eco ramblings

a dialogue with an Eco Patriot

Archive for the ‘compostable’ Category

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 ecoproducts.com) 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 »

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 »

Taking Action Against Companies Who Mislead Consumers

Posted by Luke on April 12, 2010

As a consumer, I often take product claims for granted assuming they are true and accurate.  After all, consumers shouldn’t have to validate product claims, right?  It’s unethical for companies to lie.  And it’s largely impractical for consumers to research claims at the point of selecting products which typically occurs in store aisles.

Unfortunately, false advertising is everywhere.  That’s particularly true as companies try to market any potential green attribute a product may have, even if it’s misleading.  That’s increasingly been the case in the foodservice packaging industry.

I recently came across a prime example of a false advertisement by a Fortune 100 company.   Georgia-Pacific, a multi-billion dollar manufacturer of some very well known consumer products, is claiming that their Dixie PerfecTouch hot cups are compostable.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Catalog

PerfecTouch cups have a thick coating of polyethylene on the outside for insulation purposes.  The cups do not meet ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards for compostability, nor are the cups approved by the Biodegradable Products Institute.

It’s sad that companies like this feel they have to misrepresent their products to appeal to consumers.  Consumers should know what we’re getting and get what we pay for.

Here are a couple ways to get companies like this to stop falsely advertising their products:

  • Submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission on the FTC website
  • File a complaint with the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau.  This route is meant more for businesses to file complaints against other businesses and can be very effective.
  • Complain directly to the company misleading consumers
  • Blog.  If you know the facts, engage a discussion online
  • Tell retailers.  They are liable for misleading consumers as well if they don’t validate the claims of the  products they carry

Screenshot From GP's Website

Posted in compostable, foodservice, greenwashing, marketing | 2 Comments »

Recap from the U.S. Composting Council Annual Conference

Posted by Luke on February 2, 2010

I spent most of last week in Orlando at the U.S. Composting Council’s annual conference.  The organization continues to grow and the conferences seem to get better every year.  There were a few trends and pieces of news worthy of sharing that seemed to be apparent at the conference.

  • Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection has committed to diverting 75% of their waste by 2020.  Wow, that’s a lofty goal – the highest of any state and 2.5 times their current diversion rate.  That’s a ripe market for business opportunities in waste management.
  • In talking with composters, they continue to struggle with contamination of plastics.  Currently, there isn’t a good universal symbol that allows for easily identifying compostable products.  BPI’s symbol is the only third-party certification available.  However, it’s not federally regulated or required on compostable products and it’s not the easily identifiable symbol that composters are looking for to know what is compostable and what isn’t.  Frankly, I don’t think there is a symbol out there because you can’t use a color to indicate compostability.  Big brands won’t go for it and you can’t make some products/packaging/materials in colors.  I’ll talk more about this issue in an upcoming post. 
  • Polyethylene coated paper hot cups are accepted into the City of San Francisco’s composting program, but they aren’t ASTM D6400 or D6868 certified, so technically they aren’t “biodegradable” or “compostable.”  This further complicates the labeling dilemma in the previous bullet.
  • The FTC is cracking down more on misleading claims of biodegradability and they’ll continue to do so.  This goes for both product manufacturers and retailers.  Retailers need to do their homework as well, not just trust what manufacturers say.
  • There needs to be a better link between food waste generators (i.e. restaurants) and composters.  Restaurants struggle to find a way to get their organic waste to composters and composters don’t have the hauling logistics.  This often requires a third party hauler.  On a similar note, if you want to locate a compost facility near you, go to www.findacomposter.com
  • The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) run by Steve Mojo is a great organization.  Steve works his ass off to make this world a better place.  Thanks Steve!

Posted in biodegradable, compostable, compostable products, composting, event, foodservice, greenwashing, zero waste | Leave a Comment »

Compostable Sun Chip Bags

Posted by Luke on January 26, 2010

Direct from the US Compousting Council Conference in Orlando…

If you haven’t seen Frito Lays’ advertising for their new renewable and compostable Sun Chips bags, here it is…

 

These bags are a nice step towards more sustainable food packaging, and it’s nice to see such a large brand owner leading the charge which will surely drive more companies this direction.

Posted in biodegradable, compostable, composting, foodservice | Leave a Comment »

Which is more environmentally sound: recycled content or compostable?

Posted by Luke on January 23, 2010

There was a great article in a recent Resource Recycling issue that evaluates the pros and cons of recycled content vs renewable/compostable.  This is a growing debate with foodservice operators and one that will surely continue for some time.  With the growth of both products made from recycled content and products made from renewable resources, restaurant owners now have a couple of great alternatives to petroleum-based products based on their waste management systems. 

Benefits of renewable-resource based compostable products:

When looking at the life cycle analyses of bioplastic resin such as NatureWorks Ingeo PLA, there’s no question that PLA releases fewer greenhouse gases during production than its petrochemical counterparts like PET.  There’s also the key benefits of being produced from plants instead of oil and its ability to be turned back into dirt if disposed of properly in a commercial composting facility.  Some argue that PLA takes away from our food source, but I have never been able to agree them.  The corn used to produce PLA is grain corn, not the type of corn we eat on the table.  And if the NatureWorks factory was at full capacity, which it isn’t, it would only consume .1% of the nation’s grain corn.  Another argument anti-PLA people use is that PLA is made from GMO corn, which it is.  Although I’m not a fan of GMO myself, I’d much rather use a GMO plant to produce a plastic cup than use oil imported from who knows where.

Benefits of recycled content:

Recycled content creates an interesting alternative and one that I believe is a 2nd best option to renewable resource-based products.  Making cups from recycled content supports the recycling market which, ideally, in turn will build demand for more recycled products and more recycling.  Building the demand for recycled products is important because if recyclers can’t find a channel to sell their recovered materials, they’ll be less likely to collect certain types of materials and will ultimately drive up the price for recycled content.

So between the two – recycled content and renewable/compostable – we now have two great options outside of virgin petrochemical-based products.  What’s great about these options is that people can choose what works best for them.  If they have access to a composting facility, renewable/compostable products are the most environmental choice.  If they don’t have access to such a facility, recycled content products are a good alternative.

Posted in biodegradable, compostable, compostable products, foodservice, packaging, recycled products, renewable resources, RPET | Leave a Comment »

 
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