Day 24: Nov. 19th, 2009

March 8, 2010

Happy Monday! I am already on my second cup of joe and not feeling too perky. Ug! I hope everyone is feeling a little more motivated than I…

Shall we resume our recycling narrative?

The next day I arrived to find an email waiting from Robert Carlson of the CA EPA. This is in response to the email I sent updating him on the status of my clamshell recycling initiative. It is jammed packed with goodness so enjoy! Thanks Robert!


First I wanted to address the issue of collecting rigid plastics for recycling (providing the source for PVC contamination).  I’m not terribly aware of the recycling infrastructure in your part of the country, but here in California, most jurisdictions do in fact accept mixed plastics.  A lot of jurisdictions moved away from the 3-bin system which often took only beverage containers to a single-stream approach to recycling where you dump all recyclables into a single bin and it’s sorted at the MRF.  Where I live, the city picks up 1-7 plastics of any kind for recycling then sorts later.  So…this situation is one that would introduce a PVC bottle or clamshell into a stream where it could be confused for PET or some other plastic for that matter (even paper).  Also, if there are commercial recycling centers/retail bins etc…an errant PVC container may find its way into the bin and be sent with the rest for recycling.  Some of the plastics that are collected do get separated and disposed of, but others are sent to be recycled as a low-grade plastic mixture that’s often used in plastic lumber applications where it’s mixed with sawdust or something and used for fencing or benches or sometimes decking.

Second, you idea about having consumers separate their goods from its packaging before they leave the store and deposit it into appropriate bins for recycling is a good one.  It is in fact being done in Europe and I believe parts of Canada (don’t quote me on that) where they have EPR programs in place.  If you do in fact pursue that option I would LOVE to follow it since it’s an approach that we think would allow a high level of recovery while maintaining a clean stream.  BUT of course it introduces the problem of financing and retail acceptance (they don’t always want to put bins in their stores…particularly in the front where everybody can see them) not to mention changing the consumer’s behavior to unwrap their product in the store instead of at home where they are accustomed to doing it.  The other issue I’ve heard is related to returns (often you’re required to return the product in its original packaging).  Not that these are issues that can’t be addressed, but they would need to be though about and dealt with somehow.  Again…VERY exciting and if you go that way, I’d love to watch or be more involved somehow.

Third, as I think I’ve mentioned before, Pyrolosis may be the best option for you and if it works and meets your goals and expectations, then by all means pursue it.  It’s not really an option for us (in California) right now, but who’s to say what will happen in the future?  Keep me updated on it if you go that direction.

Fourth, your assumption that your PET clamshells should be compatible with the PET bottle stream is correct.  If you could somehow guarantee a certain level of cleanliness (both free of food/product contamination as well as free from various other resin contamination) then it should in fact be compatible.  From what I understand, Starbucks first had a University test the recycling process of corrugated containers with their cups and proved that they did in fact work.  Then they started piloting the project, collecting the cups and sending them to be mixed into a real-life recycler with corrugated.  The recycler is then sending samples of the finished board for testing to be sure it meets the same specs as recycled board with NO cups.  This recycler though is known for being able to take and separate ANYTHING so they may not work for everybody, but it’s a foot in the door.  People can see that it can be done and it won’t degrade the product.  Then it’s a matter of finding the contamination level that other recyclers are comfortable with and making the stream clean enough for them (that’s the next step).  If you were collecting at retail, you’d have some control over stream cleanliness.  Of course, if PVC were banned…it’s help your cause immensely as well as you’d no longer have to deal with recyclers worrying about PVC messing up the clamshell stream.

I’m busy dealing with synthetic turf field issues and recycled paper issues at the moment, plus of course my usual EPR related issues.  Meetings, reports, dealing with lobbyists!!  My life is busy in a boring way!!

Whew!!!  That was a marathon of an email, huh?!?!? 

We’ll have to chat again soon, but maybe next time parceled out into smaller portions.  I’m a number of years out of college and not as mentally nimble as you are anymore!!  God…getting old at 30!  That’s terrible!!

Maybe if you have any specific questions about any of these topics, we can get together on the phone so that we can discuss a bit more casually rather than having to get everything down in an email.

Take care…gotta go to yoga now and relax my brain for a few moments!


Tune in tomorrow for some feedback from the Environmental Director of Starbucks! Good luck getting through the rest of the day!


Day 5: Oct 15, 2009

January 27, 2010

Check out what I found:


Wow, 52% of Municipal Solid Waste was attributed to paper and paperboard products in 2007? Who’d thunk?

Okay…so while paper is the largest contributor to landfills, it has a recovery rate of above 50%. That’s pretty great. Plastic, on the other hand, has a much lower recovery rate. Why is that?

Now take a gander here:

So PET has the best recovery rate for plastic materials. We manufacture a lot of PET; that must mean a lot of our packages are recyclable. Hurray!

 And enter reality: Only PET BOTTLES are recovered in most American communities. Most other PET products, including our packages and anything labeled with the SPI resin identification #1 that does not have a thin neck ends up in a landfill. And this is because…?

 And lastly:

Okay, so there is a lot of energy stored in plastic, most of which ends up in a landfill. That seems silly, especially with the Al Gores of the world propagating the idea that we are running out of fossil fuel and must look for alternative sources for energy. Why look for energy from algae, which is awesome, don’t get me wrong, when we could just establish a better infrastructure for recovering the stored energy in plastic, a.k.a WTE? Europe is all over incineration and energy recovery…what gives?

Why not spear-head an industry-led initiative that looks to integrate non-bottle plastic packaging into the existing recycling infrastructure, I thought to myself? After all, the fact that all the plastic packaging besides bottles ends up in a landfill is bizarre; therefore, we not collaborate with those along the supply chain to find an end-of-life option for plastic packaging? Sounds like a great idea, I thought to myself.

I then followed up with Robert Carlson after my thought baby of starting a recycling initiative:

Hey Robert,

Thank you very much for the email—I understand you are busy so I really appreciate you taking the time to respond to my inquiries. I am in the process of trying to spear-head an industry led recycling program aimed at recapturing PET clamshell packages for material recovery. Yippee!

Hope all is well in sunny California. Take care and I look forward to speaking with you again in the future. If you come across anything about sustainability and packaging that you think would be of interest, please don’t hesitate to send it my way.


Chandler Slavin

Tune in tomorrow to see Robert’s feedback, which marks the beginning of a very long and convoluted attempt to alter the recycling infrastructure in America.