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!

Day 4: Oct. 16, 2009

January 27, 2010

So what did I do with this information? Nothing; I filled it in the “miscellaneous” section of my research hoping to return to it on a rainy day. After several days of stewing over my ethical quandaries about information classified as “proprietary,” I realized that these concerns shouldn’t be the ones dictating the direction of my research. Instead, I should be concentrating on real issues; issues, that if dealt with logically and by someone with a genuine commitment to sustainability, could enhance the sustainability profile of the plastics industry. What is the main problem with our industry’s current approaches to production, use and disposal of packaging materials, I asked myself?

I thought back to the SPC meeting in Atlanta; one of the speakers was the CEO of the Fost Plus system in Belgium, which is, in a nut shell, the business manifestation of an industry-led initiative that looks to increase the material recovery rate of packaging materials post-consumer. Because Belgium foresaw the ramifications of the 1994 EU Directive on Packaging Waste, it was in their interest to set up an economically sustainable material recovery infrastructure to meet the future legislation’s requirements. And the result: Belgium is at a 96% packaging materials recovery rate. WOW.

So where does this bring me? It brings me to the real issue: the recycling infrastructure in America. Looks like it’s time to do more research. Tune in tomarow to see the latest facts and figures about recycling in America.