WOW. I don’t even know where to begin.

Consider this a “how-to” perform a waste audit post; however, as the narrative unfolds, perhaps it will be interpreted more as a “how-to-NOT” perform a waste audit. UG!

Ok, yesterday I attempted to conduct Dordan’s first “waste audit.” To recap, the point of conducting a waste audit is to determine exactly what kind of waste your company generates in order to start outlining an action plan for achieving zero-waste. Because we are looking to reach zero-waste, we obviously need to know what kind of waste we generate in order to find a way to recycle it, reuse it, or switch it to a more recyclable material. Ya dig?

And to recap my recap, this all started with Dordan’s CEO saying he wanted to get a composter. In my last post I explained how in search for the “right” composter I learned that I needed to figure out how much “compostables” we generate in order to determine the kind and size of composter we should buy. After all, there are like a million different kinds of composters with different volume requirements and what not. Therefore, I came to the wonderful conclusion that we needed to conduct a waste audit.

Not to tout my own horn or anything, but I consider myself a pretty tough cookie; that’s why the idea of single-handedly jumping into our central dumpster and pulling out the different material types to weigh didn’t really intimidate me. After all, as long as I had gloves and a mask and other protective gear, it should be a piece of cake, right?

I approached yesterday full of optimism. Thanks to the helpful insight of my network, I had compiled all the necessary “tools” to perform my waste audit:

I had a scale, capable of weighing material up to 250 lbs;

My trusty pen and pad of paper, to write down the various materials and corresponding weights;

My pretty pink tub that would hold the different material types thereby allowing me to weigh said material;

And, a funny marshmallow suit, super duper gloves and a face mask. Look, I am positively pumped!

Around 10:30 yesterday, after taking an early lunch of a hot dog with everything, a cheeseburger with everything, a fry and coke (I knew I would be exerting myself and therefore wanted to consume the most nutritious meal I could envision), I approach Dordan’s central dumpster, ready to dumpster dive.

This is what I had to work with:

After lowering myself into the rather full dumpster (trash pick up comes twice a week; therefore, I waited until it was its fullest prior to pick up so I could get the most accurate data), I began sifting through our waste.

To start, it wasn’t all that bad. Most of the stuff in the dumpster was industrial waste, like cardboard, dirty plastic scrap that we can’t recycle, plastic strapping, metal bits from whatever, plastic rejects, heavy brown paper, etc.

See, here’s a bin full of wood-scrap, not scary at all:

Here I am still looking rather optimistic, with a bin full of plastic film to weigh:

As the time past, however, and I kept…

Jumping in the dumpster;

Throwing the desirable material type out of the dumpster;

Climbing out of the dumpster, which got increasingly difficult based on the ever-declining volume in the dumpster;

 “Binning” the desired material in my pink bin;

Weighing the bin;

Throwing the contents of the bin into another bin so as not to throw the material back into the central dumpster, whose bottom I was determined to find;

And; doing it all over again with other materials…

It got really, really, really, really hot. I don’t think I can stress how hot it was—no air conditioning, a ninety degree day, direct sun, stinky garbage, plastic suit, latex gloves under heavy-duty gloves, and constantly jumping in and out and in and out and I think you get the picture. If not, I have conveniently included one below!

Going to the office to cool down mid-audit

After 5 hours of this (literally, I am not exaggerating) I realized that the end of the day was fast approaching and I had not even gotten to Dordan’s wet waste i.e. food waste, bathroom waste and office waste. Luckily this waste was bagged prior to being tossed in the central dumpster so it was easy to isolate this waste from the more “industrial waste,” described above. Due to the ever-impinging time constrains and my desperate need for a shower prior to sitting on the Metra for an hour and a half, I decided, with the input of our office manager, to put our un-weighed “wet waste” in our now empty garbage cans to be dealt with tomorrow (which is now, today). We stashed these wet waste bins in an air conditioned room in the plant so as to attempt to preserve their “freshness.”

The next day, which is conveniently, today, I got suited up again, with the hopes of going through our wet waste in order to determine how much of it is food waste, office paper, paper towels, etc.

I pulled the wet waste garbage bins from the air conditioned room in the factory. I re-collected all my auditing “tools” i.e. scale, bin, etc. I laid down a tarp, (which was really plastic bags tapped to the floor), and began ripping open the various bags. See:

And another glam-shot:

This is the wet waste after emptying on the tarp:

While it may look harmless, it was actually super duper duper gross: there were maggots, flies, other creepy-crawlers, super gross smells, soiled everything, and whatever: trash. Enough said?

I started to panic/have a minor breakdown. I quickly started lumping the paper towel waste with the food waste (it was impossible to segregate; everything was soiled with everything else), which conveniently contained a ton of maggots, and throwing them in the not-so-pretty-anymore pink bin, to attempt to weigh.  

My attempt to weigh a wet waste bin…cleary no segregation of materials:

This lasted for about a half an hour until I realized that this was not going to generate accurate data because everything was commingled past the point of recognition. After getting as good of a reading as I could without vomiting all over myself, I threw everything back onto the makeshift tarp, took up the corners, and threw in the central dumpster. This, however, did not go as smoothly as I envisioned, with some wet waste spilling onto the factory floor in front of the dumpster.

After that I did the I-got-ants-in-my-pants dance back to the office, where I jumped into our un-heated shower.

SO GROSS.

WAAAAAAA

So this is what all my misery can now teach you, my packaging and sustainability friends about how-to-conduct your first waste audit.

Try NOT to conduct a waste audit on a super hot day.

Have someone HELP you. I envision my non-existent assistant standing outside of the dumpster, collecting the material I throw out, weighing it, and moving it to another bin. That way I wouldn’t have to keep jumping in and out and in and out again.

Get a bigger bin to weigh the desired materials in (I spent a lot of time breaking the corrugate down to a size I could stuff in the bin).

Get a ladder to place in the dumpster to allow you to climb out of, if no assistant is available.

Get a REAL tarp; not plastic bags tapped together and to the floor.

Try not to sweat all over your notes; it makes the ink run and your data confused.

Have water handy.

And, if possible, prior to conducting your first waste audit, have your employees SEPARATE their food waste from their food packaging and their paper towel waste for at least a week. This way, it won’t all become this solid mass of grossness keeping you from getting an accurate reading of the food waste versus paper towel waste versus food packaging waste.

Ok, I feel as though I have vented a bit and can resume being a normal person. People are right, writing is a good release!

Tune in tomorrow to learn what I do with the results of our first waste audit.

Day 20: Nov. 6th, 2009

February 26, 2010

Happy Friday!!!

Sorry I did not post yesterday; I was at the Dental Show at McCormick place in Chicago, doing research on how that medical industry is interpreting sustainability. You can check out my picture with the tooth fairy at: http://images.pictureu.com/photos/3MDD/01/highresb/3MDD010010.jpg.

Good times!

Anyway, the project manager from the SPC would prefer if I did not post any of our correspondences to my blog; therefore, she is working on putting me in touch with a colleague in Australia who would have the information she provided to me about recycling non-beverage PET via previous emails.

In the meantime, shall we resume our recycling narrative?

On Nov. 6th I came into the office feeling good; I had sent out 50 of our RPET samples to the MRF at Waste Management, where they would be run through the optical sorter to see if they are “read” like PET bottles and therefore of similar material. By understanding the way our material moves through the sorting technologies at Waste Management, we will gain a better understanding of what obstacles are keeping our RPET packages from being recycled with PET bottles.

The logic is: our RPET is made out of PET bottles; therefore, why not recycle our thermoformed RPET packages along with PET bottles, to be sold back again to our material suppliers, who grind the PET bottles down and create rolls that we consequentially form into new RPET packages. Get it?

I wonder how long for the results…?

I sent the educational tourguide of Recycle America, a division of Waste Management, the following email:

Hey!

I just wanted to drop you a quick email updating you on the status of our recycling initiative:

I got into contact with an IL Rep who suggested I send him 50 of our RPET clamshell samples to run through their optical sorting technology to see if our material is compatible with the PET bottle material. If so, perhaps we can find an end-of-life market for our RPET packages within the existing recycling infrastructure for PET bottle material. If not, then at least we have eliminated one of many material recovery options. I will let you know the status of the test as soon as I do.

I just wanted to follow up with you as you have been so helpful to me; I really appreciate you putting me in contact with people at WM who can help implement our recycling initiative.

Just out of curiosity, do you know who has or where there is optical sorting technology (municipality/regional)? Moreover, do you know where or by whom mixed plastic is collected (once the PET bottles have been sorted out)?

Thanks again for all your help. I can’t wait to find an end-of-life market for our packages!

By the by, do you need any information about plastic packaging as it relates to sustainability issues? I know that a lot of consumers are misinformed about the environmental attributes of different packaging materials and if you needed accurate data about plastics’ environmental advantages and disadvantages in order to inform the consumer for better buyer decisions, please let me know. I would love to provide you with a plastic packaging sustainability profile for you to educate your tour guests and give them the tools they need to identify green washing and manipulative environmental advertising.

Thanks again and I look forward to speaking with you soon!

Best,

Chandler

While working on this recycling project, I was also juggling a lot of other sustainability initiatives. At the fall members-only meeting of the SPC in Atlanta, someone mentioned greenerpackage.com to me as a great site for knowledge exchange about issues pertaining to sustainability and packaging. Ever since, I frequent this site daily, taking part in conversations and eager to get the “truth” out about the sustainability of plastic (I had conducted a ton of research about plastic versus other packaging materials in the context of sustainability and was delighted to find that because its lightweight and versatile character, it actually saves energy in manufacture, conversion, shipping, etc. when compared to more dense materials; and, plastic doesn’t comprise the most landfilled packaging material—paper does! And (I could go on and on), although plastic is made from a non-renewable energy source, it actually consumes less water, biotic and natural resources and releases less greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when compared with pulp and paper manufacturing. All this information, with references, is available at www.dordan.com under the “Sustainability” tab).

ANYWAY, I got hooked up with a bunch of people at greenerpackage.com, who enjoyed what I was doing and wanted to help Dordan and our sustainability initiatives. The business director of greenerpackage.com is one contact whom I continue to talk with; she has been a great help and continues to be a sounding board for a lot of my inquiries.

Once I described my recycling initiative to her, she suggested I get in contact with her colleague at the Sustainability Consortium, which is an industry group that works with retailers and consumer goods companies on a variety of sustainability initiatives. One initiative is the Sustainability Index—a database that identifies materials for end-of-life recycling, reuse, and recovery.

After purusing their website (www.sustainabilityconsortium.com), I sent the following email of inquiry:

Hello,

My name is Chandler Slavin—I am the Sustainability Coordinator at Dordan Manufacturing, which is a Midwestern-based customer design thermoformer of plastic clamshell and blister packages. I have been researching issues pertaining to sustainability and packaging for several months now, and am in the process of finding an end-of-life market for our plastic packaging. We currently are members of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, which is a project of GreenBlue, and are subscribers to COMPASS, a comparative life cycle assessment tool.

As per an email from the business director of greenerpackage.com on which you were attached, I was wondering if you could provide me with information on the Sustainability Index as it relates to identification of materials for end-of-life scenarios. After visiting your web-site, I understand your approach to the Sustainability Index but am curious how this index will work with the Wal-Mart scorecard, SPC’s metrics for sustainable packaging, and the various other metrics developed by environmental groups and NGO’s. Moreover, how will packaging factor into this index, that is developed primarily for consumer goods retailers?

Moreover, how can I get involved with the Consortium as a packaging professional in the field of sustainability? How can I help further the goals of the Consortium?

Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Best,

Chandler

Have a splendid weekend! Tune in Monday for more recycling in American deliciousness!