Compost baby ya!

August 24, 2010

Helllooooooo everyone and happy day!

A quick mention before I get into the meat of today’s post, which discusses how to construct a home composter!

I am beginning a new research project on all things “oxo-degradable.” One of our customers expressed interest in these “magical little additives,” which supposedly render a resin biodegradable in a landfill? I am totally confused after my conference call with a rep from a company marketing this “innovative new technology” but I will keep you all posted with what I find. I didn’t even know things broke down in a landfill, really, let alone can receive certification for such a process, which according to this company rep, they have? Go figure!

If any of you, my diligent blog followers, know of the validity of these additives from a holistic, sustainability-based approach, please advise!!!

OK….drum roll please….

Dordan Manufacturing Company Incorporated is proud to announce completion of its composter construction! Dordan is now open for composting! Yehawww!

So this is what I learned: building a composter is just as easy, if not easier, then buying one. When I first received word from upper management that Dordan was considering getting a composter, I began researching what kinds and was quick to learn that there are a million different kinds, brands, styles, requirements, capacities, etc. For those of you who follow my blog, you will remember that this inspired me to conduct Dordan’s first waste audit, insofar as I was trying to quantify how much “compostables” Dordan generates via our employees and yard in order to determine what kind of composter to purchase. While I was never able to get a good reading of our compostables because I was too much of a sally and couldn’t separate our “wet waste” i.e. week old food, from our “dry waste” i.e. industrial scrap, I did intend on training our employees to separate the food waste from the other waste. In separating out the food waste, I assumed that we could get a much more accurate reading of how much compostables we generate per week, month, etc., therefore indicating what kind of composter to buy. Makes sense, right?

And enter Emily and Phil.

As some of you know, several weeks ago we had offered the use of Dordan’s land to a local farmer, Emily, for growing organics next summer as the land she is currently using is no longer available. Ironically, Emily also knows how to construct composters! When she and her father came out to access the land before committing to using it next summer, I indicated that I was researching composters and having a difficult time finding “the right one.” She explained how she and her father had just finished building a composter for one of the restaurants they provide organics to, and emphasized that it was super easy.

Awesome, I thought to myself; it certainly makes my job easier; and, it’s cheap!

After Emily and Phil agreed to help us construct a composter, it took literally 3 days for its completion!

What follows is a description of what I learned from observing Phil and Emily as they built our composter. Please note that the materials used for the construction of our composter are post-industrial, often times available at manufacturing facilities. Perhaps you can apply these insights to the construction of your own composter; after all, as Phil’s shirt said on day 1 of building our composter, “a rind is a terrible thing to waste!”

First, you need to find a material that will become the composter; Phil suggested wood or a combination of wood and chicken wire. The composter, in concept, should be open to the ground and the sky but have a retractable “roof” to keep rainwater and critters out. It should have at least one 4-walled compartment for the compost and preferably another for the compost that is farther along in the “process.” In other words, in having two compartments for compost, one can move a batch of compost to the compartment reserved for the more “mature” compost mix, while keeping the other compartment for the freshies. Make sense? It will!

As per Phil’s and Emily’s ingenious suggestion, we decided to use post-industrial wood pallets for our composter. We have a ton of wood pallets in-house, as that is what our material comes on when we receive it. While normally we recycle these pallets by selling them to wood re-processors, Dordan just so happened to have a bunch in-house waiting for shipment. Coincidence? I think not!

After inspecting our wood pallet selection (Dordan uses many different shapes and sizes of wood pallets and therefore we had several “types” to choose from), Phil determined that those of a more “narrow” disposition would be the best for conversion into a composter. These more narrow pallets measure roughly 4 ½ feet by 2 feet, are made of solid pine wood, and have no iky additives added. Here is a picture of the skids selected, for your viewing pleasure:

We collected about a half a dozen of these wood pallets and Phil went on to “piratize” them into a very sophisticated composter, consisting of two compartments with a retractable “side.” This retractable side will allow us to mix the concoction, add more materials without having to lift it the 4 ½ feet required to access the compartments, and check in on the status of the compost.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

After we decided on what type of material to use in the construction of the skid, we selected a location. Dordan CEO Daniel Slavin suggested it be behind the future farm plot but close to a Dordan entrance/exit to make for easy maintenance. This is what we decided on:

The types of tools and amenities needed for a construction project of this character are:

Air gun

Extension cord

Electrical outlet 

Reciprocating saw

Circular saw and ear muffs

Hammer

Nails, screws

Measuring tape

Pry bar

And some handy-man know how!

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

Tune in tomorrow to learn what Phil and Emily come up with!!!

Greetings world!

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

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

Strinking a pose!

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

Compost

Because a rind is a terrible thing to waste!

Here here, Phil!

Ha!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dordan land available for conversion to farm plot

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

Available land with Dordan to the right

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

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

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

Imagine the stakes, too!

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

Measuring the width of the plot

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

How Dordan can protect the plot

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

Measuring length of plot

A man on a mission!

Where the plot will end due to existing vegetation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there access to water?

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

Is there access to elecetricity?

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

Is there storage space for our tools?

Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

Ok, this is gunna be a biggie.

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

Do we want a vermin composter, I asked myself?

Do we want a tumbler?

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

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

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

I wrote,

Hey,

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

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

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

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

Thanks for your time!

Chandler

And her response,

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

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

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

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

I knew I liked her…

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

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

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

Hey,

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

Thanks buddy!

And his response,

Hey Chandler,

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

Have a great weekend!

Hmmm, experimental you say? Sounds far out!

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

Anywhoo I wrote,

Hey bud,

Happy Friday!

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

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

Thanks!

Chan

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

Visit these links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://groworganic.com/item_GCO201_CanOWorms.html

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check it out, how silly:

WORRMMSSS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greetings,

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

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

Again, thanks a bunch for your time today!

Chandler

That day he responded,

Hi Chandler.

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

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

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

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

Best of luck!

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

Chandler,

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

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

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

Hope that helps.

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

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

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

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!

PET exports and EPR?

June 22, 2010

Hello my packaging and sustainability friends! It is great to be back. The wedding was a wonderful affair; everyone had a gay ole time!

Look how pretty the Bride is, who coincidently, is this sister of the author of this blog!

My sister is such a beautiful bride!

I’m so proud!

Anyway, enough emotional embellishments, let’s get down to business.

Prior to leaving for the wedding, I sent out a boat load of emails, inquiring into this and that. The first I sent was to my contact in the government who works on waste management policy: I inquired into the amount of plastic bales exported out of the country each year. Because the supply and demand balance is a bit disproportionate in North America (HUGE demand; limited supply due to limited collection and quality), a colleague suggested limiting the amount of PET recyclate that leaves the country. Here’s what I wrote:

Greetings my friend!

Hello!

How goes it?

Do you know how much plastic scrap is exported in Canada each year? Do you know of any legislation or initiatives that look to restrict the amount of plastic bales leaving the country? Or, better yet, do you know anyone that would know this information that you could refer me to?

In addition, your MetroWaste calendar said it no longer collects thermoforms via Blue Box program. Is this true? If so, do you know why? Do you have any contacts at MetroWaste that would be able to explain why certain materials are collected and others are not?

Thanks my lady!

Best,

Chandler

And several hours later, I received the following response:

Chandler,

To answer your questions – we would have no clue how much plastic is exported from Canada every year. To be honest, we have a hard time tracking how much waste is exported, and that’s better tracked than recyclables. The closest we have is a 2007 report from Waste Diversion Ontario, which attempted to track the fate of residential blue box materials. You’ll see that they had many gaps in information, and were only looking at residential materials, not IC&I. But you might be able to find something in here http://www.wdo.ca/files/domain4116/Review%20of%20Blue%20Box%20Material%20Destinations%20Report%20Dec%2014,%202007.pdf   

As for my waste calendar (and to clarify, it’s for the City of Toronto. Metro Waste is a private company), yes it’s true that they aren’t accepting thermoform plastics, and when I called the general city hotline they told me they haven’t accepted them for awhile. I’m not sure of the exact reason, but I’d guess that it’s because they take up lots of space, are difficult to sort, don’t have great end markets, etc. You know the usual. I got a name of someone at the City you could call though…

Have a good weekend!!

The Metro Waste calendar my contact was referring to is literally a calendar, which is distributed to residence of Toronto and explains what materials/packaging types are collected for recycling and what are not. While staying at my friend’s house in Canada, I had the luxury of pursuing said calendar and was surprised to learn that the Blue Box program does not collect thermoforms. I found this surprising because several food-packaging thermoformers have recently released press pieces that explain how they will now be buying, cleaning, and extruding thermoforms into second generation thermoforms. How is this true if Canada, which has a much much better packaging diversion rate, doesn’t even collect and bale these materials for post-consumer market?

And, for your viewing pleasure, I thought I would include some of OUR EPR legislation. This stuff comes from California and helps put into context the way some of this legislation works. You can subscribe to this organization so you receive updates of all EPR legislation in California; oh boy!

—–Original Message—–

From: EPR@calrecycle.ca.gov [mailto:EPR@calrecycle.ca.gov]

Sent: Thursday, June 17, 2010 8:00 PM

To: cslavin@dordan.com

Subject: CA Product Stewardship Bills: Legislative Update

CalRecycle Extended Producer Responsibility

This is an update on the product stewardship bills in the California Legislature.  This information is constantly changing.  Bills may be tracked at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov.

– SB 1100 (Corbett) Product stewardship: household batteries. Introduced Feb. 17, 2010.  Last amended June 15, 2010.  This bill would require producers of household batteries to, among other things, submit, individually or through a stewardship organization, a product stewardship plan to CalRecycle.  This bill is active and currently in the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials.

– AB 1343 (Huffman) Solid waste: architectural paint recovery program.  Introduced Feb. 27, 2009.  Last amended in the Senate on July 13, 2009. This bill would create the Architectural Paint Recovery Program and require paint manufacturers to, among other things, develop and implement a program to collect, transport, and process postconsumer paint to reduce the costs and environmental impacts of the disposal of postconsumer paint in California.  This bill is currently held under submission in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

– AB 2139 (Chesbro) Solid waste: product stewardship. Introduced Feb. 18, 2010.  Last amended June 1, 2010. This bill would create the California Product Stewardship Act and would require, among other things, CalRecycle to submit a report to the Legislature with recommendations on products to include in a product stewardship program.  This bill failed passage from the Assembly Appropriations Committee and is no longer active.

– AB 2176 (Blumenfield) Hazardous waste: lighting products. Introduced Feb. 18, 2010.  Last amended April 22, 2010.  This bill would create the California Lighting Toxics Reduction and Jobs in Recycling Act and require producers of certain lamps to, among other things, submit a stewardship plan to the Department of Toxic Substances Control. This bill is currently held under submission in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

– AB 2398 (Perez) Product stewardship: carpet. Introduced Feb. 19, 2010.  Last amended on May 28, 2010.  This bill would require, among other things, carpet manufacturers to submit, individually or through a stewardship organization, a product stewardship plan to CalRecycle.  This bill is active and currently scheduled to be heard in the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on June 28, 2010.

-The CalRecycle EPR Team

To subscribe to or unsubscribe from the Extended Producer Responsibility listserv or other listservs, please go to http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/listservs.

While this legislation obviously does not concern packaging, it does help—at least for me—convey how these concepts may be applied to packaging waste in the future.

Tune in tomorrow to learn about, or attempt to learn about, how to quantify the environmental burdens associated with using inks, laminates and adhesives on fiber-based packaging applications. Its certainly is confusing!

Thanks for listening! My blog has had over 1,300 views! I feel like Julia from Julia and Julia! SOOOO exciting!

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!

Recap # 3: SPC meeting

April 29, 2010

Greetings my packaging and sustainability friends!

Guess what: I have a meeting with our City Official on Monday to determine what the economics are governing waste management in our region (Woodstock, IL). After all, municipalities are the bodies that dictate to haulers like Waste Management what materials should be recovered post-consumer. If we want to figure out why non-bottle rigids (clamshells) are not recycled in our region, perhaps we should talk with those who determine what materials should be collected in the first place!

Before I get ahead of myself (I still have to summarize all my recent findings about non-bottle rigid recycling and PET recycling via the American Chemistry Council’s research), shall I recap my experiences from the SPC meeting in Boston last week?

Well, Boston itself is a BEAUTIFUL city; it is the most “European-like” city I have been to in the States. Like Chicago, Boston has lots of classic architecture juxtaposed with modern, glass and steel structures, which makes for a very aesthetically interesting skyline.

ohhhhh

The lonnnggeesttttt building

Historic!

While there, I went to my first professional hockey game: The Bruins in the first game of the playoffs! It was totally radical! Very barbaric and hedonistic, with all the fighting, cheering, eating and drinking; I now know why it is one of America’s favorite past-times!

Hurray!

The spring conference for the Sustainable Packaging Coalition was okay. Granted the volcanic eruption made it difficult for several international speakers to attend—thereby making SPC staff scramble to find new speakers last minute—the content of the presentations was still a little “fluffy,” in my opinion. Perhaps my disappointment with the content can also be attributed to the fact that the only other SPC conference I attended marks the beginning of my career at Dordan. Consequentially, all the information presented at that conference was super new and exciting and I acted as a sponge, sucking it all up. Because I have been doing nothing but researching since the fall SPC conference, maybe my understanding of “sustainability” has reached an elevation that requires increasingly technical presentations in order to satiate my appetite. That being said, I did learn several things from the presenters.

The first presentation I sat in on titled “Using the SPC’s Indicators and Metrics Framework” discussed how to use the SPC’s metrics for sustainable packaging in the procurement of LCA and LCI data. It appears as though these metrics can be used to determine life cycle inventory data for certain processes, thereby helping to establish a base line for companies such as ours to measure sustainability improvements upon. This is what I learned:

  • “Gate-to-gate” means the environmental inputs (energy, water, etc.) and outputs (greenhouse gas equivalent emissions) required/emitted during the production of extruded roll stock through the conversion phase for the manufacture of thermoformed packages. In other words, data that pertains to Dordan’s operations of ownership i.e. the roll stock we buy to convert to thermoformed packages. You dig?
  • “Cradle-to-gate” means the inputs and outputs required/emitted during the raw material extraction. This term can also extend further throughout the supply chain i.e. to the converter or CPG company. Basically, it is a designated point along the supply chain that aids those in the procurement of LCI data.
  • “LCI” means life cycle inventory data and it takes into consideration the inputs and outputs required/emitted throughout the entire life cycle of a product/material/etc. This is organizational-specific data and is concerned primarily with the environmental profiles of PROCESSES i.e. extrusion, conversion, fulfillment, etc.
  • Eco-invent is a free LCA database; however, many LCA databases are proprietary and costly to gain subscription tooL.
  • At least three different LCI data entries are required to validate the industry average data (LCA)…this is confusing to me, too.

Because of the “rules” governing the conference, I am unable to provide the name of the presenter/speaker or the company/organization that he/she represents.

That being said, the key note speaker for the conference was speaking on behalf of a very prominent NGO dedicated to the environment. This speaker gave a very insightful but somber presentation on how our world’s current approaches to production and consumption are NOT sustainable; not even close. According to this presentation, “the current demand for the Earth’s resources is 1.25 times what scientists believe our plant can sustain. And by the way, that’s with 6 billion people—not the 9 billion world population predicted by mid-century.” The main argument of this presentation was that we need to increase the production on our already-producing land (land for agriculture) while not further depleting our natural resource reserves (water, top soil, biotic resources, etc.). Basically, we need to be much smarter and innovate in order to continue utilizing our land for the production of food. This argument curtailed on another, which was further explicated in a latter seminar titled “Bio-material Procurement;” in a nut shell, we should not use our already strained agricultural land to grow materials like corn for the feedstock of the next generation of bio-based polymers because this land is already required for the production of FOOD for our ever-growing and consuming population.

WOW, I have already rattled a lot. How about I stop for today and continue to expand on the conference in tomorrow’s post.

Thanks for listening!

Oh, and just for fun, here are some pcitures of a Bostonian street performer and our Sales Manager, so eager to assist!

Juggling mean things

Ha! Go Aric!

Day 18: Nov. 3, 2009

February 23, 2010

I felt as though I had hit a road block; while Robert’s kind words were encouraging, I felt like there was nothing I could do as an individual to create an end market for clamshells post-consumer, either as non-beverage PET flake or mixed rigid plastic flake. Perhaps on the vehicle of collaboration, we would be able to come up with the quantity necessary to create an end market for this homeless material…

I then started the following discussion on greenerpackage.com:

Where does the plastics industry go from here?

As Sean Sabre pointed out in a recent post, there is no recycling market for non-beverage PET flake i.e. the PET used in thermoformed packages (to veiw this discussion, visit http://www.greenerpackage.com/discuss/recycling/recovery_series_-_topic_2_universal_pet_recyclability_myth).

According to various contacts at Waste Management, this is because those who buy the balled PET beverage containers to recycle into other products do not want PET clams, blisters or components as it compromises the feedstock of the PET bottle flake. In other words, because PET beverage bottles have the same IV, additives and chemical properties, the quantity of that type of material is there, which allows for there to be an end market for it. Contrarily, the PET used in thermoformed packages has different properties depending on the additives used for the specific packaging application i.e. food, medical, consumer goods. Therefore, the quantity of the same type of PET is not available for the creation of an end market for this material. At the same time, however, there is a market for this type of material on the East and West coasts (“non-traditional rigid containers”) because China and other international markets undergoing industrialization buy this material for its stored energy value. In a nut shell: we can’t recycle it if the quantity is not there, which inherently means there is no market for the end life of these types of PET.

Where do we go from here? Do we, as an industry, decide on using one type of material per application i.e. one PET type for food, medical, and consumer goods in order to ensure the quantity of material necessary for the development of an end market for said material? Do we “down-cycle,” via Pyrolysis? Do we switch to PLA or other bio-resins, which require more energy to produce than traditional, fossil-based plastics and require the existence of commercial composting facilities, which are far and few a dozen? As an industry, we must collaborate if we want to reach our shared goals of sustainability.

If interested in the comments to this post, visit http://www.greenerpackage.com/discuss/thermoformed_packaging/where_does_plastic_industry_go_here

Once I reached out to the larger packaging community about my concerns as a packaging professional, I sent the following email to a project manager at the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. As the tone of my above conversation implies, I was hoping that collaboration would begin with member companies of the SPC:

Hey,

Just out of curiosity, do you have any relationship with SPI (Society of the Plastic Industry) or other packaging trade organizations? I have begun a dialogue with said organization in regard to the SPI resin identification numbers and the feasibility of recycling non-beverage PET flake i.e. clamshells, blisters and thermoform components. We are trying to figure out a way to recapture our thermoformed packages, which currently are not recycled. We can’t decide if a closed loop system would be best, as is in the case with electronics and batteries, or if working with the existing recycling infrastructure would be more beneficial.

What is the SPC’s stance on the feasibility of recycling non beverage PET flake? Do you think a project like this would be something of interest for the SPC?

Best,

Chandler

Let’s hope the SPC wants to help! Tune in tomorrow for more exciting happenings in the world of sustainable packaging initiatives!

Day 17: Nov. 2, 2009

February 22, 2010

After being copied on an introductory email to the plastics marketing rep of Waste Management, I called him, hoping he would be able to provide some clarification into why clamshells are not recycled in most American communities.

This is how I summarized my conversation with the plastics marketing rep of WM to Robert:

Hey Robert,

I spoke with the plastics marketing rep from Waste Management about the feasibility of finding a market for non-beverage PET flake (the educational director at WM said that the buyers of PET specify that they don’t want PET clams in the PET beverage bales) and he said that the economics don’t support it. In other words, because of the different properties of the different types of PET (RPET, REPTG, APET, etc.), buyers of balled PET only want bottles as they have the same properties and therefore can be recycled into a new product with the same properties i.e. the green plastic cables that are used to strap components together. Also, the quantity is not there, as in the case with PET bottles, so finding a market for PET clams doesn’t seem possible in this economic environment. However, on the east and west coasts, there is a market for “non-traditional” rigid containers insofar as China will buy them to regrind and make new product.

I feel as though I have been shot! I am cooking up another idea, however, that looks to work with a retailer OR a consumer electronic producer.

The plastic rep from WM said I should look into PLA (he said that it can degrade in a landfill?) or waste-to-energy. I know how you feel about “down recycling” but he told me of a company in Madison, Wisconsin, that takes “non traditional” plastics i.e. films, foams, etc. and blends them with coal to produce steam to create electricity. He said that this is cheaper than landfilling and that the energy is being used to power U of W.

What is a plastic thermoformer to do in order to become more sustainable? Now that I have shelved the recycling idea, I don’t know the next best place to look…

If you have any insight, please let me know!

Again, thanks for all your help; I am very glad I met you!

Oh, the bitter taste of defeat.

The plastics marketing rep of WM is the one who is responsible for finding a supplier and buyer of post-consumer plastic material. Therefore, he is the guy who would be able to explain why there is no buyer of non-beverage PET flake (RPET and PET thermoforms). This is what he told me:

There is no buyer of non-beverage PET flake because no one has every invested the time or money necessary to set up this infrastructure, find a buyer, outline the specs, etc. As WM has become more sophisticated, we have been able to recycle a lot more materials than previously recycled; therefore, non-bottle PET is just another material that we are working towards being able to recycle but have not done so successfully yet.

The reason buyers of PET bottle flake do not want PET/RPET thermoforms is because of the possibility of contamination (one PVC clam could contaminate the whole bale), and the different IV between PET bottle grade and PET thermoform grade, which makes for differences in the way things “fly” and “melt” while being repossessed.  

Okay… this seems complicated but not that complicated. I know from previous conversations with Robert that most cities in California accept and recycle plastics 1-7 because of the Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989, which requires local governments to reach a 50% diversion rate. This Act, consequentially, has facilitated the creation of new end markets for these materials post-consumer, which unfortunately, is not the case here.

Do we need to have legislation enacted to provide the motivation to find an end market for mixed rigid plastic containers and packages?

I then received the following email from Robert, which was very much needed in this time of defeat:

Chandler,

Try not to be discouraged.  These things take a long time to sort through and creating markets for materials is challenging to say the least!  There isn’t just an answer out there waiting to be found.  These things need to be teased into existence.  They need people (like you) to keep stoking the fire, prodding things along, and creating pressure.  Keep at it and you’ll come up with something that’ll work.  Maybe it’ll be a few things…at first…small scale.  Then maybe one will take off. 

The thing about recyclers is that they like what they know (even with Starbucks, they’re facing lots of concerns from recyclers accepting their cups with corrugated).  They know PET bottles…so they’re nervous about anything else.  Even if it were exactly the same they’d be nervous…so it’d be a matter of either proving through massive testing that it will work the same, or going for another grade of plastic.  If you created a new grade of plastic material with its own unique specifications, then everybody would know what to expect from the start.  Now…you’d have to have somebody lined up who can use that plastic…  It’s a bit of a paradox really…you can’t collect/bale the plastic if there’s nobody to buy/use it, but nobody is going to buy/use it unless there’s a good, steady supply of the stuff with consistent specifications…

Also, PLA will not degrade in the landfill; it requires a commercial composting facility. 

Have you considered moving away from single-use thermoformed containers and into more durable containers?  Can you make durable containers with the same process?  More and more places are feeling the push both from regulators and the public to go green…some are doing it through switching to PLA, some go to cornstarch, and some are going to reusables.  Eat-in facilities rather than take-out.  Options to fill customer’s dishes with food rather than their own single-use containers.  Or even the concept that’s being used with some food manufacturers (deli meats come to mind) where they sell their food product in a container that can be used again and again at home for leftovers…not for refilling its original product…but reused nonetheless.. 

Well, I’ve rambled on long enough!  Don’t give up!!!  We need people like you in industry!!

Robert

What a guy! Tune in tomorrow for more about recycling in America!

Day 16: Oct. 29, 2009

February 19, 2010

Happy Friday! Spring is just around the corner! I hope everyone has splendid plans for the weekend; if you live in Chicago, you should subscribe to groupon.com, which emails you coupons for the best deals in town everyday! I am cashing in on one of them tonight…

Anyway, let’s resume our clamshell recycling narrative:

Grateful for the educational tour guide’s detailed responses to my inquiries about recycling clamshells, I sent her the following email upon arrival to the office:

Hello,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply; I really appreciate it. I am going to investigate the websites you supplied in the email. In the mean time, please feel free to connect me with your plastic rep.

Thank you again for your feedback!

Best,

Chandler

After sending this into the plasma that is the internet, I began going through my inbox, eager to find anything that would continue to provide direction for this clamshell recycling initiative.

The first was from the Sales Director of the SPI, responding to my phone call follow up email:

Chandler,

Sorry to be late in my response.   I am working on putting you in touch with the people who can better answer your questions.   Unfortunately, between vacations and a benchmarking conference we are sponsoring this week, I am having difficulty getting in touch with those people.

However, we will be in touch with you shortly.  

Thanks again for your interest in SPI.

Okay, sounds good. Next I found a response from the APR (Association of Post-consumer Recyclers) in regard to my inquiry about this organization:

Chandler,

Thank you for your interest in plastics recycling and the APR. I have attached a membership application for your review. Please take a look and let me know if you have any questions. I look forward to working with you.

Thanks!

I downloaded and opened the application.

Apparently, depending on your level of engagement with recycling/recycled plastics, different membership categories ensue:

Description of Membership Categories:

  • Full Membership—those companies actively engaged – in North America – in performing physical operations of any kind on post-consumer plastics as part of the process of recycling such plastics. (Please see brochure for detailed definition)
  • Affiliate Membership—companies that do not qualify for Full Membership and that have a direct business stake in the recycling of post-consumer plastics, except brokers. 

Moreover, depending on which kind of membership you apply for, different fees ensure, which is based on your capacity for engaging in the process of recycling post-consumer plastics.

Dordan Mfg. has a closed loop system with its material supplier in which we grind our scrap post-industrial and sell it back to our suppliers to be formed into sheets for future conversion. Therefore, while we do engage in a process of recycling (collecting and grinding our post-industrial scrap), I don’t believe we can qualify for full membership because it specifies post-consumer, as opposed to post-industrial, recycling processes.

Hmmmm…I don’t know if this pertains to us exactly….And, there are annual membership fees…perhaps I can persuade my Superior to consider this?

            …ten minutes later…

As in the case with joining NAPCOR, my boss doesn’t see the economic justification for joining the APR at this point in time: the economy is bizarre and he already brought me on as the Sustainability Coordinator; my role, he explained and continues to emphasize, is to understand sustainability from the role of a packaging professional in order to further the success of Dordan and implement logistical, economically viable initiatives: “Don’t let your passions get in the way,” he said to me. Again, another realization that this was not a school project but a profession that only exists as long as it is economically sustainable.

So, now that I have researched the various recycling trade groups but am unable to apply for membership, there has to be more things I can do to further this clamshell recycling initiative…

Luckily, I received an email from the educational tourguide at Recycle America, a division of Waste Management, following through with her offer to put me in touch with some people that may be able to help forward my clamshell recycling initiative:

Chandler,

You should be seeing two emails with you copied on them as an introductory.  One will be to our plastic rep and the other will be to one of our municipality reps.

The educational tourguide copied me on the following emails:

Hello,

Chandler Slavin is inquiring about the market challenges of clamshell containers among other things.  As a Sustainable Coordinator for his company and a member of the IoPP (Institute of Packaging Professionals), she wants direction on how to go about researching best practice collections for the packaging his company creates.  Could you spare a few minutes to answer some more specific marketing questions?

And:

Hello,

Chandler Slavin is inquiring about the recycling challenges of clamshell containers among other things.  As a Sustainable Coordinator for her company and a member of the IoPP (Institute of Packaging Professionals), she wants direction on how to go about researching best practice collections for the packaging his company creates and asked if she should look into questioning the municipalities as a part of this research.  Could you spare a few minutes to answer some more specific municipality questions?

Thanks!

Groooooooovy. Tune in on Monday to learn more about the intricacies of recycling and waste management in America.