eco ramblings

a dialogue with an Eco Patriot

Archive for the ‘compostable products’ Category

Do you really need oil in your paper cup?

Posted by Luke on October 15, 2010

Here’s a great little video that our talented creative team produced.  Most people don’t realize that the majority of paper cups are lined with plastic made from oil.


Posted in compostable products, corn, cups, environmental products, hot cups, innovation, plastics, renewable resources, Video, World Art Cups | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Keep It Simple with Signs

Posted by Luke on September 11, 2010

How do people tell the difference between compostable and non-compostable products when they are trying to figure out which bin to throw something in?  They look and feel virtually the same.  If the products aren’t embossed or printed with the word “compostable”  on them, people can’t tell.  And even if “compostable” is embossed, there’s no guarantee that the products meet compostability certification.

For some time now, I’ve been involved in this seemingly never-ending debate about establishing labeling guidelines for compostable products.  Some people have suggested that products should have a green stripe or band.  I haven’t come around on that idea.  Until someone can convince me otherwise, it’s not cost-effective, can’t be done on all product shapes and materials, and will ultimately drive up product costs while simultaneously lowering composting rates (composting programs are more successful when packaging/products are included).  Also, it doesn’t solve the problem of companies falsely claiming that their products are compostable.  That’s where laws help…

The State of California is trying to pass a bill to make it illegal for companies to claim compostability if their products don’t meet ASTM standards.  HALLELUIAH!  We’re finally starting to make some  progress.  Companies will be held accountable for their claims.  No one wants to answer to Arnold.  Actually, I take that back,

Getting back to figuring out what is compostable and what isn’t, I came across a great idea about using 3-D signs to help out consumers.  In his post, Dinesh Thirupuvanam talks about the effectiveness of using simple, visual displays to help improve waste diversion.  One route is to have a poster with pictures of the products that should be composted, but a much more effective route is to create a 3-dimensional sign in which customers see the products in real life and know what bin to put them it.  I’m a visual person, so this is a great solution for me, much better than a normal, flat poster.  What a simple, yet effective solution.

If only these could be produced on a larger scale… Shoot me an email (lvernon at if you think you can produce these signs on a large scale for Eco-Products.  I’d love to be able to give them to our customers.

Posted in compostable, compostable products, composting, greenwashing, logistics, recycling | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Rethink Your Impact Contest

Posted by Luke on August 31, 2010

In a previous post, I announced a contest – “ReTHINK Your Impact” –  in which any business can win an eco makeover.  We’re choosing one lucky company (a coffee shop or restaurant or other foodservice establishment) who will win free products from Eco-Products for an entire year.  That’s a lot of cups!  We’ll also assess all of their operations and suggest eco improvements, essentially giving them free sustainability consulting.  Not bad!

The other part of the contest involves us giving away three different $4,000 sustainability grants for a total of $12,000.  The grants will be applied to a cause or initiative in the selected company’s community to educate people about composting, environmental conservation, recycling, or another sustainability-related activity.

Click here to nominate your favorite coffee shop or restaurant or check it out on Facebook.  And watch this clever video…

Posted in awards, compostable products, cups, Eco-Products, event, sustainability | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Why We Need Curbside Composting Programs and Where to Start

Posted by Luke on July 22, 2010

Today on, 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 »

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 »

A Great Addition to Any Cafeteria

Posted by Luke on May 7, 2010

If you’ve ever been to any of Google’s offices, you know they take an unconventional approach to culture.  I say “unconventional,” but I sometimes wonder why it isn’t more conventional to create a work environment in this manner.  It’s remarkable what they do.  You’ve probably heard about their unlimited free food in the cafeterias, the shuttle service for commuters, the endless white board walls where people doodle ideas, the dry-cleaning services, and the on-site fitness centers.  There is another thing they do…

Checkout this video of Google’s cafeteria in London.  They brought in some of the best human and flute beat boxers.  That’s right, I said “flute” beat boxers.  I should bring them to Eco-Products.

Posted in compostable products | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Cork Recycling. Interesting Thought, But Would You Do It?

Posted by Luke on April 6, 2010

Whole Foods just announced a program to recycle wine corks in all 292 of its stores.  I like the concept of producer responsibility when manufacturers take action to collect and recycle their products after use.  I’m not sure what to think of this program though.  Are people really going to bring their corks back into a store to be recycled? 

I can’t remember the last time I had a cork that wasn’t made out of synthetic materials.  Maybe I need to drink more expensive wine.

And when I finish a bottle of wine, I don’t know if I’m thinking straight enough to remember to recycle the little cork.  Maybe I need to drink wine more often. 

Here’s my tip for the company implementing this cork recycling program… 

1)  Establish partnerships with wineries who use your corks.  Market the cork recycling program and see if you can get a winery to talk about the program on the wine bottle for consumer education.  Also have the winery’s sales force use the cork recycling program as a differentiator when selling to restaurants, distributors, and liquor stores.

2)  Establish partnerships with local restaurants near your cork recycling facility (I didn’t know those exist, but I’d love to tour one).  Since restaurants theoretically go through a much higher volume of corks than an individual drinker, setup a closed loop recycling program with those restaurants.  They can promote the program with their patrons and you have reduced shipping costs for getting the recovered corks to your recycling facility.  Then, when the program proves successful, roll it out to more restaurants in more regions.  Setting up a global recycling program with Whole Foods from the start is ambitious. 

If I can think straight next time I finish a bottle of wine, I’ll try to remember to bring the sole cork into the store.

Posted in compostable products | 1 Comment »

Praise to Bus Riders

Posted by Luke on March 14, 2010

If I wasn’t a cheapskate already, last night I took my wife on a date… and I took her on the bus.  Actually, it wasn’t because I didn’t want to spend money on gas, and sadly it wasn’t just out of pure Eco Patriotism.  It also wasn’t because we needed a DD although that was a nice perk.  It was for parking reasons – we didn’t want to battle to find a spot in downtown Boulder.

That experience gave me a new admiration for those who consistently ride buses.  It’s not easy coordinating multiple route schedules.  And it takes planning and patience to not get upset when your bus is 10 minutes late or when someone sits beside you who forgot to wear deodorant (fortunately, Brie smelled great).  Not to mention that taking the bus requires longer than just hopping in your car and going to where you need to get to.

A few years ago, Eco-Products started an Alternative Transportation Incentive Program to encourage bus riding and other alternative forms of transportation.  Any employee who takes the bus, rides his/her bike, walks, runs, carpools, or drives a 40+ mpg car to work 60% of the time gets $100 per month added to his/her paycheck.  We started this program when we were a very small company because we believed it was the right thing to do.  We wanted to compensate those individuals who made the extra effort, and it was in line with our mission of sustainability.  $1200 a year is a nice incentive and employee benefit.

Here’s what an Eco Patriot says about combining biking and bus riding on his way to the office.  He even does this on cold, snowy days – impressive!

“From my house, I ride my bike to the downtown Denver bus station, then bus to Boulder, then bike to work from Table Mesa. It adds some time to my commute to and from, but keeps low miles on my car, keeps a car off the road, and gives me about 30 minutes on the bus to do whatever.”

Posted in compostable products | Leave a Comment »

Sustainability in Foodservice How to Guide

Posted by Luke on March 14, 2010

I came across this “How to guide” for making a foodservice operation more sustainable.  It talks high-level about the various things that can be done to green an operation.  It doesn’t get very detailed, but, nonetheless, it’s a resource for those just starting the journey.

Posted in compostable products | Leave a Comment »

The Definition of Recycling vs. Reclaiming and Recovering

Posted by Luke on March 3, 2010

I’ve recently come to find out that I’ve been misusing the term “recycling” for nearly my whole life.  If I misunderstood the term then I’m sure other consumers are in the same boat.  Here’s an attempt to help clarify the terms recycling and reclaiming (or recovering) which I’ll be using more of on this blog.

Recycling – (1) to process in order to regain material, (2) to adapt to a new use  (Webster)

What is misunderstood about this term is that people (myself included until a week ago) think recycling is the act of throwing their water bottles into a blue bin.  In fact, recycling occurs after the hauling company picks up the bottles (or “reclaims” or “recovers” the recyclables), and it occurs after the bottles are taken to a MRF (Materials Recovery Facility – note: “Recovery” in the name).  Recycling actually occurs at another facility where the bales of bottles are sent for washing, cleaning, grinding, chopping, and processing which then turns the bottles into little flakes of recycled material.  Those flakes can then be or reused in other products by melting the flakes into resin which is then molded into recycled products.  That is a lot to digest.

What this means is that “reclaiming” or “recovering” or “collecting” is more along the lines of what we are doing when we throw bottles in blue bins.  Us consumers and the hauling company “recover” and “collect” or “reclaim” the bottles.  The MRFs also “collect” and “recover” or “reclaim” the bottles.  The only people actually recycling are the companies who convert bottles to little flakes of recycled materials.  And like I said, those companies are most often different than the municipal recycling facilities where our bottles first go.

I hope that helps and feel free to drop me a line if this confuses you more or if you think I’m way off base.

Happy Recovering!

Posted in compostable products | Leave a Comment »

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