eco ramblings

a dialogue with an Eco Patriot

Archive for the ‘composting’ 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 »

Australian Composting Programs – Information Request

Posted by Luke on September 6, 2010

Do you have any info on residential curbside composting programs in Australia?

I met with a gentleman from Australia a couple months ago and he said that curbside composting programs  are available in all of the major cities.  According to him, 85% of the country’s population has access to curbside pickup programs.  I haven’t been able to successfully verify that number, so I’m curious if anyone has additional insight.  Shoot me an email if you do:  lvernon at ecoproducts.com

Posted in composting | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Eco Entreprenuerial Idea of the Week

Posted by Luke on August 27, 2010

I love reading about entrepreneurs who creatively solve problems with sustainable business ideas.  The latest example I read about is a Minneapolis company called Eureka Recycling.  This non-profit company partnered with their city government to pilot a 1,100 residential curbside composting pickup program… using their bikes.

Eureka employees ride around with custom-built trailers attached to their bikes and pick up compostables.  Impressive!  Talk about zero emission waste hauling.  What I’m wondering, though, is how long it takes to pickup the waste from all 1,100 households.  They must make a lot of trips.  Sounds like a great job to ride your bike all day.  But what happens in winter?

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

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 »

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 »

Who Knew Dirt Was So Important?

Posted by Luke on June 29, 2010

There’s a new documentary out I haven’t been able to see yet, but would like to.  It’s called Dirt! The Movie and is narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis.  It was a selection in the Sundance Film Festival and has won numerous other awards.  The movie is all about the importance of dirt and how the world depends on it yet we are taking pitiful care of it.  Here’s the trailer…

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

Colorado Recycling Summit

Posted by Luke on June 13, 2010

I spent part of last week in Steamboat, Colorado at the Colorado Recycling Summit organized by the Colorado Association for Recycling.  Did you know that Colorado has a goal to divert 75 % of waste from landfills by 2020?

At the Summit, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel on Zero Waste Events & Venues with some very knowledgeable people.

  • Liz Wahl, Food & Beverage Director for Steamboat Resorts, and Dave Epstein, VP of Twin Enviro (Steamboat landfill and compost facility) – They discussed how Steamboat Ski Resort is working towards zero waste in a close partnership between the resort and the compost facility.  Liz receives hugs and compliments from employees everyday about how they love the fact that they are composting – a great example of how sustainability initiatives can improve employee morale and engagement.
  • Jennifer Bohn, Boulder County Conservation Specialist – She shared insight on how she has taken the Boulder County Fair down a path towards zero waste with a 112,000 attendees last year.  One of her tips was to redeploy staff from being “trash goalies” to actually sorting waste after it was collected to ensure it goes to the proper waste stream.
  • Jack Debell, Director of Development for CU Recycling, and Molly Brown, Volunteer Coordinator for CU Recycling – Jack is an icon in the state recycling scene as well as in the national scene for university sustainability.  He helped CU attain recognition as America’s Top Green University by the Sierra Club.  He and Molly discussed how they achieved a nearly 80% waste diversion rate at 56,000 person stadium Folsom Field.  I’m pretty sure that’s the largest stadium in the country to achieve a waste diversion rate anywhere near that level.

In one of my next posts, I’ll discuss a couple key trends identified at the Summit.

Posted in composting, event, recycling, zero waste | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Free Product for a Year or a $4,000 Grant for Your Community

Posted by Luke on May 19, 2010

Eco-Products just announced a really incredible contest – Rethink Your Impact contest.  We are giving away free product to a business for an entire year and three $4,000 grants to a businesses’ local community.  Restaurants, coffee shops, and other businesses can self-nominate or they can have their customers nominate them.  Imagine winning free product for a year or winning the opportunity to give a $4,000 grant to a meaningful cause in your local community.  Pretty impactful.

Free Product for a Year

We want to give a restaurant, coffee shop, or other business a green makeover.  If you’ve been considering going green, but aren’t sure where to start or if you can afford it, we’ll give you the resources.  The will be challenged to show why their business is deserving of the makeover which includes a full line of Eco-Products made from renewable and recycled resources.  Well provide educational materials, including signage and training for staff to exhibit that show how simple choices, such as which cups you use, really add up.  We’ll also help you setup a composting and recycling program.

$4,000 Grant for Your Community

For businesses currently using Eco-Products, win a triple-shot of grants designed to spread your positive impact throughout your community. Over the course of a year, you’ll work with Eco-Products to plan three grant programs (valued at $4000.00 each) that will improve access to or educate your community about sustainable and eco-friendly choices. We’ll be looking for initiatives like supporting a composting program for your town’s Farmer’s Market, helping fund a recycling program for a school, promoting a clean-up of your local downtown park, or setting up a community garden. Eco-Products will work with you to create the best program for the most positive impact in your local area.

For more information, visit the Rethink Your Impact web page.

Posted in awards, composting, Eco-Products, environmental products, event | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Compost Awareness Week

Posted by Luke on May 5, 2010

The first couple weeks in May are full of holidays:

  • Cinco de Mayo
  • National Teacher Appreciation Week
  • Mother’s Day
  • May Day
  • Space Day
  • National Pet Week
  • National Bar-B-Que Month
  • National Asparagus Month (I guess vegetarians need a month to go along side of National BBQ Month?)
  • National Egg Month (Not sure how this fits in with the above two.  Tough competition for eggs.)
  • A bunch of others that most people don’t know or care about

and… Compost Awareness Week.

If you’ve been considering composting at home, now’s a great time to start.  It doesn’t have to be difficult and the compost you create will be rich with nutrients for your garden.  Here’s an informative website that walks you through the steps to setting up home composting.

Also, if you’re considering having a picnic in the month of May to celebrate one of the lesser-known holidays, this article has some suggestions on how to have an eco-friendly picnic which, oddly enough, includes using Eco-Products.

Here’s one last little factoid to encourage composting… approximately 25% of the waste sent to landfills is organic waste that could be composted.  Another 30+% is recyclable.  Imagine cutting down on landfill use by over 50% through those two simple activities.

Alright, I’ll get off my composting soapbox.

Posted in composting, event, Landiflls | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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