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!

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!

Day 8: Oct. 19, 2009

February 1, 2010

Dennis and I chatted again over the next several days. Unfortunately, because we just joined the SPC, my Superior didn’t want to join another industry group because of the associated fees. Rats!

Discouraged that we had to pay to be a part of an organization that had the same idealistic goals I did, I sent Robert the following email:

Hey Robert,

Thanks for hooking me up with Dennis– he is super nice and wants Dordan to become members of NAPCOR. At this point in time, however, we don’t think it would be wise to join another association because of the membership fees. Moreover, although they have a thermoformer division of the NAPCOR who are working towards re-capturing PET clamshells through existing recycling infrastructures, they have yet to successfully implement a recycling program. It’s hard to say what the best approach to this issue is, as it doesn’t appear as though the economics support it (in other words, the cost of collecting, sorting and cleaning PET clamshells exceeds the cost of virgin PET). Regardless of the economics, however, I am still working towards achieving this goal (to the dismay of my Superior) and am developing an initiative to present to a retailer that would allow us to reclaim our packages to be reground on-site and sold back to our material supplier.

As per my last email, I am still very interested in the Starbucks recycling pilot in New York and how, as a business, they are able to keep the cost association low enough to implement the program. I know you are super busy and I don’t expect you to continue to be such a doll, but if you have any contacts at Starbucks or anyone you think would be of assistance to me in regard to implementing a cost-effective recycling program that is compatible with the existing infrastructure, I would be tickled pink!

Again, thank you for all your help. It is nice to have a contact outside the business world who is committed to sustainability, not as a marketing incentive, but as a moral imperative.

Stay dry in rainy Cali and I look forward to speaking with you soon!

Best,

Chandler

My reference to getting a retailer on board with this recycling initiative stemmed from an article I found about Marks and Spencer, a UK-based retailer that actually has their customers de-rob their products from their packages after the point of purchase. Sort of like how Best Buy has a bin to dispose of batteries in, this retailer has bins specifically for reclaiming packaging waste post-consumer. I also thought a retailer may be a good place to start because a lot of the sustainability movement in the context of packaging has originated from retailers, specifically Walmart, with their proclamation to reduce packaging weight by 13% in 2010 via the packaging modeling software created by ECRM.

Any woo I am getting off track.

After a delicious lunch of Porillios’ Italian beef with sweet peppers, I returned to the office to find the following email from Robert:

Chandler,

The person you want to talk to is the Environmental Director of Starbucks.  He’s actually an SPC member as well and was at the meeting in Atlanta.  He’s a great guy and he said he’d be happy to chat with you about what they’re doing in NY. 

You might also be interested in speaking with somebody from our department that works with local governments.  They have a lot of knowledge of how local infrastructure works and they work with businesses all the time trying to assist them with increasing recycling rates.  I’ll check around and see if I can find the best person for you to talk to over there. 

Good luck with all of this, and please don’t hesitate to contact me with more questions or for updates!!

Robert

Groooooovy. Next task: Schedule a phone interview the Environmental Director of Starbucks. Tune in tomorrow to see where we go next in the splendid land of recycling in America.

Day 6: Oct. 17, 2009

January 28, 2010

So it turns out that if you click on the graphs (from yesterday’s post) you can see a full screen image of the graphs, which should clarify any confusion created by the fuzzy images; hurray for technology or what not.

Anyway where am I? Oh, that’s right; I had the brain child of spear-heading an industry led initiative that looks to reclaim our packages post-consumer. Grand.

I remember arriving to the office on Oct. 19th and not really knowing where I wanted to go with this recycling initiative…I was still really new at Dordan so I had the luxury of researching what ever I thought was pertinent to my role as the Sustainability Coordinator. As I opened my inbox I was quite relieved to have a message waiting for me from Robert Carlson; perhaps he would provide some direction…

Chandler,

That sounds like an exciting initiative!  I’m actually interested to know a bit more about what you’re planning on doing, who in industry you’re planning on getting to help you, and whether you’re planning on tapping into the PET stream from beverage containers or if you’re hoping to start a new market for non-beverage container PET flake. 

Do you know about NAPCOR (National Association for PET Container Resources)?  It’s based here in California and I know the Director if you need an introduction.

Exciting stuff!!  Oh and BTW, it’s our first big storm of the season, so the wind is howling, the rain pouring down and the power has already been off in the office this morning once…

Hope you’re enjoying things in Illinois!!  Snowing there yet?

Hmmmm, I thought to myself…who in the industry am I planning on getting to help me

…do my brothers count?

Shall I attempt to integrate our packages into the PET stream from beverage containers or do I want to start a new market for non-beverage container PET flake? I just don’t know…

All of a sudden I felt very silly; I hadn’t even asked myself these questions yet. I was simply swept away by what I thought was a splendid idea; it didn’t occur to me, however, that I had NO IDEA how to logistically and economically implement it.

Well, we all got to start somewhere, right? I was still on a high from being crowned the MVP of the religious studies department at DePaul and graduating Summa Cum Laude; I thought I could do anything if I simply put my thinking cap on. Heck, I told myself, I had written a 50 page thesis on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, which, might I add, is no small feat; how hard can it be to learn the ABC’s of recycling?

Motivated by my own ego, I sent Robert the following email:

Hey Robert,

Thanks for the quick reply. So far our recycling program initiative is in its infancy insofar as it is only a theoretical idea that we have been researching how to implement. We have a contact at Microsoft that introduced the idea to us, and we are considering engaging with as many material converters in the Midwest as there are available. I have been researching grant opportunities and am waiting on approval from my superior before I approach the SPC with the project initiativ

In regard to your question: I am planning on starting a new market for non-beverage container PET flake i.e. thermoformed packages, because that is what we manufacture and are consequentially responsible for. Greenerpackage.com just covered the pilot recycling program launched in several Starbucks stores in New York to reclaim their paper cups and I assume a similar program could be initiated by material converters in the Mid West.

Thank you for suggesting the NAPCOR—in all my academic research on recycling I had yet to stumble on this trade association. I would love to take you up on your offer to introduce me to NAPCOR’s director! Please provide his/her contact information at your earliest convenience.

 Best,

Chandler

The contact at Microsoft I was referring to was this gentleman I met at the SPC meeting in Atlanta; he had a catchy marketing slogan for if we were able to find a way to reclaim and recycle our packages: “Our packages are made out of our competitor’s packages.” Awesome, I thought to myself when he told me. Now all we got to do is find a way to reclaim and recycle our packages; swell!

After lunch that day, I received the following email from Robert:

Chandler,

I’ve sent an email to Dennis at NAPCOR, introducing him to what you’re looking to do and asking him if it’s something he’d be interested in/chatting with you.  I find it works a bit better to speak with him first myself and then making the introductions, rather than setting you up blindly to make a cold call.

I’ll let you know what I hear.  In the meantime (if you haven’t already found them) their website is www.napcor.com

I’m glad you guys are taking such a proactive role in pursuing this kind of product stewardship role.  Starbucks has also been out in front with their packaging and I’ve been working with them on overcoming the technical and logistical obstacles as well as the sociological challenges.  I wish you well in your efforts and please feel free to use me as a resource, or as a sounding board.

Robert

Wow, I thought to myself…this could be really great. Tune in tomorrow to see what happens next (I am still brainstorming on a signing off phrase…let me know if you come up with anything that is better than “tune in next time,” which, if you are not from the 1950s, should not be hard to do).