibility/Product Stewardship. Look out for it at www.dordan.com under the sustainability tab!

Let us resume our clamshell recycling initiative narrative:

The next day I arrived to the office feeling much better having received Robert’s insightful email. I felt as though my journey of discovering an end-of-life market for thermoformed packaging was slowly making progress. I had established that if our RPET packages are “read” like PET bottles via the MRF’s optical sorting technology, we could integrate our RPET packages into this recycling infrastructure. I also learned that we could develop a new market for mixed rigid plastic packaging post-consumer (that is, non-bottle grade plastic material), as is often the case in CA. I wonder which would be more cumbersome…Ha!

To my surprise, I received an email from the Environmental Director at Starbucks, responding to the email I sent yesterday.

Chandler,

Thanks for the email.

I am traveling in Los Angeles this afternoon and won’t return until Friday evening. I will be in the office next week, so please feel free to give me a call at your convenience. The best time to catch me is between 7:30 and 8:00 on weekdays, before meetings start up.

Cheers!

GROOOOOVVVVVVYYYYYYY. It looks like I may get my interview after all! My father, who is also coincidently the owner of Dordan, told me “not to hold my breath” about actually getting to speak with the Environmental Director of Starbucks. Not to be a jerk, but I love proving him wrong, at least for the better.

And another beneficial development: I had several responses to the discussion I started on greenerpackage.com about trying to recycling non-bottle PET thermoforms. The most insightful was from the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, who I discussed briefly in an earlier post.

Check it out:

The Plastic Recyclers Viewpoint…

Posted on behalf of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR):

Back when the world was younger and more uniform, there was one fairly simply defined PET resin used for 2 liter soft drink bottles. PET makes an excellent 2 liter soft drink bottle. Then more packagers wanted to use PET bottles for other products with other needs. The result today is that the PET used for bottles encompasses a range of molecular weights and potential additives.

Thermoformed packaging made from PET may use similar resin as is used for bottles or may use even lower molecular weight (lower IV) plastic. The technical needs for thermoformed packaging are not necessarily the same as for bottle packaging. There is an overlap in IV ranges used for bottles and for thermoformed sheet. Does the potential for IV difference preclude recycling the two forms together? No. End use markets dictate how significant are the differences for recycled plastics from different first uses. Are there additive conflicts? Unlikely, but not assuredly.

So why the reluctance to include thermoforms with PET bottles? There are at least two current reasons. First, the risk of serious contamination is great. A thermoform of non-PET can visually look like PET and be a huge problem. Think inclusion of PVC with the PET. This problem has been a showstopper in North America. In China, hand sorting can overcome the problem if the resin code is accurate. The second problem is a materials handling problem. Crushed thermoforms do not behave like crushed bottles. They do not “fly” the same in autosorting equipment and they do not bale the same. If bales are made too dense, the material does not process as efficiently as it should. Adjusting to the differences takes time and effort.

Does this mean PET thermoforms cannot be recycled? No. Thermoforms are recyclable, once we get through the growing pains of special needs and critical mass. Would sustainability be better served by switching all thermoforms to a different material? Probably not as non-PET, non-polyolefin resins are even more problematic in being accommodated in existing collection and sorting systems.

So why are multiple resins used? In some cases that decision is for aesthetic or performance reasons. Usually, economics dominate. And sometimes tradition keeps on happening. As has been the case for bottles, there does seem to be a gravitating by decision makers to a few resins. The challenge is to develop the infrastructure that allows for efficient handling and sorting to useful resin categories and then to develop markets for those categories.

This response was written by Dave Cornell, Technical Director for APR. For more info on the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, including published Design for Recyclability Guidelines, www.plasticsrecycling.org

Posted November 19, 2009

Radical! Design for Recyclability Guidelines, eh? Sounds right up my alley. Time to do some more research!

Tune in tomorrow to learn more about recycling in America!

Day 24: Nov. 18th, 2009

March 4, 2010

Another sunny day in Chicago! I just don’t know what to do with myself!

The next day I arrived to find an empty inbox. Ug! I had sent out a gizzillion emails and gone as far as I could go with my recycling initiative until I knew the status of our “test.” Four weeks all of a sudden felt like a life time…

I scrolled through my emails to see if there was anything I had forgotten to follow up on. And then it hit me: my phone-interview with the Environmental Director of Starbucks about the launch of his cup-recycling program. Below is the editorial about this initiative, which got me interested in talking with the Environmental Director responsible for its implementation:

NY Starbucks stores launch cup-recycling program

Posted by Anne Marie Mohan, Managing Editor, GreenerPackage.com, September 10, 2009 |

Seven Starbucks stores in Manhattan have launched a cup-recycling program in cooperation with Global Green USA’s Coalition for Resource Recovery (CORR). The pilot will test the collection and recycling of coffee cups when combined with old corrugated cardboard (OCC), which CORR says is the most extensively recycled material in the U.S. The objective of the program is to develop a cost-effective mechanism to close the loop on paper packaging, reducing greenhouse gases and assisting municipalities in reaching their solid waste diversion goals.

Starbucks participation in the pilot is an extension of the company’s efforts to develop a comprehensive recyclable cup solution by 2012. While Starbucks paper coffee cups can be recycled and composted in some communities, most commercial and residential services are not currently able to process this form of packaging. “In addition to the cup design, it’s critical that we address the full product life cycle—including the recycling collection infrastructure,” says Jim Hanna, Starbucks director of Environmental Impact. “Any enduring solution will require collaboration with stakeholders across the value chain.”

For the pilot, Western Michigan University’s Coating and Recycling Pilot plants tested a representative sample of the cups used in Starbucks stores and certified them as OCC-E, offering equivalent recyclability and repulpability as old corrugated cardboard using the Fibre Box Association’s Wax Alternative Protocol.

Paper bag manufacturer Duro Bag is designing a special paper bin liner so cups can be collected and recycled along with the corrugated cardboard. The prototype bag will be tested as part of the trial. Action Carting, the largest commercial carter in New York City, is collecting the bags along with the corrugated cardboard.

Pratt Industries will recycle a trial run of the bags and their contents, testing them for their recyclability and repulpability compared to existing feedstock at the company’s mill on Staten Island. Pratt’s Sustainable Design Incubator provided design guidance for the pilot, which is being coordinated and monitored by Global Green USA. Results of the pilot will be available in November.

According to CoRR, every year, 58 billion paper cups are used in the U.S. at restaurants, events, and homes. If all paper cups in the U.S. were recycled, 645,000 tons of waste would be diverted from landfills each year, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2.5 million mtCO2e, equivalent to removing 450,000 passenger cars from the road.

Says CORR director Annie White, “The lessons learned from the cup recycling pilot can be applied to the recycling of hamburger, pizza, and French fry containers, and all sorts of other paper food packaging. If the initial pilot is successful, CORR will expand the pilot to encompass more packaging types and restaurants, furthering our objective of generating business value and closing the loop on packaging.”

According to James McDonald, director of Sustainability for International Paper, “As an active member of CORR, International Paper supplied cups to Western Michigan University for recyclability testing and subsequent approval to the OCC-E protocol. Our participation not only supports this important pilot, it also furthers International Paper’s goals of providing responsible sustainable packaging for our customers.”

The foodservice packaging recycling project is but one of several of Global Green USA’s CORR projects dedicated to generating business value through creating a sustainable, zero waste New York City. In March, CORR launched an initiative with the Hunts Point Distribution Center in New York City, the world’s largest food DC, to substitute all of its nonrecyclable transfer packaging with recyclable packaging.

To visit this article on greenerpackage.com:

http://www.greenerpackage.com/sourcing_renewable/ny_starbucks_stores_launch_cup-recycling_program

Robert Carlson with the CA EPA had suggested I contact the Environmental Director of Starbucks after I had introduced my recycling initiative that looks to find an end-of-life market for thermoformed packages post-consumer to him. I was honored when the Environmental Director agreed to talk with me in October. I had not yet been able to get my interview, even though I was just as determined.

I sent the Environmental Director of Starbucks the following “reminder” email:

Greetings,

Sorry to be a bother but I just wanted to reaffirm my interest in chatting with you about the status of the pilot recycling intiative for Starbucks coffee cups in several NY Starbucks’ stores. I am trying to find an end of life market for our RPET plastic packaging (clamshells, blisters, trays, etc. [non-food]) either within the existing PET bottle recycling infastrucitre or by creating a new end market for mixed rigid plastic packaging. It seems as though buyers of baled PET don’t want plastic packages in it for fear of PVC contamination or the introduction of other contaminates. I was curious how buyers of baled corrugate were handling the introduction of a new material (Starbucks coffee cups) because I feel as though it is a similar situation with persuading buyers of baled PET that RPET clamshells will not contaminate the feedstock.

Please let me know when I can catch you in the office.

Thanks!

Chandler

Tune in tomorrow for Robert Carlson’s (with the CA EPA) response to the “what’s new with me” email. It is jam-packed with goodness!

Day 22: Nov. 16th, 2009

March 2, 2010

On November 16th I received the following email from my contact at Waste Management, confirming receipt of our RPET samples:

Chandler,

I received the samples to run through our optical sorting technology.  I will send them out for analysis and be back in touch in a few weeks.

Grooooovy. A few weeks…yikes! The suspense is already killing me!

While I contemplated waiting for “a few weeks” to continue moving forward with our recycling initiative, I sent Robert the following email, inquiring into his opinion about PVC, a thermoplastic that we form.

Hey Robert,

What is your stance on PVC? I know that that is a loaded question, but I run into contradictory information all the time. For instance, below is an article on Dr. Patrick Moore, a Co-founder of Greenpeace, who left the organization because it’s increasingly radical stance on chlorine in all its forms and derivatives. He says that PVC is a good material in specific applications and I can infer that the language on greenpeace.com (“PVC is a poison throughout its entire lifecycle”) is extremely reductionistic.  What is your stance on greenpeace? Do you have any contacts there who may be able to provide insight into their harsh stance on PVC, and plastics in general. Moreover, a lot of their experts specialize in the protection of forests from the pulp and paper industries around the world; would they have information on the timber industry that may provide a counter-argument to language like “dino plastic” used by bloggers on greenpeace.com?

Gosh, I know you’re busy. Please take your time and respond at your earliest convenience. Perhaps we should establish a question quota per week? Ha!

See the article and link below for more info.

Best,

Chandler

Greenpeace Co-founder Praises Benefits of Vinyl Products in New Video

Dr. Patrick Moore, the co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace, advises students and professionals to apply critical thinking when investigating the properties of materials, and praises the use of vinyl as a sustainable and safe material in a new video.

This story appears on www.vinylnewsservice.com.

For a direct link to the article and video, go to: http://vinylnewsservice.com/MainMenu/News/LatestVNSNews/Environment/BenefitsofVinylProducts.aspx

After lunch that day I received this email from Robert:

Chandler,

I haven’t forgotten about you…I just had two major issues come at me over the last week or so and haven’t been able to do anything else. Ill try to get something to you next week sometime.

Rats…I then shot back the following email:

Hey,

No worries my friend; I assumed you were busy. Well, shoot me an email when you get a second—I have so much to tell you!

And to my surprised, a half an hour later I received this from Robert:

Chandler,

I’m still a bit busy but know if I don’t get back to you now, I’ll likely forget forever!  Plus I want to know about the “so much to tell you!”

I know rather little about greenpeace.org unfortunately so I can’t comment on the organization.

Regarding PVC, I’m no expert but I do know that it poses health risks at various points in its lifecycle particularly if it’s incinerated.  PVC also has a terrible habit of ruining bales of other material if it’s not caught in the sorting phase (I’ve heard as little as 0.1% PVC is enough to ruin a batch of PET.)  We do have a plastics expert here at the Board, his name is Edgar Rojas.  If you’d like to ask him about PVC you can send him an email at (contact wishes to remain anonymous).

PVC seems to be on the chopping block every legislative session with a bill to ban it every year it seems.  Obviously it’s never been passed, but there is always concern over the material, particularly in food-contact applications.  PVC and PS are the two plastics that come under fire most often for their toxicity and environmental/human health effects.  I don’t know what the results will be once all the science is gathered to find the true full lifecycle effects of these materials in various applications, but from what I see it doesn’t look particularly good. 

Ok…your turn…

Ha!

Tune in tomorrow to learn more about recycling in America.

And resume scene:

As I waited for Recycle America’s educational tour guide’s response to my inquiries, I followed up with Robert about Polyflow. As you will recall, I sent Robert an email asking if he knew about Polyflow and if so, what he thought of this form of waste management.

This is what I learned:

Chandler,

What Polyflow is describing is called Pyrolysis and the technology is not unique to this company.  I’m not sure about the “vapor” part though…  There are discussions regarding this method in CA and elsewhere.  In CA, we don’t use energy recovery as a part of recycling (or diversion) so the portion of the pyrolysis that results in diesel or other fuels would not be counted in our recycling numbers.  Also, some people are afraid that if the “easy” option is presented (the same goes for incineration) then recycling for higher and better uses will have no appeal.  Using plastics for energy is seen as a lower use than using it for a new product.  For some plastics, there are not other mechanical recycling options available, but the fear is that this kind of thing would prevent new technologies being developed, that people would stop trying to find better options if the easy option is available.

Further, the analyses I’ve seen on the environmental/energetic impacts of mechanical recycling versus pyrolysis puts mechanical ahead of the game pretty much under every circumstance (assuming there is infrastructure). 

I don’t mean to shatter your hopes…it’s a good technology, and would be appropriate for a few materials that have no other options (in my personal opinion), however I think there would be challenges to implementing it wholesale (at least in CA…perhaps Il is different).

I’m surprised that the Sustainability Director of Starbucks hasn’t contacted you, he seemed interested in speaking.  I wonder if perhaps your email simply got buried.  Have you tried sending him the email again?  I’ve looked around here and I’m not sure that we really have a person on the local level that would be particularly suited.  I suppose I’m it…sorry!!

Robert

Hmmmmmm using plastics for energy is seen as a lower use than using it for a new product? That’s interesting; I didn’t know there was a hierarchy to waste management. If most plastic packaging ends up in a land fill, wouldn’t a better option be waste-to-energy? If easier, why not utilize the technology until the recycling infrastructure catches up? I wonder why CA doesn’t count this form of recovery into their recycling numbers. This seems sort of odd…

As I tried to sort through the implications of Robert’s response, I received an email from the Sustainability Director at Starbucks, yippee! He agreed to chat with me about implementing a pilot-recycling program in several NY Starbucks stores.

Little old me, I remember thinking. This is big time!

The actual email has not been included for privacy considerations.

Upon setting up a phone interview with the Sustainability Coordinator of Starbucks, I sent the following email to Robert:

Hey Robert,

Thanks for your feedback. I feel so silly; the rep from Polyflow didn’t even mention Pyrolysis, which I know about and know is not unique to this company. Thanks for clarification!

As it turns out, the Sustainability Director of Starbucks is available to talk with me, and my email did get lost in the plasma that is the internet, so thank you! I also have been engaging in dialogue with various people in Waste Management trying to figure out a way to recapture PET clamshells and what not, so I feel as though I am on the right track.

So until next time, take care and thanks again for all your help; I really appreciate it!

What are you doing for Halloween? I dressed up as a man for our office party and just got done handing out candy to everyone in the plant. It is fun to be a man for a day!

Chandler

Tune in tomorrow to learn more about recycling in America.

Cheers!

Day 9: Oct. 20, 2009

February 3, 2010

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

Okay, back to the story:

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

Hello,

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

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

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

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

Best,

Chandler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Hello,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best,

Chandler

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

Day 8: Oct. 19, 2009

February 1, 2010

Dennis and I chatted again over the next several days. Unfortunately, because we just joined the SPC, my Superior didn’t want to join another industry group because of the associated fees. Rats!

Discouraged that we had to pay to be a part of an organization that had the same idealistic goals I did, I sent Robert the following email:

Hey Robert,

Thanks for hooking me up with Dennis– he is super nice and wants Dordan to become members of NAPCOR. At this point in time, however, we don’t think it would be wise to join another association because of the membership fees. Moreover, although they have a thermoformer division of the NAPCOR who are working towards re-capturing PET clamshells through existing recycling infrastructures, they have yet to successfully implement a recycling program. It’s hard to say what the best approach to this issue is, as it doesn’t appear as though the economics support it (in other words, the cost of collecting, sorting and cleaning PET clamshells exceeds the cost of virgin PET). Regardless of the economics, however, I am still working towards achieving this goal (to the dismay of my Superior) and am developing an initiative to present to a retailer that would allow us to reclaim our packages to be reground on-site and sold back to our material supplier.

As per my last email, I am still very interested in the Starbucks recycling pilot in New York and how, as a business, they are able to keep the cost association low enough to implement the program. I know you are super busy and I don’t expect you to continue to be such a doll, but if you have any contacts at Starbucks or anyone you think would be of assistance to me in regard to implementing a cost-effective recycling program that is compatible with the existing infrastructure, I would be tickled pink!

Again, thank you for all your help. It is nice to have a contact outside the business world who is committed to sustainability, not as a marketing incentive, but as a moral imperative.

Stay dry in rainy Cali and I look forward to speaking with you soon!

Best,

Chandler

My reference to getting a retailer on board with this recycling initiative stemmed from an article I found about Marks and Spencer, a UK-based retailer that actually has their customers de-rob their products from their packages after the point of purchase. Sort of like how Best Buy has a bin to dispose of batteries in, this retailer has bins specifically for reclaiming packaging waste post-consumer. I also thought a retailer may be a good place to start because a lot of the sustainability movement in the context of packaging has originated from retailers, specifically Walmart, with their proclamation to reduce packaging weight by 13% in 2010 via the packaging modeling software created by ECRM.

Any woo I am getting off track.

After a delicious lunch of Porillios’ Italian beef with sweet peppers, I returned to the office to find the following email from Robert:

Chandler,

The person you want to talk to is the Environmental Director of Starbucks.  He’s actually an SPC member as well and was at the meeting in Atlanta.  He’s a great guy and he said he’d be happy to chat with you about what they’re doing in NY. 

You might also be interested in speaking with somebody from our department that works with local governments.  They have a lot of knowledge of how local infrastructure works and they work with businesses all the time trying to assist them with increasing recycling rates.  I’ll check around and see if I can find the best person for you to talk to over there. 

Good luck with all of this, and please don’t hesitate to contact me with more questions or for updates!!

Robert

Groooooovy. Next task: Schedule a phone interview the Environmental Director of Starbucks. Tune in tomorrow to see where we go next in the splendid land of recycling in America.