Hey guys! My presentation to Woodstock High School science students went swimmingly! The kids were totally great and I was surprised how much fun I had! And, they were SO normal—not what I remember from living the dream in High School, ha!

The teacher had already introduced them to The Story of Stuff so they were familiar with life cycles, providing a nice foundation for discussions of life cycle analysis. Also, the AP class had been researching material health laws (ROHS, CONEG, etc.); this served as a great introduction to extended producer and voluntary responsibility programs. They especially enjoyed my profiling of TerraCycle and Ecovative as two “hip” sustainable start-ups and LOVED Ecovative’s Mushroom Duck! Hopefully I wet their whistle for an appetite of sustainability. But I was totally right—the environment IS seen as “cool” by students: they seemed to completely understand the less than favorable state of environmental affairs we had inherited and the need for more sustainable systems of production and consumption, even at the cost of convenience and altered social behaviors.

The concept I really nailed home—as it is the closest thing to a sustainable philosophy I could articulate— was that there is no waste in nature; everything serves to stimulate another perpetuation of life. This idea was first communicated to me in Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things (the students had heard of this book!!!!)—via the symbol of the cherry tree: its cherries feed birds, the leaves perform photosynthesis feeding the tree, the pits of the cherries grow new trees, the fallen leaves decompose and fertilize the soil, and so on and so on. The authors encourage that we model human systems off those in nature—as nature is the ultimate closed loop system. Pretty neat! While I didn’t get a picture of the kids because we spent the leftover time taking about college and life abroad and the like, I DID snap this prom invite; enjoy!

Today we are going to pick up where we left off re: feedback from Sustainability in Packaging.

The last presentation in the “GPP and Proliferation of Tools” panel was titled “Are all Lifecycle Oriented Tools to Evaluate Packaging Created Equal?” by Tony Kingsbury of the Sustainable Products and Solutions Program at UC Berkeley.

Kingsbury began his presentation explaining how many tools have proliferated to meet the demand for sustainable packaging assessment resources; however, few understand how the resources differ. Consequently, UC Berkeley “tested” several popular packaging assessment tools by comparing the data outputs when comparing “apples-to-apples” within the different softwares; in other words, evaluating multiple product packages from the same category using different tools. Kingsbury postulated, “Are all life cycle tools created equal?”

Wow, I thought to myself. I had never heard of anyone comparing the data outputs of the different softwares when comparing the same packaging systems…I had always understood each tool as providing a different snapshot into the “sustainability” of a package/product/service…this outta be interesting…

The study compared the data outputs of popular packaging assessment tools COMPASS, GaBi, SimaPro, Sustainable Minds, and the Walmart Packaging Scorecard. The product package categories selected were cookies, milk, diapers, and 16 oz. cups; and, the scenarios considered were source reduction, recycled content, and shipping distance.

Check out the screen shots from Kingsbury’s PPT below as these demonstrate the study findings:

As per these findings, different tools treat different materials…differently.

Kingsbury then went on to draw some conclusion from the test findings, insofar as the best way to capitalize on the tools is concerned. For Kingsbury, source reduction is the best way to improve your Score, regardless of the tool used, as weight is such a dominating factor in life cycle analysis. Recycled content is good, as long as it doesn’t add weight. Shipping long distance is “always a poor choice;” and, end of life scenarios differ so distinctively between tools that this should not be a high priority.

Lastly, Kingsbury described some of the inherent inadequacies of LCA tools today, insofar as inaccurate data, data holes, and built-in assumptions and methodologies are concerned.

The final study will be available in a month; I will be sure to include a link when it goes live.

And by the way, that’s what I am talking about in this video interview at Sustainability in Packaging.

Thanks yall! Talk soon!

Hey!

Dr. Karli Verghese definitely knows a thing or two about a thing or two when it comes to life cycle analysis.

She is the author of a book chapter titled “Selecting and Applying Tools,” which comes highly recommended for those investigating the various LCA packaging-specific tools available. You can find this resource via the following reference information:

Selecting and Applying Tools, Karli Verghese & Simon Lockrey, Pages 251-283, in Packaging for Sustainability, Editors: Karli Verghese, Helen Lewis, Leanne Fitzpatrick, ISBN: 978-0-85729-987-1 (Print) 978-0-85729-988-8 (Online).

Also, as explained during her presentation at Sustainability in Packaging, she authored the book “Packaging for Sustainability,” to be published in April 2012 and available at http://www.springer.com.

Ok so I am trying to do the best job describing the insights outlined in Verghese’s presentation BUT please note that she spoke quickly and my fingers can only type notes so fast!

Verghese began explaining how the conversation about packaging sustainability has evolved from a materials focus (material A vs. B) to a systems focus, where the interaction between the product and packaging in a supply chain system becomes paramount. She qualified this statement with reference to several examples, the first of which, an Australian study that investigated the environmental impact of corn chips. Verghese inquired “Is it the corn chips or the bag (400 gram packets of corn chops, aluminum foil retail bag, corrugated box)”?

The study determined that the environmental impacts in CO2 equivalents are as follows:

Life cycle stage 1, pre-farm= 6%
Life cycle stage 2, on-farm= 36%
Life cycle stage 3, post-farm= 58%

Within this analysis, packaging accounts for 21% of overall systems environmental impacts; supply chain transport accounts for 9%.

Verghese’s next example inquired, “Is it the wine or the bottle?” By reference to another LCA-base study, Verghese demonstrated that the environmental “hot spot” was during the production of grapes for the wine i.e. viniculture.

These types of analysis supported Verghese’s assumption that a systems approach to packaging sustainability is favorable to the previous materials-focus i.e. paper vs. plastic.

Verghese then moved onto a discussion about how to select the “right” packaging assessment tool, based on a variety of considerations stemming from one’s business and sustainability strategy(s) and packaging sustainability policy.

Because the insights to follow via Verghese’s presentation were SO valuable, I decided to compile them—- in addition to those previously discussed in the panel session—- into a Report that should aid interested parties in understanding the available tools for assessing packaging sustainability; and, provide guidance for how to select the “right” tool based on one’s specific business question. Click the following link to download the Report; please consult the footnotes for proper reference of information sources.

How to Assess Sustainable Packaging

My next post will discuss a recent UC Berkely study that compares the data out puts of the various LCA packaging specific tools.

Helllooooo my packaging and sustainability friends! I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentines Day! Here is my Valentine for you; won’t you be mine?!?

Today’s post is a little of this and a little of that…

I am in the process of connecting with a friend of a friend who is the chief buyer for a large company of PET bales for re-manufacture into fiber and textiles. He is reported to be very knowledgeable of the PET recycling industry and where the inclusion of thermoforms in said industry is heading. More details to come! 

I am to follow up early next week with my contact at S+S Sorting in regards to the status of their pilot, which looks to understand the technical differences between reprocessing bottle-grade PET vs. thermoform-grade. Stay tuned!

AND, did you happen to see this Plastics News article that discusses the impressive increase in non-bottle rigid plastics recycling?!? Good stuff. However, if you pair that with this article, published yesterday, you can see some of the unforeseen consequences of progress in non-bottle rigid plastics recycling. Just some food for thought… 

My next post will discuss feedback from the last SPC conference (yes, this is from a super long time ago) insofar as updates to the material health working-group is concerned. To wet your whistle, this working group looks to develop metrics and indicators for assessing the material health of different packaging material substrates in regards to the affects of exposure on human health i.e. toxicity. Currently, as discussed in previous posts, packaging LCA-based comparative packaging assessment tools like COMPASS don’t really take into consideration the material health of different package designs as life cycle analysis, by its nature, utilizes weight-based analysis; toxins in packaging material substrates are often times so miniscule that this type of weight-based approach to understanding the ramifications on human health is ambiguous. Does that make some sense? It should with further investigation in my next post. 

Tootles! 

Update from SPC meeting, 2:3

November 22, 2011

Hello!

Wowza it’s been a long time since I posted. My only excuse is that I was bed-ridden for close to a week with the worst case of “sore throat” imaginable, which is a pretty good excuse in my opinion.

Today we are going to continuing discussing feedback from the SPC meeting I attended in Dallas.

Let’s see where did we leave off…that’s right, after a discussion of the new working group looking to assess the role of transport packaging in sustainable supply chains we moved on to updates on COMPASS, the SPC’s LCA-based comparative packaging assessment software. For those of you unfamiliar, this tool is a super easy way to quantify the environmental repercussions of different packaging in the design phase. It assesses packages on resource consumption, emissions, material health and solid waste. The only information a practitioner of COMPASS needs to perform a comparative packaging assessment is the material type and weight of each packaging component (primary or secondary depending on objective) for both the existing and proposed packaging. Then the practitioner selects the conversion process i.e. thermoforming vs. paper cutting and the data set:because each country has their own waste management system and hence packaging recovery rates, it is helpful to select the data set (US, EU, CA) where the package will be distributed and assumingly disposed of to achieve a more accurate end of life data output. The updates coming to the software include rolling out recovery data sets for China and Mexico, thereby presenting a more international model of production and consumption in the context of packaging end of life recovery. Also new to the software is RPET and RHDPE LCI data, allowing users to compare virgin to reprocessed PET and the like. This is great because we have for so long assumed using RPET is “more sustainable” then PET and now we will have the hard LCI data to prove it (though Franklin Associates confirmed this assumption last year via their LCI report the new data has yet to make it into any third-party vetted LCA-based assessment software). So that’s all really cool. And as I described vaguely in my last post, I believe COMPASS is looking to create a transport packaging feature that will allow users to quantify the LCA impacts of different transport packaging schemes, be it a reusable or disposable model.

The other two presentations going on during the COMPASS session included “tapping the potential of energy recovery” and “what does the WBCSD vision 2050 mean for packaging?”

That night we met at the Frito Lay headquarters for the SPC welcome reception. I can’t begin to explain how GLORIOUS this meet n greet was. We had top chefs from all over Dallas prepare multiple courses for us, which consisted of everything from a poached egg atop lentils smothered in a bolognaise reduction to a deconstructed wedge salad and more! After the delectable journey through taste bud heaven a couple representatives from Frito Lay presented on their company’s efforts and Holley Toledo have they done some great work! I don’t recall the details except being extremely impressed. If you would like a copy of their presentation please let me know and pending approval I will forward on.

Our next post will discuss updates on the material health project; this is pretty heavy so make sure you eat your Wheaties!

AND, check out my brother’s looking all fly at the MCEDC Annual Dinner where Dordan was awarded with it’s Business Champion Award!

Hey!

Exciting news! Dordan WON the McHenry Country Business Champion award for 2011! We got a big shinny trophy and everything! AND, a reporter from the Northwest Herald is going to write a profile on us—love me my free press!

Today I am going to discuss the SPC members-only meeting I attended in Dallas in September. I didn’t get elected to the Executive Committee, wa wa, but salute those that were nominated! Congs!

We began the meeting with a field trip to the GreenStar Recycling Center, which as per the meeting agenda is “the second largest Material Recovery Facility in Texas, housed in a 150,000 sq. ft. facility that processes over 400 tons of residential single street and commercial commingled material daily.” This place was organized chaos. They led us through the plant in the direction the material moved once dumped on the floor by the hauler. To be honest, I had a hard time hearing the tour guide explain the various sortation technologies employed, though both manual and automated systems were referenced. A lot of the material was segregated by size by falling through slits in a tumbler and more material was isolated by…I really don’t know. But somehow they were able to bale corrugate, paperboard, PET plastic bottles, HDPE milk jugs, and aluminum. Perhaps I was distracted from the tour by my silly footwear, which were high-heels; apparently I didn’t get the memo saying high-heeled shoes were not permitted inside the recycling facility—woops! To make a long story short, I suggest you go to your local waste hauler/reprocessor and see waste management in action!

After lunch, we reconvened for an update from the SPC about their Labeling for Recovery project. For those of you who missed the launch, this project’s website is now live! Check it our here. I have blogged on this project before, so fish around for a previous post in these regards. Topics discussed were the objective of this project, which is to “make recycling make sense;” it is a consumer-focused labeling scheme that will inform consumers what types of packaging is recycled (REACH data suggests that material X is “recycled” in 60% or more American communities), what packaging is of limited recyclability (REACH data suggests 30-60% of communities have access to recycling), and what packaging is currently not recycled (REACH data indicates material X is rarely recycled). The ability of a community to recycle a packaging material type is called REACH data, which is not the same of actual recycling rates. This project is now endorsed by the Keep America Beautiful campaign and is looking to partner with Earth 911 insofar as it will pull geographical information based on area code of residence so consumers know where different materials ARE collected for recycling, if of limited recyclability. A similar pricing structure to the EU’s Green Dot program is suggested, in which companies pay to license the labeling scheme. This is necessary to eliminate manipulation of the label or unintended green washing along with paying for the maintenance of the program and other administrative functions. From what I understand, the main motivation for this project is to increase recycling rates by educating consumers on how to recycle what and where. So kudos to all those involved!

Next were updates on the different member-led working groups within the SPC. Perhaps after the last SPC meeting it was surveyed that the SPC member companies wanted to be further involved with the work of the SPC, as opposed to just spectators, after which, the member-led working groups were created. I participated in the AMERIPEN EPR working group, which I will touch upon in a future post. First, representatives from the working group on Consumer Outreach and Education presented; they emphasized the desire for positive stories around the role of packaging, like how it reduces waste through product protection, extends the shelf life, etc. Basically, those who participate in this group want consumers to understand the necessity and benefits of packaging, as opposed to assuming it is a waste of resources, which seems to be the prevailing misconception. So YAY for packaging!

Next was the role of transport packaging in sustainable supply chains. This project seems really cool—it is working with COMPASS designer Minal Mistry of the SPC to create a more focused transport unit within the software, allowing users to understand the environmental repercussions of the entire packaging system. I am a bit confused as to what this group is doing that differs from the current transport feature within the software, which like the Walmart Scorecard Modeling software, quantifies the distance materials must move to be manufactured into the final selling unit. I believe that they are working towards a more holistic approach to this transport module, insofar as it is just not the supply chain movements of material manufacture, conversion and distribution but how a packaging system as a transport package, say a skid, can be used and then returned in a reusable system. AH here is what the project description says: “The Transport Packaging Working Group…[work to] develop actionable plans that will further optimize the benefits of transport packaging via increased supply chain collaboration. The team has identified many important objectives including: knowledge transfer of transport packaging data to various technology solutions such as COMPASS, review of packaging and supply chain testing standards in relation to transport packaging, and collaboration with supply chain partners to optimize transportation packaging utilization and reuse and recovery rates.” Sounds heavy!

My next post will continue discussing feedback from the SPC meeting. Tootles!

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!

It’s CRUNCH TIME

July 18, 2011

Hey!

Sooooo I am about to go retreat to the deep, dark depths of my condo for a week so I can write Dordan’s next white paper, “The Truth about Plastic Packaging,” which is based on Susan Freinkel’s Plastic: A Toxic Love Story. The book is awesome and Susan is a really great writer. I have learned so much about plastic and I hope to present a concise, easy-to-read summary of sorts of her extensive work, which focuses on all the hot button issues surrounding plastic packaging like PVC, BPA, plastics in the ocean, etc. I apologize for my absence the next week, but it’s CRUNCH TIME.

And for your viewing pleasure, some Dordan news IN the news, neat! Thanks Greener Package and PlasticsToday.com!!!

Pack Expo: Dordan to offer Walmart Packaging Modeling 3.0 Tutorials
Pack Expo: Dordan to perform COMPASS LCA demonstrations
Thermoformer Dordan expands range of sustainable packaging
Pack Expo: Dordan adds new resins to its Bio Resin Show N Tell

Hey yall!

Guess what?!?! Tomorrow is my 24th b-day, big girl!

In preparation of becoming another year wiser, I thought I would share with you some fun paper vs. plastic facts. The information accessible via the PPT below is taken from the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s Common Packaging Material Technical Briefs, available here for download.

Paper vs. Plastic PPT for blog

And be sure to “play” the Power Point to see all the snazzy fly-in animation! Neat!

Hello!

It has been raining in Chicago for almost a week and it is forecast to rain throughout the weekend, too. UGGGG. I hope you are all reading this from much more attractive climates.

I am about a third of the way through “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things,” and boy is it a downer, though an extremely thought-provoking one at that! I know the book is a bit dated (published in 2002), but I find it extremely relevant to today’s “sustainability” discussions. That which I enjoy so much about authors McDonough’s and Braungart’s treatment of how humans interact with their natural environment is the way they contextualize everything—from the way we design cities to packaging—in regards to the Industrial Revolution, capitalism, and the prevailing social systems of the times in which these concepts took root in the social imagination of the masses. They not only intertwine history (the replacement of guilds and craftsmen with the mass migration into cities due to the demand for increased production resulting from a variety of technology innovations), but philosophy, politics, art, religion, etc. into their discussion of how humans have come to understand our natural environmental and our place therein. They basically argue that we need to dramatically redefine the way we design things to replicate those designs found in nature: instead of using the earth’s resources to fuel economies, designs should engage in mutually beneficial relationships with the resources inherent in the specific system in which they exist to create systems of sustainment. Think of the way the sun is a “free” feedstock that is responsible for the sustainment of all life on this planet. Plants consume this resource, which is infinite and results in no negative environmental emissions to the environment, and the circle of life begins…whenever I say the circle of life I instantly think of the Lion King.

Wow, that was quite the tangent! Anyway, I encourage everyone to read this book as it illuminates how a lot of the dialogue today around “packaging and sustainability” sort of misses the boats insofar as everything we have created—the systems of our sustainment—are themselves inherently unsustainable do to the way capitalism informs our understanding of our natural environment. What I am implying is that while baby steps towards sustainability are always encouraged (like switching from one packaging material to another due to lower GHG emissions per selling unit), they are but a drop in the gigantic bucket that is the inefficiencies of our current approach to production, distribution, and consumption. Bummer, right? But again, this is an argument, and as with all arguments, please take with a grain of salt.

I feel like I am in Environment and Society 101.

Today we will discuss the happenings of the Walmart SVN, which I attended in Rogers, Arkansas, on April 11th.

The Packaging SVN is comprised of one representative from each company that is involved directly, or indirectly, with the packaging sold at Walmart/Sam’s Club stores or the systems used to move packaging through the supply chain to distribution. Other attendees include members of trade organizations/academics/and packaging service providers. The SVN convenes twice a year so the Walmart/Sam’s Club packaging professionals can discuss with their Network progress/changes to packaging goals and other areas of interest to the Walmart packaging community. Issued covered previously, as narrated in my post describing the events of the December SVN, include, but are not limited to: Walmart Scorecard, Global Packaging Project, US EPA environmental packaging working group, developments in sustainable packaging, packaging success case studies, etc.

The SVN leadership team began by discussing metrics. For those of you immersed in the sustainable packaging scene, you are probably all too familiar with the “metrics dilemma,” which I understand as follows: Metrics can be understood as a description of a component of a package’s sustainability i.e. GHG emissions per selling unit. For each metric considered, LCI data is needed to quantify the specific environmental packaging attribute in question with hard data, from a life cycle based approach per system of investigation. While the SPC, GPP, Walmart and others have done a fantastic job creating “metrics” describing how to gauge and understand the sustainability of a package, the reality is that regardless of the tool used to quantify said metrics (COMPASS, Scorecard, etc.), not enough LCI/LCA information is available to allow for accurate results. As a revered LCA practitioner said at the SPC meeting in San Diego, “LCA is a COMPASS, not a GPS.” What this means is that because there is not enough data history, existing data, and relevant LCI data per packaging material and/or specific system of production, distribution and end of life, all metrics/LCA tools can do is help point you in the direction of where you should be heading; they are not representative of where you actually are. The Walmart Scorecard, SPC COMPASS, and other LCA-based packaging modeling softwares all use the same publically available data provided via the ACC, US EPA, Eco-Invent, etc.; consequently, these tools don’t have access to all the information needed to holistically represent the “sustainability” of a package/system from an LCA-based approach.

We began the SVN meeting discussing the state of “metrics” as they are available for use in LCA-based packaging modeling tools. LCI data for nine virgin resins and two recycled resins (I believe RHDPE and RPET) have been submitted and approved; LCI data for recycled paper and paperboard has been submitted and I believe may have been approved and/or is pending approval; LCI data for virgin paper and paperboard was submitted but not approved by the US EPA’s WARM model— updated LCI data is expected end of 2012; LCI data for corrugate was submitted but not approved by the US EPA’s WARM model—updated LCI data is expected end of 2012; LCI data for glass has not been submitted; I am blanking on aluminum…

What all this means, that is, the state of the available LCI data as it applies to metrics used to quantify the sustainability of a package/system from an LCA-based approach, is that we are attempting to put science to something that doesn’t really have ALL the science available…yet. By using COMPASS to quantify the environmental profile of different packaging concepts in the design phase, engineers attempt to understand how to design packages that have less of a burden on the environment throughout their life cycle than the existing package; however, if the LCI data for, lets say, virgin paperboard is from 1980 (I may be wrong but I believe that is the most recent LCI data set used), then changes to manufacturing processes implemented thereafter or holes in data resulting from uniformed LCA practice from when the study was performed may provide a hazy picture of the actual “sustainability” of a package. We are on the right track, but until we have accurate, up-to-date and verifiable LCI data for all dimensions of the packaging chain, it is difficult to use the existing packaging modeling softwares to perform accurate LCA case studies of different packages/concepts.

So yeah, the Walmart Packaging leadership team discussed how they are working to incorporate more accurate LCI data into the Scorecard, once that data is available.

Wow, today’s post has been a bit involved. I am going to stop here and let you all digest. And please note that I in no way shape or form pretend to be an expert on LCI/LCA; this discussion is the result of what I have taken away from recent conferences and the Walmart SVN.

Hello and happy Friday!

Want a sneak peek of Dordan’s feature in the May issue Plastics Technology?!?

Plastics Technology May Dordan feature

Next week’s post will provide feedback from the Walmart Expo and SVN meeting. I apologize for the delay; I have been swamped playing catch up!

Have a great weekend!