Posted by Luke on November 1, 2010
The National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) just released their report of 2009 PET bottle recycling. The report proclaims that the U.S. recycling rate for PET bottles has reached an all-time high of 28%. In the days following the release of the report, there seems to be excitement in the industry about this so-called accomplishment. Is this really something we should be proud of?
By being happy about only recycling 28% of water bottles, we are saying we are okay with throwing away the other 72%. As a society, that’s pathetic. Let’s see how this stat looks if we use other examples…
- I’m proud that I ate 28% of my food and threw the other 72% into the garbage
- I’m proud that I opened the windows 28% of the time and used the air conditioner the other 72%
- I’m proud that I threw away 28% of the garbage I took camping with me and dispersed the other 72% as litter
Suddenly, 28% doesn’t look so good.
This isn’t meant to be a slam on recyclers. Other than a few of the big players in the trash industry, most recyclers are low-profit businesses, so I can’t totally blame them for not helping to drive this number higher. They make money from selling reclaimed materials, so I know they’d like to capture more recyclables. The root issue falls on the shoulders of other parties, and here are some of the reasons:
- Consumers aren’t educated about how and what to recycle. I understand how it can be hard to figure out if odd-shaped containers are recyclable, but doesn’t everyone know that PET bottles (water bottles, soda bottles, etc.) are recyclable?
- Consumers don’t have access to recycling. Curbside programs are pretty ubiquitous. Public-area recycling is shockingly still problematic. It should be against the law to have a trash can without a recycle bin next to it (maybe when I run for President).
- Manufacturers aren’t demanding enough reclaimed materials from recyclers. The economics simply aren’t good enough to cause manufacturers to tip from using virgin resources to recycled. It’s unfortunate.
- Legislation isn’t supportive enough. Tipping fees at landfills are cheaper in most states than recycling fees. Until the government mandates higher tipping fees on landfills, waste haulers will never be incentivized to recycle vs landfill. The UK has done it right by making this change through a tax.
Sure, 28% is better than last year and the year before, but let’s not be complacent. There’s a long way to go.
Posted in bottles, Landiflls, litter, manufacturing, plastics, recycled products, recycling, RPET, trash | Tagged: bottle recycling, NAPCOR, PET recycling, recycling rate | Leave a Comment »
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: city composting, compostable packaging, compostable products, composting programs, curbside composting, labeling standard, waste diversion | 5 Comments »
Posted by Luke on May 11, 2010
Eco-Products’ largest competitor, the largest company in our industry, just launched a line of products that look exactly like ours. I don’t think I could have ripped off our design more closely if I tried. It’s shocking, honestly. It’s weird they didn’t get a little more creative.
On one hand, I can’t help but ask our lawyer a few questions. On the other hand, I’m flattered that a $3.5 billion Fortune 500 company would copy a small, Boulder company so precisely… or at least try to.
You see, green is all we’ve ever done. Eco-Products has been around for 20 years as the first business-to-business distributor solely of environmental products. We have one of the largest solar systems in Colorado. We have nearly eliminated all waste from our office building. We offset the emissions from the transportation of our products. We give our employees $1,200 every year if they ride their bike, bus, carpool, or drive a hybrid to work. We constantly challenge ourselves to be more sustainable.
We don’t do these things because we have to. We do them because we think it’s the right thing to do. Regulators aren’t asking us to be more green. Sustainability is in our DNA. It’s who we are. It’s what we believe. It’s all we know. That can’t be copied.
Eco-Products is so much more than just our products. We are an industry change agent. We are a belief system for our customers. We are giving voice to more corporate responsibility. We are greening an industry that’s sole purpose is to create waste, to create landfills. We are trying to reduce waste. Sounds counter-intuitive, right?
Eco-Products 12 oz World Art Hot Cup
Imitation cup (picture distorted the color; all cup sizes match exactly except for the lines on the globe)
99.9% of the competitor’s revenue I referred to above comes from products that have no place to be disposed of but in landfills. Their business is built on waste. Doing anything differently would jeopardize their core business. Sustainability isn’t part of their DNA. In fact, they were ranked in the bottom 20th percentile of the Fortune 500 for “green performance” according to Newsweek. They were ranked below all but 4 of the 31 oil and gas companies.
They have sat on the sidelines for years watching Eco-Products and others build a market for green products and now they want a piece of the action. They could have entered the game long ago. But they didn’t. It wasn’t in their values. Now they want a green story to tell Wall Street.
How will Eco-Products react? We’ll continue doing what we’re doing. We’ll continue being a change agent for the positive. We’ll raise the bar for sustainability. We’ll out innovate them. We’ll develop even better performing, more environmental products faster. And we’ll let our customers’ loyalty speak for itself. Our competitor can throw money at our distributors to get them to switch to their products. The restaurants, coffee shops, universities, and other customers who currently buy Eco-Products will continue demanding our brand. They want something more than just our products. They want something bigger to believe in. They want to be part of something positive. That’s why we do what we do.
Posted in brand loyalty, Eco-Products, greenwashing, hot cups, imitators, Landiflls, packaging, sustainability, World Art Cups | Tagged: brand loyalty, Eco-Products, environmental products, green washing, packaging, sustainability, World Art Cups | 2 Comments »
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: compost awareness week, composting, eco-friendly picnic, home composting | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Luke on March 4, 2010
Here are some of the key take-aways from the conference held in Austin this past week:
- The public’s lack of affection for plastic will likely continue to get worse if products can’t be recycled. Recycling is the easiest thing consumers can do to feel like they are making a difference. Municipalities, recyclers, and manufacturers need to make recycling easier for consumers.
- Single-stream recycling has a slight impact on contamination rates, but single stream is essential for making recycling easy for consumers and for increasing the recycling rate. Most MRFs are switching to single-stream.
- Recyclers will need to find ways to recycle the current unrecyclable. This could occur through the following: (1) better recycling technology, (2) investment in recycling, (3) government advocacy and legislation, (4) consumer education, and (5) a continued market demand for recycled materials.
- Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) will likely continue to grow; this will make packaging manufacturers more responsible for the end life of their products
- Contamination and quality of reclaimed materials (i.e. bottles) is becoming a bigger and bigger problem. Recyclers are paying more money for lower quality reclaimed materials. That makes it harder for them to sell recycled resins at competitive prices.
- There is a growing problem of manufacturers mislabeling plastic products as #1 when they actually aren’t. Since I’m actively involved in the compostable products industry, this was interesting for me to learn about considering the composting industry struggles with mislabeled products as well.
- Recycling non-bottle rigid plastic containers is an issue we MUST overcome. The issue isn’t that there isn’t a demand for those materials after they are reclaimed. In general, manufacturers want to use recycled resins and there is pent up demand for them. The issue is getting non-bottle rigid plastics through the reclaimation system. This can be done through the ways listed in bullet #3 above.
- Since China buys so much of our reclaimed materials, and the quality they demand is lower than what US recyclers demand, there isn’t as much incentive for US-based collectors to maintain high-quality standards because they can easily ship the stuff overseas. Overall, this impacts the entire recycling value chain and market.
- Change is looming for the #1-7 recycling codes. The ASTM is working on it, but they also have to get all of the states to adopt the new codes (when finalized) into their statutes. This will hopefully help with the #7 “Other” issue as well as classifying bioplastics properly.
Posted in China, event, Landiflls, recycled products, recycling, RPET | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Luke on February 25, 2010
Being completely trash-free is a daunting task. Even a company in the business of “green” with highly educated Eco Patriots is challenged by this. Last week, Eco-Products reviewed our waste diversion results from 2009. We strive to divert 100% of our waste from landfills – everything is either composted or recycled.
Last year, we diverted 7 tons of compost/recyclable materials from the landfill out of total of 10.95 tons of waste – that’s a 64% diversion rate. Honestly, it wasn’t as high as we had hoped. We think some of the factors that may have contributed to our lower than expected % were:
- Moving to a larger building in which people were more spread out and couldn’t closely monitor each other’s disposal habits
- More employees which makes waste management more difficult
- Battling with illegal midnight dumping of construction debris in our dumpsters
- Bringing more waste into the building from the outside
- Not doing as much continual reinforcement and education with employees as in prior years.
In a company meeting, we reaffirmed our commitment towards waste diversion and set a goal of achieving at least 80% in 2010. At the meeting, our CEO made a great comment about how he views our work environment. Since starting at the company 8 months ago, he has viewed the building as a campsite in which he tries to leave no trace. Whatever he packs in he packs out. What a great philosophy to make you think twice about the packaging you use/buy.
Here are some steps we are going to take to achieve our goal this year:
- Continue to only have trash bins in centralized locations, no bins in offices/cubes
- Make a more conscious effort to treat the building as a leave-no-trace zone. Pack-in-pack-out mentality.
- Monitor our diversion rate quarterly instead of annually.
- Search for solutions to products we currently don’t recycle or compost. For example, the wrapping on reams of paper can’t be recycled or composted due to their lining.
- Be more diligent about recycling hard to recycle items such as plastic bags and block styrofoam. Drop them off at a local hard-to-recycle facility.
- Install locks on our dumpsters.
- Educate, educate, educate. We are inviting in a representative from Eco-Cycle, a local recycler, who can answer our recycling questions.
- Tour a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) – a recycling center – to see first hand what is considered a contaminant. I’ll be doing this in the middle of March.
- Hang up more signage near our recycling/compost/trash bins
Shoot me an email if you’ve tried anything else in your company. I’ll keep you updated on our progress.
Posted in composting, Eco-Products, Landiflls, recycling, zero waste | Leave a Comment »
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 »
Posted by Luke on February 5, 2010
The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers held a webinar yesterday titled “Understanding the recycling industry’s current and potential role in supporting manufacturing.”
Although waste diversion will continue to be important, the management and reproduction of diverted materials is becoming a bigger and bigger issue. Between the 1980’s and 1990s, the number of curbside recycling programs grew from 500 to over 9000. At the time, the U.S. manufacturing base was not setup to process all of the recycled materials and turn them into usable products. As a result, China ended up saving our recycling programs because they bought a majority of the recycled materials. Without China, it’s possible that our country’s recycling programs would not be where they are today.
China is still a big purchaser of recycled materials – over 50% of all recycled PET bottles are shipped across the Pacific. If we want to truly have a viable recycling economy, we need to drive U.S. manufacturers and legislators to focus on producing finished goods using post-consumer recycled materials.
You can download the full webinar presentation slides here.
Posted in China, event, Landiflls, manufacturing, recycled products, RPET | Leave a Comment »