eco ramblings

a dialogue with an Eco Patriot

Archive for the ‘cups’ Category

From Boulder to Aruba

Posted by Luke on November 5, 2010

My friends just had their honeymoon in Aruba and drank out of Eco-Products’ GreenStripe® hot cups every morning.  This picture was too idyllic not to post.

When you see our products out and about or when you’re traveling, please snap a picture and shoot me an email.  I love hearing about it no matter where you are.  Aruba is a tough one to top though.

Posted in Boulder, brand loyalty, cups, Eco-Products | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »

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 »

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 Boat Made Out of Bottles

Posted by Luke on May 9, 2010

Most people have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  It’s estimated to be twice the size the state of Texas comprised mainly of plastic litter.   Scientists estimate that 1 million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals die every year from ingesting or getting entangled with plastic.

Not as many people have heard about what a group called The Plastiki is doing to bring attention to the problem of marine litter as well as to recycling.  A group of people got together and built a boat out of 12,000 plastic bottles to sail from San Francisco to Sydney.  Right now they are halfway through their journey near the Line Islands in the middle of the Pacific.  Their website has a really cool feature to track their every move.

What I like about the group’s approach is that they recognize plastics have both upsides and downsides.  They acknowledge that plastic has a place in the world.  However, they want to bring attention to importance of recycling plastic and the need to make products (like boats) out of recycled materials.  One of the people behind the sea vessel, David de Rothschild, said, “Plastic is an amazing material and it is still misunderstood. I’m trying to get people to think about plastic as part of the solution.”

Less than 25% of the plastic bottles used in the U.S. end up being recycled.  That’s the crux of the problem.  Manufacturers have the capability to and are willing to make products out of recycled plastics.  One of the biggest obstacles is accessing high quality reclaimed materials.  With a dismal national recycling rate and increasing contamination in the recycling process, it’s difficult to make products from recycled materials.

Another challenge is that the recycling infrastructure is currently only setup to primarily recycle #1 and #2 bottles.  All other containers (those big plastic containers that lettuce comes in, yogurt containers, and much more) are largely not recycled in the majority of recycling facilities even if people put them in the blue bin.  The technology is not widespread enough to recycle those products into a  quality stream of recovered materials.  There isn’t enough market demand for them either.  That’s why it’s important to “buy recycled.”  It builds demand for recycled materials which encourages further recycling.

In the coming year, I’ll be working with some industry groups on understanding how we can solve this problem.  Eco-Products has also launched a new product line of cups and containers made from up to 100% recycled bottles which further promotes the importance of buying recycled.

Posted in bottles, containers, cups, Eco-Products, plastics, recycled products, recycling | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Misquoted

Posted by Luke on March 23, 2010

Unfortunately, I was misquoted in an article on Earth911.com today called “What Not to Put in the Bin.”  The writer, Marisa, is a very nice woman.  Unfortunately, the article makes me out to say that PLA (bioplastic) is bad.  In reading the posts on this blog, you surely can tell that I don’t feel that way.  Here is the response I posted on the www.earth911.com to set the record straight:

Marisa,
Thanks for addressing this topic. However, unfortunately, I was misquoted in the article. I apologize if I wasn’t clear when we spoke. Products made from PLA don’t contaminate the recycling stream today because PLA isn’t made into bottles. Bottles are the only plastic product that the majority (98+%) of recycling facilities accept because of the shape. So, whether a cup or plate is made from PLA or PET is irrelevant because all cups and plates are sorted out of recycling facilities because of their shapes and sent to landfills or sold to China. Unfortunately, the article makes PLA out to be the evil material which it actually isn’t. If PLA were widely made into bottles, then recyclers wouldn’t like PLA. However, that’s not the case today, so it really doesn’t cause contamination. Feel free to contact me at
http://www.ecoramblings.com if you have any questions.

Posted in cups, recycling | Leave a Comment »

Another BS call…

Posted by Luke on February 24, 2010

Hopefully this is my last BS call for a while…

An article on GreenUpGrader.com claimed that bioplastic cups might be bad for the environment because they drive up corn prices, don’t actually biodegrade, and cause issues in recycling facilities.  Below is my response to Becky (the writer) which was also submitted as a comment on the GreenUpGrader website.

The claims in this article are, plain and simple, inaccurate. PLA/bioplastics do not impact corn prices. I am involved in the industry and have seen the data. Stating otherwise is untrue. Also, bioplastics are not causing an issue in the recycling industry as of now because there isn’t enough in the recycling stream. I’m involved in recycling industry trade associations and know this first hand. Don’t make bioplastics out to be bad when they actually save resources, emit fewer greenhouse gases , and have a significantly better life cycle and carbon footprint than conventional products.

I’m happy to go into more detail with anyone on this topic.

Posted in BS, compostable products, corn, cups, GHG, recycling | 1 Comment »

Time to call BS

Posted by Luke on February 23, 2010

It’s amazing how much crap is out there. I keep stumbling across articles that contain outright false information.  Wouldn’t an Information Police Force be nice?  Sadly, consumers have to be incredibly smart to know what is BS and what isn’t.  Well, I’m ready to start calling BS on ill informants.  

The latest BS I’m calling out relates to this article in the Washington Post that falsely stated that “biodegradable” cups emit methane gas in landfills.  There appears to be a huge misnomer that PLA (the corn plastic used to produce compostable cups) emits methane when disposed of in a landfill, thus some writers claim it’s worse for the environment than plastic made out of petroleum.  Politely, I’m calling Bullshit. 

(Sidenote: if you’re not a PLA nerd like me, PLA is made from corn and will turn back into dirt if composted in a commercial composting environment, of which there are too few, which means that most PLA products are disposed of landfills like the majority of conventional products.  As a result, there are some people who refuse to use the material unless it is composted.  This ignores the front-end benefit of PLA which is that it’s made from an annually harvested plant instead of oil, and it emits fewer greenhouse gases to produce than oil-based plastics – it has a smaller carbon footprint.) 

Plain and simple, PLA does not emit methane into the atmosphere if disposed of in a landfill.  I won’t bore you with the science, but you can read more details in this presentation.  Besides, the Clean Air Act requires landfills to capture their methane which would mean that if science were proven wrong and PLA broke down after several decades in that environment, the methane would be captured and wouldn’t be released into the atmosphere.  Also, if you want to read more about PLA not biodegrading in landfills, similar to how other conventional products don’t biodegrade in landfills, you can read more about it here.  I’ll talk more about my thoughts on the benefits of PLA in future posts.

Posted in BS, compostable products, cups, GHG, Landiflls | Leave a Comment »

 
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