Happy Monday Funday! I hope the weather is as beautiful for you as it is for me—sunny and 70, what more can a girl ask for?

 SO where were we…that’s right, recapping the SPC spring meeting.

Oh, before I forget, there was one more thing I wanted to tell you about the Walmart Expo.

Prior to the Expo, in preparation for the Walmart SVN meeting (Sustainable Value Network), we were asked to do a little homework: this entailed going to a local Walmart and finding a package that needed a “sustainability makeover.” We were supposed to fill out a “packaging opportunities template,” which basically inquired into how one would redesign the package to increase its environmental profile while saving costs. This is what our team came up with:

PackagingOpportunitiesTemplate, FINAL

We decided to pick on a thermoformed package because we are thermoformers, although this one looks as though it was manufactured overseas, due to the perimeter sealing. Therefore, it’s not like we would be able to steal the business…I wonder what the sustainability profile is of an overseas manufacturer versus a domestic supplier…Ha!

Anywhoozy, it turns out that during the SVN meeting several of these “packaging opportunities” were to be presented to the entire conference—and guess what—I was one of the lucky four selected to present.

Basically I suggested that the package be right-sized and thermoformed out of RPET instead of PVC. The panel then inquired into how I would convey the same marketing presence with a reduced package AND prevent against pilferage. I was stumped. Perhaps include a recyclable paperboard backing, I offered? That totally stunk, however, because it suggested that paperboard is more “sustainable” than plastic, which I would not argue having performed extensive research on the topic. AND, according to the recent E.P.A. reports, the paperboard used in clamshell alternatives (labeled “other paperboard packaging” in the MSW report) HAS NO RECOVERY DATA—literally it is listed as neg., which means negligent. I wish I had known this during my presentation as it would have served our industry well. Rats!

Visit http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2008data.pdf to see the break down of what is recycled and what is not in the paper world.

I guess my obsession with the recycle-ability of paperboard versus thermoforms can be summed up as follows:

I am at the Walmart Expo, working the booth. A prospect comes by, with whom I have had casual conversation in the past. Having seen his product at a competitor’s booth, I hassle him saying, “I saw your thermoformed trays at our competitor’s booth…and here you have been blowing me off all year…not very nice!” And he responds with, “we are getting out of thermoformed trays because they are not recycled.”

UG! What do you say to that? Prior to knowing that paperboard, which would be the alternative used for his packaging application, has no data for recovery post-consumer according to the E.P.A., I assumed that it was the more sustainable material because of its end-of-life recovery. But now that I know that in most cases, both thermoformed trays AND paperboard trays end up in landfills, I should have articulated a better argument for why thermoformed trays are still a wonderful packaging option.

It’s like when you have some kind of social confrontation and find yourself tongue-tied only to later come up with the best “come-back” ever! That’s what this was like; I needed a good come back, both for the “packaging opportunities” presentation and the fellow who thinks paperboard is better due to its end of life recovery. Next time…

A couple other points about the Walmart Expo:

As discussed in a previous post, the Walmart Scorecard has a “transport module,” which takes into account the inputs/outputs of shipping a package from the point of conversion/manufacture to the point of fulfillment. Supposedly the filled packages’ journey to the point of purchase is covered in another metric…

Anyway, I asked if the scorecard takes into account/intends to take into account the environmental ramifications of overseas manufacturers versus domestic manufactures. After all, long before my appointment at Dordan, we lost business to China because of the super duper low prices of labor and therefore commodities. And considering all this sustainability jazz, one would think that sourcing domestically would have some kind of impact on ones Score (think shipping, environmental regulations, labor regulations, etc. in China versus the States)…unfortunately, that is not the case. According to a member of the SVN, Walmart considered having a “point of origin” metric but determined that it was unquantifiable and would not resonate with their suppliers. Go figure!

A SVN member then articulated the following inquiry, which tickled me pink: Is the Scorecard going to take into account the inks, laminates, and sealants used on paperboard packaging? The member who voiced this inquiry qualified this question with some data, specifically, that even the tiny amounts of hazardous material in these various substances can have a high toxicity on the social and environmental environments.

This inquiry was answered as follows: Again, they considered adding this metric into the Scorecard but did not because they didn’t believe that these factors had a large enough effect on the overall “environmental profile” of a package. Supposedly, if we prove otherwise, they will consider adding this metric into the scorecard…

Lastly, Walmart is rolling out their Scorecard to other countries. I asked if each Scorecard used different recovery rates depending on the country it was being utilized for. In other words, Canada has a better recovery rate for most packaging materials that the U.S.; therefore, is their Scorecard going to use Canadian recovery data or American? According to the SVN, each Scorecard will be country specific, using recovery data from the country considered.

Wow, another marathon of an email. I’m sorry to keep rambling, I just have so many thoughts! I will continue tomorrow with the SPC recap and quickly move into resuming my clamshell recycling initiative.

Go packaging!

Day 23: Nov. 17th, 2009

March 3, 2010

Its sunny today, which in Chicago in March is no small feat!

Sorry if today’s post seems repetitive…if you hadn’t noticed, I am trying to describe my attempts at finding an end-of-life market for thermoformed packaging as a story, a narrative of sorts, which moves chronologically through time on the vehicle of email exchanges between myself and others in the plastics, sustainability, and recycling industries. I realized that I had omitted an email exchange between myself and Robert Carlson of the CA EPA from November 16th, so I edited yesterday’s post to be more “real.”

Because Robert with the CA EPA seemed extra-curious about what I meant by “I have so much to tell you,” I sent him the following email upon my arrival to the office on November 17th:

Hey Robert,

So here’s the update on everything:

I have been talking with various people in WM, SPI, SPC, etc. to determine what the feasibility is of establishing: (1) either a new end market for mixed rigid plastic packages or, (2) integrating our RPET packages (non-food) into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure.

In regard to the former option: 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. At the same time, however, I am cooking up an idea where we would form a partnership with a retailer in order to provide them with guidelines for all plastic packaging. Our guidelines would dictate that all plastic packages sold at this retailer would have to be of the same type of material, in order to establish the quantity necessary to find an end market for it. We could even go so far as to require customers to open their consumer goods’ packages in store and place the plastic and paper components into collection bins, to be hauled away by a contracted third-party. I believe they do this at some European retail chains. I am trying to find more information on the logistics of this approach.

There is also the option to “down-cycle” as you put it. I have a dialogue going with a rep from Polyflow who explained that they would buy mixed rigid and flexible plastic packaging, with or without food contamination, and convert it to gasoline diesel fuels. I have attached a white paper from Polyflow, which discusses its capabilities. Apparently, the cost to landfill is comparable to the cost to process this unwanted material in the Polyflow facility. I know you explained why this option is seen as less superior to recycling but I believe that this may be a better option for the polymer industry, especially as new additives and materials emerge on the market. Please see the attached sheet, if interested, and let me know what you think of this as an option for waste management.

In regard to the second option: As you alluded to, PVC packages are a problem because they contaminate the PET waste stream. I received a similar perceptive from an anonymous non-profit, 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?

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.

I am still waiting to talk with the Environmental Director at Starbucks in regard to how the buyers of baled corrugate are dealing with the introduction of a new material (coffee cups). I believe we have a similar situation with buyers of baled PET bottles—they don’t want to introduce a new type of product (RPET clams, blisters, etc.) into their collection protocol.

We also just subscribed to COMPASS, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s comparative life cycle packaging assessment tool, which allows us to see the environmental ramifications of our material choices in the design phase; cool beans!

AND, I am kicking off a new marketing campaign for Dordan for 2010—I’ll keep you posted!

So that’s that. How are things with you? What is making you so busy?

Best,

Chandler Slavin

Tune in tomorrow to see where my recycling initiative takes me next!

Day 19: Nov. 5th, 2009

February 24, 2010

That Monday I arrived to the office more motivated than when I had left; how can I find a way to recycle clamshell—and more specifically—thermoformed, packaging?

As I waited for feedback from the SPC in regard to what they thought about the feasibility of finding an end market for non-beverage PET flake, the phone rang, and the receptionist transferred the call to my fine cubicle.

“Jessica with Waste Management is on line one,” she announced.

I picked up the line.

           …five minutes later….

Jessica was super cool; she is Dordan’s contact at Waste Management who manages our waste and recycling contracts, and wanted to reach out to me because she knew I had been talking with various Waste Management employees about my initiative. And, she also provided another crumb: She suggested that I contact another Major Account Representative in IL to discuss the feasibility of my initiative; she provided his name and number.

I called him that day, eager for some direction.

Ring…ring…ring…

“Hello?”

            …ten minutes later…

Hurray! A bigger bread crumb!

Apparently, what a plastic cup manufacturer in the Midwest had recently done, and he encouraged us to do, was send off some of our RPET clamshells to a Waste Management Material Recovery Facility (MRF) to see if their optical sorting technology would “read” our material like it reads the material in PET bottles. If the sorting technology couldn’t tell the difference between our RPET and the PET used in beverage bottles, then the material is close enough to theoretically be integrated into PET-beverage bales. In other words: the material is the same, which makes sense, because our RPET is certified at a 70% post-consumer regrind concentration, which means 70% comes from PET-beverages and 30% comes from virgin PET resin, give or take. Basically, if we thermoform material made out of bottles, why wouldn’t our packages then be compatible with this optical sorting technology.

The Account Representative offered to run our samples through their optical sorting technology to see if the problem with recycling non-beverage PET is due to sorting capabilities. Great!

He forwarded me the address of the MRF.

That day, I grabbed 50 of our sample as they came off the machine. Still warm with the heat from being formed, I placed them in the mail to go out with today’s post.

Groovy.

I sent the Account Rep the following email, confirming shipment.

Hey,

I just wanted to drop you a quick email letting you know that I sent out a box of 50 RPET clamshell samples to the address you provided for you to run through your optical sorting machine to see if they are compatible with the PET bottle material. If so, we can try and find an end market for our RPET clams, blisters, and thermoformed components.

Just out of curiosity, do you know where I can find information on who has optical sorting technology and where? Moreover, do you know who collects mixed plastic (that is, the plastic left over after the PET bottles have been removed) for material recovery and where?

Thanks again for all your help! I look forward to speaking with you again.

Best,

Chandler

Tune in tomorrow to learn more about recycling in America.

Day 18: Nov. 3, 2009

February 23, 2010

I felt as though I had hit a road block; while Robert’s kind words were encouraging, I felt like there was nothing I could do as an individual to create an end market for clamshells post-consumer, either as non-beverage PET flake or mixed rigid plastic flake. Perhaps on the vehicle of collaboration, we would be able to come up with the quantity necessary to create an end market for this homeless material…

I then started the following discussion on greenerpackage.com:

Where does the plastics industry go from here?

As Sean Sabre pointed out in a recent post, there is no recycling market for non-beverage PET flake i.e. the PET used in thermoformed packages (to veiw this discussion, visit http://www.greenerpackage.com/discuss/recycling/recovery_series_-_topic_2_universal_pet_recyclability_myth).

According to various contacts at Waste Management, this is because those who buy the balled PET beverage containers to recycle into other products do not want PET clams, blisters or components as it compromises the feedstock of the PET bottle flake. In other words, because PET beverage bottles have the same IV, additives and chemical properties, the quantity of that type of material is there, which allows for there to be an end market for it. Contrarily, the PET used in thermoformed packages has different properties depending on the additives used for the specific packaging application i.e. food, medical, consumer goods. Therefore, the quantity of the same type of PET is not available for the creation of an end market for this material. At the same time, however, there is a market for this type of material on the East and West coasts (“non-traditional rigid containers”) because China and other international markets undergoing industrialization buy this material for its stored energy value. In a nut shell: we can’t recycle it if the quantity is not there, which inherently means there is no market for the end life of these types of PET.

Where do we go from here? Do we, as an industry, decide on using one type of material per application i.e. one PET type for food, medical, and consumer goods in order to ensure the quantity of material necessary for the development of an end market for said material? Do we “down-cycle,” via Pyrolysis? Do we switch to PLA or other bio-resins, which require more energy to produce than traditional, fossil-based plastics and require the existence of commercial composting facilities, which are far and few a dozen? As an industry, we must collaborate if we want to reach our shared goals of sustainability.

If interested in the comments to this post, visit http://www.greenerpackage.com/discuss/thermoformed_packaging/where_does_plastic_industry_go_here

Once I reached out to the larger packaging community about my concerns as a packaging professional, I sent the following email to a project manager at the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. As the tone of my above conversation implies, I was hoping that collaboration would begin with member companies of the SPC:

Hey,

Just out of curiosity, do you have any relationship with SPI (Society of the Plastic Industry) or other packaging trade organizations? I have begun a dialogue with said organization in regard to the SPI resin identification numbers and the feasibility of recycling non-beverage PET flake i.e. clamshells, blisters and thermoform components. We are trying to figure out a way to recapture our thermoformed packages, which currently are not recycled. We can’t decide if a closed loop system would be best, as is in the case with electronics and batteries, or if working with the existing recycling infrastructure would be more beneficial.

What is the SPC’s stance on the feasibility of recycling non beverage PET flake? Do you think a project like this would be something of interest for the SPC?

Best,

Chandler

Let’s hope the SPC wants to help! Tune in tomorrow for more exciting happenings in the world of sustainable packaging initiatives!

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 15: Oct. 28, 2009

February 18, 2010

I just spoke with my contact at Recycle America, a division of Waste Management. She is excited about what I am doing and wants to help; she just wants to make sure that I contextualize our conversations so things are not misinterpreted going forward.

Let me provide a quick summary of the role Recycle America/Waste Management has in recycling plastic packaging:

Waste Management collects materials to be recycled via curbside collection and community drop-off centers. This is a single stream system, which means that the individual must still separate it from garbage, but can now place papers, glass, metals and plastics together in ONE collection bin.  Once collected from the curb, the materials are brought to a recycling facility where they are further sorted: HDPE milk jugs are removed and bailed, cardboard, PET bottles and any other material that has a “home” are removed from the stream and designated to their specific bailing location. A home means that there is an end market for it. In other words, if there is not a buyer of this post-consumer material, then Waste Management can’t economically validate the separation and bailing of said material, which unfortunately is out of their control. As the educational tour guide explained to me, they want to find a home for every material; however, if the market is not there and there is no buyer, there is nothing they can do because the cost to bail and warehouse the homeless material exceeds the operational costs of the facility at this time.

So, while Recycle America accepts a lot of different materials for recycling, if there is no buyer, the material must be land filled. This ebbs and flows with the changing marketplace, however. The educational tour guide explains this relationship as follows: Recycle America is the distributor of post-consumer materials. They have contracts with different brokers who buy the bailed material and convert it into another usable product. Reclaimed plastic material gets sent to a plastic house, where it is cleaned and turned into flake or pellets to be sold to packaging material suppliers; reclaimed paper material gets sent to a paper mill, where they retrieve the fiber content and reprocess it into recycled paper products.

In a nut shell: Recycle America collects, sorts and bails materials post-consumer that have a home or an end-of-life buyer, like a plastic material supplier or paper mill. While Recycle America tries to find a home for every material, depending on the marketplace, some materials must be land filled. This too, however, must be put into context with the changing marketplace and the economics of supply and demand.

Now that we have contextualized the role Waste Management plays in recycling, let us turn to the email I received from the educational tourguide of Recycle America, which helps explain the complexities of recycling:

Chandler,

I very much appreciate your patience and so sorry that you had to check in again before I could respond (yikes – don’t ever tell me to take my time . . . it always gets away from me!!)

I also wanted to thank you for the kind words.  I do try to be as honest as possible (without being confusing) as I believe it is the only way we can all work towards the most efficient and effective recycling efforts.

I will answer these questions as best I can.

1. as you explained, you would like to find a home for every kind of material; however, that is not always the case because a material’s ability to be recycled is often determined by the quantity of material available in the waste stream. Watching the live feed video yesterday, I was startled to observe that no clamshells, blisters, or plastic packaging of any kind was making its way through your sorting system. Why is that? Is there just not that much plastic packaging out there, (which I find unbelievable), or, are these materials being sent somewhere else or just thrown in the garbage? If sent somewhere else, where? And if just thrown into the garbage, why?

Very good questions.  I’ll try to break this down based on what I know at this time. 

a)  Materials, like clamshells are changing.  Originally, many were #6 PS – now many are PET . . . (very hard to tell on our lines first) and as I understand it – it’s a recycled PET . . . our buyers are very specific in what they want IN these bales – bottle-form only.  WHY ???? I imagine it has to do with how these other containers process in the melting stage . . . I am no scientist but my plastic Rep can best answer this. 

b)   As for the volume issue – this is one of our biggest challenges with specific materials for our TYPE of facility.  Many things can get recycled but in a sorting facility like this one – VOLUME is key.  What might appear to the general public as a lot – is really not when you take a look at our tipping floor.  The open markets who buy our bales set the specs on what they want IN the bale (this is out of our hands).  If they do not want a certain material – like a lot of those clamshells, we would have to pull those.  If we are to find the soundest markets, it depends on gathering enough of a particular material to make a specific bale – then we need to make several bales to make a truck-load.  This is where it boils down to pure volume challenges.  We cannot just collect something for a while until we have enough of it.  That is why redirecting certain materials to smaller markets works good sometimes – but the CONSUMER has to do this part.  Future hope is to have enough of ANY material to make it’s OWN bale . . . all things take time and in the heart of the growing pains, there will be some casualties – while we (remember – just the middle sorting man) CONTINUE to work towards best-practices.  This is where the consumer can becomes more savvy and assist in finding a better home for it temporarily but what you will find is that many will not have the time to put towards this special attention – so we would rather they error on recycling with these things and let us figure it out.  A general 1-5 plastic is stated and we output as the market allows.  We have to be general with the public in literature as it would confuse too many things as these markets continue to ebb and flow.  But YOU, the packaging side needs to understand what the current challenges are and spec accordingly – make sense? 

c)  As far as these materials being sent somewhere else rather than coming in here – some unfortunately end up in a landfill simply because people will throw them in garbage.  Others will be mindful to check local markets for collectors of this stuff and others are simply making sure they are not using these containers – I cannot know for sure where all these are going. 

2.      If I want to attain my goal of being able to implement a recycling program for non-beverage PET flake in this region, where do you suggest I start? Should I begin a dialogue with all the plastic packagers in the region to find a way to reclaim our packages in order to divert them from ending up in a landfill? Should I begin with the local municipalities? Or with the waste management facilities?

YES . . . to ALL the above.  But I think you need to start from the outside and work your way up as a means of collecting facts about the challenging markets.  Start with our plastic marketing rep (I will provide an introductory email for you).  Pull off some of the local community / municipality guides and see whose collecting and marketing these in the area.  Check out sites like:  www.earth911.org , www.freecycle.com and see what those places are suggesting to their communities.  And YES, most importantly, take the gathered information of limited available markets and sit with your plastics packagers and CREATE an END MARKET and convenient collection options for these harder to place materials.  The creator of the package should step up to assisting in finding or creating markets for these materials.

3.        How do you feel about incineration as a form of waste management?

It’s one of a few great ways to manage solid waste.  We have our own called Wheelabrator.  They are incredible waste to energy facilities – but there are only 21 sites so far as the cost to build one has to be justified.  The filtration system alone is incredible – the air that comes out of those facilities is probably cleaner than what you and I breath now – they’re heavily monitored – check them out on our educational site:  www.thinkgreen.com.

Again – a great way to MANAGE waste.

4.      Today in the packaging world, there is a lot of marketing that positions one packaging material as more “environmentally friendly” than another; often this debate places paper in opposition to plastic. After performing several months of research on this debate, I have discovered that while plastic comes from oil (which is obviously not a renewable resource) and requires more energy to create than paper, it doesn’t release as many VOC and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as does the paper and pulp mills in the US. Therefore, it is a trade off and packaging material should be selected on a case-by-case basis depending on the application of the package. I was just wondering, where do you stand in the paper versus plastic debate? How can plastic packaging become more sustainable?

Yeah, I was getting ready to duck when that little debate started to air.  Please know that I respect individual passion pleas – I think the world needs to have passions in order to spur good works, it’s just passions need perspective in place or it usually ends up becoming ineffective.  I represent WMRA . . . and I also have my personal thoughts but in this “debate”, I believe my company would agree with what I am about to share.  I (we) cannot take sides.  NOT because I am not more passionate on one side or another . . . but rather because we all have to keep PERSPECTIVE.  There’s an argument for anything in life.  If I’m preaching about learning to spend energy better by making certain choices like recycling that spend energy smarter – I won’t waste my personal energy trying to ARGUE these points – you know?

Here’s the deal – NO package is perfect.  Nature – natural resources in and of themselves are perfect but the minute we start changing things and creating new things out of them, we alter how they will break down – period.  Any packaging has pros and cons to it’s production.  Sadly a lot of packaging should probably have never been created.  Old way of doing things never had this much packaging. REDUCE is the first part of the recycling structure yet no one pays attention to it. So, now that we are HERE, we have to work together to MANAGE what is on the market.  We have to work together to create effective recovery plans for EACH package.  And when packaging cannot be recovered – it needs to go away.   Sadly, we cannot simply just make one system disappear as it would cause negative overload in another area:  ONLY paper package would greatly deplete forestry – only plastic packaging would greatly impact petroleum . . . again just my take on things.

Okay, that is a lot of questions. I would love the chance to speak to you about this in person or over the phone. When is a good time to reach you?  

I can make myself available for a conversation but it will probably not be until next week – sorry – just packed full of tours.  Let me know if you have time next week and I will try to coordinate time.

If there is anything I can do for you—be it supply you with some of the research I have compiled on the sustainability of packaging materials, or speak to students about our sustainability efforts in the plastic packaging industry, please let me know.

I would love to take you up on this and will chat about this in detail when we speak.  Thank you for making yourself available – I not only enjoy learning more personally but find it necessary to be able to communicate effectively in these discussions.

Again, it was a pleasure to meet you and I look forward to speaking with you again!

P.S. Could you please provide the contact information of your “plastic marketing guy?” Moreover, is there someone in your organization that could provide me with the contact information of someone in the local municipalities?

I will send you introductory email on both our contacts.  Hope this all makes sense.

Wow. That is a lot of really good information. Another bread crumb? I’d say several!

Tune in tomorrow to see where this information takes me!

And resume scene:

As I waited for Recycle America’s educational tour guide’s response to my inquiries, I followed up with Robert about Polyflow. As you will recall, I sent Robert an email asking if he knew about Polyflow and if so, what he thought of this form of waste management.

This is what I learned:

Chandler,

What Polyflow is describing is called Pyrolysis and the technology is not unique to this company.  I’m not sure about the “vapor” part though…  There are discussions regarding this method in CA and elsewhere.  In CA, we don’t use energy recovery as a part of recycling (or diversion) so the portion of the pyrolysis that results in diesel or other fuels would not be counted in our recycling numbers.  Also, some people are afraid that if the “easy” option is presented (the same goes for incineration) then recycling for higher and better uses will have no appeal.  Using plastics for energy is seen as a lower use than using it for a new product.  For some plastics, there are not other mechanical recycling options available, but the fear is that this kind of thing would prevent new technologies being developed, that people would stop trying to find better options if the easy option is available.

Further, the analyses I’ve seen on the environmental/energetic impacts of mechanical recycling versus pyrolysis puts mechanical ahead of the game pretty much under every circumstance (assuming there is infrastructure). 

I don’t mean to shatter your hopes…it’s a good technology, and would be appropriate for a few materials that have no other options (in my personal opinion), however I think there would be challenges to implementing it wholesale (at least in CA…perhaps Il is different).

I’m surprised that the Sustainability Director of Starbucks hasn’t contacted you, he seemed interested in speaking.  I wonder if perhaps your email simply got buried.  Have you tried sending him the email again?  I’ve looked around here and I’m not sure that we really have a person on the local level that would be particularly suited.  I suppose I’m it…sorry!!

Robert

Hmmmmmm using plastics for energy is seen as a lower use than using it for a new product? That’s interesting; I didn’t know there was a hierarchy to waste management. If most plastic packaging ends up in a land fill, wouldn’t a better option be waste-to-energy? If easier, why not utilize the technology until the recycling infrastructure catches up? I wonder why CA doesn’t count this form of recovery into their recycling numbers. This seems sort of odd…

As I tried to sort through the implications of Robert’s response, I received an email from the Sustainability Director at Starbucks, yippee! He agreed to chat with me about implementing a pilot-recycling program in several NY Starbucks stores.

Little old me, I remember thinking. This is big time!

The actual email has not been included for privacy considerations.

Upon setting up a phone interview with the Sustainability Coordinator of Starbucks, I sent the following email to Robert:

Hey Robert,

Thanks for your feedback. I feel so silly; the rep from Polyflow didn’t even mention Pyrolysis, which I know about and know is not unique to this company. Thanks for clarification!

As it turns out, the Sustainability Director of Starbucks is available to talk with me, and my email did get lost in the plasma that is the internet, so thank you! I also have been engaging in dialogue with various people in Waste Management trying to figure out a way to recapture PET clamshells and what not, so I feel as though I am on the right track.

So until next time, take care and thanks again for all your help; I really appreciate it!

What are you doing for Halloween? I dressed up as a man for our office party and just got done handing out candy to everyone in the plant. It is fun to be a man for a day!

Chandler

Tune in tomorrow to learn more about recycling in America.

Cheers!

Day 9: Oct. 20, 2009

February 3, 2010

Sorry I didn’t post yesterday! I was on a deadline to finish a condensed version of my research on sustainability and packaging titled, The Facts. Check it out under the sustainability tab at www.dordan.com

Okay, back to the story:

The day after I received the “ok” from Robert, I sent the Environmental Director of Starbucks the following email:

Hello,

My name is Chandler Slavin—I am the Sustainability Coordinator at Dordan Manufacturing, a Midwestern based custom thermoformer. I was given your information from Robert Carlson with the California Integrated Waste Management Board, whom I met in Atlanta at the SPC members-only fall meeting. I believe I also met you (sort of) in one of the break out seminars on “Closing the Loop” (where you the one who asked how Starbucks cups could be integrated into the existing recycling infrastructure?)

Anyway, Robert said you may be of assistance because you were involved with implementing the pilot recycling program in several New York Starbucks stores and I am trying to implement a pilot recycling program in the Midwest for reclaiming thermoform PET clamshells, blisters and components. I have so many questions for you I don’t know where to start: Are the Starbucks cups compatible with the existing recycling infrastructure i.e. can they be recycled with other paper/cardboard products or do they need to be sorted? If sorted, by whom and where? Did you begin with the municipalities and the local MRFS to determine what can be recycled in your region and what is needed to allow a new product into the recycling stream? Where is the funding for this program coming from?

Yikes! The list could go on and on. Would it be possible to speak with you about your sustainability efforts at Starbucks over the phone? I would love to set up a phone interview with you at your earliest convenience. Please let me know when and where I can reach you.

Thank you so much for your time and I look forward to speaking with you soon!

Best,

Chandler

After sending, I automatically received an “out of the office” reply. Rats!

Luckily I scheduled a fieldtrip to the Recycle America Waste Management Facility in Grayslake with the Institute of Packaging Professionals. It was the first time I got to see a modern MRF in action!

The Dordan Sales Force and I set out on our journey to Grayslake; the wind was in our hair, the pastoral scenery was all around, and Tony’s Famous Subs were in sight. After a scrumptious filling of salami and ham, we made it to the recycling facility.

The two hours we spent at the Grayslake facility were jammed packed: we had a tour of the facility, got to watch live footage of the process of recycling, and had a Q&A session. During the Q&A session, my fears were confirmed: Most plastic clamshells do not get recycled at this current time, even if they make it to the material recovery facility. Ug!

While Waste Management says that it accepts plastics 1-7 for recycling and tries to find an end-market for these materials, only PET beverage bottles are currently being processed at this facility because of the current market demands; this changes with the ebbs and flow of the market, however. Our educational tour guide did explain that this is because the buyers of the PET bales specify that they do not want any thermoforms in the bale, even if it is the same material type.

As an aside, on the East and West coasts, mixed rigid plastic packaging is collected and recycled because of the different markets available and the overseas demand.

The day after our field trip, I sent the following email to our educational tourguide:

 Hello,

This is Chandler Slavin—we met yesterday at the Recycle America Waste Management facility in Grayslake. I was with the Institute of Packaging Professionals and I kept asking about how we could create a recycle stream for non-beverage PET flake i.e. clamshells, blisters and trays.

I just wanted to drop you a quick email thanking you for allowing us to visit the facility and for presenting such an honest discussion of waste management and recycling in this region.

Being a representative from the plastic packaging industry, I was wondering if I could pick your brain in regard to the following:

  1. As you explained, you would like to find a home for every kind of material; however, that is not always the case because a material’s ability to be recycled is often determined by the quantity of material available in the waste stream. Watching the live feed video yesterday, I was startled to observe that no clamshells, blisters, or plastic packaging of any kind was making its way through your sorting system. Why is that? Is there just not that much plastic packaging out there, (which I find unbelievable), or, are these materials being sent somewhere else or just thrown in the garbage? If sent somewhere else, where? And if just thrown into the garbage, why?
  2. If I want to attain my goal of being able to implement a recycling program for non-beverage PET flake in this region, where do you suggest I start? Should I begin a dialogue with all the plastic packagers in the region to find a way to reclaim our packages in order to divert them from ending up in a landfill? Should I begin with the local municipalities? Or with the waste management facilities?
  3. How do you feel about incineration as a form of waste management?
  4. Today in the packaging world, there is a lot of marketing that positions one packaging material as more “environmentally friendly” than another; often this debate places paper in opposition to plastic. After performing several months of research on this debate, I have discovered that while plastic comes from oil (which is obviously not a renewable resource) and requires more energy to create than paper, it doesn’t release as many VOC and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as does the paper and pulp mills in the US. Therefore, it is a trade off and packaging material should be selected on a case-by-case basis depending on the application of the package. I was just wondering, where do you stand in the paper versus plastic debate? How can plastic packaging become more sustainable?

 kay, that is a lot of questions. I would love the chance to speak to you about this in person or over the phone. When is a good time to reach you?  

If there is anything I can do for you—be it supply you with some of the research I have compiled on the sustainability of packaging materials, or speak to students about our sustainability efforts in the plastic packaging industry, please let me know.

Again, it was a pleasure to meet you and I look forward to speaking with you again!

P.S. Could you please provide the contact information of your “plastic marketing guy?” Moreover, is there someone in your organization that could provide me with the contact information of someone in the local municipalities?

Best,

Chandler

Tune in tomorrow to see our educational tour guide’s answers.

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).

I am a third-generation thermoformer, which means I have a passion for plastic packaging; it’s in my blood. Having just graduated from DePaul University with a degree in Religious Ethics, I entered the family business at an interesting time: the economy was in the pits and “sustainability,” as it pertains to packaging, was the “it” word. Because of my background in academia, I was given the task of understanding the sustainability debate from the perspective of a packaging professional. Four months later, I am proud to call myself the Sustainability Coordinator at Dordan Manufacturing, which is a successful, National supplier of custom design thermoformed packaging, such as clamshells, blisters, trays and components.

At my first “business conference” in Atlanta this past fall for the members-only meeting of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, I learned that most plastic thermoformed packaging is NOT recycled in American communities[1], nor is A LOT of other packaging materials. Outraged that my family’s pride-and-joy often ends up in landfills, I made it my personal project to discover: (1) why thermoforms are not accepted for recycling at most Material Recovery Facilities (hereafter, MRF); and (2) how we could integrate thermoformed packaging into the existing recycling infrastructure. With no previous background in environmental science, I took to the books, armed with nothing more than a recent graduate’s motivation and altruism, to uncover the complexities of recycling in America.

What follows is a day-by-day account of my attempts to find an end-of-life market for plastic thermoform packaging; I am still working towards that goal.

This is the recycling project.


[1] Less than 60% of American communities.