Helllllloooooo my long lost packaging and sustainability friends! Oh how I have missed you!

Last week’s trip was a success! We had a bunch of normal sales thingamajigs, and while on the east coast, I visited two of my favorite sustainable packaging companies: Ecovative Design and TerraCycle! Here is a pic of me and my friend in front of Ecovative:

As described in April 21st’s post, Ecovative “grows” EPS-like material out of agricultural waste, using mycelium as the “glue” that holds the substrates together. They make everything from packaging materials to insulation to consumer products, like candles and ducks! Here is Myco the duck, courtesy of Ecovative, ha!

Anyway, their facility is super cool and the options are endless with how this new material can be utilized in the market. Check out their website here.

Next we saw TerraCycle, which is based in Trenton, New Jersey. Here are two photos of the office space, mostly assembled from refurbished waste. Cool!

And as previously articulated, TerraCycle partners with brands to re/upcycle hard-to-recycle branded packaging, like Cliff Bar wrappers, Capri-Sun juice pouches, and so on. By setting up collection sites across America and the world—called brigades—TerraCycle is able to collect the quantity necessary to economically justify the reprocessing of it. While everything technically is recyclable, the costs of collection (curb side vs. drop off vs. deposits) and sortation (single stream vs. comingled vs. manual/automated sorting technologies) for multi-material packaging usually exceeds the cost of virgin material/packaging production; this results in the likelihood that said packaging is not being recycled in most American communities. When brands partner with TerraCycle, however, they fund the shipment of the hard-to-recycle post consumer collected packaging to a TerraCycle facility, where it stays until it is re/upcycled into new products/packaging/material. Part of the fee for partnering with TerraCycle also goes into R&D to better understand how to get the most value out of the collected “waste” and PR, so that the partnered brands receive the marketing collateral inherent in such a warm and fuzzy initiative.

Check out their website here.

We went to TerraCycle to see if there would be any application for our two companies to play together. As those who follow my blog know, I have been working on a clamshell recycling initiative for almost two years. While I have focused mostly on a very macroscopic, infastructural approach to recycling, that is, working within the existing tax-funded waste management hierarchy of specs, bales, sorting and so on, I thought I would also investigate a more privatized approach in hopes that the reality of recycling clamshell packaging would be more aggressively pursued. I will keep you posted!

That night I attended a fiesta at TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky’s house and being that it was “International Week” at Terracycle, which means all the international TerraCycle offices were in Trenton, I got to meet environmentally conscious people from all over the world! It was so cool!

And on the note of recycling, Dordan CEO Daniel Slavin was quoted in not one but TWO PlasticsNews articles! The first, “Recyclers See Hope in Third Recycling Stream,” discusses the potential of increasing the supply of post consumer resins available for remanufacture; the second, “Consolidation Ahead for PET Recyclers?” discusses the market realities of PET recycling.

Neato! We are making progress!

Hello!

I have some exciting news!

I am going to NY to visit two super cool companies, Ecovative Design and TerraCycle!

The first, Ecovative Design, grows a Styrofoam-like substitute out of agricultural waste using mycelium as the “glue” that holds the substrates together, for application in a variety of end markets; from packaging to—as this article describes—car parts, this company’s innovative new approach to material feedstock and disposal (it is home compostable!) deserves a standing ovation!

TerraCycle, first described in the March 31st’s post, is a company that partners with brands to upcycle or recycle hard-to-recycle branded packaging, like multi-material/composite CapriSun pouches, into an array of new products. They recently announced partnership with Garnier Fructis, starting the first (I believe), beauty and personal care post-consumer up/re-cycling stream. Rad! AND, check out this recently launched commercial, which introduces TerraCycle’s partnership (?) with NBC for Earth Week! They are on the up and up!

So yeah, I am tickled pink at the opportunity to visit these companies next month! Hopefully they will let me take pictures and perhaps, even allow me to interview them, to share with you all, my packaging and sustainability friends!

Have a great Holiday everyone! Look forward to feedback from the second part of the Walmart SVN Monday!

Helllooooo my packaging and sustainability friends!

Today I am going to begin discussing the insights of the SPC meeting I attended in San Diego last week. As alluded to in yesterday’s post, these meetings are conducted under the “chatham house rule,” which means that “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.”

I flew into San Diego on Monday to catch part of the pre-conference workshops—specifically—the “SPC Labeling for Recovery Update” as I spend a lot of time researching end of life management of packaging materials. One of the arguments I make in my Recycling Report is that the SPI ID code on the bottom of plastic packaging is an inefficient means of segregating plastic by resin type for its end of life reprocessing in manual sortation systems. Do note, however, that sortation by resin type post-consumer was never the SPI’s intention with these codes—it was more constructed as a form of intra-industry communication. ANYWAY, the SPC’s Labeling for Recovery Pilot looks to model itself a bit off the UK’s Labeling for Recovery scheme insofar as it is intended to communicate to CONSUMERS what packaging materials are recycled, what may be recycled, and what currently are not recycled. For those of you unfamiliar with the UK’s labeling scheme, it began as a project by WRAP, which was subsequently re-identified as OPRL Ltd. (On Pack Recovery Label). OPRL is now used on more than 90% of grocery packaging in the UK and has reportedly resulted in increased understanding by consumers of what is recyclable and what is not, thereby elevating recovery rates of packaging waste post consumer. The catch, for lack of better words, is that companies wishing to use this labeling scheme on their packaging must pay the “distributors” of this scheme an agreed upon annual fee. Like most “certifications,” I believe, –be it SFI, USDA Organic, Green Dot, etc.—money must be generated by those wishing to use said label/certification in order to ensure the proper distribution and implementation there of. I just read this article, which explains how SFI is in some hot water as many Fortune 500 companies that previously used said certification are removing it from new product packaging due to the unethical implications of this entire certification system. Therefore, it is very, very important when using/issuing a labeling scheme/certification that due diligence is taken throughout the supply chain to ensure that the label conveys to consumers what it is intended to convey, without falling into the deep, dark waters of GREENWASHING, dun dun dunn. Sorry I am getting way off track.

So, the SPC’s Labeling for Recovery Project attempts to present a legitimate, uniform labeling scheme that educates consumers on what types of packaging can and cannot be recycled currently in America. The workshop got in somewhat of a debate, however, over what percentage of recovery/REACH data per packaging material is considered “recyclable,” vs. “check locally,” vs. “not currently recycled.” Obviously, most participants in the workshop represented some type of packaging material, and no one wants to have a “not currently recycled” label on their packaging, regardless of if that is the reality of the situation. At first it was articulated that the FTC’s recently revised Green Guides would be used to determine what is considered “recyclable” (60% or more American communities have access to facilities that can recycle packaging X post-consumer) vs. “check locally” (20%-60% “…”) vs. “not currently recycled” (less than 20% “…”). This type of data collection, that is, what percentage of Americans/American communities have access to recycling facilities that can reprocess packaging material X, is called “REACH” data, though I myself am a little confused about the difference between having access to recycling facilities vs. actually recycling packaging…

ANYWAY, the workshop spent a considerable amount of time discussing:

Holes in existing data sets, be it REACH data or recycling/recovery data (American data sets don’t consider incineration with energy recovery as a form of “recovery,” which is part of the reason that the “recovery” rates of packaging waste in the EU far exceeds that of America);

How incineration with energy-recovery would be incorporated into the labeling scheme, though little post-consumer waste is incinerated in America due to its sour reputation from the early 1990s;

AND how private/closed loop recycling schemes, like those implemented by RecycleBank and TerraCycle, would be included into the construction of this labeling scheme as these non-national facts and figures are not currently incorporated into the US EPA/ACC data sets on packaging waste recycling/recovery.

As you can see, something so simple as trying to educate consumers about what is recycled and what is not recycled is not NEARLY as easy as it seems—you have to deal with lack of uniform/accurate data sets, conceptual discrepancies between using data set A (REACH data) vs. data set B (recycling data), plus how to incorporate compostability data, incineration with energy recovery data, private/closed loop recovery scheme data, and much much more! Fun stuff, eh!??!

After the slighty around the bush workshop, I had some time to kill before the “networking reception” that night, so I took a walk along the coast, and spotted a mini gondola, see!

Can you spot Waldo?!?

Hello everyone!

Another gloomy day in Chicago—I can’t wait to go to San Diego next week for the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s spring meeting! AND, I just booked flights to Rogers, Arkansas, for the Walmart SVN meeting and Expo. Though Dordan is not exhibiting this year, I am excited to see what other vendors are offering and get updated on Walmart’s sustainability initiatives!

So I am about half way through TerraCycle CEO Tom Szacky’s book, “Revolution in a Bottle.” It is really, really good, and inspiring! I thoroughly suggest you get yourself a copy today! That which I like so much about his story is his awareness into the economic realities of the market place: one of his main arguments is that the majority of consumers will NOT pay more for a green product; while everyone wants to do well by the environment, few are willing to pay for it. His whole approach, therefore, is to be able to provide green products at a competitive price and performance as those currently on the market. And the best way to do that? Use what is considered waste as your feedstock. BRILLIANT.

I met with TerraCycle’s VP of Global Brigades today to learn more about the logistics of their approach to recycling/reusing hard-to-recycle materials and products. Basically, they have a brand pay to finance the brigades (collection of materials and shipment) and in return, TerraCycle upcycles or recycles the collected materials thereby extending the brand’s life post consumer. It’s a win-win: the brand gets consumers to participate in their identity by collecting it’s waste i.e. Capri-Sun bags, thereby strengthening the consumers relationship with the brand and the brand’s perceived environmental stewardship; the collected “waste” is then recycled/upcycled into new products, further extending the life of the brand and/or creating a value-added product for the market while diverting hard-to-recycle materials from landfill! From how I understand it, TerraCycle is privatizing waste management—cutting out the MRF, brokers, municipalities, etc, and creating a simplistic supply chain based on consumers’ willingness to participate and a team of innovative designers. As discussed numerous times in my Recycling Report, the whole problem with recycling thermoforms is the high cost of manual sortation and the lack of investment in automated sorting technologies. If consumers are doing the sorting themselves at places where people congregate i.e. schools, church, retailers, etc, then the whole issue of manual vs. automated sorting systems at a MRFs is totally bypassed. These materials don’t even make it to the MRF—TerraCycle sort of IS the MRF! Crazy, right?!?!

The wheels are churning upstairs for sure!

So let’s discuss the first part of Narayan’s PPT on the science of biodegradable polymers. Please visit March 16ths post to download the presentation and follow along with my descriptions per slide number.

Part one: Bio-based products concepts

Slide 6: What value proposition to bio-plastics offer?

As discussed in March 16ths post, there are two components to “sustainability” as it pertains to packaging: the carbon footprint of the package and the end of life management of the packaging material. Therefore, today’s discussion will focus specifically on the carbon footprint dimension of the multi-faceted conception of “sustainability.”

Narayan began the first part of the workshop by explaining that bio-based polymers, that is, plastic that derives its feedstock from an annually-renewable resource, like starch, provides a value proposition in the context of material carbon footprint. He states: “Switching from the “petro/fossil” carbon in plastics to “bio-renewable” carbon reduces the material carbon footprint.”

He then went into a discussion of LCA, as many in the industry have argued that petro-based polymers are “better” than bio-based due to the energy-intensive process of creating carbon from bio-based resources as opposed to petro-based resources. And here is what he had to say:

This has nothing to do with the PROCESS. Those who manufacture bio-based polymers must ensure that their process of generating polymers from renewable resources is better than or equal to the existing process of creating polymers from fossil fuel. However, this isn’t your or my problem. I am not advocating that the process of creating plastic from crop residue is not important when understanding the “sustainability” of these non-traditional resins; I am arguing that that discussion is a separate one then the discussion we are having right now, which is understanding how substituting petro-based carbon with bio-derived carbon is a value added proposition in the context of material carbon footprint.

In a nut shell: there is a value proposition in switching from petro-based carbon to bio-based carbon for plastic material feedstock. This value proposition has nothing to do with the manufacturing process of petro vs. bio-based polymers; it has to do with switching from a non-renewable source of carbon to an annually renewable one. If carbon in polymers can originate from non-renewable fossil fuel or annually-renewable crop residue, why not substitute the renewable carbon with the non-renewable!?!

But how do you derive carbon from crop residue for synthesis into bio-based polymers?

Tune in tomorrow for Chemistry 101.

Hello and happy Monday!

It’s great to be back. I actually missed work; go figure!

Check out this article from Packaging World, which discusses the refined approach by the judging committee of the Greener Package Awards. As you can see I am not listed as a judge, which is the result of a conflict of interests, resulting in me stepping down from the Committee. I wish the judges and contestants the best of luck; this year has the potential to be the best yet!

Ok, I received approval from Dr. Narayan to upload his presentation to my blog, but I want to include my notes taken during the workshop too, as the PPT is a little overwhelming. Therefore, expect the treatment on all things biodegradable in tomorrow’s post.

Also, I am still waiting to hear back from the President of AMUT in regard to uploading his presentation to my blog—hopefully we can schedule a conference call so I can pick his brain about recycling PET thermoform containers.

I have some pretty cool news!

The day before I left for vacation, I emailed the CEO of TerraCycle, introducing myself and my Clamshell Recycling Initiative. I have been following him and his company’s work for some time now, so I decided to finally take the networking plunge via the ambiguous social networking site, FaceBook. To my surprise, he replied that night, all the way from Amsterdam!

For those of you unfamiliar, TerraCycle is a company in Trenton, New Jersey, which basically provokes people to rethink what waste means. Starting as a “manufacturer” of worm poop (collect worm castings and package it for reuse as a fertilizer), TerraCycle literally creates value from waste. After introducing their line of worm poop products to Walmart, they quickly became a market favorite, rolling out product at most of the large and medium sized retailers. I just found this article however, which explains how this portion of the company merged with Scotts Miracle Grow, which seems a bit ironic. While I am still unsure of the whole story, after this venture was consumed by Scotts, TerraCycle made it into the world of packaging, “upcycling” products like CliffBar wrappers, CapriSun pouches, and others, into new and improved products, like purses, shirts, binders, etc. To learn more about their approach to waste and the economics of said approach, check out this great interview with TerraCycle CEO by BBMG’s Mitch Baranowski.

SOOOO anyway, within his email he introduced me to several of his colleagues, one of whom already contacted me about an exciting new brigade! I don’t want to spill the beans just yet, but know that I am very, very excited about the potential of working with this innovative new company!

And, I am about to embark on a NEW research project, which will be the second of a three part series looking to illuminate truths about sustainable packaging. The first, which you all are probably familiar with, is titled “Recycling Report: The Truth about Clamshell/Blister Recycling in America.” This Report generated a good deal of interest because it was a well-researched, honest, and thoughtful treatment of a rather complicated issue from the perceptive of a new-bee in the industry trying to understand why the packaging her family company manufactures is not “recycled,” as per the FTC Green Guide’s definition. Because this focused specifically on the end of life management of thermoform containers as a commentary on the nuanced nature of “sustainability” as it pertains to packaging, I now look to focus on how the material feedstock of a package dictates another dimension of a packages’ perceived sustainability. However, I don’t want to limit my research at all in the introductory phases, so at this point, anything is game. My approach will be of a similar construction insofar as I will be transparent about my biases and social imagination, trying to diffuse a rather complicated, but pertinent, issue.

Ok, I got to go. Look out for tomorrow’s post—it is going to be super technical!