eco ramblings

a dialogue with an Eco Patriot

Archive for July, 2010

Half-Ass Hotel Greening Efforts

Posted by Luke on July 27, 2010

It’s surprising that the hotel industry doesn’t put forth more effort to be sustainable.  There are very few hotels that have sustainability as part of their core philosophy.  The Boulder Outlook Hotel is an exception.  They compost or recycle over 80% of their waste.  I only wish Boulder Outlook’s existed across the country.

Today I’m in Indiana staying in a major national hotel chain.  I walked into the lobby to check in and had an empty water bottle in my hand from the flight.  It’s 90+ degrees and humid in Indy.  I asked the front desk employee if he could recycle the bottle for me.  He looked at me as if I had two heads and said, “No, but I can throw it away for you.”  Here I am, in the heartland of middle-America, and they don’t recycle.

I get to my room and walk into the bathroom.  There I find a typical water conservation sign.

Is this sign really necessary?  Hotels like this aren’t trying to be green by conserving water.  They’re trying to save money and reduce labor expenses.  Let’s call it what it is and stop green washing guests.

I look around and see they have plastic-wrapped polystyrene cups.  On one side of the sink they are asking me to save the planet by conserving water.  On the other side they are offering non-recyclable polystyrene cups and refusing to recycle something as simple as a water bottle.

How hard would it be to put a blue bin in the room next to the trash can?  It should be illegal to not offer recycling as I mentioned in a previous post.  I’ve only found two hotels in my entire life that offer in-room recycling – the Boulder Outlook Hotel and the Sheraton Resort in Steamboat Springs, CO.

Sheraton Resort in Steamboat Springs

If anyone knows of a resource to locate green hotels and review them on their green efforts, please let me know.

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Posted in Boulder, greenwashing, recycling, sustainability, zero waste | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Why We Need Curbside Composting Programs and Where to Start

Posted by Luke on July 22, 2010

Today on TriplePundit.com, a site dedicated to news on the Triple Bottom Line of business, Dinesh Thirupuvanam wrote a great article on why we need curbside composting programs.  He outlined two steps that need to occur which include (1) a uniform labeling standard for compostable products, and (2) improving acceptance of compostable packaging at composting facilities (ensuring each facility doesn’t have their own standards or certification program).  I am in complete agreement with Dinesh’s approach.  It makes perfect sense.  And I appreciate Dinesh referencing my post about the debate over how to label compostable products.

I also think it’s important for municipalities who are considering curbside composting to take the plunge and just do it.  The benefits of such programs are immense.  In Boulder we have a bi-weekly residential curbside composting pickup and I now send very little trash to the landfill.  It feels great taking out the trash because I have so little to take out.  Not to mention that composting has an enormous impact on reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions.  34% of all human generated methane emissions are from landfills, and food waste comprises approximately 13% of total landfill mass.

My belief is that we shouldn’t wait for the silver bullet of a labeling standard.  It will take years, if not decades, for a common standard to be developed.  I’m on the Board of Directors for the Biodegradable Products Institute and I’m involved in this industry debate on several different levels.  We’re not going to find a solution overnight.  There are just too many stakeholders to have this occur as quickly as we’d all like.

The best way to learn is to just give it a shot.  We’ll have more people educated on the subject and more people working on finding the best possible solution.

Posted in Boulder, compostable products, composting, GHG, Landiflls, packaging, zero waste | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

A Groupon-like Business Focused on Doing Good

Posted by Luke on July 19, 2010

A startup called Bolder just launched a Groupon-like site that encourages people to do something positive.  Every few days there’s a new challenge that offers rewards for doing things like buying local, riding your bike instead of driving, or picking up a piece of litter.  Sponsoring businesses offer discounts on products for people who participate in the Bolder challenge.  Checkout this article for more info, or the company’s website at www.actbolder.com.

Posted in innovation, startup | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Eco Entrepreneurs

Posted by Luke on July 15, 2010

I love reading about ambitious entrepreneurs with a passion to make a positive difference in the world.  When they see an opportunity, they build a business.  The “same old” doesn’t suffice for them.  They solve problems.  They put their careers on the line.  They put their money where their mouth is.  And they often do so without looking for a big financial payout.

The kind of entrepreneur I’m referring to isn’t all about taking their company public or hitting a big pay-day through an acquisition.  They are all about making a lasting difference.  They create jobs.  There’s a big place for them in the economy.  They deserve appreciation and thanks for taking a risk.  Here’s the latest eco entrepreneur I just came across…

29-year old John-Paul Maxfield started a compost hauling service in Denver.  He bought an old box truck and slowly convinced restaurant by restaurant to pay him to take away their food waste.  He’s competing against the uber-cheap trash hauling giants like Waste Management.  John-Paul recognizes that he’s starting out small, but he has a plan and a vision on how to expand his services.  His goal is to create regionally-located urban farms that process food waste and other compostables, and then to sell the fresh compost as value-added fertilizer in those local markets.  Read more here…

Posted in composting, innovation | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Debate Over How To Label Compostable Products

Posted by Luke on July 12, 2010

I’ve been involved in the debate over having a standardized label for compostable products for several years now.  Many composting facilities and other industry stakeholders believe that creating a standardized label to indicate a product is compostable would solve the problems of contamination.  And the label they want standardized across all products is a printed green band.  The truth of the matter, though, is that contamination levels would only decrease a very small amount, but the composting industry as a whole would suffer tremendously.

The Biodegradable Products Institute is the leading body for verifying a product is compostable

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition recently released a report that includes results of a survey of 40 industrial compost facilities.  82.5% of those facilities think the biggest opportunity for improvement is a standardized label for compostable products.  They have a hard time knowing what is compostable and what isn’t.  I see their point.  A clear PLA cup looks just like a clear PET cup.  There’s more to it than that though.

72.5% of the survey respondents said that accepting compostable packaging allows them to increase their total food waste tonnage.  Accepting these products improve the outcome of the overall composting program.  If we require a label on compostable packaging, it will present obstacles to manufacturers of these products and deter them from making the products in the first place (more on this below).  Based on the results of the survey, if compostable products aren’t widespread, food waste composting programs will decrease.  These products are critical to drive total food waste diversion from landfills.  That means that the composting industry will take several steps backwards if compostable products become less widespread.

Most of the standardized labeling talk is around requiring a green stripe.  The problem is that a green stripe isn’t possible to print on the majority of products.  It’s possible on cups, but it can’t be printed on a disposable fork.  It can’t be printed on most food containers.  Actually, I take that back.  It could be printed on those items, but the cost of the items would quadruple.  Then people would complain about the product manufacturers charging too much.  This is what I meant above when I said that requiring a label would deter manufacturers from producing these products because it would significantly drive up their production costs (by 2-4 times).

Second, major brands aren’t going to get behind a green stripe.  Can you imagine a compostable Coca-Cola cup with a green stripe on it?  It doesn’t jive with their red brand look and feel unless it’s Christmas.  I can’t see them or other brands getting behind this.  Competing brands don’t want to look like each other and a green stripe would create too much unison between competitors.  If big brands don’t get behind it, the likelihood of it succeeding is slim to none.

Let’s Take a Lesson from the Recycling Industry

Similar to the composting industry, the recycling industry has faced the challenge of contamination for decades.  Recyclers struggle with contamination because people put every type of plastic container in the recycling bin.  Most people think that just because a piece of plastic has a recycling symbol on the bottom of it that it can be recycled.  Unfortunately, that’s not correct.  The recycling symbol is very misleading on packaging.  39 states require that all plastic products have a recycling symbol with the number indicating what type of resin it’s made from.  It has nothing to do with the recyclability.

As a result, all plastic products have recycling symbols on them even though they aren’t all accepted by recycling facilities.  Virtually the only products that are widely recycled when they reach the recycling facility are #1 and #2 bottles.  All other products (salad containers, produce containers, etc.) aren’t recycled at 95% of the recycling facilities in the country  The reason is because the companies who buy the recycled materials buy them in compressed bales.  If they know the bales only consist of bottles, they know what they’re getting.  If the bales contain various other types of containers, they don’t know what type of resin they are buying.  Most recycling facilities don’t have optical sorting technology to sort between various types of resins.

I draw the comparison to the recycling industry because they haven’t been successful in creating a standardized label, so why would the composting industry have any different of an outcome, especially when most stakeholders want the label to be a green stripe which is feasibly impossible to print on the majority of product shapes?

Here’s My Solution…

The only standardized label that I see as working is requiring compostable products to have the word “COMPOSTABLE” embossed on the product.  Since a resin symbol has to be embossed anyway to denote the type of material, it’s not difficult to also emboss the word “COMPOSTABLE.”  That precludes anything about color, so it shouldn’t upset big brands.  It also works with existing manufacturing processes, so there shouldn’t be an increase in the cost of production.  It would be up to the FTC and other industry bodies to regulate that any product claimed as compostable has ASTM D6400 certification and verification from the Biodegradable Products Institute.

The problem we return to, though, is that an embossed word isn’t as clearly recognizable to compost sorters as a color (I didn’t say my solution was perfect).  This leads me to believe that another solution is improved screening technology at composting facilities which would allow plastic contamination to be screened out and removed from the inbound organic waste.  I know that’s costly and we can’t expect composters to invest in that equipment on their own overnight.

All of this goes hand-in-hand with the need for educating the general public about what is compostable and what isn’t.  This will take time.  The recycling industry still struggles with this after several decades.

A Note to Industry Groups Trying to Solve This Issue… Let’s Not All Separately Try to be Heroes

There are several different industry groups trying to come up with their own solutions.  The worrisome part is that they aren’t communicating with each to develop a unified vision.  I just hope one of those groups doesn’t try to strong-arm a policy into effect without thinking through all of the various angles.  That would, ultimately, hinder the growth of compostable products and the composting industry.

Posted in bottles, compostable, compostable products, composting, containers, cups, environmental products, foodservice, packaging, recycling, RPET | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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