Phew, Chicago has survived NATO. For residents of Chicago, the assembly of world leaders at McCormick Place over the weekend was inconvenient but cool. The Loop essentially shut down for four days, as all were warned of the closures and delays. Some lucky ducks even had a 4-day weekend because offices closed in anticipation of the protestors. Metra passengers were not allowed to bring food or drink on the train, and all bags were screened prior to boarding. As a resident of downtown Chicago, I was totally impressed by the extensive yet organized presence of cops; they circled every compromised building and lined the protest route. While one violent squirmish did break out between police and demonstrators at Michigan and Cermak, it was provoked by only a handful of anarchist protesters (The Blak Bloc”) and was contained with minimum force soon thereafter. Check out this pic I took Friday afternoon; notice the homeland security SUVs parked as far as the eye can see?

Today we are going to talk about developments with my LCA inquiry introduced in May 11th’s post. AND, to follow, for your viewing pleasure, pictures of home compostable bioresins a year after being home composted. Oh the anticipation!

To recap, what I mean when I say “my LCA inquiry,” is I am investigating the value of conducting an LCA of Dordan’s conversion process in order to: (1) establish a baseline off which environmental progress can be gauged, (2) compare with industry average and/or other conversion processes, (3) submit to available LCIA databases in order to provide more current data on the environmental profile of thermoforming, and (4) understand the methodology and application of LCA.

This investigation was inspired by the SPC suggestion of collective reporting among its member companies in order to demonstrate to outside stakeholders the value of SPC membership; and, research into LCA as per Dr. Karli Verghese’s presentation at Sustainability in Packaging (click here to download the Report).

After reaching out to the SPC re: aiding in the development of tools to perform an environmental assessment of Dordan’s conversion process, it was suggested I propose the idea to the membership; if there was membership interest, I could start a member-led working group dedicated to creating methodologies for LCA application to manufacturing processes.

Since I last posted, I had the opportunity to speak with LCA practitioners in the SPC membership about my Dordan LCA inquiry. Here are a couple conversation takeaways:

It is in a company’s interest to perform an LCA of its processes if said processes are more efficient/innovative than the industry standard; the industry standard for thermoforming can be teased from the available LCIA databases, like EcoInvent and the U.S. Life Cycle Inventory Database.

A good way to determine if your processes are more efficient than the industry average, and therefore an LCA is warranted, is to perform an inventory analysis: First, determine what your process’s main resource consumptions are i.e. water and electricity. Then, collect all information pertaining to the consumption of these resources via energy and/or water bills. Consult the industry average’s rates for these environmental indicators and see how your processes compare in the context of electricity and water consumption per some functional unit i.e. 10,000 packages produced.

If you determine that a full LCA is warranted, there are MANY ways to go about it. However, it is crucial that the results/findings of which are 3rd party-reviewed in order to validate the study. This was explained to me as being quite the process, and comes with a price tag.

Based on these insights, I am going to conduct an inventory analysis of Dordan’s energy consumption per a-yet-to-be established functional unit in order to compare with the industry average for thermoforming. Stay tuned!

My next post will discuss feedback from the last portion of the Walmart Packaging SVN meeting.

As an aside, in previous posts I alluded to an S+S Sorting pilot that looks to compare the reprocessing of thermoform vs. bottle PET flake. Remember? Anyway, my colleague at S+S has yet to get back to me with the results of this pilot. Stay tuned!

AND, do you remember way back when, at the start of Dordan’s Bio Resin Show N Tell research (click here to download Report), when we tossed some of the home compostable certified bioresins (PHA, Cellulous Acetate) into Dordan’s home compost to see if the materials biodegraded? Well, this spring I analyzed the compost pile to determine the rate of biodegradation and am sad to report that little had changed in regards to the composition of the material: while lightened in color and somewhat more brittle, both the PHA and Cellulous Acetate, certified for home-composting, remain completely intact; you can even see the Dordan logo embossed on the cavity. Please note, however, that Dordan’s compost pile has had its fair share of growing pains and the “bioplastics composting trial” may not reflect a 100% active home compost.

Pictured: PHA, formed into tray with Dordan embossed logo on sample press, home composted Spring 2011.

Pictured: Melted PHA plastic from sample press forming; demonstrates lack of biodegradation.

Pictured: Close-up of Dordan logo embossed in PHA tray cavity

Pictured: Compilation of PHA and Cellulous Acetate scrap, certified for home-composting, a year after being composted.

Pictured: Cellulous Acetate scrap, certified for home composting, a year after being home composted.

Feedback from Pack Expo

October 26, 2011


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 and happy almost Friday day!

Today we are going to talk about the process of deriving carbon from annually-renewable resources for synthesis into bio-based polymers. As per yesterday’s discussion, substituting bio-based carbon for petro-based carbon provides a value proposition in the context of material carbon footprint for plastic packaging.

Slide 7: Carbon Footprint Basics—Value Proposition

Consider the following chemical process for manufacturing traditional, fossil-based plastics:

Fossil feedstock (oil, coal, natural gas)–>Naptha–>ethylene/propylene–>polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP)

Now, consider the process of manufacturing bio-based plastics from a renewable feedstock:

Bio/renewable feedstock (crops and residues i.e. corn, sugarcane, tree plantations i.e. lignocellulosics, algal biomass i.e. algae)–>BIO monomers, sugars, oils (continue)

These BIO monomers, sugars and oils can then be synthesized into EtoH, which is then used to make ethylene/propylene, the building blocks of PE and PP;

OR, these BIO monomers, sugars and oils can be synthesized to make PLA and PHA.

The difference between something like PLA and the PlantBottle, therefore, is that the PlantBottle derives its carbon from biomass, as explained in the process above, yet has the same chemical composition as tradition, petro-based PET. Therefore, it is not designed to “biodegrade” in an industrial composting facility or others, whereas PLA, which is of a different chemical composition though it derives its carbon from, like the PlantBottle, an annually renewable source, is designed to “biodegrade” in the intended disposal environment as stipulated by the manufacturers of PLA. Check out the molecular structures of PLA vs. PP on the 7th slide of Narayan’s presentation; as you will see, the carbon, highlighted in red, can come from petro-based or bio-based feedstocks. Cool, huh!?!

Slide 8: Understanding the value proposition for bio carbon vs. petro/fossil carbon

Narayan then went on explaining the difference between old carbon (fossil fuel) and new carbon (crop residue/biomass). Consult the 8th slide of the PPT for an explanation of how old carbon is synthesized from new carbon.

Consider the following processes of synthesizing new vs. old carbon:

CO2 (present in atmosphere) + H20–>photosynthesis (1-10 years)–> (CH20)x +O2–>NEW CARBON (biomass, forestry, crops)


C02+H20–>photosynthesis (1-10 years) –>(CH20)x–>–>–>(10,000,000 years)–>OLD CARBON (fossil resources i.e. oil, coal, natural gas)

He then argued that all the criticism about manufacturing plastics out of non-renewable sources is misplaced because it doesn’t really matter where you get the carbon from—be it old or new carbon. The issue, however, is the rate and scale at which we have been taking old carbon (oil) out of the earth: it is inherently unsustainable to continue to derive carbon from fossil fuel for synthesis into disposable plastic packaging because it takes millions of years to create old carbon from the process described above, whereas it takes just 1-10 years to derive new carbon from crop residue/biomass.

Does that make sense?

He concludes: “Rate and time scales of CO2 utilization is in balance using bio/renewable feedstocks (1-10 years) as opposed to using fossil feedstocks.”


And, for your viewing picture, here is a picture of my pops (and Dordan CEO) and I for our feature in the May edition of Plastics Technology magazine!

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”


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!!!