eco ramblings

a dialogue with an Eco Patriot

Archive for the ‘manufacturing’ Category

Should We Be Proud of a 28% Recycling Rate?

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Advertisements

Posted in bottles, Landiflls, litter, manufacturing, plastics, recycled products, recycling, RPET, trash | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

An O.G., and I’m Not Referring to Snoop Dogg

Posted by Luke on September 28, 2010

As a rebellious kid, I listened to explicit hip-hop despite my parents’ wishes.  For those who can relate, you’ll remember the term “O.G.”  I can’t say that I ever actually wanted to be an O.G. (Original Gangster), but that was what young punks like me thought was cool.  Well, now I can claim association with an O.G., but this time I’m not referring to Snoop Dogg’s posse.  I’m referring to Original Greenies.

When Eco-Products was founded in 1990, we were the first business-to-business distributor in the nation solely of environmental products.  And we were also the first company in our industry to sell nothing but green products.  Friday is Eco-Products’ 20th anniversary. Relative to the packaging industry as a whole, we haven’t been around as long as some.  But relative to the green movement, Eco-Products was one of the originals.  That is a hell of an accomplishment.  I think all of this qualifies us as being an O.G.  We have been green-blooded from the start.  We were green before green was a commonly used term.

What’s exciting about this to me is that we’ve strengthened our commitment to sustainability even more as time has passed.  We’ve invested in carbon offsets, pushed the boundaries of what is the norm for materials used in packaging products, paid employees to carpool or ride bikes, and invested heavily in our overall corporate sustainability.  During the recent economic downturn when our industry was in decline, we hired a full time employee as our “Sustainability Maven” to do nothing but measure and improve our sustainability practices.  We could have hired a sales person instead to drive more sales, or we could have not hired anyone at all and just pocketed the money.  But that’s not what our mission is.  We believed that if we did even more to be sustainable it would pay dividends to our triple bottom line – people, planet and profits – in the long run.

When I write blog posts, there’s a fine line I find myself walking between bragging about all of the cool things that Eco-Products is doing and trying not to make this a nothing-but-Eco-Products blog.  The only way readers will get value from this blog is if it talks about broader sustainability topics.  However, right now, I’m bragging about my company.  I’m proud of Eco-Products.  We are committed to our mission, and it’s exciting to be part of a company that truly is driving change in such a massive industry.  You can read more about the history of how Steve Savage and his father Kent started the company in their garage here…

I’ll leave you with Ice T’s song “Original Gangster” from 1991… oh, I remember when I used to own that album.

Posted in awards, Eco-Products, environmental products, green products, manufacturing, sustainability | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Leading Example of Transparency in Sustainability

Posted by Luke on August 9, 2010

In my previous post, I talked about the role of transparency in sustainability.  One of the best examples of a company who does this is Patagonia.  Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles allows people track the environmental impact of their products (good or bad) from product design all the way to delivery.  It’s a pretty slick interface and I encourage you to check it out.  You can see exactly where your clothes are made and what the conditions are at each of the factories.

Have you asked other clothing companies what the footprints of their items are?  I bet they don’t know the answer like Patagonia.  Being transparent helps Patagonia continue to strive for improved environmental performance while also setting a standard in the industry.

My down jacket was designed in Ventura, CA of which I can watch a video of.  The down fibers come from Hungary and I can see pictures of the origin location and conditions.  The fibers are then cleaned and processed in California before being sent to China in combination with recycled polyester for the shell.  Pictures of the factory can be viewed to witness the working conditions.  The finished product is shipped to Patagonia’s distribution center in Reno, NV.  The total process emits 7 lbs of CO2, creates 5 oz of waste, and uses 9.4 kwh of energy.

Posted in brand loyalty, China, logistics, manufacturing, shipping, sustainability | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Breakthrough in Cup Innovation

Posted by Luke on February 14, 2010

I want to take a minute to share a pretty big innovation Eco-Products just announced.  We successfully developed a line of a clear plastic cups made from 50% post-consumer bottles – more than two times the amount of recycled content of any cup on the market.  It’s been challenging to find the right level of post-consumer plastic while still balancing quality and price, but we think we did it. 

New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins who is known for their sustainability efforts is one of our launch partners.  Forbes, Recycling Today, and some other noteworthy sources picked up the press release about New Belgium and Eco-Products.

Posted in foodservice, manufacturing, recycled products, RPET | Leave a Comment »

Recycling and the Economy

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 »

Recycling foam cups. Does it make foam green?

Posted by Luke on January 12, 2010

Foam has been viewed as the evil material for years in the eyes of consumers.  Legislators in 30+ municipalities across the country have banned foam (expanded polystyrene) for use in foodservice products like cups, containers, etc.  I can never help but heckle restaurant employees when they bring me a foam takeout container. 

With all of the growing negative sentiment about foam, the industry is trying to make changes to the end-of-life story to try to give it a green, shall I say, “tint?”  At restaurant industry tradeshows, I’ve noticed manufacturers of foam products have found a way to put a green spin on foam by boasting that it’s recyclable.  Technically, they’re right, foam is recyclable.  In fact, a lot of products are technically considered recyclable.  The problem is that not all “recyclable” products are accepted by recycling facilities.  For example, clear plastic PET cups are technically recyclable.  They are made from the same material as water bottles.  However, cups aren’t recyclable in virtually 98% of the recycling facilities across the country, mainly due to their shape.  

Despite this borderline, or maybe flat-out greenwashing by the majority of foam manufacturers, I commend one company – Dart Container Corp. – for taking some pretty big steps to attempt to close the loop on foam recycling.  Dart has been opening up foam recycling facilities across the country.  These facilities collect used foam cups and containers, compact them, regrind them, and attempt to turn them back into usable foam material again.  The material isn’t processed in a manner that will allow for FDA approval, and there are still some questions as to the real benefits.  But I say good job for at least trying to cultivate a recycling program.

Posted in foodservice, manufacturing, recycling | Leave a Comment »

 
%d bloggers like this: