Hello and happy Tuesday! I hope everyone is having a jolly good day!

Because I just got done debriefing Dordan Sales Force about the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s meeting in Phoenix last week, why not debrief you, too, my packaging and sustainability friends?

Please note that the SPC conducts its meetings under the Chatham House Rule, which is explained as follows:

“When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”

Cool? Alright, let’s do it!

But before I begin, here’s a picture of an Arizonian cactus, which in the collective, is called “cacti;” who knew? Just try to imagine you are there in Phoenix…in a cold conference room…listening to discussions of EPR…ahhh, the memories.

As alluded to in a previous post, the topic of the fall SPC meeting in Phoenix was extended producer responsibility/product stewardship. I was first introduced to this complicated topic at the fall SPC meeting in Atlanta last year (yes, Phoenix marks my year anniversary for SPC membership!), when a representative from Environmental Packaging International (hereafter, EPI), discussed its role as a go between for industry and government in the context of complying with product stewardship/EPR legislation. Wow that was a mouth full; let me try again.

EPI, as per their website (http://www.enviro-pac.com/indexM.htm), is an organization that specializes in global packaging and product stewardship requirements. Because different countries have different EPR laws to abide by and therefore require different reporting and financing procedures, EPI provides a service to those companies required to take financial responsibility of the packaging and/or hazardous household waste they place on the market. While I am not sure what services they offer specifically, I assume it is some form of reporting/compliance/data management software, since fees are often times based on the amount of packaging material i.e. paper, glass, aluminum, etc. placed on the market by the party considered the “producer” and therefore require some diligent book keeping.

But I am getting ahead of myself. EPR is complicated; let me back up.

Traditionally, the management of waste has been the responsibility of municipalities/local governments. However, in some countries, the responsibility has been transferred onto the “producers,” which are often times defined as the brand owner or first importer, among other more ambiguous things. However, it is important to understand EPR not as a homogenous concept, but as a compilation of legislation that is created in tandem with the specific geographical area for which it extends. Therefore, what works for one country/province/state/etc. may not work for another and so on.

I believe I have mentioned Fost Plus of Belgium to you before? They are a successful example of a company that provides EPR compliance services and software to the responsible parties, insofar as Belgium is at a 96% recovery rate for packaging waste, which is unbelievable! Like EPI, I believe, though I may be misinformed, Fost Plus manages the transfer of money from industry to government, thereby demonstrating compliance with its unique set of EPR requirements. Similarly, StewardEdge of Canada offers EPR requirements compliance services and data management software for those companies bringing products/packaging to the market in Ontario and Quebec, where EPR laws are in affect.

So what does this mean?

This means that EPR is coming to the States.

While we can always say it’s cheaper to landfill and therefore EPR is a thing of the distant future, recent developments in the consumer goods industry suggest otherwise. Examples include: pressure on CPG companies for transparency throughout the supply chain; the need to quantify the environmental impacts of consumer goods’ products/packaging; recognition that effective end-of-life management is essential to sustainability; and, the increased demand for post consumer material by brand owners for incorporation in products and packaging.

Now, add these issues to the fact that many municipalities are under systemic financial stress and can’t afford to increase recovery rates for materials with a high demand, like post consumer plastic, ahem, thermoforms, and what do you get? The possibility that EPR may be coming to a city near you. Five States have all ready enacted some form of EPR, mostly on the East Coast, though it is most often times attributed to hazardous household waste, like paint and batteries, as opposed to packaging. At the same time, however, a Chicago politician recently petitioned for a ban on single-use EPS packaging (he also wanted to put a ban on barking dogs!), and Wisconsin is up to vote on a ban of all single-use packaging? While I DO NOT think that bans on any package/material type are the way to go (Libertarian by education), these developments provide insight into this tumultuous time where legislation is attempting to do good by the environment/save its few and far between pennies.

WOW. That was a mind full.

So that’s basically it, in a terribly small nut shell. I wish I could share the presentations from the SPC meeting with you as they do a MUCH better job presenting a holistic treatment of EPR in the context of the EU, Canada, and the US. Oh well…

So anyway, the SPC meeting had two panels: one dedicated to those representing municipalities/governmental officials; and, one representing industry folk/stakeholders. All the panelists were fabulous, well spoken, and insightful. Issues discussed, though I won’t delve into the details, were the need for harmonized legislation and therefore reporting (as opposed to 50 different laws governing packaging waste producers are required to comply with); individual vs. collective responsibility (individual responsibility is when a “producer” manages fees/reporting/compliance by itself whereas collective is when you pay an organization, like EPI, StewardEdge or Fost Plus, to manage your compliance for you); how EPR intersects with deposit laws; who the obligated entity is; how the fees are determined; and, how the financial responsibility is share between the government and the industry (Canada is transferring from 50% industry funding to 100%, yikes! More details to come).

Again, these are super large complicated issues and there are people far more qualified to explain than I; therefore, if you have any specific questions, email me at cslavin@dordan.com and I will see that they are directed to the appropriate contact. Agreed?

After the panelists had their time in the spot light, the SPC member companies’ representatives broke into separate groups to discuss what should be included in draft EPR and packaging legislation. The main issues addressed were:

  • The need for harmonized legislation/reporting;
  • The need for accurate, third-party verified data on recovery rates of packaging materials to base projected diversion rates upon;
  • Non-static laws that can change with the changing recovery rate of packaging materials and adapt to changing economic realities (need for transparency in the law);
  • Determine collective vs. individual responsibility, as alluded to above;
  • The need for a level-playing ground, whatever that means;
  • And much, much more (though the details have slipped my mind)…

During the panel of municipality reps, I asked how governments were going to work toward the development of local markets for post consumer materials, which would set into motion the supply and demand equilibrium necessary for the economically-sustainable recovery of different materials. After all, more than 2/3rds of the recovered material in America is shipped to international markets, which I would argue, is not necessarily sustainable (think of Chinese laborers picking through bales of misc. recovered materials; or, better yet, think of children in India moving through irresponsibility disposed of electronic waste, not to play the high emotional card or anything but you get the idea)…

I was so nervous and I had a cold so my question came across kind of like a pre-pubescent boys, and the representative who I directed the question at didn’t really know how to answer it…he explained that we live in a global market and international consumption of America’s post consumer materials is a living, breathing reality, and one that I must come to embrace. Weird bears but this idea echoes the sentiments expressed in the email included in yesterday’s post about exploiting the export markets for post consumer mixed rigids, like thermoforms…

And now I am rambling. Alright guys, I got to go; thanks for listening!

Recycling and…China?

June 1, 2010

Hello my packaging and sustainability friends! I am feeling tip top today after having a four-day hiatus from work: I slept, I swam, I sunbathed, I ate…good times. I hope you all had an equally relaxing Memorial Day weekend, too!

AND know what’s even weirder—I actually missed work. That’s right, I missed the act of being productive…go figure!

So my last post was a little all over the place. I do believe, however, that this article may tie it all together, which then gets me on another rant of sorts. First, observe:  

NAPCOR: US efforts to recycle falling short

By Mike Verespej | PLASTICS NEWS STAFF

Posted May 28, 2010

SONOMA, CALIF. (May 28, 10:45 a.m. ET) — Longtime plastics recycling advocate Dennis Sabourin said “bold steps” are needed to increase supplies of not just recycled PET bottles but all plastics and recycling materials.

The executive director of the National Association for PET Container Resources in Sonoma, Calif., and a former Wellman Inc. executive said it is time for extended producer-responsibility laws and eco-fees on products. Also needed are public-policy initiatives that provide funds for recyclers to create green jobs and for stakeholders to come together, in coalition-style, to advance the recycling of all materials.

Even with the green movement, Sabourin said, “recycling is still not a front-burner issue,” as it was in 1995, when the PET recycling rate climbed to nearly 40 percent. That rate plummeted to less than 20 percent by 2003 before rebounding in 2008 to 27 percent — based on the most recent numbers available.

 “Why not have a national initiative to divert some of the stimulus funds to recycling on a broad-based effort?” he asked. “That would create jobs in the United States.”

He called initiatives introduced by Vermont and Rhode Island, and the extended producer-responsibility law passed by Maine earlier this year, steps in the right direction. “They will not give us any immediate relief from a supply standpoint, but EPR will bear fruit down the road,” he said, noting that an EPR law in Canada has given recycling rates there a huge boost. Canada’s return/diversion rate for non-alcoholic beverage containers is 64 percent.

He said the biggest obstacle to more recycling is the lack of a concerted public policy to motivate consumers to recycle, a move that would create jobs.

 “There are plenty of materials out there and plenty of markets for those materials. We have to reach out and start working together to get more materials collected,” he said.

For the full article, visit http://www.plasticsnews.com/headlines2.html?id=18730&channel=260.

This article was referred to me by my co-lead of the PET subcommittee for Walmart-Canada because it illustrates the infrastructural differences between recycling in America and recycling in Canada, where I am now focusing a lot of my research/work.

ANYWAY, what I am trying to imply between my last post and Sabourin’s argument (that some sort of legislation must be put on the books that REQUIRES industry/municipalities to meet recycling targets in order to increase the diversion rates in the States), is, touché! I believe that until there are some extended producer responsibility requirements implemented in the States that forces industry and municipalities to work together to divert more materials from the landfill, my recycling initiative will continue to be just that—an initiative, with little sight of implementation.

While there are some positive signs like retailers advocating post-consumer content in products and packages or recycling drop-off centers (think Whole Foods), I see little improvement across-the-board in regard to the amount of materials recycled in America until EPR legislation is implemented. As mentioned here and again throughout my blog, we need: SUPPLY, which we don’t have because no one is collecting it or they don’t wish to compete with China for purchasing post industrial/consumer scrap; DEMAND, which we don’t have with the crash of the economy, although this is changing as CPG companies look for quality streams of post-consumer plastics; and, INVESTMENT, which we defiantly don’t have because it has not been an economic priority (why worry about recycling plastics when the cost of virgin resins is so low?!?).

BUT then enter EPR, which requires producers i.e. brand owners, first importers, product manufactures (those responsible for putting the product/package on the shelf) to FUND the recovery of their product’s packaging waste post-consumer. Then all of a sudden organizations like Fost Plus in Belguim or Stewardship Ontario in Canada develop to help manage the money transfer from industry to municipalities and viola, the recovery rates of packaging—all packaging—would increase. I am sure it’s not that easy but you get the gist…

Anyway, I wished to include this argument in our June Newsletter (we send out newsletters each month updating all our contacts in regard to what is new at Dordan and what is new in the industry), but was met with some hesitation from some of the more “business-minded” folk at Dordan. According to these colleagues, EPR legislation would probably not do well by domestic manufactures because all of a sudden, our packages would become more expensive (or the product would become more expensive, or the cost to manage the waste would be pushed throughout the supply chain) than those produced overseas in say, China, where they have no EPR legislation on the books. But the first importers would be required to pay for managing Chinese packaging waste post-consumer, right? If so, would that provide an incentive to source packaging domestically? Now I’m confused.

SOOOOO our CEO called me into his office to discuss EPR and its implications into our business because I wanted to highlight this article in our June newsletter, and he wanted to ensure that we were not shooting ourselves. What he basically said, like any good American dream manifestation, is: why is our industry being targeted as irresponsible with our waste while CPG companies source TONS of products and packages from overseas, where little environmental and labor regulations exist? In a nut shell: What are the ethics of being “environmentally friendly” in the context of sourcing international manufacturing?

AND enter new research project: I am now going to be researching all that is Chinese manufacturing to come up with an argument that highlights the contradictions between trying to be “green” and sourcing manufacturing overseas.

I sent one of my former professors the following email, which marks the beginning of my research journey:

Hello!

This is Chandler Slavin—I graduate last spring from the Religious Studies Department and took your class on inter-faith engagement (I had the Turkish versus Greek debate) my senior year. Remember?

I hope this email finds you well.

I was wondering if you could help me with something: I work for my family business, which is a domestic manufacturer of plastic packaging for the consumer electronics industry. I am the Sustainability Coordinator, which means I research issues pertaining to sustainability and packaging in order to stay ahead of the curve and market ourselves as a “green” manufacturer. In our industry, there is a lot of concern over the “sustainability” of a product or package and many retailers have invested considerable amounts of time and money into trying to “green up” their image by switching packaging materials, having recycling drop-off centers, and labeling various products as “environmentally friendly.”

Anyway, often times we sell packaging based on discussions of sustainability. However, our biggest competitor isn’t other green plastics manufacturers but Chinese manufacturers, who can sell packages at a much lower cost into our economy, while we are unable to sell our packages into their economy without paying some sort of tax or entering some kind of agreement with the Chinese government.

Our CEO wants me to research this contradiction:

While American product producers are being pressured to green up their products/packages (I have been working on a recycling initiative for months now) or dispose of products/packages responsibly (its called “extended producer responsibility” and CA has some of these laws on the books in regard to managing electronic waste), many American product producers i.e. brand owners, are sourcing the manufacturing of their product and package overseas, where lax environmental regulations and labor laws allow for unsustainable production profiles and cheap products. Basically, when everyone in our industry is obsessing about the sustainability of a package (market research shows that consumers are more likely to buy products labeled as “green”), we are constantly competing with overseas manufacturers, who have absolutely no environmental or social platform in the context of “sustainability.”

Wow, that’s a lot. Because you work on environmental policy I was wondering what you knew about Chinese economic and social development in the context of the environment. If willing, could I come visit you and perhaps you could point me in the right direction? Seriously, any insight you could provide would be very well received. Think of it as the ethics of green marketing vs. overseas manufacturing…sounds intriguing, no?

Thanks for your time!

Best,

Chandler Slavin

Tune in tomorrow for more goodness!

All sorts of stuff

May 27, 2010

For those of you who have been following my blog, you are aware that our clamshell recycling initiative has sort of come to a stand still:

We determined why PET thermoforms are not recycled (lack of investment in the infrastructure due to quantity, quality, supply and demand issues) and the problems with including RPET thermoforms in PET bottle bales (different IVs, melting points, fear of contamination, etc.) While we did determine that our RPET clams and PET bottles are “read” the same via an optical sorter, when the mixed bales of RPET thermos and PET bottles make it to the processor, the thermos are thrown out and not recycled along with the PET bottles.

Consider the following article published in PlasticsNews, which does an amazing job summarizing all my research to date:

NAPCOR puts thermoformed PET on docket

By Mike Verespej

Posted May 24, 2010

Although blow molded PET and high density polyethylene bottles get most of the plastics recycling attention, a potentially large market looms on the horizon, presenting an opportunity and a challenge for the recycling industry — thermoformed PET containers.

In 2008, 1.4 billion pounds of thermoformed PET packaging was produced in the U.S and Canada. But by 2011, that market could grow to be one-half the size of the PET bottle market, which is the largest category of recycled plastic resin, said Mike Schedler, technical director for the National Association for PET Container Resources in Sonoma, Calif.

“The market is growing rapidly because of natural growth and conversion of products from polystyrene and PVC,” said NAPCOR’s Schedler.

But growth in thermoformed PET packaging and pent-up demand for recycled PET in those packages doesn’t automatically translate into a waste stream that can be turned into an end-market opportunity, he said. “The market is not the issue. The issue is moving it through the reclamation system.”

For the past 18 months, NAPCOR’s Thermoforming Council has been working with recyclers and material recovery facilities in the U.S. and Canada to address an array of technical issues, as well as difficulties presented by a huge variety of sizes and shapes of clamshells, boxes, trays, cups and lids.

Schedler said the council has three main objectives in regard to thermoformed PET.

“We have to remove the obstacles and create an infrastructure that will give PET thermoformed packages the same recycling opportunities as PET bottles,” he said. “And we have to do it in a way that is acceptable to existing collection systems and processes, and without jeopardizing the PET bottle recycling stream.”

Last, he said, “We have to support PET packages and do the things we did in the late 1980s to facilitate recycling of PET bottles.”

The council also is conducting a thermoformed packaging compatibility study to evaluate different streams of packaging and how well they meet industry protocols for fiber, sheet and bottles applications that have been developed by the Washington-based Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers.

Specifically, the study is looking at dedicated thermoformed packaging bales manually removed from MRFs without auto-sort capabilities, mixed bales of PET bottles and PET thermoformed packages at MRFs with auto-sorting equipment, and mixed rigid plastic bales.

“We will convey that data and our observations to PET reclaimers,” Schedler said.

A fourth possible stream — cups from arenas and stadiums with PET recycling programs — will be addressed later.

“I could see separate recycling programs within stadiums for cups, and, to a certain degree, clamshells,” he said. “But I don’t see that happening at MRFs with auto-sort equipment.”

The industry is working to overcome technical hurdles that currently keep thermoformed PET packages from being recycled in tandem with bottles. Among them:

* Look-alike plastics like oriented polystyrene, polylactic acid and PVC containers that are difficult to sort from thermoformed PET packaging, either manually or in auto-sorting operations.

* Adhesives used on pressure-sensitive paper labels are different from those used on PET bottles and could cause yellowing.

* Some direct printing.

* Different additives than in PET bottles.

* Flake geometry concerns.

* Wide variability in intrinsic viscosity.

“We understand what it takes to do this work and we are rolling up our sleeves to do it,” Schedler said. “We want to make PET thermoformed packaging recycling a reality and to position PET as the environmentally preferred package of choice.”

Copyright 2010 Crain Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In my last post, I discussed a company that is going to buy balled PET bottles and PET/RPET thermoforms from MRFs for reprocessing into the next generation of thermoforms. While I obviously have some questions and concerns in regard to the logistics of this approach, I feel like this is a step in the right direction. However, I feel that for Dordan, and the plastics industry in general, it is important to work on the residential recycling infrastructure level, as that is what the consumer has access to and informs his/her understanding of the “sustainability” of a given material. That being said, while a closed-loop system is awesome and a direction we would like to move, I will be focusing more on integrating our packages into the American recycling infrastructure in general because I really think that would resonate with consumers and the larger public. Additionally, the work I am doing with Walmart-Canada works on the residential level, as opposed to the closed-loop system level. If they can figure out a way to recycle PET thermoforms with or in addition to PET bottles, then hopefully, so can we.

Today I had a phone interview with a contact from StewardEdge, which is an organization in Canada that has their hands in issues pertaining to extended producer responsibility. This contact, however, works with Stewardship Ontario to develop markets for plastic post consumer. Our conversation today ROCKED because not only did he confirm my understanding of recycling, but he provided validation that our approach is one of relevance and that our goals are represented by our Canadian neighbors. So I am not alone after all, hurray!

Anyway, he explained that unlike the States, that which is driving recycling in Canada is Stewardship Ontario, which is an organization like Fost Plus in Belguim, which takes money from industry to manage the cost of said industry’s packaging waste. In other words, because there is legislation on the books in Canada that REQUIRES producers to fund the recovery of their packaging post-consumer, organizations like Fost Plus in Belgium and Stewardship Ontario in Canada developed to help producers meet said requirements.

Let me back up. In 2002 Canada’s Waste Diversion Act mandated that industry has to pay for 50% of the net cost for municipalities to run their Blue Box program. The Blue Box program is similar to curb side recycling in the States; however, they encourage the recycling of a lot more materials than is encouraged in the States.

The “designated” material types accepted for recycling via the Blue Box Program are listed here:  http://www.stewardshipontario.ca/bluebox/pdf/materialcategories.pdf.

Anyway, Stewardship Ontario was set up specifically to collect that money from industry and give it to the municipalities to manage packaging waste.

There are different fees for different materials, depending on the ease of recovering said material post-consumer. In other words, the harder a package is to recycle or recover, the higher the associated fee will be.

The fees change every year; here’s the latest: http://www.stewardshipontario.ca/bluebox/fees/fees_rates.htm.

For example, if you sold a polystyrene container into the Canadian market, you would be required to pay 24.65 cents per kg. These are real costs that affect the entire supply chain. PS is expensive because it is so lightweight (EPS is 98% air, 2% resin) there is no economical way to collect it for reprossessing (think shipping…); that is why EPS is one of the materials of focus for the MOC, because economically it is impossible to recycle…

Wow have I rambled. Sorry for the all over nature of this post; I have a point, I swear!

Tune in Tuesday (sisters taking a vacation!!!) to figure out where I am going with this and what needs to happen in the States to integrate thermoforms into the existing recycling infrastructure.

Tootles!

Hello! Sorry I did not post yesterday! I took my first “vacation day!” It was awesome…slept late, had a wonderful brunch, went to the beach, and watched the Hawks game. I feel rejuvenated and ready to blog about recycling in America.

BUT FIRST, we still have to finish our recap of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s spring meeting in Boston. Where were we…?

I left off discussing the keynote speaker’s discussion of our current approaches to production and consumption as being unsustainable. For a recap of the recap, check out my April 29th post.

Let’s move on to the Bio-Material Procurement presentation, which I alluded to in the previous post. In a nut shell, this presenter argued that if we chose to utilize biomaterials to produce polymers that can replace tradition materials, we need to ensure that we consider the economic, social and environmental factors inherent in the scale and intensity required for the production of said bio-based resins. Wow that was a mouthful; let me try again.

Basically, if we are going to rely on agriculture to produce biomaterials for the creation of bio-based polymers, we need to understand what that requires from an economic, social and environmental perspective. Through a discussion of the Better Sugar Cane Initiative, the presenter illustrates how the development of procurement principles, criteria, protocols and standards facilitates the “sustainable” production of biomaterials used for the creation of bio-based plastics. I honestly don’t have much to say about this issue.

Next I sat in on the “Making a Case for Integrated Waste Management” presentation, which basically discussed the impending “product stewardship” or “extended producer responsibility” legislation. For those of you completely unfamiliar with this topic, check out my research at: http://www.dordan.com/sustainability_epr_report.shtml.

Basically, this presenter illustrated how waste management developed in the US and how our current waste management system is economically unsustainable due to the responsibility relying entirely on municipalities. This presenter, like many others, argued that the burden for funding waste management should be shifted from the municipalities to the producer/brand owner/first importer. In a nut shell: If you make it, you have to figure a way to recovery it post-consumer. $$$

After this I went and listened to a presentation about other waste-to-energy technologies: one approach consisted of transferring trash into energy by essentially vaporizing waste into a multi-use syngas via a process known as plasma gasification; the other discussed innovating in composting, high solids anaerobic digestion and biomass gasification to produce renewable energy and high-quality value-added compost products.

Both technologies seemed super cool and the PERFECT solution to plastic packaging waste, which seemed a little fishy. I asked both presenters why these technologies were not utilized and the answer was because the price of natural gas is too cheap. Ha! Economics win again; I hate the real world.

There were a lot of other presentations, none of which I found particularly informative or interesting.

The next day I sat in on the “Making Packaging Composting a Reality,” which was AWSOME. Because Dordan is now working with bio-based resins that are certified to break down in an industrial composting facility, I really wanted to understand the likelihood that these bio-based resins would break down and could break down considering the existing infrastructure. The SPC had done a survey of numerous composting facilities in the US to determine their thoughts on compostable packaging. Luckily, bio-based clamshells DO break down in a compost pile; yippee! The only problem is, this end-of-life management option is WAY MORE attractive for food packaging because composters will accept the food waste along with the bio-based package because value for them lies within the organic i.e. food waste. Consequentially, it may be difficult “selling” our biodegradable packages to a composter post-consumer because they do not have food waste…

Regardless, it was really great to learn about industrial composting facilities and understand how the introduction of new bio-based polymers affects the overall integrity of the compost.

As an aside, the only thing that was found to NOT break down were “certified compostable” cutlery…go figure!

That’s basically it; sorry the info was a little basic. I hope that the fall meeting will be much more technical and really get into the gritty details behind why certain packages/materials are recycled and others are not i.e. its all about the money, honey.

Tune in tomorrow to witness the resurrection of my fallen recycling initiative.

Tootles!

Recap # 2: Walmart Expo

April 27, 2010

Greetings world! I feel like a million bucks—finally cleaned my office and organized all the information I gathered the last several weeks traveling. I will now resume my diligent blogging!

Soooo, where did I leave off? That’s right, I still need to fill you all in on the Walmart Expo in Arkansas.

Well, first of all, Arkansas is really nice! The drive from the airport to Bentonville was beautiful—very lush and it smelled so good! It appears as though the entire town of Rogers-Bentonville has been created to sustain the Walmart community, which is crazy! All the main buyers and movers and shakers for and to Walmart live around the headquarters, which must make company outings easy and enjoyable! Everyone we met was super duper nice and the whole “dry county” thing didn’t really apply because every restaurant we went to suggested you “sign in” thereby giving the establishment the status of a “club” and consequentially allowing them to serve us booze!

The Expo itself was really exciting! It being my first time “working the booth” I was thrilled to get in front of the packaging community and talk about Dordan and all our exciting new happenings! All the passerbyers were, again, super awesome and polite and all in all it was a good show! I got to see some old packaging buddies from the SPC and meet more people within the industry. Because I have only been to one or two other conferences, I was surprised to run into people that I had met previously—I didn’t realize what a small community the sustainable packaging realm was!

Check out our beaut of a booth:

AND all the Walmarters are really, really nice. Some of the top guys came by our booth and asked how the show went and thanked us for coming. We couldn’t believe the hospitality of the entire event and look forward to participating next year! If any of you Walmarters are reading, thanks again, we had a blast!

It was really cool too because our engineers had JUST finished running our samples that we designed for the Expo literally hours before we flew out of Chicago, which gave us the ammo we needed to initiate conversations with anyone. They looked great and showcased our thermoforming capabilities; and, demonstrated the different materials we were now offering! Basically it is a fancy business card holder with cool engravings and what not and the tray is made out of a bio-based, certified compostable resin and the lid is made from supplier-certified 100% PCR PET, which derives its feedstock entirely out of bottles post-consumer. We found that having something tangible to give to passerbyers really helped initiate discussion and we got a lot of attention because of the clarity of the PCR PET. For those of you not familiar, high concentrations of post-consumer content in PET often times give the resin a sort of orangy-brown tint; our source for 100% PCR PET, however, ensures a level of clarity that we have not been able to find elsewhere. In a nut shell: Good times all around.

This is a sort of poopy picture of our sample offer; but you get the idea:

Yum!

During the Expo there were education sessions, too. I found the content of these sessions very interesting and compiled my notes to debrief our sales and marketing departments upon my return. I have included these notes below, FYI.

Walmart Expo Summary:

  • Scorecard seminar, misc.
    • ECRM created the software for the Walmart Scorecard
      • “Efficient collaborative retail marketing”
    • Direct suppliers are REQUIRED to enter packages into scorecard
      • Via “retail link” i.e. per vendor number and item number
      • Allows you to compare with packages in same product category i.e. dairy. ECRM is working to narrow the categories down so you are only compared with direct competitors.
    • Indirect suppliers do not have access to retail link.
    • Focus of Score: Material type, material weight, material distance, packaging efficiency
      • Distance: the point the package travels from point of conversion to point of fulfillment.
    • Completion rate of Scores:
      • Each item sold in Walmart has its own number. Suppliers are required to fill out a Score for each item number. Currently, COMPLETION of scores is the easiest way to influence purchasing decisions. In other words, suppliers that have more than 85% of their Scores completed receive an “A” in the Walmart world; suppliers that have 55% complete receive a “B;” everything below comes up as a “red flag” in Walmart-internal. 
    • Package modeling software: Different than the Score card but formatted the same way; this is what we subscribe to.
      • Intended for indirect suppliers to utilize the modeling software in such a way that they can approach their customers (direct suppliers to Walmart) and explain how by doing X you can improve your score and here is the proof.
      • “Reversed engineering;” encouraged doing this on competitor’s packages, too.
  • Paperboard Packaging Council seminar, misc:
    • Fiber-based packaging is a by-product of the lumber industry? I need to look into this…
    • I asked why the recovery rates for corrugated were higher than paperboard…
      • Answer: Difference is attributed to post-industrial collection (corrugate) vs. post-consumer (paperboard). I need to examine this further.
    • Fibers can be recycled 6-8 times before the fibers become too small to reprocess
    • China currently buys most of our post-consumer mixed paper and reprocesses it; we need to find a domestic source for recycled fibers.
    • All corrugated has 46% post-industrial content in the U.S.
    • SBS is almost ALWAYS virgin fiber, with the omission of MWV’s Natralock.
    • I asked what the difference in energy demands are for virgin vs. recycled paper; I received a very ambiguous answeràapparently a controversial topic.
  • Plastic fundamentals seminar:
    • Discussed the benefits of plastic such as:
      • Keeps food fresher for longer;
      • Lightweight;
      • Didn’t address fossil fuel consumption;
      • Didn’t discuss MSW rates;
      • Did say that recycling for non bottle-PET has grown from 7.5% to 11% in the last year;
    • ACC supports re-writing the Toxics Control Act, which we referenced in our first Newsletter.
    • The ACC released LCI data on RPET and recycled HDPE. HURRAY!
  • SVN meeting:
    • There are a ton of different organizations that Walmart has its involvement in; I will try to explain the various relationships as follows:
      • ISTA—transit assessment; I don’t know what this is.
      • Global Packaging Project: Walmart funds this but is not the only CPG company on the board; this looks for a GLOBAL metric for assessing the sustainability of packages and product; this is bigger than the Scorecard, as the Scorecard will be a component of these metrics; the metrics used will be country-specific. This grew out of the CONSUMER GOODS FORUM, which was originally called the GLOBAL CEO FORUM. The GPP metrics look to take into account the Scorecard metrics, COMPASS, and other existing and legitimate metrics. If one wants the inclusion of another metric, it must be reviewed for application prior to being incorporated into the GPP metrics.
      • ISO project for Sustainable Packaging: I don’t know.
      • Scorecard: For packaging only; scores based on ITEM level.
      • Supplier Sustainability Assessment: Consists of 15 questions, which are asked of all product suppliers to Walmart; “scores” based on CORPORATE level.
      • Sustainability Index: the Assessment is part of the Sustainability Index, which is a project of the Sustainability Consortium. Again, Walmart funds this organization but is not the only CPGs company that participates.
  • Points of discussion:
    • “Sustainable material” metric: What does this mean? What are the limitations?
      • Should everyone get the same “score” until clarified?
      • Should we remove the metric?
      • Is Recovery taken into consideration?
      • Is it a LCA approach?
      • Does it consider conversion or primary production?
      • What about toxics?
      • Sourcing certificates?
    • Determined that it would be helpful to have a health and safety metric AND a sustainable sourcing metric.
    • Should inks/adhesives be included in GPP and Scorecard?
      • Not until proof that it has an impactàI have proof and will see that it gets into the right person’s hands.

Sorry if the format of my notes are a little confusing. Please let me know if you would like me to expand on any of these points or provide clarification.

AND I met a gentleman that gave me a PLETHORA of information about non-bottle plastic recycling and I am forever indebted to him. Seriously, good stuff and AMAZING feedback in regard to the various approaches I was considering for our clamshell recycling initiative. Once I get through recapping my recent travels, I will resume my clamshell recycling narrative. I think we are getting somewhere

Stay tuned!

Day 26: Nov. 21st, 2009

March 11, 2010

Hello world! Sorry I did not post yesterday—I was at home with the flu, boo. It was a rocking 60 degrees in Chicago yesterday, which sort of stinks, because I was at home in bed. I hope all those healthy Chicagoians had a blast, though.

And guess what: Because my blog is actually getting some attention (I have a phone interview with the Sustainability Coordinator of Walmart Canada about my efforts) my Superior told me I could resume my clamshell recycling initiative! He had told me to shelve my efforts because he wanted me to focus on things that would help Dordan—and not just the plastic industry in general—which was kind of my approach to finding a way to recycle thermoforms. Even in the discussion I started on greenerpackage.com I emphasized collaboration among the various thermoformers in the Midwest, which, any good business person knows, means working with your competition. Thank goodness for my Superior; without him I would probably completely forget that I was working in a business and not a classroom.

Having received the green light from my Superior, I just scheduled a meeting with our material supplier to determine why she does not like receiving PET bales with RPET/PET thermoforms in the mix.

Shall we resume our recycling narrative?

The next day I sent the following email to Robert Carlson of the CA EPA in response to his very insightful email that he sent me:

Hey!

Thanks for the email—super helpful and insightful. I am so glad I met you! I have recently been seeing how ruthless business can be and how everything has an angle or an agenda so it is nice to have a dialogue with someone who does not have any invested interest in the outcome of our conversations. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me as it’s difficult not to get jaded about being committed to sustainability only to discover that most are not and are just looking for a way to make a quick buck and using the sustainability movement to get their foot in the door. I dislike how people use the environment as a form of ethical manipulation for consumers. It is very bizarre but I guess the business world is very different from the academic world. I feel like I have so much to learn!

I actually got a really good response to some of the questions below on greenerpackage.com. I started a discussion about PET recycling and a member of the APR responded with very helpful insight. If you have a sec, you should check it out!

As per your response, you said that in CA, collectors accept mixed plastic 1-7. Do you know where/how these plastics are sorted? Do you know who the buyer is of these mixed plastic materials? I know that there is a market for mixed rigid plastic packaging on the East and West coasts because China buys it to incinerate it for energy. Ohhhh, the irony. At the same time, however, you explained that the end-market for mixed plastic is in plastic lumber operations. How can I find similar applications for mixed plastic in the Midwest?

In regard to your feedback about having consumers separate their packaging materials before leaving the store: All the obstacles you mentioned are being articulated to me by various people within the company: How do you change a consumer behavior? Who would pay to collect and reprocess the material? How would you get retailers on board? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but hopefully if I get an interview with a powerful retailer, perhaps we can make some strides in the right direction…

Do you think their will be any EPR legislation passed on packaging materials in the near future? Perhaps that is what is needed to motivate retailers to reclaim the packaging of their consumer goods…Do you think PVC will be banned in the near future (it would make it easier to implement a plastic packaging recycling program…)?

The SPC doesn’t want to tackle this issue, which is too bad, because I thought collaboration among the various plastic packaging manufacturers would be a great place to start. I don’t know if you have any other suggestions.

I am considering going to Akron, OH on Dec 9th for a technology showing of Polyflow. At the same time, however, my Superior doesn’t know what advantage that would have for us as a for-profit, which stinks. I would really like to speak with reps from Polyflow to understand the logistics of how they power the facility, where the emissions go, if there are any, and what contracts they have with municipalities to provide the raw material they need. In other words, would they work out a contract with municipalities where they would collect all plastic materials that are currently not recycled to be sent to Polyflow for energy recovery? If so, should I develop a dialogue with local municipalities to support this technology?

As per your discussion of the Starbucks pilot recycling program, you mentioned that they recycler they are working with “is known for taking and sorting everything.” Who are these mysterious MRFs? Do you think I could get in contact with them?

I know this is another intense email so if you would prefer to chat about it instead of emailing me back, that would be swell! I know you are busy so take your time as these are all ongoing inquiries and projects. Again, thanks for all your help—I feel like I am learning a ton.

Have a jolly good weekend and if I don’t hear from you, a tasty Turkey day!

P.S. Your “plastics expert” never got back to me.

Best,

Chandler

As those who have been following my blog know, I had taken my clamshell recycling initiative to the SPC hoping they may want to introduce this to the member-companies to see if this project would be of interest to the organization. I had spoken with several SPC project managers about the feasibility of this project, and to my disappointment, they did not feel as though this could be logistically introduced right now: the scope was too large and the approach to vague. The email below was in response to a project manager who had provided me with some information about non-bottle PET recycling.

Hey,

Thanks for this! I am talking with WM, the greenerpackage.com business director, NAPCOR, California Waste Management EPA and SPI to see how PET packaging can be integrated into the existing recycling infrastructure. I understand all the challenges that you outlined, but I still feel that we can create a market for recycled PET packaging, within or without the existing PET bottle flake recycling infrastructure. If this is a project of interest for the SPC, I would love to contribute. Otherwise, I will keep the SPC updated on the status of our recycling initiative.

Have a great weekend!

Best,

Chandler

I had sent this email several weeks ago and had not heard back so I assumed, as in the conversations with other representatives from the SPC, that this recycling initiative was not of interest to the SPC at this time.

In the email above where I said that the “plastics expert” had not gotten back to me, I was referring to a previous suggestion of Robert to contact the plastic rep at the CA Board of Integrated Waste Management. I sent the email below to this contact following Robert’s suggestion:

Hey,

My name is Chandler Slavin—I am the Sustainability Coordinator at Dordan Manufacturing, which is a Midwestern based custom design thermoformer of plastic clamshells, blisters, etc. I met Robert in Atlanta for the members-only Sustainable Packaging Coalitions’ fall meeting. Robert and I have been chatting about packaging and waste management ever since.

I am trying to find a way to recycle our RPET packages, either within the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure, or by creating a new end market for mixed rigid plastic packages. I have dialogues going with several contacts at WM and it seems as though this initiative is difficult to implement for various reasons.

In regard to creating a new end of life market for mixed rigid plastic packages: This seems more difficult to implement in the near future because the quantity is not there, as is the case with PET bottles. Moreover, because of all the different materials in various kinds of plastic packaging (food, medical, consumer goods), it is difficult to collect enough of any one material to find an end market for it. In a nut shell: the cost to collect, sort and reprocess mixed rigid plastic packages (after PET bottles have been removed for end of life recovery) exceeds the cost of virgin material for plastic packages.

As eluded to by Robert, PVC packages are a problem because they contaminate the PET waste stream. I received a similar perception from the SPC, who explained that plastic packages, even if PET or RPET, are not recycled because of the possibility of having a PVC package get into the bale. What I don’t understand, however, is where are mixed rigid packages even collected for recycling where the PVC contamination would be an issue? My rep at WM explained that buyers of baled PET bottles don’t want plastic packages (clamshells) in the bales because the possibility that one may be PVC. This, however, implies that there could be a market for rigid plastic packages (PET, RPET) outside of the PET bottle recycling infrastructure. Do you know where or by whom mixed rigid plastic packages are collected for recycling?

In regard to integrating our RPET packages into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure: Currently, I have sent out 50 RPET clamshell samples to my contact at WM to run through their optical sorting technology to see if our RPET material is compatible with the PET bottle material (same IVs and what not). If so, we could maybe find a buyer of a mixed bale of PET bottles and RPET plastic packages (non food). After all, we have certification from our suppliers that our RPET has a minimum 70% recycled content (from PET bottles); therefore, one would assume that our material would be very similar to the PET bottle material and as such, have an end market because the quantity is already there, we are just adding to it. Moreover, if we can ensure that our plastic packages are compatible with the PET bottle material, we may be able to have our material supplier buy the mixed baled PET bottles and RPET packages to be reground and sold back to us, thus being closed loop.

As the plastics expert at the California Integrated Waste Management Board, what do you think about the above described scenarios? What do you think is a good approach to finding a way to recycle our RPET plastic packages?

Honestly, any insight you could provide would be very well received; I feel as though I have hit a wall and don’t know where to go from here.

One more thing: What do you think of Pryolysis? Robert explained it as “down cycling,” which implies it is a less superior form of material recovery than recycling. At the same time, however, I have a dialogue going with a rep from Polyflow, which converts mixed flexible and rigid plastic packages into gasoline diesel fuels? I have attached a white page from the rep at Polyflow, which explains its technology. He explains that the cost of processing unwanted mixed plastic package via Polyflow is comparable to the cost of land filling this unwanted material. Please see the attached document, if interested, and let me know if you think this is a viable option for managing plastic packaging waste.

Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Best,

Chandler

To my disappointment, I never received feedback from this contact.

Tune in Monday to see where this clamshell recycling initiative takes me next!

Day 17: Nov. 2, 2009

February 22, 2010

After being copied on an introductory email to the plastics marketing rep of Waste Management, I called him, hoping he would be able to provide some clarification into why clamshells are not recycled in most American communities.

This is how I summarized my conversation with the plastics marketing rep of WM to Robert:

Hey Robert,

I spoke with the plastics marketing rep from Waste Management about the feasibility of finding a market for non-beverage PET flake (the educational director at WM said that the buyers of PET specify that they don’t want PET clams in the PET beverage bales) and he said that the economics don’t support it. In other words, because of the different properties of the different types of PET (RPET, REPTG, APET, etc.), buyers of balled PET only want bottles as they have the same properties and therefore can be recycled into a new product with the same properties i.e. the green plastic cables that are used to strap components together. Also, the quantity is not there, as in the case with PET bottles, so finding a market for PET clams doesn’t seem possible in this economic environment. However, on the east and west coasts, there is a market for “non-traditional” rigid containers insofar as China will buy them to regrind and make new product.

I feel as though I have been shot! I am cooking up another idea, however, that looks to work with a retailer OR a consumer electronic producer.

The plastic rep from WM said I should look into PLA (he said that it can degrade in a landfill?) or waste-to-energy. I know how you feel about “down recycling” but he told me of a company in Madison, Wisconsin, that takes “non traditional” plastics i.e. films, foams, etc. and blends them with coal to produce steam to create electricity. He said that this is cheaper than landfilling and that the energy is being used to power U of W.

What is a plastic thermoformer to do in order to become more sustainable? Now that I have shelved the recycling idea, I don’t know the next best place to look…

If you have any insight, please let me know!

Again, thanks for all your help; I am very glad I met you!

Oh, the bitter taste of defeat.

The plastics marketing rep of WM is the one who is responsible for finding a supplier and buyer of post-consumer plastic material. Therefore, he is the guy who would be able to explain why there is no buyer of non-beverage PET flake (RPET and PET thermoforms). This is what he told me:

There is no buyer of non-beverage PET flake because no one has every invested the time or money necessary to set up this infrastructure, find a buyer, outline the specs, etc. As WM has become more sophisticated, we have been able to recycle a lot more materials than previously recycled; therefore, non-bottle PET is just another material that we are working towards being able to recycle but have not done so successfully yet.

The reason buyers of PET bottle flake do not want PET/RPET thermoforms is because of the possibility of contamination (one PVC clam could contaminate the whole bale), and the different IV between PET bottle grade and PET thermoform grade, which makes for differences in the way things “fly” and “melt” while being repossessed.  

Okay… this seems complicated but not that complicated. I know from previous conversations with Robert that most cities in California accept and recycle plastics 1-7 because of the Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989, which requires local governments to reach a 50% diversion rate. This Act, consequentially, has facilitated the creation of new end markets for these materials post-consumer, which unfortunately, is not the case here.

Do we need to have legislation enacted to provide the motivation to find an end market for mixed rigid plastic containers and packages?

I then received the following email from Robert, which was very much needed in this time of defeat:

Chandler,

Try not to be discouraged.  These things take a long time to sort through and creating markets for materials is challenging to say the least!  There isn’t just an answer out there waiting to be found.  These things need to be teased into existence.  They need people (like you) to keep stoking the fire, prodding things along, and creating pressure.  Keep at it and you’ll come up with something that’ll work.  Maybe it’ll be a few things…at first…small scale.  Then maybe one will take off. 

The thing about recyclers is that they like what they know (even with Starbucks, they’re facing lots of concerns from recyclers accepting their cups with corrugated).  They know PET bottles…so they’re nervous about anything else.  Even if it were exactly the same they’d be nervous…so it’d be a matter of either proving through massive testing that it will work the same, or going for another grade of plastic.  If you created a new grade of plastic material with its own unique specifications, then everybody would know what to expect from the start.  Now…you’d have to have somebody lined up who can use that plastic…  It’s a bit of a paradox really…you can’t collect/bale the plastic if there’s nobody to buy/use it, but nobody is going to buy/use it unless there’s a good, steady supply of the stuff with consistent specifications…

Also, PLA will not degrade in the landfill; it requires a commercial composting facility. 

Have you considered moving away from single-use thermoformed containers and into more durable containers?  Can you make durable containers with the same process?  More and more places are feeling the push both from regulators and the public to go green…some are doing it through switching to PLA, some go to cornstarch, and some are going to reusables.  Eat-in facilities rather than take-out.  Options to fill customer’s dishes with food rather than their own single-use containers.  Or even the concept that’s being used with some food manufacturers (deli meats come to mind) where they sell their food product in a container that can be used again and again at home for leftovers…not for refilling its original product…but reused nonetheless.. 

Well, I’ve rambled on long enough!  Don’t give up!!!  We need people like you in industry!!

Robert

What a guy! Tune in tomorrow for more about recycling in America!

Day 12: Oct. 26, 2009

February 8, 2010

Happy Monday Funday!

I hope everyone enjoyed the Superbowl. What was your favorite commercial?

I swear, my job as the Sustainability Coordinator at a plastic company is making me crazyyyyyy! I interpret any reference to the environment and plastics in the context of popular culture as a case to be studied; as an academic text to be analyzed.

Such crazyiness manifests itself in my life outside work, when, for instance, I am watching the Super Bowl with friends, drinking beer and eating pizza.

And roll Audi commercial about the Eco-police:

Opening scene: Would you like paper or plastic?

My ears perk up; my senses ready.

Plastic, the man at the check-out counter says.

Enter: Eco Police. They arrest the man at the counter, thereby implying that because he opted for plastic, he is transgressing against our ecosystem. Ug!

And the funny thing is, Obama suggested that American-produced cars utilize more plastic in their construction than previously manufactured cars because it makes them lighter; therefore, less energy consumptive.  

AND the new Audi has plastic components for this very reason. It’s cool though—I understand what the marketers of this car were going for; after all, this Audi runs on diesel, which releases less green house gases than the burning of fossil fuel. So that’s neat. I just wish they wouldn’t continue to propagate the notion that plastic is bad for the environment when, because of its lightweight and versatile properties, it actually facilitates innovation in the field of sustainability.

You can check out this commercial at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_MuqoSsuTQ&feature=player_embedded.

Anyway where am I? Oh that’s right; awaiting an email from the educational tour guide from Recycle America…

Until I speak with this contact about the contents of this email and receive her approval to include it in this blog, I am unable to continue the narrative at this point. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Day 11: Oct. 25, 2009

February 5, 2010

Happy Friday!

I finally figured out how to add tags to my posts, hurray!

After tagging it up, I tried searching one of my tags in the wordpress.com search engine. I started with “clamshells” and what I found was all sorts of crazy stuff. My favorite is “Death to the Clamshell” at: http://envirogy.wordpress.com/2009/08/25/death-to-the-clamshell/. Check out my reply, it’s the last one.

Anyway, while waiting for the educational tour guide’s response, I began researching incineration as a form of energy recovery for plastic packaging. As briefly discussed in my last post, Belgium is at a 96% packaging waste recovery rate because of their sophisticated recycling and incineration infrastructure. That which they can’t recycle, they incinerate. Why don’t we do that here, I wondered.

After several googling sessions, I stumbled upon this “new” technology called Polyflow. I called the number provided on the website…

After a quick Q&A with their rep, I was a little skeptical about this technology because it just sounded too good to be true. Because I didn’t know much about it, I sent Robert the following inquiry:

Hey Robert,

How’s it going? I saw Where the Wild Things Are this past weekend and it was AWSOME! You must see it at your earliest convenience.

Okay, I don’t want to be a nuisance, but have you heard of Polyflow? It is this new technology that breaks the plastic polymer chain down into its chemical components by vapor and then reconstructs the molecules in order to create diesel and fossil fuel and the monomers that make plastic polymers. This technology supposedly takes all types of plastics not currently recycled by single stream and provides the feedstock for the above mentioned products. I spoke with a representative from Polyflow and he says that this system will be economically and environmentally sustainable next year but that they are still in the pilot phase and need additional funding to construct the actual facility that will house this technology.

Any knowledge about this waste management alternative?

Moreover, I have not heard back from the Environmental Director of Starbucks and was wondering if you had unearthed any contacts at your organization that would be able to help me implement my recycling program. I have a dialogue going with SPI, our industry association, but they don’t think the economics will support it.

Hope all is well!

Best,

Chandler

My reference to SPI, the Society of Plastics Industry, was legitimate; I had spoken with one of their reps about my concerns about the environmental and plastic, specifically, recycling, and it went no where.

I first spoke with the Senior Director of State Affairs, who does a lot of petitioning for plastic on our industry’s behalf. She was aware of all the obstacles facing our industry but didn’t seem interested in helping me increase the recycling rates of plastic packaging because, as she explained, it is just not economical: If people can buy virgin resin for cheaper than recycled resin why would we work to create an end-of-life market for mixed rigid plastic packaging?

My one suggestion was to change the SPI resin ID numbers on the back of plastic packages. For instance, the number “1” indicates PET but doesn’t specify the various fillers added to the PET polymer to enhance/alter its properties. Therefore, we manufacture APET, RPET, RPETG, PETG, etc. and they are all labeled as “1” as mandated by the SPI. Because of the different additives in these polymers, the recycling facility won’t accept any thermoforms labeled “1” because they do not know how that specific additive will influence the overall integrity of the bale. Therefore, although it may be the same material as that in PET bottles, they can’t integrate it into the bales to be reprocessed for fear of contamination.

As an aside, PLA is just making its introduction into the market and I don’t know if it has been assigned a resin ID number; therefore, sorters may not be able to distinguish PLA bottles from PET bottles, thereby increasing the chances that the PET stream will be contaminated by PLA. I don’t know what the PLA people have to say about it…I will follow up with some more research in future posts.

Do check out this article; it may provide insight into the ramifications of incorporating into the PET recycling stream: http://www.linkedin.com/news?viewArticle=&articleID=107200234&gid=160429&srchCat=RCNT&articleURL=http%3A%2F%2Fblogpackaging%2Eblogspot%2Ecom%2F2010%2F02%2Fbioplastics-and-oxo-degradables%2Ehtml&urlhash=oSuc.

Anyway, I suggested that SPI be proactive and work with recyclers to develop the best labeling for resins to increase the recyclability of plastic packaging. Although this contact did not know exactly how the SPI was handling the resin ID number situation, she did say that they had a subcommittee devoted to the investigation of these issues and she would follow up with me about this subcommittee…  

Tune in Monday to see Robert’s response to my Polyflow inquiry. Good stuff to come; have a splendid weekend!

Day 10: Oct. 21, 2009.

February 4, 2010

The next day I received the following email from the educational tour guide at Recycle America:

Chandler,

I just received this and will gladly answer as best I can but it will not be until tomorrow as I have tours.  I appreciate your patience. 

Lisa

Okay…what else can I do in the meantime to move this initiative forward?

I thought back to the lectures at the SPC’s members-only meeting in Atlanta. The president of Environmental Packaging International (hereafter, EPI) gave a very honest presentation about environmental marketing. Basically he explained what kinds of environmental claims on packaging are misleading or manipulative and what kinds are acceptable. Because the FTC is being restructured, he explained, they have not been able to investigate the environmental claims on packaging; however, that will change, and those making unsubstantiated or vague claims will be sought out by the FTC. Therefore, he explained, it is in all of our interest to only make claims that can be validated via scientific analysis.  

Hurray, I remember thinking. Finally, marketers will be held accountable for manipulating consumer’s desires to do well by the environment.

To be honest, I probably would not have a job at Dordan as the Sustainability Coordinator if people in our industry were not greenwashing. In other words, it was because my father, the CEO of Dordan, didn’t know how to interpret the claims being made by our competitors that he hired me to investigate them. And what I found, more often than not, was because the FTC didn’t have the man power to investigate environmental claims our industry was in sort of a Wild West limbo where marketers could get away with saying almost anything. This Wild West limbo was catalyzed by the recent consumer research that showed how most consumers would buy the product with the better environmental profile if at a comparable cost and performance to other, less environmentally friendly products. I am sure we are all familiar with this…

Anyway, I remember the President of the EPI discussing the Mobius Loop symbol and how that can be a form of greenwashing in and of itself insofar as it implies recyclability or recycled content. All of our packages have this symbol, which houses the SPI resin identification number; both the symbol and ID number were mandated by SPI (Society of Plastics Industry) decades ago.

I sent the President the following email, hoping to get some clarification about the applicability of this symbol to our packages:

Hello,

This is Chandler Slavin with Dordan Manufacturing—we spoke briefly following your presentation in Atlanta entitled, “Are the Labeling and Green Claims on Your Packaging Meeting FTC and Retailer Requirements?” First, I wanted to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for your presentation: it was the most honest, direct, and educationally insightful discussion I had yet experienced at the forum. At the same time, however, there are some questions still lingering.

For instance, you said that the mobius loop i.e. chasing arrows symbol, which houses the SPI resin identification number, implies to the consumer that the package is either: (1) made out of 100% recycled material or, (2) is 100% recyclable. After telling this to the president of our company, we were confused because we thought that this symbol was mandated by the SPI. Are you and the FTC suggesting we remove this symbol from our packages? Is there someone at the FTC we could talk with for clarification? Is there someone at SPI that would be of assistance?

Sorry for the quick-fired questions: this is all new to us and we are trying to be honest with our labeling in order to inform our customers about the sustainability of our packages. Additionally, I would really like the opportunity to talk to you about industry-led EPR initiatives in the U.S. When would be a good time to reach you?

Best,

Chandler Slavin

The same day, I received the following email from the President of the EPI:

Chandler,

The SPI code as required by 39 State Laws are allowed if used as prescribed by those laws. If you placed it in an inconspicuous location on the container (e.g., embedded in the bottom of the container) it would not constitute a claim of recyclability or recycled content and is allowed.

If you have a questions let me know, Hope this helps.

Phew…I thought to myself; we only place the chasing arrows symbol on the bottom of our packages. We are FTC clear, at least for now.

Tune in tomorrow for more recycling in America tantalizing tid bits.