Hey guys!

Today we are going to pick up where we left off on June 22nd’s post, “How the Waste-to-Profit Network Facilitates Synergies: Introducing Cirrus.”

For those of you who follow my blog regularly, you may have noticed a theme emerging…

Starting with the SPC’s suggestion for “collective reporting” among its member companies (company-specific analysis of environmental inputs and outputs), and deepened with Dordan’s Score on the “Green Strategy Index” (see May 30th’s post), the theme of “operational environmental optimization” continues to come up in conversations pertaining to taking sustainability at Dordan to the next level. While Dordan has developed many tools that aid our clients in developing sustainable packaging systems and prides itself on being a lean manufacturer as a critical component to being a successful medium-sized custom thermoformer, we have yet to quantify our environmental “performance;” that is, how Dordan’s operations compare to the industry average and/or how our “lean” manufacturing practices equate to environmental savings, in the form of carbon emissions, waste to landfill, etc.

At first I considered conducting a full-blown LCIA of Dordan’s conversion process per some type of functional unit i.e. 100,000 packages produced and/or per 6th months of production. After starting “The Hitchhikers Guide to LCA,” however, it became apparent that performing a blank-slate LCIA via SimaPro or Gabi required an extremely intensive investment, including that necessary for a third-party reviewing process, where the outcome dictates the validity of the entire study: its methodologies, assumptions, parameters, metrics, and findings. In order to try and quantify the value of conducting such a sophisticated analysis of Dordan’s production process I reached out to a friend in the LCA and packaging world; here it was communicated to me that one should only make the investment in a blank-slate LCIA platform IF one assumes that ones production process is more sustainable than the industry average and/or if said production process is completely innovative and new, in which case, no LCIA data exists.

Ok, so how do I know how Dordan’s operational environmental performance compares with the industry in order to determine if a full-fledged LCIA is warranted? Research but of course! My LCA-practitioner friend indicated I conduct an “inventory analysis” of Dordan in which all expenditures pertaining to environmental requirements i.e. electricity, water, waste, etc. are collected and reviewed. This information will indicate Dordan’s main environmental requirements, providing a metric i.e. water consumption, to compare with publically available LCI data via the US Life Cycle Inventory Database or Ecoinvent. Neato!

While walking down this prim rose path of data mining and compilation, I met with representatives from the Chicago Waste-to-Profit Network, which as per June 12th’s and 22nd’s posts, is a regional working group where manufacturers share environmental input and output requirements with the Network, discovering “by-product” synergies. Examples include using one company’s waste as feedstock for another company’s production i.e. recycling in its most pure form, piping one firm’s off gasses to another as power for another production process, etc. Perhaps Dordan could discover by-product synergies via Network companies in regards to its waste to landfill, aiding us in working towards zero-waste; an initiative that has all but lost its steam due to the realities of waste management in which quantity necessitates the economic feasibility of commercial recycling. Moreover, perhaps the Network could provide the tools for Dordan to better execute its operational environmental performance LCIA-prep work? An energy audit? Quantifying operational environmental performance in a functional, easy-to-comprehend metric, like GHG emissions per package produced x packages produced per 6th months? Am I operating in stream of conscience mode?!? I think so!

Obviously I got quite excited about the potential of the WTP Network and approached my father and Dordan CEO to test the waters around this new sustainability direction at Dordan. I proposed I be allowed to investigate the potential of operational environmental optimization at Dordan via inventory analysis compared with industry average coupled with application to the WTP Network to serve as a support team for this ambitious project. I explained how I believed I could save Dordan money in purchasing via WTP Network by-product synergies AND reduce the waste to landfill; also, develop an operational environmental performance benchmark that would allow us to gauge optimization progress.

To my total and utter surprise my father wasn’t super gong-ho about this proposition. He explained how Dordan already operates extremely efficiently and any savings incurred would pale in comparison to the cost of my time (aw, shucks!). Furthermore, while Dordan’s sustainability efforts have branded us a thought leader and generated a ton of media interest, few opportunities generated via sustainability services have facilitated sales.

Like marketing, how to you quantify the ROI of sustainability investment, he inquired?

Goodness gracious we are back to business again! Since my employment at Dordan I have discovered that at times, the academic challenge embedded in the investigation, like the clamshell recycling initiative, overshadows and distorts the primary goal; that is, to increase profit. While I believe conducting the initiatives described above would be super awesome and demonstrate Dordan’s unwavering commitment to sustainability, how is it going to help us sell more thermoformed packaging?

GAAAAA, frustrated, I returned to my cubicle.

I emailed the WTP Network that Dordan would not be able to sign on, and tucked my “Dordan Operational Environmental Optimization” folder deep into my filing cabinet. I know I am being dramatic but that is just because I am trying to set the stage for THIS:

Several days later I received an email from the WTP Network, explain how they understand how hard it is to “sell” the membership to companies for the inability to understand its value at the point of application. Consequently, they are offering a FREE TRIAL to qualifying companies, which allows said companies access to the transparent data management software Cirrus AND registration to several working shop meetings, where synergies are investigated and illuminated. NO WAY.

How can my boss object to a FREE trial in order to determine if any of my assumptions outlined above are even feasible?!?!

He didn’t. 🙂

Stay tuned!

Dordan LCA?

May 11, 2012

Hey guys. In a recent post I alluded to the investigation of a new sustainability initiative, indicating details to come. Well, here are the details!

As those of you who read my blog regularly will recall, at the last SPC member’s only meeting the idea of “collective reporting” was proposed to the membership; this entails the collection and reporting of environmental performance indicators, like water consumption and/or landfilled material, per membership company. Basically, a company-specific “LCA” that demonstrates the firms’ environmental inputs and outputs, akin to, though perhaps not as detailed as, the international standards for LCA, ISO 14040-14043. Some multi-national, publically-traded firms already collect and report environmental performance data via Corporate Sustainability Reports; this communicates to stakeholders the company’s environmental commitment and actualization of said commitment via sustainability initiatives.

The SPC intended that in encouraging this type of data collection, the value of SPC membership would be more concretely communicated to non-member entities. Such efforts would demonstrate the packaging industry’s commitment to sustainability, insofar as to my knowledge, no other cross-industry NGO working group like the SPC has been able to generate such environmental data collection and reporting among its membership. Moreover, in aggregating primary, LCIA data per industry vertical i.e. thermoforming, the membership would be in a position to submit said data for review to the available life cycle inventory databases, to which, all LCA-based software platforms derive data for comparative assessments. Because the lack of accurate data/data holes/outdated data is often sited as one of LCA’s shortcomings when it comes to presenting an accurate snapshot of a product or service’s environmental footprint, being in a position to provide new and verifiable LCIA data would put the membership in a position of value for the sustainability and LCA community.

After introducing this proposal to the membership, the SPC staff were met with a resounding NO. This may be in part to the composition of the membership itself, which includes a lot of small and medium sized firms and manufacturers that don’t have the means to collect the data requested. Moreover, while transparent CSR reports may benefit large, publically-traded firms insofar as it aids in communicating shareholder value, the same may not hold for privately-held companies; here, reporting consumption and emissions metrics may provide too much insight into the business’s internal operations.

So the suggestion pretty much died there.

Then, while attending Sustainability in Packaging I had the privilege of seeing Dr. Karli Verghese’s presentation on the available LCA tools and how different tools are designed for different functions (click here to download my report based on presentation findings): while blank-slate LCA tools like SimaPro can be used to answer any type of environmental performance question for any type of product or service, tools like LCA-based comparative packaging assessment COMPASS have already been designed with certain methodologies, parameters, and assumptions built in, thereby allowing the non-LCA expert practitioner access to this powerful environmental assessment.

This got me thinking— Dordan already uses COMPASS to assess the “sustainability” of its package designs; this tool pulls industry averages for materials manufacture i.e. PVC vs. PET, conversion i.e. thermoforming with calendaring vs. paper cutting, distribution, and end of life. COMPASS is helpful for indicating how different materials/designs/conversion processes inform a package’s environmental profile. That’s cool in all, but what about the “sustainability” of a Dordan thermoformed package vs. a competitors’ package? Because most LCA-based tools use industry averages, which are outdated and don’t reflect the implementation of lean manufacturing processes, how is Dordan supposed to understand it’s company’s “carbon footprint” in opposition to that of its competitors or the industry or other conversion industries for that matter?

I approached the SPC with this inquiry; that is, what tools and resources is the SPC willing to provide to its member companies looking to perform an environmental assessment of its process, as encouraged at the last meeting? Moreover, would the SPC be interested in developing a streamlined LCA tool like COMPASS for packaging converters looking to perform a company-specific LCA?

The SPC staff suggested I propose this idea to the membership to see if other companies were interested in this type of initiative; perhaps if other thermoformers were interested in this type of environmental assessment, we could collaborate on developing a methodology for performing a conversion-specific LCA?

The SPC staff articulated that the organization is not in a place to provide LCA consulting to its membership, and when it encouraged collective reporting, it was implying said data maintenance be performed independent of the SPC, via consultants or LCA practitioners.

A friend of mine recently conducted an LCA of his company’s innovative new packaging material, for which, no LCIA data existed; hence, no claims of environmental impact could be postulated. He used the SimaPro software and created all study parameters and methodologies. That inspired me: Just because LCIA data exists for packaging conversion via thermoforming doesn’t mean it reflects Dordan’s thermoforming environmental profile; we shouldn’t be complacent with the status quo; and, we shouldn’t talk the talk of sustainability without walking the walk. Ya dig?

I am reading The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to LCA and WOWZA is this stuff awesomely complicated; I feel like I am finally starting to understand the great debates of LCA and its application to business.

Stay tuned!

Hellllooooooo! Man, it has been a crazy week! I had no idea how much Pack Expo would take out of me!

Dordan now has over 30+ followers on Twitter, which makes me feel really cool, but I want MORE MORE MORE. So follow me @DordanMfg. Good times.

Click here to check out Dordan’s 2010 Pack Expo only Show Specials!

Good news: We have a ton attendees looking for us at Pack Expo via our online booth http://my.packexpo.com/pei2010nn/public/Booth.aspx?BoothID=107696, which is super cool, and I have booked interviews with three different packaging publications, so this show should be a grand occasion! We have events almost every night (CardPak’s Sustainability Dinner, AVMP networking event, Meet the Press, and more!) so I am totally PUMPED!

I was at McCormick Place yesterday to set up the booth and it was a rather enjoyable experience: our booth was where it was suppose to be; the Union workers were really helpful; and, I met the floor manager, Louie, who oozes old school Chicago. Dordan’s booth looks great, and I can’t wait for the Show to begin!

Before we get into the meat of today’s post, I came across some random industry tid bits that I thought I would share with you, my packaging and sustainability friends.

First, and this is sort of old news, but did you guys hear about the SRI Consulting study that determined that those countries with adequate space and little recycling infrastructure should landfill PET bottles as opposed to recycle in the context of carbon footprint reduction!?! The name of the report is “PET’s Carbon Footprint: To Recycle or Not to Recycle,” and is described as “an independent evaluation of the carbon footprint of PET bottles with analysis of secondary packaging from cradle to grave and from production of raw materials through disposal.” While the report cost an arm and a leg to download, an abstract of the report is available here: http://www.sriconsulting.com/Press_Releases/Plastic-Bottle-Recycling-Not-Always-Lowest-Carbon-Option_16605.html.

The report concludes:

• Shipping distances are not footprint crucial;
• Incineration creates the highest footprint;
• PET recyclate (HA, I thought I made that word up) has a lower footprint than virgin PET.

Weird bears; I wonder who funded this study…

Next, someone tweeted (yes, I said tweeted) this industry tid bit: “Biopolymers are Dirtier to Produce than Oil-Based Polymers, says Researchers” @ http://www.environmentalleader.com/2010/10/22/biopolymers-are-dirtier-to-produce-than-oil-based-polymers-say-researchers/ .

After perusing the article, I was surprised that PLA exhibited the maximum contribution to eutrophication, as every COMPASS LCA I have performed comparing paper and plastic shows that paper contributes WAY MORE to eutrophication than plastic…but I guess this makes sense in the context of PLA’s contribution because paper is based on a “crop” as is PLA; therefore, require similar resource consumption/toxin emissions?

Then there is this statement, which is crazzzyyyy: “biopolymers exceeded most of the petroleum-based polymers for ecotoxicity and carcinogen emissions.” What does that mean?!? Where are the carcinogens coming from? And, where did these researches get all this LCI data for these new bio resins in order to make the statements they do?

Wow the land of biopolymers is confusion.

And that provides a perfect segway into today’s post.

As you know, many of Dordan’s customers have expressed great interest in biopolymers because, according to a recent consumer research study, “biodegradation” is one of the most desired “green” characteristics of a package in the eyes of the consumer; I guess people don’t like the idea of things persisting for years and years in landfill…

As an aside, did you see this McDonalds Happy Meal biodegradation test?!? Apparently, after 180 days, a Happy Meal did not even begin to show signs of biodegradation! Check it out here: http://www.littleabout.com/Odd/sally-davies-mcdonalds-happy-meal/98413/ .

And, as we all know, it doesn’t matter if it is paper, plastic, or a banana peal; nothing biodegrades in a landfill because there is no oxygen and sunlight. But that is beside the point.
Where was I…?
Yes, we have been asked many questions about biopolymers, many of which, we didn’t have the answers to because depending on who you ask, you get different responses. So, first we did some background research on biodegradable/compostable plastics in general. You can download our report here: http://www.dordan.com/sustainability_ftc.shtml Then we began sampling the available resins and performing internal tests to see how they performed and what applicability they have to the sustainability goals of our customers. Though we have invested a considerable amount of time into trying to understand biopolymers, we still have much to learn; therefore, we decided that during Pack Expo we would share all our findings with attendees in hopes of opening the lines of communication and educating ourselves, our supply chain and our industry about the pros and cons of this new family of non traditional resins. After all, the last thing the plastics industry wants to do is flood the market with something they don’t really understand, from both an energy consumption/GHG emission and end of life management perspective, not to mention price and performance! So, if you come by Dordan’s booth E-6311 we will have 4 different bioresins on display for you to touch and see, accompanied by a lot of good information.

For those of you unable to attend Pack Expo, I have included most of the information below. Enjoy!!!

Cellulous Acetate:

Typical Physical Properties:

• Acceptable for use in food contact packaging;
• High clarity and gloss, with low haze;
• High water vapor transmission rate;
• Good tensile strength and elongation, combined with relatively low tear strength;
• Good die cutting performance and good printability and compatibility with adhesives;
• Available in matt and semi-matt finishes.

Environmental Aspects:

• Feedstock: Cellulous from Sustainable Forestry Initiative managed forestry in North America; acetic anhydride, a derivative of acetic acid; and, a range of different plasticisers.
• Complies with EN 13432 and ASTM D 6400 Standards for industrial biodegradability and compostability; and, received Vincotte OK Compost Home certification.
• Complies with US Coneg limits for heavy metal content in packaging materials.
• Classified in the paper and board category in the UK, in view of its cellulosic base. As a consequence, the levy on cellulous acetate is lower than that on other thermoplastic films which are classified as plastics; however, levies only apply to those markets where EPR legislation exists.
• There is no post consumer or post industrial market for this resin. However, in principal, film is readily recyclable and because of its predominantly cellulosic nature, it is feasible that it can be recycled along with paper in a re-pulping process.


Typical physical properties:

• A general purpose, high melt strength material suitable for injection molding, thermoforming, blow/cast film and sheet extrusion;
• Durable and tough;
• Ranging from flexible to rigid;
• Shelf stable;
• Heat and moisture resistant;
• Pending FDA clearance for use in non-alcoholic food contact applications, from frozen food storage and microware reheating to boiling water up to 212 degrees F. The pending clearance will include products such as house-wares, cosmetics and medical packaging.

Environmental Aspects:

• Feedstock: Poly Hydroxy Alkanoate (PHA) polymer made through a patented process for microbial fermentation of plant-derived sugar. PHA is unique in that it represents the only class of polymers that are converted directly by microorganisms from feedstock to the polymetric form—no additional polymerizations steps being required.
• Complies with EN 13432 and ASTM D 6400 Standards for industrial biodegradability and compostability; complies with ASTM D 7081 Standard for marine biodegradation; received Vincotte OK Compost Home certification; and, received Vincotte OK Biodegradable in Soil certification. The rate and extent of its biodegradability will depend on the size and shape of the articles made from it.
• There is no post consumer or post industrial market for this resin. However, in principal, film is readily recyclable.


Typical physical properties:

• Acceptable for use in food-contact packaging;
• Good clarity but can haze with introduction of stress;
• PLA sheet is relatively brittle at room temperature; however, the toughness of the material increases with orientation and therefore thermoformed articles are less brittle than PLA sheet.
• PLA is frequently thermoformed using forming ovens, molds and trim tools designed for PET or PS; however, PLA has a lower softening temperature and thermal conductivity than PET or PS, which results in longer cooling time in the mold for PLA vs. PET or PS.
• Exposure to high temperatures and humidity during shipping or storage can adversely affect the performance and appearance of resin.
• At temperatures below its glass transition point, PLA is as stable as PET.

Environmental Aspects:

• Feedstock: Polylactide or Polylactic Acid (PLA) is a synthetic, aliphatic polyester from lactic acid; lactic acid can be industrially produced from a number of starch or sugar containing agricultural products.
• Derived 100% from annually renewable resources like corn.
• PLA resin complies with EN 13432 and ASTM D 6400 Standards for industrial biodegradability and compostability; however, after conversion, said Standards no longer apply.
• There is no post consumer or post industrial market for this resin. However, several recycling methods can be applied to waste PLA. Concern has been voiced that PLA is contaminating the PET bottle recycling infrastructure.
• Competition between human food, industrial lactic acid and PLA production is not to be expected.

PLA & starch-based product

Typical physical properties:

• Only available in one color and opacity due to the natural ingredients changing in color and intensity; known to have black or brown specs in or on the sheet due to said natural ingredients.
• Good impact strength;
• Demonstrates superior ink receptivity over petroleum based products;
• Heat sensitive; therefore, care must be taken when shipping, handling, storage, printing and further processing this material.

Environmental Aspects:

• Feedstock: PLA polymer is a major ingredient; however, through a supply partner, this material incorporates next generation technology of modifying PLA polymer with plant/crop based starches along with natural mineral binders to enhance its impact.
• Made by an EPA Green Power Partner with 100% renewable energy.
• Complies with EN 13432 and ASTM D 6400 Standards for industrial biodegradability and compostability.
• There is no post consumer or post industrial market for this resin. However, in principal, this film is readily recyclable.

Now, check out the comparative below: price is not literally dollar amounts but an internal calculation we have determined to allow you to contextualize the fluctuating prices with different resins.

Bio Resin Show N Tell Comparative
Spec Sheet

Resin $ Comparative Heat Deflection @ 264 PSI Density/Yield

(clear) 0.050 140-170 F 19.67

(opaque) 0.048 170-205 F 26.30

(opaque) 0.042 180 F (@66 PSI) 28.85

100% PC
(clear) 0.057 150 F 21.00

Cellulous Acetate
(clear) 0.261 125-225 F 23.00

(clear) 0.049 105 F (@ RH 50%) 22.30

PLA + starch
(opaque) 0.059 127 F 22.10

(opaque) 0.117 212 F 21.40

Sorry the columns got all jacked, but I think you get the picture.

Alright, this is going to be my last post until after Pack Expo. I wish everyone a fab Halloween weekend and a successful Show, for both exhibitors and attendees.

If any of you, my packaging and sustainability friends, are coming to Pack Expo, PLEASE stop by Dordan’s booth E-6311; I would really love to meet you, my anonymous followers, and I know all the good blues bars in Chicago!

And, isn’t it exciting—I learned how to integrate links into my blog—neato!


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.