eco ramblings

a dialogue with an Eco Patriot

Archive for the ‘zero waste’ Category

Half-Ass Hotel Greening Efforts

Posted by Luke on July 27, 2010

It’s surprising that the hotel industry doesn’t put forth more effort to be sustainable.  There are very few hotels that have sustainability as part of their core philosophy.  The Boulder Outlook Hotel is an exception.  They compost or recycle over 80% of their waste.  I only wish Boulder Outlook’s existed across the country.

Today I’m in Indiana staying in a major national hotel chain.  I walked into the lobby to check in and had an empty water bottle in my hand from the flight.  It’s 90+ degrees and humid in Indy.  I asked the front desk employee if he could recycle the bottle for me.  He looked at me as if I had two heads and said, “No, but I can throw it away for you.”  Here I am, in the heartland of middle-America, and they don’t recycle.

I get to my room and walk into the bathroom.  There I find a typical water conservation sign.

Is this sign really necessary?  Hotels like this aren’t trying to be green by conserving water.  They’re trying to save money and reduce labor expenses.  Let’s call it what it is and stop green washing guests.

I look around and see they have plastic-wrapped polystyrene cups.  On one side of the sink they are asking me to save the planet by conserving water.  On the other side they are offering non-recyclable polystyrene cups and refusing to recycle something as simple as a water bottle.

How hard would it be to put a blue bin in the room next to the trash can?  It should be illegal to not offer recycling as I mentioned in a previous post.  I’ve only found two hotels in my entire life that offer in-room recycling – the Boulder Outlook Hotel and the Sheraton Resort in Steamboat Springs, CO.

Sheraton Resort in Steamboat Springs

If anyone knows of a resource to locate green hotels and review them on their green efforts, please let me know.


Posted in Boulder, greenwashing, recycling, sustainability, zero waste | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Why We Need Curbside Composting Programs and Where to Start

Posted by Luke on July 22, 2010

Today on, 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 »

Sustainability Partnerships Between the Public and Private Sectors

Posted by Luke on June 15, 2010

Sustainability movements, and zero waste in particular, are most effective when there’s a partnership between the public and private sectors.  Yellowstone National Park has established one of the best examples of a public-private sector partnership I’ve ever seen.

I met Jim Evanoff from the National Parks Service last week.  Jim is one of the most senior people in the National Parks Service and manages all things environment at Yellowstone.  Yellowstone has achieved an 80% waste diversion rate through public and private partnerships.  Although Eco-Products’ foodservice items are part of the equation, there’s a lot more involved in that 80% number.

The park draws over 3.3 million visitors every year staying in 2,000 hotel rooms with a staff of 5,000 workers servicing them.  With that many people, the only way they’ve continued to increase the waste diversion rate year over year is by leveraging resources they don’t have.  For materials they couldn’t previously recycle, they built recycling systems.  For example, they worked with universities and private companies to build the first ever propane tank recycling machine.  By partnering with these organizations, they’ve created a business in and of itself that can now divert propane tanks from landfills at every campsite in the country.   Yellowstone alone now diverts 25,000 propane tanks a year.

In the communities like this in which sustainability has taken hold, there has typically been a strong collaboration between businesses and government.  Businesses can invest resources and brand equity among other things.  Governments can implement sustainability regulations and policies.  When both parties work in unison towards similar objectives, rapid progress towards systemic sustainability will occur.

Posted in innovation, sustainability, zero waste | 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 »

Taking Stretch Goals Too Far

Posted by Luke on April 8, 2010

I consider myself goal oriented, and I definitely like to have a stretch goal in place.  As a child, my stretch goal was to play in the NBA.  I didn’t quite achieve that one – white men can’t jump, as the movie goes. 

Recently, I’ve been seeing an abundance of press releases by companies publicly declaring sustainability goals, often times stretch goals.  On one hand, I think that’s great.  It will create accountability if the public is watching.  On the other hand, these announcements are often used as branding stints.

I’m perplexed by the latest sustainability goal a major company just announced.  See if you can guess which one I’m referring to.

  • Starbucks’ goal to make all of their cups either reusable or recyclable by 2012
  • Frito Lay shooting to be zero landfill by 2020
  • Sony Corp. striving for a zero environmental footprint by 2050

The first two are definitely big goals, but the timeframe to achieve them are in the relatively near future which makes them feel like real, attainable goals.  The last one – Sony striving for zero environmental footprint by 2050?!  Really?  2050?  Now, that’s out there.  I hope I’m alive in 40 years.  I like the ambition to have zero environmental impact; it just seems odd to me that a company would make such a big deal publicly about a goal for 2050.  We don’t know what the world will be like in 40 years.  The internet didn’t become a part of everyday life until 15 years ago, less for most people. 

I’m going to start taking wagers.  Can Sony do it?  Will Sony even be around in 40 years?  If they are around, will the management team still want to pursue it? 

Thinking optimistically, I think they can do it.  I wouldn’t have the same level of confidence in many other companies who set this goal, but Sony is pretty world-class.  I just hope the media, their shareholders, and consumers hold them accountable since they are making such a big deal out of it.   Maybe this will convince the entire electronics industry to follow suit.

Posted in footprint, greenwashing, marketing, zero waste | Leave a Comment »

Becoming a “zero landfill company” is a journey

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:

  1. Moving to a larger building in which people were more spread out and couldn’t closely monitor each other’s disposal habits
  2. More employees which makes waste management more difficult
  3. Battling with illegal midnight dumping of construction debris in our dumpsters
  4. Bringing more waste into the building from the outside
  5. 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 »

The greenest (and best) burger around

Posted by Luke on February 12, 2010

I had a meeting with the manager of Larkburger today in Boulder to talk about product design (Eco-Products tries to involve our customers in our product design process).  Larkburger is a fantastic example of how zero waste is possible in quick-casual and fast food.  They compost virtually everything.  The only thing that gets thrown away are the condiment packets which are typically taken out of the restaurant anyway.  Not to mention they use organic food and have the best burgers and shakes around.  They are expanding rapidly throughout Colorado and other states.  Green is part of their brand and mission and it has really paid off for them. 

Time for dinner…

Posted in compostable products, foodservice, zero waste | Leave a Comment »

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
  • 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 »

%d bloggers like this: