Feedback from Pack Expo

October 26, 2011

Hey!

Sooo Pack Expo was awesome! It’s the first time we exhibited at that show and were really glad we did—tons of traffic and new opportunities. And Vegas is awesome! We stayed at the Cosmopolitan, which is probably the nicest hotel in a super tacky yet classy sort of way, if that’s possible. Here is a picture of the view from my room:

And here is me in a large shoe:

We had A LOT of interest in the Bio Resin Show N Tell at the Show, which acted as an awesome way to “lure” attendees into our booth. I find that when you have some type of interactive exhibit that establishes a foundation for talking points, it’s a lot easier to engage with booth passerbyers. Show attendees seemed impressed with our level of insight into “sustainability” and packaging and appreciated how we didn’t sugar coat anything in regards to myths of THE sustainable material or package. It also seemed as though the level of understanding around issues of sustainable packaging has increased throughout the industry as a lot of people articulated a pretty thorough grasp of the realities of “green” packaging insofar as cost and performance is concerned. That which seemed enlightening to those who participated in the Bio Resin Show N Tell, however, was the clarification between bio-based plastics and compostable/biodegradable plastics. Contrary to popular belief, just because something is bio-based doesn’t mean it is “biodegradable.” In discussions of bio-based PET, in which the PlantBottle is a prime example, the only difference between PET and bio-PET is where the carbon comes from: fossil fuel or agricultural bi-products. Therefore, the chemistry of the polymer is identical to traditional, fossil-based PET, though its feedstock comes partially from a new (plants), as opposed to old (fossil fuel), carbon source. It wasn’t until I sat through a 4-hour workshop with professor Dr. Ramani Naraya that I finally understood this seemingly simple concept, which initially appeared as complicated as the physics of worm holes.

Also appreciated were the COMPASS LCA-tutorials. Here we introduced the comparative packaging software and described how to use it to design more sustainable packaging and have the data to back up the assumed sustainability improvements. Everyone was pretty surprised at the ease of useability and how the tool could be used to provide marketing departments with concrete data to inform environmental marketing language. i.e. this package releases 20% less GHG emissions throughout it’s life when compared with the previous design! At the same time, however, we emphasized data gaps in the LCI metrics and how the tool should be understood more as a COMPASS (tells you where you are going) than a GPS (where you are).

Probably the silliest happening from the Show was in constructing our booth the day before when we realized we brought the wrong company name sign! Instead of reading “Dordan,” the name of the company, it read “custom thermoformed packaging solutions since 1962!” Quite the mouth-full, ha! I loved the bewildered look on people’s faces as they consulted their Show itinerary to verify our booth location only to learn the Marketing Manager, ahem, me, made a boo boo. C’est le vie!

Our next post will provide feedback from the SPC meeting. Adios!

Hello everyone!

Another gloomy day in Chicago—I can’t wait to go to San Diego next week for the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s spring meeting! AND, I just booked flights to Rogers, Arkansas, for the Walmart SVN meeting and Expo. Though Dordan is not exhibiting this year, I am excited to see what other vendors are offering and get updated on Walmart’s sustainability initiatives!

So I am about half way through TerraCycle CEO Tom Szacky’s book, “Revolution in a Bottle.” It is really, really good, and inspiring! I thoroughly suggest you get yourself a copy today! That which I like so much about his story is his awareness into the economic realities of the market place: one of his main arguments is that the majority of consumers will NOT pay more for a green product; while everyone wants to do well by the environment, few are willing to pay for it. His whole approach, therefore, is to be able to provide green products at a competitive price and performance as those currently on the market. And the best way to do that? Use what is considered waste as your feedstock. BRILLIANT.

I met with TerraCycle’s VP of Global Brigades today to learn more about the logistics of their approach to recycling/reusing hard-to-recycle materials and products. Basically, they have a brand pay to finance the brigades (collection of materials and shipment) and in return, TerraCycle upcycles or recycles the collected materials thereby extending the brand’s life post consumer. It’s a win-win: the brand gets consumers to participate in their identity by collecting it’s waste i.e. Capri-Sun bags, thereby strengthening the consumers relationship with the brand and the brand’s perceived environmental stewardship; the collected “waste” is then recycled/upcycled into new products, further extending the life of the brand and/or creating a value-added product for the market while diverting hard-to-recycle materials from landfill! From how I understand it, TerraCycle is privatizing waste management—cutting out the MRF, brokers, municipalities, etc, and creating a simplistic supply chain based on consumers’ willingness to participate and a team of innovative designers. As discussed numerous times in my Recycling Report, the whole problem with recycling thermoforms is the high cost of manual sortation and the lack of investment in automated sorting technologies. If consumers are doing the sorting themselves at places where people congregate i.e. schools, church, retailers, etc, then the whole issue of manual vs. automated sorting systems at a MRFs is totally bypassed. These materials don’t even make it to the MRF—TerraCycle sort of IS the MRF! Crazy, right?!?!

The wheels are churning upstairs for sure!

So let’s discuss the first part of Narayan’s PPT on the science of biodegradable polymers. Please visit March 16ths post to download the presentation and follow along with my descriptions per slide number.

Part one: Bio-based products concepts

Slide 6: What value proposition to bio-plastics offer?

As discussed in March 16ths post, there are two components to “sustainability” as it pertains to packaging: the carbon footprint of the package and the end of life management of the packaging material. Therefore, today’s discussion will focus specifically on the carbon footprint dimension of the multi-faceted conception of “sustainability.”

Narayan began the first part of the workshop by explaining that bio-based polymers, that is, plastic that derives its feedstock from an annually-renewable resource, like starch, provides a value proposition in the context of material carbon footprint. He states: “Switching from the “petro/fossil” carbon in plastics to “bio-renewable” carbon reduces the material carbon footprint.”

He then went into a discussion of LCA, as many in the industry have argued that petro-based polymers are “better” than bio-based due to the energy-intensive process of creating carbon from bio-based resources as opposed to petro-based resources. And here is what he had to say:

This has nothing to do with the PROCESS. Those who manufacture bio-based polymers must ensure that their process of generating polymers from renewable resources is better than or equal to the existing process of creating polymers from fossil fuel. However, this isn’t your or my problem. I am not advocating that the process of creating plastic from crop residue is not important when understanding the “sustainability” of these non-traditional resins; I am arguing that that discussion is a separate one then the discussion we are having right now, which is understanding how substituting petro-based carbon with bio-derived carbon is a value added proposition in the context of material carbon footprint.

In a nut shell: there is a value proposition in switching from petro-based carbon to bio-based carbon for plastic material feedstock. This value proposition has nothing to do with the manufacturing process of petro vs. bio-based polymers; it has to do with switching from a non-renewable source of carbon to an annually renewable one. If carbon in polymers can originate from non-renewable fossil fuel or annually-renewable crop residue, why not substitute the renewable carbon with the non-renewable!?!

But how do you derive carbon from crop residue for synthesis into bio-based polymers?

Tune in tomorrow for Chemistry 101.

Hello yall! It is a BEAUTIFUL day in Chicago—almost at 60 degrees! I am writing you from my favorite downtown Starbucks. As per my repeated blog statements, today I will begin discussing Dr. Narayan’s workshop on the science of biodegradable/compostable/bio-based polymers.

Context: Dr. Ramani Narayan is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering & Materials Science at MSU. He conducted a four-hour workshop at the Doubletree Resort in Orlando as part of Pira International’s Sustainability in Packaging pre-conference workshops.

Download the presentation here: NARAYAN, Sustainability in Packaging Workshop, Intertech-Pira

Please note that it is extremely technical presentation; therefore, for an explanation of each slide, visit the corresponding blog posts’ sections. Due to the depth and scope of the workshop, this information will be discussed over a series of several blog posts. Today’s focuses only on the introduction of packaging and sustainability in the context of global warming and end of life management.

“Understanding material feedstock choices and end-of-life strategies for Packaging Sustainability: Biobased and Biodegradable/Compostable Plastics”

Introduction:

Narayan is a very entertaining speaker! He began the workshop by jokingly aligning himself with the plastic folk (“are there any paper people in here?!?”), emphasizing that regardless of what camp you fall into, the underlying themes of the workshop are applicable to any packaging material type. Because the allotted time for this workshop was four hours, Narayan began by contextualizing the relationship between the environment and packaging, subsequently explaining the organization of the material to move from a macro to micro level.

The three “legs” of sustainability, which I am sure you are all very familiar with, was the first slide; that which was unique about Narayan’s treatment, however, was his emphasis on “carbon cycling” within the “environmental” leg of the sustainability concept. He then used this emphasis on carbon cycling between land/air/water/energy (renewable vs. fossil) to begin an explanation of global warming, claiming that regardless of if you believe in the concept or not, the reality of the situation is that the amount of carbon in the atmosphere has been substantially increasing since the industrial revolution. While there are natural origins of carbon emissions into the atmosphere i.e. volcanic explosions, the rate at which carbon has increased in our atmosphere is without a doubt the result of human activities inherent in the process of production and distribution.

The second slide illustrated this reality, showing how the “annual emissions to the atmosphere (Pg C),” though rising since the 1850s, dramatically spikes from 1950 to present day.

Narayan explained the whole “global warming” thing as follows: C02 is a heat trapping gas—there is and will always continue to be a healthy amount necessary to sustain the chemistry of the atmosphere. However, the amount of C02 emitted into the atmosphere has dramatically increased since the 1950s. It’s a simple cause and effect relationship: more C02 is being emitted into our atmosphere; C02 is a heat trapping gas. Consequentially, the temperature of the planet will rise, plain and simple. Narayan then argued that our role as stewards is to MANAGE the C02 distribution in our atmosphere, not eliminate it. If we continue to do nothing, the temperature will continue to climb, and eventually, we will reach a “tipping point,” although it is impossible to know when that will be and the inherent repercussions thereof.

Soooo what does this have to do with packaging? Everything—from the Walmart Scorecard to the metrics constructed by the Global Packaging Project, the world of “sustainable packaging” is intent on being able to quantify the “carbon footprint” of it’s product(s)/package(s).

Narayan then explained how there is confusion insofar as carbon footprint is but one of two important concepts when trying to quantify the sustainability of a product/package. Therefore, it is important to understand “sustainable packaging” as living in two different, but related, camps: the first is that of the carbon world; the second, the end of life management world. Neither one is more important than the other—it just depends on what your priorities are.

Taken together, Narayan argued that the two main opportunities facing packaging are: carbon footprint reductions—global warming/climate change issue; and, end-of-life management—recycling, waste-to-energy, biodegradability in targeted disposal systems like composting (compostable plastics). It is important to understand these two opportunities as different but related when making decisions about packaging.

Before moving into a discussion of bio based products concepts, Narayan touches on the notion of “biodegradation.” He explains how “biodegradable” is sort of like the new “it” world as conveyed via consumer preference (“biodegradability” is often cited as the number one desired sustainable packaging attribute in consumer market research studies, though “recyclable” is also a repeated favorite), yet technically, EVERYTHING is biodegradable—we are too! Given time and the environment, everything will break down and be consumed via microorganisms present in the natural environment. However, without specifying a disposal environment in which said product/package will “biodegrade” i.e. industrial composting facilities, anaerobic digestion, etc.—the term means absolutely NOTHING!

He then proposed the following inquiries:

How does your package fit into “sustainability”?
What is the feedstock?
What is the end of life?

We will now move onto a discussion of how to gain a value proposition in the context of packaging material feedstock.

Part 1: Bio-based products concepts

To come.

Thanks for your time my sustainable packaging friends! For those of you attending Greenerpackage’s Sustainable Packaging Symposium in Chicago, have a blast in my city!!!

Hey guys!

Oh man I have so much fun stuff to do so I won’t be able to really post today.

That being said, check out my shout out in Plastics News’ , The Plastics Blog:

One processor’s thoughts on bioplastics

By Don Loepp on June 14, 2010 1:27 PM ET | 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

Bioplastics are a hot topic among recyclers — especially biodegradable resins. Are processors paying attention?

Dordan Manufacturing Co. Inc., a thermoformer in Woodstock, Ill., has been studying the issue for some time, and today Chandler Slavin, the company’s sustainability coordinator, posted a thoughtful item on the topic.

Bio-based plastics, environmental considerations,” on GreenerPackage.com, compares bioplastics like PLA to conventional resins like PET.”Taken together, one would assume that the 2005 Ingeo PLA is a more sustainable option than traditional plastics, as manifest through this study,” she concludes. “However, it is important to take into account the other dimensions discussed above, such as end of life management, complete biodegradation, and sustainable sourcing. By understanding the advantages and disadvantages of bio-based resins from an environmental perspective, packaging professionals can make informed material selections and truly comprehend the ecological ramifications of their packaging selections and designs.”

It’s nice to see a processor taking the time to do the research into the pros and cons of using bioplastics, and I know that Dordan isn’t alone. I get a few phone calls a month from processors with questions about what materials are “most sustainable,” and I know others at Plastics News get the same question.

As I wrote back in January, I think most processors are willing and able to adapt to their customers’ materials-related sustainability goals — they just need information and guidance.Processors are flexible about using recycled content, or bio-based resins, or switching from one virgin material to another. It all depends on cost, performance and what the customer wants. 

Comments (1)
Matt Kerkhoff:

Great post. It’s amazing the turn around in interest concerning environmentally alternatives from just a few years ago. While environmentalists cheer the effort, the true story lies in the market, which has demanded these materials and changes. The big question always was “do people want it”? As of 2010, it looks like they want more choices concerning recycling, sustainability, and how best to take care of the planet. 

Posted by Matt Kerkhoff | June 14, 2010 4:27 PM 

 Neato!!!

I will have a super good post for you all tomorrow–and to give you a clue, it has to do with sustainability! Ha!

Tootles!

Holly Toledo!

May 21, 2010

Happy Friday!

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

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

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

Sustainability and Packaging Presentation, Blog

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

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

Hello world! Today is officially the most beautiful day—the sun is shining and the weather is sweet. If I only I weren’t stuck in a cubicle…

Soooooo because I have had so many of Dordan’s customers ask us about bio-based resins, I decided to compile a brief report, which details the various environmental ramifications one must consider when discussing bio-based plastics. Soon this report will be accessible on our website but because you are all so special, I have attached it below here. A sneak peak, per se. Wow I am a nerd.

Enjoy!

Bio-Based Resins: Environmental Considerations

Biodegradability is an end of life option that allows one to harness the power of microorganisms present in a selected disposal environment to completely remove plastic products designed for biodegradability from the environmental compartment via the microbial food chain in a timely, safe, and efficacious manner.[1]

Designing plastics that can be completely consumed by microorganisms present in the disposal environment in a short time frame can be a safe and environmentally responsible approach for the end-of-life management of single use, disposable packaging.[2] That being said, when considering any bio-based resin, there are some environmental considerations one must take into account. These include: end-of-life management; complete biodegradation,; its agriculturally-based feedstock; and, the energy required and the greenhouse gasses emitted during production.  

Before I expand on these concepts below, let us quickly discuss the biological processes that degradable plastics endure during biodegradation.

Microorganisms utilize carbon product to extract chemical energy for their life processes. They do so by:

  1. Breaking the material (carbohydrates, carbon product) into small molecules by secreting enzymes or the environment does it.
  2. Transporting the small molecules inside the microorganisms cell.
  3. Oxidizing the small molecules (again inside the cell) to CO2 and water, and releasing energy that is utilized by the microorganism for its life processes in a complex biochemical process involving participation of three metabolically interrelated processes. [3]

If bio-based plastic packaging harnesses microbes to completely utilize the carbon substrate and remove it from the environmental compartment, entering into the microbial food chain, then biodegradability is a good end of life option for single use disposable packaging.

End-of-life management considerations:

Because biodegradation is an end of life option that harnesses microorganisms present in the selected disposal environment, one must clearly identify the ‘disposal environment’ when discussing the biodegradability of a bio-based resin: examples include biodegradability under composting conditions, under soil conditions, under anaerobic conditions (anaerobic digestors, landfills), or marine conditions. Most bio-based resins used in packaging applications are designed to biodegrade in an industrial composting facility and one should require some type of certification or standard from material suppliers, ensuring compostability.

Unfortunately, little research has been done on how many industrial composting facilities exist in the United States and how bio-based plastic packaging impacts the integrity of the compost. However, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition did perform a survey of 40 composting facilities in the U.S., which provides some insight. According to their research, 36 of the 40 facilities surveyed accept compostable packaging. These facilities reported no negative impact of including bio-based plastic packaging in the compost. Of the 4 facilities that do not accept compostable packaging, 3 are taking certain packaging on a pilot basis and are considering accepting compostable packaging in the future. Of the facilities surveyed, 67.5% require some kind of certification of compostability i.e. ASTM, BPI, etc.

In addition, because value for composters is found in organic waste, I assume most facilities would not accept bio-based plastic packaging for non-food applications because the lack of associated food waste and therefore value. In other words, as Susan Thoman of Cedar Grove Composting articulated in her presentation at the spring SPC meeting, composters only want compostable food packaging because the associated food waste adds value to the compost whereas the compostable packaging has no value, positive or negative, to the integrity of the compost product. 

It is also important to note that because there are so few industrial composting facilities available, the likelihood that your bio-based plastic packaging will find its way to its intended end of life management environment is rare. While the idea of biodegradation and compostability for plastic packaging may resonate with consumers, the industrial composting infrastructure is in its infancy and requires a considerable amount of investment in order to develop to the point where it would be an effective and economical option to manage plastic packaging waste post consumer.

Complete biodegradability considerations:

A number of polymers in the market are designed to degradable i.e. they fragment into smaller pieces and may degrade to residues invisible to the naked eye. While it is assumed that the breakdown products will eventually biodegrade there is no data to document complete biodegradability within a reasonably short time period (e.g. a single growing season/one year). Hence hydrophobic, high surface area plastic residues may migrate into water and other compartments of the ecosystem.[4]

In a recent Science article Thompson et al. (2004) reported that plastic debris around the globe can erode (degrade) away and end up as microscopic granular or fiber-like fragments, and these fragments have been steadily accumulating in the oceans. Their experiments show that marine animals consume microscopic bits of plastic, as seen in the digestive tract of an amphipod.

The Algalita Marine Research Foundation[5] report that degraded plastic residues can attract and hold hydrophobic elements like PCB and DDT up to one million times background levels. The PCB’s and DDT’s are at background levels in soil and diluted our so as to not pose significant risk. However, degradable plastic residues with these high surface areas concentrate these chemicals, resulting in a toxic legacy in a form that may pose risks to the environment.

Therefore, designing degradable plastics without ensuring that the degraded fragments are completely assimilated by the microbial populations in the disposal infrastructure in a short time period has the potential to harm the environment more that if it was not made to degrade.

Agriculturally-based feedstock considerations:

Most commercially available bio-based resins are produced from sugar or starch derived from food crops such as corn and sugarcane.[6]Over the past few years, the use of food crops to produce biofuels has become highly controversial; the same may happen with bio-based resins. However, this is only if the scale of bio-based polymer production grows. According to Telles VP Findlen, “If the bioplastics industry grows to be 10% of the traditional plastics industry, then around 100 billion pounds of starch will be necessary, and there is no question that that will have an effect on agricultural commodities.”[7]

This sentiment is echoed by Jason Clay of the World Wild Life Fund. Because sugar is the most productive food crop[8] Clay explained, it makes an ideal feedstock for bio-based resin production; however, if all Bio-PE and Bio-PET came from sugarcane, we would need 2.5 times as much land in sugarcane. Unfortunately, this can not be done sustainably because, according to the Living Planet Report,[9] our current demand for the Earth’s resources is 1.25 times what the planet can sustain.[10] Put another way, on September 25th of this year our resource use surpassed what is sustainable. What this would mean as a financial issue is that we are living off our principle.[11]

Therefore, when considering bio-based resins, one should take into consideration the feedstock from which it is derived and the various environmental requirements that go into procuring said feedstock. While the current production of bio-based resins is not to scale to compete with sugarcane production for food, it is important to understand the environmental and social ramifications of sourcing materials from agriculturally based products.

Energy requirements and fossil fuel consumption of production:

Obviously sourcing plastics from bio-based resources as opposed to fossil fuel is an intriguing option for those looking to reduce the burden of packaging on the environment. However, if the energy required to produce bio-based plastics exceeds the energy consumed in the production of traditional resins, then the sustainability profile of bio-based plastics can be compromised.

When bio-based plastics first became commercially available, the processing technologies were not developed to the point where producing plastics from bio-based sources consumed less energy than producing traditional, fossil-fuel based plastics. However, the bio plastics industry has dramatically evolved and is now able to produce certain bio-based resins with less energy when compared with traditional resins. Natureworks Ingeo PLA (2005), for instance, is processed in such a way that it actually consumes less energy and emits fewer greenhouse gas equivalents during production when compared with traditional, fossil-fuel based resins.[12]

The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU), Heidelberg, Germany, conducted the head-to-head lifecycle comparison on more than 40 different combinations of clamshell packaging made from Ingeo PLA, PET and rPET. Both PLA and rPET clamshells outperformed PET packaging in terms of lower overall greenhouse gas emissions and lower overall energy consumed and PLA exceeded rPET in its environmental performance.

According to the study, clamshell packaging consisting of 100 percent rPET emitted 62.7 kilograms of C02 equivalents per 1,000 clamshells over its complete life cycle. PLA clamshells emitted even less, with 61.7 kilograms C02 equivalents per 1,000 clamshells. Energy consumed over the lifecycle for 100 percent rPET clamshells was 0.88 GJ. This compared to o.72 GJ for the Ingeo 2005 resin, which is an 18% reduction in energy consumed.

Taken together, one would assume that the 2005 Ingeo PLA is a more sustainable option than traditional plastics, as manifest through this study. However, it is important to take into account the other dimensions discussed above, such as end of life management, complete biodegradation, and sustainable sourcing. By understanding the advantages and disadvantages of bio-based resins from an environmental perspective, packaging professionals can make informed material selections and truly comprehend the ecological ramifications of their packaging selections and designs.


[1] Ramani Narayan, “Biodegradability…” Bioplastics Magazine, Jan. 2009. Narayan is a professor from the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at Michigan State University.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See www.algalita.org/pelagic_plastic.html.

[6] Jon Evans, “Bioplastics get Growing,” Plastics Engineering, Feb. 2010, www.4spe.org, p. 19.

[7] Ibid, p. 19.

[8] 1-2 orders of magnitude more calories per ha than any other food crop. Information taken from Jason Clay’s presentation, “Biomaterial Procurement: Selected Resources,” at the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s spring meeting in Boston.

[9] The Living Plant Report is a biannual analysis of the carrying capacity of the globe compared with resource consumption: Population x consumption > planet.

[10] Clay, SPC spring meeting presentation.

[11] Ibid. 

[12] M. Patel, R.Narayan in Natural Fibers, Biopolymers and Biocomposites.