Happy Monday Funday! I hope the weather is as beautiful for you as it is for me—sunny and 70, what more can a girl ask for?

 SO where were we…that’s right, recapping the SPC spring meeting.

Oh, before I forget, there was one more thing I wanted to tell you about the Walmart Expo.

Prior to the Expo, in preparation for the Walmart SVN meeting (Sustainable Value Network), we were asked to do a little homework: this entailed going to a local Walmart and finding a package that needed a “sustainability makeover.” We were supposed to fill out a “packaging opportunities template,” which basically inquired into how one would redesign the package to increase its environmental profile while saving costs. This is what our team came up with:

PackagingOpportunitiesTemplate, FINAL

We decided to pick on a thermoformed package because we are thermoformers, although this one looks as though it was manufactured overseas, due to the perimeter sealing. Therefore, it’s not like we would be able to steal the business…I wonder what the sustainability profile is of an overseas manufacturer versus a domestic supplier…Ha!

Anywhoozy, it turns out that during the SVN meeting several of these “packaging opportunities” were to be presented to the entire conference—and guess what—I was one of the lucky four selected to present.

Basically I suggested that the package be right-sized and thermoformed out of RPET instead of PVC. The panel then inquired into how I would convey the same marketing presence with a reduced package AND prevent against pilferage. I was stumped. Perhaps include a recyclable paperboard backing, I offered? That totally stunk, however, because it suggested that paperboard is more “sustainable” than plastic, which I would not argue having performed extensive research on the topic. AND, according to the recent E.P.A. reports, the paperboard used in clamshell alternatives (labeled “other paperboard packaging” in the MSW report) HAS NO RECOVERY DATA—literally it is listed as neg., which means negligent. I wish I had known this during my presentation as it would have served our industry well. Rats!

Visit http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2008data.pdf to see the break down of what is recycled and what is not in the paper world.

I guess my obsession with the recycle-ability of paperboard versus thermoforms can be summed up as follows:

I am at the Walmart Expo, working the booth. A prospect comes by, with whom I have had casual conversation in the past. Having seen his product at a competitor’s booth, I hassle him saying, “I saw your thermoformed trays at our competitor’s booth…and here you have been blowing me off all year…not very nice!” And he responds with, “we are getting out of thermoformed trays because they are not recycled.”

UG! What do you say to that? Prior to knowing that paperboard, which would be the alternative used for his packaging application, has no data for recovery post-consumer according to the E.P.A., I assumed that it was the more sustainable material because of its end-of-life recovery. But now that I know that in most cases, both thermoformed trays AND paperboard trays end up in landfills, I should have articulated a better argument for why thermoformed trays are still a wonderful packaging option.

It’s like when you have some kind of social confrontation and find yourself tongue-tied only to later come up with the best “come-back” ever! That’s what this was like; I needed a good come back, both for the “packaging opportunities” presentation and the fellow who thinks paperboard is better due to its end of life recovery. Next time…

A couple other points about the Walmart Expo:

As discussed in a previous post, the Walmart Scorecard has a “transport module,” which takes into account the inputs/outputs of shipping a package from the point of conversion/manufacture to the point of fulfillment. Supposedly the filled packages’ journey to the point of purchase is covered in another metric…

Anyway, I asked if the scorecard takes into account/intends to take into account the environmental ramifications of overseas manufacturers versus domestic manufactures. After all, long before my appointment at Dordan, we lost business to China because of the super duper low prices of labor and therefore commodities. And considering all this sustainability jazz, one would think that sourcing domestically would have some kind of impact on ones Score (think shipping, environmental regulations, labor regulations, etc. in China versus the States)…unfortunately, that is not the case. According to a member of the SVN, Walmart considered having a “point of origin” metric but determined that it was unquantifiable and would not resonate with their suppliers. Go figure!

A SVN member then articulated the following inquiry, which tickled me pink: Is the Scorecard going to take into account the inks, laminates, and sealants used on paperboard packaging? The member who voiced this inquiry qualified this question with some data, specifically, that even the tiny amounts of hazardous material in these various substances can have a high toxicity on the social and environmental environments.

This inquiry was answered as follows: Again, they considered adding this metric into the Scorecard but did not because they didn’t believe that these factors had a large enough effect on the overall “environmental profile” of a package. Supposedly, if we prove otherwise, they will consider adding this metric into the scorecard…

Lastly, Walmart is rolling out their Scorecard to other countries. I asked if each Scorecard used different recovery rates depending on the country it was being utilized for. In other words, Canada has a better recovery rate for most packaging materials that the U.S.; therefore, is their Scorecard going to use Canadian recovery data or American? According to the SVN, each Scorecard will be country specific, using recovery data from the country considered.

Wow, another marathon of an email. I’m sorry to keep rambling, I just have so many thoughts! I will continue tomorrow with the SPC recap and quickly move into resuming my clamshell recycling initiative.

Go packaging!

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 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!

Day 19: Nov. 5th, 2009

February 24, 2010

That Monday I arrived to the office more motivated than when I had left; how can I find a way to recycle clamshell—and more specifically—thermoformed, packaging?

As I waited for feedback from the SPC in regard to what they thought about the feasibility of finding an end market for non-beverage PET flake, the phone rang, and the receptionist transferred the call to my fine cubicle.

“Jessica with Waste Management is on line one,” she announced.

I picked up the line.

           …five minutes later….

Jessica was super cool; she is Dordan’s contact at Waste Management who manages our waste and recycling contracts, and wanted to reach out to me because she knew I had been talking with various Waste Management employees about my initiative. And, she also provided another crumb: She suggested that I contact another Major Account Representative in IL to discuss the feasibility of my initiative; she provided his name and number.

I called him that day, eager for some direction.

Ring…ring…ring…

“Hello?”

            …ten minutes later…

Hurray! A bigger bread crumb!

Apparently, what a plastic cup manufacturer in the Midwest had recently done, and he encouraged us to do, was send off some of our RPET clamshells to a Waste Management Material Recovery Facility (MRF) to see if their optical sorting technology would “read” our material like it reads the material in PET bottles. If the sorting technology couldn’t tell the difference between our RPET and the PET used in beverage bottles, then the material is close enough to theoretically be integrated into PET-beverage bales. In other words: the material is the same, which makes sense, because our RPET is certified at a 70% post-consumer regrind concentration, which means 70% comes from PET-beverages and 30% comes from virgin PET resin, give or take. Basically, if we thermoform material made out of bottles, why wouldn’t our packages then be compatible with this optical sorting technology.

The Account Representative offered to run our samples through their optical sorting technology to see if the problem with recycling non-beverage PET is due to sorting capabilities. Great!

He forwarded me the address of the MRF.

That day, I grabbed 50 of our sample as they came off the machine. Still warm with the heat from being formed, I placed them in the mail to go out with today’s post.

Groovy.

I sent the Account Rep the following email, confirming shipment.

Hey,

I just wanted to drop you a quick email letting you know that I sent out a box of 50 RPET clamshell samples to the address you provided for you to run through your optical sorting machine to see if they are compatible with the PET bottle material. If so, we can try and find an end market for our RPET clams, blisters, and thermoformed components.

Just out of curiosity, do you know where I can find information on who has optical sorting technology and where? Moreover, do you know who collects mixed plastic (that is, the plastic left over after the PET bottles have been removed) for material recovery and where?

Thanks again for all your help! I look forward to speaking with you again.

Best,

Chandler

Tune in tomorrow to learn more about recycling in America.

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 14: Oct. 27, 2009

February 17, 2010

The next day I arrived to the office full of enthusiasm; I had brought my favorite lunch—penne puntanesca and garlic bread—which ensured that no one in the office would want to talk to me for the duration of the afternoon. Silence is golden. 😉

After establishing that NAPCOR was super cool but a little outside our means at this time, I found another industry group dedicated to the use and recycling of plastics: APR stands for the Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers. Like NAPCOR, they represent those in the industry that work with post consumer plastics. Their website reads:

Our goal is simple-we want to increase the amount of plastic material that is recycled in North America. We do that by sponsoring education workshops and ‘webinars’ designed to help local and state solid waste officials learn more about the technology of plastics recycling and the markets for material; holding design for recyclability workshops for packaging professionals; working to assist legislators to make decisions that enhance the recycling of plastics; and numerous other market development and technical programs.

RADICAL… I sent a letter of inquiry to the email provided:

Hello,

My name is Chandler Slavin—I am the Sustainability Coordinator at Dordan Manufacturing, which is a Midwestern based, national supplier of custom thermoformed solutions. We source post consumer RPET for manufacturing our packages and are currently investigating recycling options for the end-of-life management of our products. After visiting your web-site I am interested in your association and would like to know the process of applying for membership and also the advantages of being a member. Are any thermoform members in the APR?

Thank you for your time and I look forward to speaking with you soon!

Best,

Chandler Slavin

In a previous post I described a conversation I had with a representative from the SPI (plastics industry trade association); I discussed her desire to help increase the recycling rates of plastic packaging but emphasized her underlining understanding of economics and how such economics did not support such an initiative. During this conversation I suggested that the SPI revisit the resin ID numbers currently prescribed to different polymers used in plastic packaging in order to account for the introduction of PLA into the stream and make recycling of plastics easier. She subsequently indicated that a subcommittee was formed that year to address these concerns and indicated that she would follow up with me about their approach.

To my surprised, that day I received a follow-up email from this contact:

Hi Chandler,

Thanks so much for the call earlier and the great conversation. Sounds like you have your hands full with issues surrounding sustainability, “green-washing”, recycling, bio-resins, additives, resin identification code, Wal-mart Scorecard, and the ultimate goal of reclaiming all your clamshell packaging. These issues are being addressed in our processors council and materials supplier council predominantly.

I have touched base with our sales director in the Midwest. He will follow up with you to give you a better sense of the issues, including the above, that we are involved with on behalf of industry. And, certainly I am available as well.

Hurray; another bread crumb! Processors council and materials supplier council, eh? Time to do more research!

After lunch that day, I got a call from the Midwestern sales director of the SPI. He was really cool, and although he wasn’t totally versed in sustainability issues, he listened to what I had to say and told me he would put me in touch with someone at SPI that would be more of a help to me and my inquiries.

Splendid.

Ironically, later that day, just as I was assembling my things to catch the train back to Chicago, I received the following email:

Dear Plastics Industry Professional,

On September 23, 2009, ASTM International’s D20.95 subcommittee on Recycled Plastics distributed a new draft subcommittee ballot on the resin identification codes to its membership. There are 18 new items being balloted as part of the draft, which will update the original system developed in 1988 by SPI. Members of the D20.95 subcommittee are eligible to vote on the draft until its closing date on October 23, 2009. SPI is strongly encouraging all members of D20.95 to review and vote on this ballot.

Huh…so the SPI is reconsidering the resin ID numbers; that’s great! Although the language of this email is a little ambiguous, at least they are being proactive about these issues. I wonder how I get involved…

Just before I walked out the door, I sent the sales director of the SPI this follow-up email:

Hey, 

 I just wanted to send you a quick email to follow up with our phone conversation today. First, thank you for taking the time to talk with me about my concerns regarding the plastic packaging industry. As per our conversation, I was wondering if there were any contacts at your association who would like to have a dialogue with me about issues pertaining to sustainability and the plastic packaging industry. Aside from the millennial campaign and discussions about adding to the SPI resin identification number family, what else is SPI doing to confront the challenges facing our industry? How is SPI working to save the reputation of the plastic industry? What kind of initiatives is SPI taking to increase the sustainability profile of plastics? Is SPI considering different material recovery technologies or recycling programs?

As per our conversation, I have spent a considerable amount of time researching issues pertaining to plastic and sustainability. If there is anyone I could talk with, or would appreciate talking to me at SPI or one of its sister organizations, please let me know.  

Thanks!

Chandler

Tune in tomorrow for more recycling in America tidbits; good times!