And the investigation begins!

September 9, 2010

Hello and happy September!

I hope everyone had a labor less Labor Day! I was able to get away to the beautiful dessert oasis of Arizona! For those of you who have never been, Arizona is beautiful! The vegetation is so bizarre and sparse and the horizon looks like it travels forever. And the stars! Don’t even get me started on the stars; all I know is that I was able to see more stars than I knew currently existed living in downtown Chicago for the last 5 years! All in all, good times.

Before I forget, I found the BEST Mexican restaurant in downtown Scottsdale! Called Los Olivos, this no-fuss authentic Mexican restaurant has been family owned and operated since 1919 and serves tortias bigger than my head, which you rip up to create your own tantalizing tacos, fajitas, burritos, what have you. Awesome!

AND, I went here!

http://www.rockstargallery.net/

If you like rock n’ roll, then you may as well have died and gone to heaven!

I have some super exciting Dordan news. While waiting for my flight from St. Louis to Chicago last week (I was traveling on business), I was contacted by someone from a National TV show who is investigating doing a series in 2011 about sustainability and business. Somehow, this show’s research team found Dordan and requested an interview about our sustainability efforts. After speaking with the assistant producer, I was asked for another interview, this time with Dordan CEO and President Daniel Slavin, to determine if Dordan’s Story to Sustainability would be a good fit for their series! Our interview is scheduled for today at 3:00. Wish me luck! Maybe I will get discovered as the actress I always knew I could be! Ha!

So that’s neato!

And now let’s talk packaging and sustainability.

As some of you know, several weeks ago one of Dordan’s customers inquired into this new “biodegradable” additive that when added to traditional polymers, render the plastic biodegradable in any disposal environment; be it by the side of the road, in our waterways, in a landfill, etc.

The company that distributes this product just had their first ad in the September issue of Pack World. Check out their ad in the digital addition here, located on the right hand side of page 55.

http://digitaledition.qwinc.com/publication/?i=43523

Anyway, I set up a conference call with a rep from this company to learn about this additive’s various properties and afterwards, was more confused than before! I quickly put in a call to Robert Carlson of CalRecycle; Robert and I met last year at the SPC members-only meeting in Atlanta and he quickly became my go-to-guy for all things sustainable packaging. For some of my more diligent blog followers, you will note that Robert helped me with the inception and execution of my clamshell recycling initiative; he is a doll!

After providing a quick summary of our conversation, Robert mentioned that these “biodegradable additives” sounded a lot like the school of products known as “oxo-biodegradables,” which he explained as follows:

Oxo-biodegradation, or those products considered “oxo-biodegradable,” require/s oxygen and sunlight to initiate the breakdown process. Oxo-biodegradables have been used in Europe for some time now, though much concern has been voiced over issues pertaining to the complete biodegradation of the polymer (total consumption via microorganisms present in intended disposal environment); and, ambiguities surrounding biodegradation testing standards. Further concern has been raised about these additives’ impact on existing recycling technologies insofar as they may jeopardize the value of the post-consumer material by rendering it partially—or entirely—“biodegradable.”

After chit-chatting for close to an hour about biodegradable plastics and everything under the sun, Robert concluded that he would check out the company’s website and get back to me with more insight.

In the meantime, I conducted some preliminary research on the term “oxo-biodegradable” as I knew so little about the concept or the science behind it.

I reached out to my contact from a working-industry group that Dordan is a member company of, inquiring about his opinion on “oxo-biodegradation.” He subsequently sent me a plethora of documents on the issue. While I was waiting to retrieve these documents from the printer for my analysis, I received an email from Robert:

Chandler,

I’ve passed this on but from what I read, it doesn’t seem like it IS oxy-degradable. It seems like it’s something different…however I’m not sure what to make of it so I’m checking in with a few of my co-workers…

Hmmmmmmmm…

I then sent the company rep with whom I spoke about these biodegradable an email requesting a synopsis of his products’ attributes. This is what he sent me:

Quick facts:

  • Biodegrades plastics to humus (soil), CO2 & methane (converts to energy);
  • 100% organic – non-starch based;
  • ASTM tested and validated with data available;
  • Recyclable;
  • FDA compliant;
  • Does not change the manufacturing process;
  • Added to current resins at approximately 1%;
  • Does not affect shelf-life;
  • Does not change tensile or physical properties;

 WOW, I thought to myself as I skimmed over the “facts” about this product…what do these claims actually mean?

 Let’s start with a biggie—certification. I put in a call to the company rep, asking what certification they had received for their marketed “biodegradable additive.” He referenced ASTM 5511, which he explained as certification for plastic biodegradation in a landfill.

I rallied this information to Robert. What follows is his feedback:

Hey Chandler,

I asked a few people in my office about that ASTM testing standard as well as the potential for these plastics to degrade in the landfill.

This is what I received from our degradable plastics expert:

The intent of ASTM 5511 is not to establish the requirements for labeling of materials and products as biodegradable in landfills. ASTM 5511 is a standard test method, not a standard specification. As such, ASTM 5511 provides the testing procedure to measure the degree and rate of biodegradation of high solids in anaerobic digestive systems. This procedure is not intended to simulate the environment of any particular high-solids anaerobic-digestion system. However, it is expected to resemble the environment of a high-solids anaerobic-digestion process operated under optimum conditions. This test method may also resemble, not simulate, some conditions in biologically active landfills.

Weird bears; how convoluted can we get? A certification for a testing standard, not a certification of complying to said standard? Huh?

I googled “ASTM 5511” and found that I had to buy the Standard to have access to its qualifications. Dang.

 Then I sent the company rep another email, inquiring into some of the other claims made:

 Hey,

This is Chandler Slavin with Dordan, we spoke several days ago about your biodegradable plastic additive.

First, thanks for the information about your product! I am in the process of looking through the literature and performing some research.

What follows are some questions about your product:

One of the claims about your product is 100% recyclability, which implies that if added to a traditional RPET beverage bottle, it would not result in the breakdown of the resin when reprocessed and remanufacured into, let’s say, green industrial strapping. Can you expand on how a biodegradable additive does not render the recyclate “weak” when compared with recyclate without a presence of this biodegradable additive?

Does this additive allow for the biodegradation of plastic in other disposal environments besides a landfill, such as on the side of the road (as litter), in our marine and freshwater environments, etc.?Are you familiar with the concept “bioaccumulation,” which results from the accumulation of small plastic particulates being ingested throughout the food chain? If you product allows for the biodegradation of plastic, does it ensure the complete breakdown of the polymer i.e. total consumption of material by microorganisms in disposal environment?  Thanks for your time; I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Chandler

The next day, I received the following “answers:”

Chandler,

In regard to your first inquiry:

Our product is a nutrient that attracts microbes when they are present. PET or RPET going through distribution will not come in contact with active microbes and therefore no biodegradation will occur. There would therefore be no reduction in physical properties until the plastic is placed in a landfill or compost. We have experience in this area and I can tell you that the material is not weakened.

In regard to your second inquiry:

Yes, we believe so. We have run ASTM D 5988 (litter test) and have seen very nice results. We have some indications for ASTM D7081 (marine, salt or brackish) testing that we will have good biodegradation. However, I don’t have data here that I can share. Regarding the freshwater, we believe we will have good biodegradation; we are looking at testing in this area and have not done any to date.

In regard to your third inquiry:

This really is applicable to oxodegradable additives. Our product does not fall into this category. Our product attracts the microbes that then take the long chain carbons in synthetic polymers and break them down to CO2 and CH4. We don’t leave plastic particulate behind.

Thanks!

And around we go!

Tune in tomorrow to learn about the validity of these claims; reference will be made to many different position papers published by the Society of Plastics Industry Bioplastics Council, European Bioplastics, Biodegradable Products Institute, and more!

It’s great to be back!

Hello my packaging and sustainability friends!

I sound like a broken record but again, I apologize for not blogging this week; please forgive me!

I have been super busy with creating new marketing materials and restructuring our advertising mix on greenerpackage.com. Check out our new and improved Design for Sustainability white paper here: http://www.greenerpackage.com/corporate_strategy.

And my fabulous Recycling Report here: http://www.greenerpackage.com/blisters_clamshells and here http://www.greenerpackage.com/recycling.

And guess what: PlasticsNews is going to publish my recycling report in the “perspective” section. Look out for it in print in the next 3-4 weeks.

Oh and for all you Packaging World E-newsletter subscribers, look out for our Recycling Report in the August New Issue Alert, scheduled to go out tomorrow! My ad man told me that pictures of people generate more interest (and therefore clicks and leads), so I include the picture of me giving the thumbs-up sign in my ghost buster suit in the garbage during our first waste audit (the one before I got all sweaty and sad). Ha! Good times…

I don’t know if I told you guys but when Dordan was exhibiting at the Walmart Expo I met a gentleman from SupplierHub, which is this online education exchange for private packaging buyers and sellers for Walmart. Anyway he was super nice and I got him hooked on my blog (Hello if your reading this!) and now we are advertising on this site! Go Dordan!

And lastly, I have implemented some changes on Dordan’s website under the “sustainability” tab to reflect our new social and environmental sustainability efforts. While I still have to create some of the language for the new pages it is “live” so check it out; I am quite proud: www.dordan.com.

Advertising excuses aside, the main reason I haven’t been blogging is because I have been passed the Pack Expo baton, which means I am coordinating the show for the first time ever. I was totally freaking out because I just inherited this project and I thought the due date for submitting all the order forms was August 17th but its SEPTEMBER 17th, phew! So now I can relax and resume my blogging!

Ok, enough random embellishments for the day, let’s talk sustainability!

We are going to begin construction on our composter next Tuesday, yippee! I sent an email to the woman who is helping us (also the farmer who is going to use our land to grow organics for the Woodstock community), asking if we needed to begin collecting our food waste. If so, we have real motivation to begin educating our employees about source separation; that is, segregating out the food waste from the food packaging waste, garbage, and recyclables.

As an aside, we just got in some new bio-based material to sample, which is certified “OK to home compost.” This material is unique in that it exceeds the standard 120 degrees F heat deformation temperature currently dominating the market AND can break down in ANY disposal environment, besides landfill. If this is “true,” then this is crazy cool as one of my biggest concerns with biodegradable plastic packaging is that it often doesn’t make it to its intended disposal environment, which is usually an industrial composting facility (D6400 Standard for Industrial Composting). ANYWAY I’m excited to play mad scientist and test the performance of this new material’s biodegradation by tossing it our soon to be erected compost pile. While I will not be able to determine if it completely biodegrades (no plastic particulates available after 90-180 days) because I don’t have insanely microscopic eyeballs, I will be able to determine if it breaks down until no longer visible. By conducting a test of this material’s biodegradability in our compost pile, I will be more comfortable adding it to the reservoir of resins Dordan offers our customers and prospects. So that’s pretty cool…

In regard to my work with our community schools:

I met with the co-chair of the Environmental Task Force for Woodstock School District 200 yesterday. He was super duper nice and I liked him right away! The ETF, he explained, is this organization of administrative folk, including school principals, and two student representatives, who discuss and implement different sustainability initiatives at the schools. One project they are working on this fall is an energy contest, whereby the D200 schools compete to see which one can reduce their energy use the most. They envision having this big thermometer, of sorts, which shows how much energy they have used per week compared with the previous school year. Sounds neato!

The co-chair of the ETF was also interested in having me talk about the field of sustainability as a profession in hopes of generating more interest in environmental sciences. I think this is great! I can’t believe I may be one of these people that comes into schools on “career day;” how funny!

As the meeting came to an end, I provided him with a couple suggestions for how I thought my work could enhance the goals of the ETF. I offered COMPASS tutorials so students could be introduced to life cycle analysis as a methodology for assessing the sustainability of a product or service; recycling education; and, a discussion on environmental advertising and manipulative and misinformed advertising claims. I still remember taking a class in high school called Rhetorical Analysis of Media, which introduced for the first time the idea that I was being marketed to as a consumer and encouraged an awareness and analysis of said media. It was such a cool class and I would love the opportunity to encourage this kind of reflection among students in the sphere of environmental marketing claims, as so many are, in my opinion, flirting with that fine line between reality and greenwashing. In a nut shell, I am really excited to get involved with D200 schools and help spread the love of all things sustainable!

Talk tomorrow!