Search This Blog


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Zero waste moves from "best" to standard operating practices

With recent industry developments, zero waste segues from "the green thing to do" into respected material management that makes good business and environmental sense. Veteran zero waste companies substantiate clean, contaminant-free material source-separated on-site improves the corporate bottom line, even in "soft" recycling markets.

USZWB Board & USGBC President
signing the official agreement
Further validating zero waste's prominent role in corporate material management, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) announced on October 5 they joined forces with the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) to advance zero business practices. USZWBC will integrate into the global Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) community that drives sustainability across all sectors. 

GBCI will assume responsibility for the ongoing management and evolution of the Zero Waste Facility Certification (ZWFC) and Zero Waste Business Associate programs created by USZWBC. Zero waste principles will align with GBCI’s offerings. 

The ZWFC joins a family of prominent certifications administered by the GBCI: the PEER standard for power systems, the WELL building standard, the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), Parksmart, EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiency) and the GRESB benchmark, which is used by institutional investors to improve the sustainability performance of the global property sector. 

As the home to LEED - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - Certification, the USGBC is the recognized global standard for sustainable building design, construction, operations and maintenance.

The ZWA Blog article, USGBC Empowers Zero Waste Industry: USGBC & USZWBC join forces, details the monumental industry announcement.

Along with the USGBC, national trade associations are vehicles to educate the corporate community on the zero waste business value. In October two prominent industry trade associations - the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) and the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association (NWPCA) - published front cover zero waste articles in their October hard copy magazines.

Pallet Central:

Published by the NWPCA, Pallet Central features Zero Waste Makes Good Business & Environmental Sense as the September | October issue front cover story. Written by Elemental Impact Founder Holly Elmore on behalf of the USZWBC, the article is introductory in nature.

For zero waste success, two prime ingredients are necessary: 1> a culture shift from waste management to materials management and 2> a practical staged-in approach complete with education, clear signage, and employee engagement. Top management buy-in is critical to shifting corporate culture along with providing employee incentives and support. Quantifying, communicating and rewarding success builds strong enthusiasm and support for long-term zero waste program success.

A first step on the zero waste journey is a waste audit. An audit determines the baseline of current practices in-place as well as the quantity and type of materials generated at the facility. In addition, the audit reveals the "easy win" areas, which are perfect program starting points.

Throughout the article, the strong business case for zero waste is emphasized. For example, in 2015 Gold Level ZWFC Piazza Produce “sold” 733.8 tons of wood pallets (roughly 66,700 pallets) for approximately $163,500. In contrast, estimated landfill charges for the pallets were $65,700, including hauling and tipping fees.

USZWBC Board Member and Piazza Produce Facility Manager Scott Lutocka often says “There’s Ca$h in Your Tra$h!” and “You don’t know what you don’t know (about the value in your waste stream)!” … and Scott understands well the cash value of Piazza Produce trash! 

Scott by the hardworking
Piazza baler
In 2015 alone, the Piazza Produce zero waste program generated $288,034 in cost-savings. Since launching in 2005, Piazza Produce enjoyed a cumulative $1.56 million in bottom line improvements from successful zero waste practices. Even with the soft recycling markets, established corporate zero waste programs continue to produce cost-savings and improve the bottom line. 

Zero waste is a team sport! Product packaging, including manufacturing raw materials, is a significant contributor to landfill-destined items. By working in tandem with the supply chain, recyclable or reusable packaging may often replace "trash" packaging.

Platinum ZWFC at their five U.S. Plants, Earth Friendly Products (EFP) established a Supplier Code of Conduct including a sustainability questionnaire. Negative questionnaire answers require an explanation. With team spirit, EFP trains their suppliers on zero waste practices. EFP Vice-President of Sustainability and Education Nadereh Afsharmanesh visits vendor manufacturing plants to witness zero waste practices in-place and provide helpful recommendations.

As it closes, the article notes the pathway to zero waste success is well established with the pioneers open to sharing their lessons learned and proven practices implemented. USZWBC veteran members share experiences with those embarking on the zero waste journey. According to USZWBC Founder & Executive Director Stephanie Barger: 
“USZWBC is a solutions based organization and provides many resources for their members and the community to vet ideas and challenges. Our Advisory Board members can assist with working on solutions for individuals or an industry along with leading task forces or developing technical committees for more challenging long-term issues. Our resource library contains toolkits, case studies and other educational information.”
Inside Supply Management

While the Pallet Central article was introductory in nature, Inside Supply Management's (ISM) October cover story, Full Circle: Supply management can play a key role in the circular economy, working with suppliers to eliminate waste and drive financial value, delves into the broader spectrum inherent within the circular economy. ISM is the Institute for Supply Management's official industry publication.

Written by ISM Publications Coordinator Lisa Arnseth, the article is an excellent overview of zero waste's role within the circular economy along with specific examples. Dell Computers is a prime article feature with their impressive closed loop commitment. Jennifer Allison, Dell director of supply chain sustainability, emphasizes the importance of a systems approach with her quote:
“One of the most important things in understanding the circular economy is that we’re talking about systems — not just products, programs or initiatives. Looking at the whole system is when change begins to make a significant difference. Technology is a great tool for measuring and analyzing systems, understanding processes and identifying inefficiencies.”
EFP is another article feature. Using quotes and examples provided by Nadereh, the article gives examples of EFP's team work with their supply chain. Nadereh's hands-on approach with supply chain management is effective at preventing "trash" packaging.

Within the circular economy, the zero waste definition is beyond material management practices at a particular manufacturing or other facility. Waste inherent within delivered products is critical to achieving circular economy zero waste. If a product was manufactured in a wasteful facility, then the product brings intangible waste into the customer's operations. 

Working in tandem with their supply chain, EFP supports their zero waste demands with complimentary training. As mentioned in the Pallet Central article, Nadereh visits supplier operations to monitor material management systems in-place and offer assistance.

An industry leader, ISM published The Journey to a Zero Waste Supply Chain in March 2013 written by Ei Founder Holly Elmore. The ZWA Blog article, Supply Chain Critical to Zero Waste Success, gives an article overview along with examples from Subaru's operations.

Nadereh with recycling bins
on the plant floor
When researching the October article, Lisa reconnected with Holly for industry referrals and an in-depth interview. Emphasizing the team spirit approach to working with the supply chain, Holly says "“Remember, it’s about working in a partnership with suppliers, and not dictating changes. Go to the table with your suppliers and work together.”

The article copy flows from the big circular economy picture to specific details for implementing a successful zero waste program. Nadereh advises "“Look for small wins, and build on those foundations.”

As the article closes, the importance of corporate culture is emphasized with Holly's quote:
 “It’s a matter of corporate culture, stemming from the C-suite, the board of directors and the stockholders. Sustainability is a long-term commitment that requires, at times, short-term investments or temporary financial shortcomings. But in the long run, if it is done with integrity and committed planning with the right resources plugged in, the ROI will be there."

Global leaders like Dell are grounding the pathway to a future circular economy; national icons like Piazza Produce and EFP are substantiating the current economics inherent within strong materials management

With the USGBC and prominent trade associations embracing zero waste as a core business value, zero waste moves beyond best operating practices into standard operating practices. Stay tuned to witness how the powerful synergies flow into a "world without waste!"

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

USGBC Empowers Zero Waste Industry: USGBC & USZWBC join forces

This summer the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) stepped into Zero Waste WE Consciousness with an empowering announcement!

On July 1, 2016, the USGBC issued a LEED Interpretation allowing documentation for a facility certified by the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) to stand in for several LEED for Building Operations and Maintenance (LEED O+M) prerequisites and credits. The USGBC's aim is to reduce the burden for buildings pursuing both certifications.

Now, if a building earned USZWBC Zero Waste Facility Certification (ZWFC) and the scope of the project (i.e., the project boundary) is the same as a project pursuing LEED O+M certification, the USZWBC certification can be used to document LEED credits, provided the corresponding USZWBC credit is earned. A scorecard for the ZWFC must be provided to demonstrate specific credit achievement.

As the home to LEED - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - Certification, the USGBC is the recognized global standard for sustainable building design, construction, operations and maintenance.

The ZWA Blog article, USGBC Steps in Zero Waste WE Consciousness, announces the important industry achievement and defines WE Consciousness.

... and on October 5, 2016 the USGBC fully immerses in Zero Waste WE Consciousness with the following announcement: 
The USGBC and USZWBC are formally joining forces to advance zero waste business practices. USZWBC will be integrated into the global Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) community that drives sustainability across all sectors. GBCI will assume responsibility for the ongoing management and evolution of the ZWFC and Zero Waste Business Associate programs created by USZWBC, and the Zero Waste principles will be aligned with GBCI’s offerings.
Established in 2008, GBCI exclusively administers project certifications and professional credentials and certificates within the framework of the USGBC’s LEED green building rating systems. Through rigorous certification and credentialing standards, GBCI drives adoption of green business practices, which fosters global competitiveness and enhances environmental performance and human health benefits.

Mahesh Ramanujam
GBCI is taking another important step toward creating a holistic strategy for green business that began when the U.S. Green Business Council (USGBC) launched the LEED green building rating system 16 years ago,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president, GBCI, and COO, (USGBC). “By reducing and eliminating the volume and toxicity of waste and materials and aligning green rating systems, we are one step further in transforming the market to be more sustainable.

The ZWFC joins a family of prominent certifications administered by the GBCI: the PEER standard for power systems, the WELL building standard, the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), Parksmart, EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiency) and the GRESB benchmark, which is used by institutional investors to improve the sustainability performance of the global property sector. 

Since its 2012 inception, the USZWBC adopted the Zero Waste International Alliance's zero waste definition:
Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, guiding people to change their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use. Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources and not burn or bury them. Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.
Alignment with the USGBC | GBCI will propel zero waste success from its current material focus to encompass all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health - a monumental leap forward towards a truly sustainable world!

When it launched in 2013, the ZWFC parameters aligned with credit requirements of LEED O+M. Thus, the USGBC | GBCI | USZWBC is a natural joining of forces with monumental industry implications. With USGBC support, zero waste is destined to move beyond best operating practices into standard operating practices.

Stephanie Barger, USZWBC Founder and Executive Director, confirms the sentiment: USZWBC is so excited to join the GBCI family. By spearheading a comprehensive certification and training program, we have already made huge strides in shifting attitudes and behaviors of large and small companies to focus upstream with managing waste. With GBCI’s influence we will be able to further the integrity and credibility of Zero Waste and create a Zero Waste Economy for all!

USGBC intends to honor current USZWBC memberships, sponsorships, and partnerships. As the USZWBC Official Media Partner, Elemental Impact is thrilled for the invigorated zero waste horizons. Time will reveal how the phenomenal potentials ground into powerful realities.

Monday, September 19, 2016

USGBC Steps into Zero Waste WE Consciousness

In September 2012 the ZWA Blog article, Zero Waste is a Team Sport, detailed three consciousness shifts necessary for zero waste success on company and community levels:

First, the "pay and forget" era is over; the consumer must take responsibility for the by-products generated from their activities and ensure materials are reused, repurposed or recycled. The Elemental Impact (Ei) Recycling Integrity page dives deeper into the holographic approach necessary to ensure integrity is maintained throughout the entire material management process.

food waste composting
Second, waste management is replaced by materials / by-products management. In nature there is no "waste"; it is time to emulate nature's perpetual life cycle system. Food waste composting is an example of a system following nature's no-waste baseline.

Third, the "I" focus is replaced with the "WE" focus. The impact of our actions extends to the entire community and beyond; collective action accomplishes more profound results than singular effort. By working together, synergies are unlocked, unnecessary boundaries, including competitive barriers, disintegrate, and creative energies catapult possibilities into grounded realities.

Zero waste initiatives offer tangible opportunities to incorporate the consciousness shifts into standard operating practices. Once a company accepts the first two shifts, action is ready to begin with the third shift.

Thus, the WE Consciousness was introduced as a core Ei value.

... and this summer the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) stepped into Zero Waste WE Consciousness with a monumental announcement. As the home to LEEDLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design - Certification, the USGBC is the recognized global standard for sustainable building design, construction, operations and maintenance.

On July 1, 2016, the USGBC issued a LEED Interpretation allowing documentation for a facility certified by the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) to stand in for several LEED for Building Operations and Maintenance (LEED O+M) prerequisites and credits. The USGBC's aim is to reduce the burden for buildings pursuing both certifications.

Now, if a building earned USZWBC Zero Waste Facility Certification and the scope of the project (i.e., the project boundary) is the same as a project pursuing LEED O+M certification, the USZWBC certification can be used to document the following LEED credits, provided the corresponding USZWBC credit is earned. A scorecard for the USZWBC Zero Waste Facility Certification must be provided to demonstrate specific credit achievement.

According to USZWBC Founder & Executive Director Stephanie Barger:
Stephanie with Bob Gedert
of Austin Resource Recovery
“This LEED Interpretation meets one of our major goals in creating the Zero Waste Facility Certification, which is to leverage existing certification guidelines to enhance not duplicate business practices. Our organization can provide the expertise to drive policies and practices in creating a zero waste economy so all companies can benefit from better markets, services and performance measures.”
Inherent within the USGBC LEED Interpretation is an underlying statement of WE Consciousness, the importance of industry leaders working in unison toward common goals. 

Thank you to the USZWBC for your pioneering spirit in crafting the Zero Waste Facility Certification, a well documented and substantiated program. Thank you to the USGBC for your team spirit, exemplary industry leadership, and working within the WE Consciousness

As the creative energies within the WE Consciousness unleash, the industry is staged to catapult beyond perceived boundaries into a new world of possibilities - EXCITING!!!!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Georgia World Congress Center honored for stellar zero waste practices

At their Annual Recognition Event hosted in late June, the Atlanta Better Building Challenge (ABBC) celebrated program successes and honored Top Performers and Award Recipients. In addition to the energy and water savings accolades, the Waste Diversion Award was added to the prestigious 2016 program.

A veteran in zero waste practices, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA) was the first annual Waste Diversion Award recipient. An umbrella state-owned entity, the GWCCA consists of the Georgia World Congress Center - fourth largest convention center in the nation & the world's largest LEED Certified convention center, the Georgia Dome and Centennial Olympic Park. In addition, the GWCCA was awarded the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center management contract in early 2014.

During fiscal year 2016 ending June 30, the GWCCA segregated 247.5 tons of single-stream recyclables, 260.7 tons of food waste for compost, and 30 tons of corrugated cardboard for respective contracted collection. IMPRESSIVE!

The GWCCA official zero waste journey began in February 2009 as host for the acclaimed Zero Waste Zones launch. Led by EPA Region 4 Acting Regional Administrator Stan Meiburg, the press conference yielded 60 million media impressions including the CNN City Aims for Zero Waste story that aired prime time in national & international markets.

SFCI Team during post-game
food waste audit
In spring 2012, the Georgia Dome joined the Atlanta Airport and Simon Mall's Concord Mills in Charlotte as prominent Sustainable Food Court Initiative (SFCI) Pilots. As the SCFI-Event Venue Pilot, the Georgia Dome was the Lead Pioneer in the Elemental Impact (Ei) Source-Separated Material Recycling Template Pilot.

The GWCCA hosted the 2013 NCAA® Men’s Final Four®, the second most popular sporting event across the globe. One of the Atlanta Local Organizing Committee stated goals was to make the 2013 Final Four the "greenest games ever." Under GWCCA Director of Sustainability Tim Trefzer's leadereship, the 2013 Final Four lived up to their proclamation and set the stage for future Final Four sustainability requirements. 

SFCI Co-Chair Doug Kummenann &
Tim at the education session
The ZWA Blog article, Final Four green footprints continue after the games, details the impressive recycling and other sustainable stats. In addition, the formal 2013 Final Four Sustainability Report is available for download on the Ei Reference Materials & Tools page.

At Tim's request, the Ei SMAT - Sustainable Materials ACTION Team - presented a two-hour Compostable Food & Beverage Packaging Education Session for Levy Restaurants in April 2015. In addition to providing GWCCA foodservice, Levy Restaurants operates foodservice at Phillips Arena and the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, future home of the Atlanta Falcons. The ZWA Blog article, Compostable F&B Packaging: integral to zero waste programs and soil rebuilding, is an overview of the powerful session.

Although it specified prior year activity, the GWCCA's seasoned materials management platform was at the core of the prestigious ABBC Waste Diversion Award. 

GWCCA Team with Award Presenters
photo courtesy of ABBC
The Georgia Dome is one season away from decommission; the GWCCA goal is to recover, reuse and | or recycle at least 90% of the facility. With their solid sustainability culture, the GWCCA is staged to set new standards in venue deconstruction.

Southeast Green's Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge Recognizes the Year’s Top Performers post is an excellent recap of the ABBC Awards Event, including the below quote from Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, Director, City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Sustainability:
Our Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge participants have truly stepped up and gone beyond the whole nine yards in gaining forward progress toward our goals in energy and water conservation. Because of them, Atlanta has become the efficiency leader that our nation looks to as the example to follow. Mayor Kasim Reed and I are proud of all the voluntary work done by our participants, especially our top performers. Through cutting waste, we are not only able to save energy, water and money, but we’re able to make our hometown more resilient, sustainable and with a higher quality of life for all.”

Atlanta is a rock star in many sustainability arenas. It is important organizations like the ABBC recognize the industry heroes as well as broadcast Atlanta's impressive sustainability successes to the nation and beyond.

Congratulations to the GWCCA and other ABBC Top Performers!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Zero Waste CULTURE, a necessary ingredient for long-term ZW program success

CULTUREa collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.

The above is one of several culture definitions provided on the Texas A&M University website. Within the above definition, corporate and community cultures distinguish themselves in many arenas and behavioral patterns. 

Culture often dictates behavior, either via protocol, rules | regulations, or simply "the way things are done" mentality. In addition, culture drives values, belief systems, and motivation factors. For zero waste program long-term success it is imperative to cultivate a culture where sustainability is a grounding force.

Plastic film is a valuable material
when baled for recycling
Although it may originate within citizen | employee actions and | or demands, corporate and community leadership must align with a sustainability-oriented culture; leadership support is necessary to build infrastructure and economic incentives. Zero waste programs often require corporate | community investment in equipment, labor, and adequate space allocation. Leadership is responsible for investment decisions.

In the November 2015 WasteDIVE article Zero waste: An attainable goal? Q&A with Elemental Impact (Ei) Founder Holly Elmore culture emerged as the single most important factor in zero waste success. In the article, Holly emphasized corporate and consumer citizens must view discarded items as material with value versus trash. Holly states:
"As long as we view it as trash it will end up in the landfill. We must recognize it as valuable material."
Culture often dictates whether discarded items are treated as trash or valuable material.

In the ZWA Blog article, Keys to Zero Waste Success, culture is infiltrated throughout the recommended steps for implementing a zero waste plan. Under the Take baby steps, lots & lots of baby steps section, the first two steps relate to building corporate culture:
  1. Secure top management buy-in - best to also secure Board of Directors support who are responsible to the organization's shareholders.
  2. Identify a "Green Team" from across departments led by a passionate individual in a decision making capacity; for non-management team members, ensure zero waste support is written into job review criteria so they are recognized, versus penalized, for their participation.
The article lists the following culture-oriented cornerstones in many successful programs:
EFP Bulletin Board in
common area 
  • Top management participates in a waste audit and sees firsthand valuable resources the company pays to landfill; often results in new practices eliminating purchases (switch from disposable to reusable coffee cups) and reducing use (install paper product dispensers); an effective tool to keep top management focused on zero waste success.
  • Formal employee engagement program seeking suggestions for improved zero waste practices; often production line employees experience wasteful practices not seen by management.
  • Zero waste evolves into the corporate culture; zero waste culture is incorporated within the new hire interview and training process; signage is placed throughout the facility to emphasize the importance in daily activities.
  • Fun, lighthearted communication for a serious message.
  • Continuing employee education re: at work and personal zero waste practices along with opportunity for employee feedback.
At the inaugural 2012 National Zero Waste Business Conference (NZWBC), Eiko Risch of Ricoh Electronics gave an amazing overview of Ricoh's zero waste and sustainability accomplishments. Once top management buy-in was secured, Eiko developed programs requiring 100% employee participation, including training, fun contests and monetary incentives. Ricoh's zero waste culture is incorporated into the standard hiring process from interviews to the welcome process to job training.

Zero Waste Culture is strong @ EFP
Thanks to Earth Friendly Products (EFP) Vice-President of Sustainability and Education Nadereh Afsharmanesh, zero waste action is successfully interwoven within the EFP corporate culture. Naderah hosts regular employee sustainability training sessions where employees are encouraged to share their ideas for edging closer to true zero waste. Thus, the facility bathrooms have small recycling containers placed next to the sink for the toilet paper cores.

... and EFP's five U.S. plants are Platinum USZWBC Zero Waste Facility Certified!

At the Fifth Annual NZWBC hosted this June in Austin, the importance of corporate & community culture emerged as one of two common themes within the program presentations. Food waste was the other common priority among conference speakers.

During her Food - Love it ... But Don't Waste It! plenary panel presentation, Ted's Montana Grill (TMG) Purchasing & Sustainability Manager Paula Owens included a video dedicated to the TMG sustainability commitment. In the video, TMG Co-Founders Ted Turner and George McKerrow share their common vision for integrating sustainability within standard operating practices and core values. Leading by example, TMG serves as a restaurant industry forerunner for sustainable best operating practices.

The ZWA Blog article, A "Tuned In" Industry Catches a Vibrant Zero Waste Beat, features the stellar 2016 NZWBC plenary program, including Paula's impressive presentation.

In the pre-NZWBC Zero Waste 101 Workshop, Frontline Industrial Consulting President KB Kleckner presented on the importance of Getting Leadership on Board. At the core of KB's message is the imperative role culture plays in zero waste success. KB uses a bridge visual to map the path from strategy to execution:

Bridging Strategy and Frontline Execution ... by structuring and coaching:

  • LEADER DEVELOPMENT: The person at the top.
  • PERSONAL CONNECTION: Engagement on a uniquely personal level.
  • CULTURE: Building beliefs, values, and relationships that guide judgment, decisions, and actions.
KB presenting @ the NZWBC
photo courtesy Scott Lutocka
KB shares his experience crafting strong zero waste programs at Mohawk Industries manufacturing plants during his tenure as Vice President of Manufacturing and Operations of the Home Division. In KB's own words:
"One company does not have the resources to save the world with their Sustainability efforts. But, each company must do their part!  It starts with leadership, culture, and a personal connection with each of the stakeholders, that quickly spill over into business benefits." 
As the opening keynote speaker at the October 2015 SPC Advance hosted in Charlotte, Domtar President & CEO John Williams gave solid examples for crafting a corporate sustainability platform. For success, top management, Board of Director members and shareholders must commit to a long-term program that may include short-run sacrifices. 

It is important to quantify success and demand the supply chain complements the sustainability platform. John recommends using a corporate scorecard to clearly communicate expectations and audit results to ensure authenticity. The ZWA Blog article, Sustainability: an industry defining itself, is an overview of the SPC Advance conference, featuring John's empowering plenary presentation.

Successful zero waste programs make good long-term business sense for the organization, the community and the environment. Corporate | community leadership supports the sustainability culture necessary for program longevity and evolution.

Cultivating zero waste culture within a corporate or community is a necessary ingredient for crafting a sustainable program.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Macro Cost of Micro Contamination

Micro level contamination yields tremendous hidden costs to communities, the environment and food chain systems. Though often not seen by the human eye, fragmented microplastic pieces are poison to our soils | water microbial communities as well as to fish, mammals, birds and most all life forms. 

Prominent organizations - Plastic Pollution CoalitionAlgalita and The 5 Gyres Institute (5 Gyres) to name several - are dedicated to researching and educating on the plastic pollution crisis in our oceans and waterways. The facts are chilling:


The amount of plastic that enters the ocean each year.


The estimated number of pieces of plastic floating on the ocean surface.


Once in our waterways, plastics act as sponges, soaking up all the chemicals – like PCB, DDT – that don’t mix with salt water.


Toxic-laden plastics look super tasty to fish. And we all know fish look tasty to us.

Dynamic Duo: Rick & Lia
The above facts were extracted from 5 Gyres Director of Global Partnerships & Community Engagement Lia Colabella's MORE OCEAN, Less Plastic presentation at the Fifth Annual National Zero Waste Business Conference (NZWBC) hosted in Austin June 1 - 3. Lia teamed with Natur-Tec Director Business Development, North America Rick Lombardo on the Elemental Impact (Ei)-hosted The Macro Cost of Micro Contamination panel moderated by Ei Founder Holly Elmore.

While Lia presented on the documented plastic pollution crisis in our oceans, Rick educated on a similar dilemma building within our soils in his Compostable Plastics vs. Traditional Plastics presentation.

To help understand the origins of microplastic contamination, Rick educated on fragmentation, biodegradability and compostability as follows:

Fragmentation – first step in the biodegradation process, in which organic matter is broken down into microscopic fragments.

Biodegradability – complete microbial assimilation of the fragmented product as a food source by the soil microorganisms.

Compostability – complete assimilation within 180 days in an industrial compost environment. 

Note the difference between biodegradability and compostibility is TIME. By definition, material decomposes within 180 days while bio-degradation may take as long as millions of years.

Due to the fragmentation process, ocean plastic pollution is now referred to as plastic smog. Clean-up is challenging to impossible due to the microscopic size of the plastic. Aquatic life consumes the fragmented plastic; larger pieces remain within the digestive tract and smaller ones integrate within the flesh. Thus, plastic enters the human food system!

3 month fish with 17 pieces
of plastic in stomach
Lia provided a visual of a three month old rainbow runner with 17 pieces of plastic in its stomach.

Starting with the basics, Rick explained the origins of plastics with a reminder most traditional plastics are derived from petrochemicals. After an overview of the important role compost plays in soil health, Rick shared the role compostable plastics, derived from organic sources, play in effective post-consumer food waste collection for compost programs.

To ensure a contaminant-free compost, it is important foodservice ware (cups, plates, flatware & other containers) are BPI Certified Compostable, an independent third party certification program. Rick gave an overview of the ASTM 6400 and ASTM D6868 Standards at the foundation of the BPI Certification requirements.

Rick showcased contamination at compost facilities resulting from traditional plastics. In addition, Rick addressed "green washing" through look alike products and deceptive product descriptions. "Oxo" degradable bags and degradable cutlery made from biomaterial additives and plastic resins are common contamination culprits.

degradable cutlery in
compost pile
photo courtesy of  Rick
In his presentation, Rick cited the EcoCycle | Wood's End 2011 Study, Should Plastic Coated Materials be Allowed in Materials Collected for Composting?, with a quote:
This study showed conclusively that micro-plastic fragments were shred from all plastic coated samples, whether single or double-coated. This means any plastic-coated paper product, even those that are partially screened out during the composting process, is contaminating the finished compost with plastics particles.” 
1955 Life Magazine cover
Within their respective presentations, Rick & Lia included slides on the impact of the "disposable society" that culminated in the plastic pollution | smog crisis. In 1955, Life Magazine ran a memorable cover photo celebrating the new disposable lifestyle. Lia gave shocking stats on plastic production and consumption. 95% of plastic packaging material value - $80 - 120 billion annually - is lost to the economy after a single use.

If a massive plastic clean-up is not feasible at this juncture, what can we do? Lia offered the following suggestions:

Better collection and recycling systems. “Burn & Bury” infrastructure is not the answer.

Reduce, reuse, recycle, rethink.

Scale innovations in product and packaging design.

Bag bans, microbead laws. Global Plastic Protocol.

During the vibrant Q&A session, Holly reminded the audience the soils are equally contaminated with microplastics. Forthcoming research will substantiate plastic pollution - macro that fragments into micro - is a water | soil crisis.

The Macro Cost of Micro Contamination panel was a huge success! A prominent attendee confided in Holly "this was the BEST conference panel - I learned so much and I appreciate gaining visibility to such important issues!"

Rick and Lia's PPT presentations are available on the Ei NZWBC page. The ZWA Blog article, A "Tuned In" Industry Catches a Vibrant Zero Waste Beat, is a NZWBC program overview while the Ei FB album, 2016 National Zero Waste Business Conference, is a conference pictorial recount.

Scott w/ Laura Turner Seydel &
PPC Co-Founder Dianna Cohen
In March 2015, Ei Chair Scott Seydel presented at the Plastic GYRE Symposium: Artists, Scientists and Activists Respond hosted jointly by the Welch Foundation at Georgia State University, David J. Sencer Museum of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC). The ZWA Blog article, Plastic GYRE Symposium: Artists, Scientists and Activists Respond, is a synopsis of the powerful symposium along with an introduction to the plastic pollution crisis.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation published the January 2016 The New Plastic Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics report with a circular economy approach to address the future of plastics. For the first time, the report is a vision of a global economy in which plastics never become waste and outlines concrete steps towards achieving the systemic shifts necessary. Scott is an Ellen MacArthur Foundation USA Board Member.

SURREAL: the first fully synthetic plastic, meaning it contained no molecules found in nature, was invented by Leo Hendrik Baekeland in 1907 and by the mid-1950's the disposable society was celebrated. In just over 100 years humans mass contaminated the Earth's waters and soils with "molecules not found in nature."

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A "Tuned In" Industry Catches a Vibrant Zero Waste Beat

On June 1 - 3, 2016 sustainability leaders from across industry boundaries converged on Austin, Texas for the Fifth Annual National Zero Waste Business Conference (NZWBC) presented by the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC). With the "Tuning in" to Zero Waste" theme, the conference program showcased how zero waste companies and communities top the charts in dimensions beyond landfill diversion.

The NZWBC 5 Year Club!
The Fifth Annual NZWBC was the culmination of four powerful conferences beginning with the inaugural 2012 event hosted in Costa Mesa, CA. Next was a visit to the Midwest in Cincinnati followed by the Southeast in Atlanta. In year four, the NZWBC returned to the West Coast when the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation (LABS) stepped forward as the conference host sponsor.

For a more in-depth overview of prior conferences, with links to detailed information, visit the ZWA Blog article, 2016 Conference Theme: "Tuning in" to Zero Waste.

At the fifth annual event the NZWBC hit a stride grounded in prior successes and solid paths for future programs. With a strong base of regular attendees, the program topics evolved over the years from zero waste basics to include challenges faced by industry veterans. Food waste reduction, donation and collection for compost were prominent in plenary and breakout sessions.

Reina Pereira & Greg Good
The City of Los Angeles set the foundation for the host city stepping forward as the lead conference sponsor. In addition to their 2015 NZWBC host sponsor status, the LABS was a 2014 NZWBC sponsor in Atlanta. Reina Pereira and Greg Good with the City of Los Angeles continued their zero waste commitment at the 2016 NZWBC as active attendees.

Austin takes zero waste seriously and was a perfect city to host the milestone Fifth Anniversary NZWBC. In late 2011, the Austin City Council unanimously approved adoption of the Austin Resource Recovery Master Plan (ARRMP) and passed the Universal Recycling Ordinance (URO). A culmination of two years of research, stakeholder engagement and community input, the ARRMP sets the stage for the Department’s programs and services for the next 30 years and beyond. 

By October 1, 2018, the URO requires all food enterprises to ensure their employees have convenient access to organics diversion services. Food service enterprises include: grocers, farmers’ markets, and the food & beverage industry (restaurants, bars, catering).

Zero waste sign at
As the Host & Title Sponsor, Austin Resource Recovery (ARR), a service of the City of Austin, was instrumental to the Fifth Annual NZWBC success. The ZWA Blog article, "Tune in" to Zero Waste and Catch Austin's Beat to a World Without Waste, details the aggressive Austin public policy augmented with solid regulations, education and support along with a quote from ARR Director Bob Gedert.

The day prior to conference activities, ARR Senior Public Information Officer Susanne Harm treated USZWBC Board Member Scott Lutocka of Piazza Produce and Elemental Impact (Ei) Founder Holly Elmore to a personalized tour of Austin landmarks. A key stop was in.gredients, an eclectic package-free grocery store, who boasts zero pounds of food waste to landfill since opening in August 2012. Last month in.gredients sent a mere 7.3 pounds of trash to landfill.

Pre-conference activities included several workshops: Achieving Zero Waste at Colleges and Universities, Zero Waste 101 Workshop and ZWBA Scorecard Professional Training Course. The afternoon was filled with three excellent tours: Zero Waste at University of Texas at Austin, Samsung Austin Semiconductor, and Circuit of the Americas (COTA)/X Games.

As the finale to a great pre-conference day, the Farm2Fork Fundraiser was a grand success. Complimentary to sponsors and speakers, the reception was the perfect venue for industry friends to reconnect in a relaxed, fun environment.

The NZWBC Conference Program is designed for the seasoned zero waste veteran ready to evolve their program to next dimensions as well as the novice interested in learning how to create effective systems. In addition to the formal education, the industry connections are invaluable once the conference is a memory.

Long-time friends tease the
photographer @ reception
Cindy Jackson, Jack DeBell& Christy Cook
Overall the conference program flowed each day with opening remarks followed by a keynote presentation, plenary panel and a mid-morning networking break. Concurrent panel presentations closed out the morning sessions. A plated, seated lunch was served in the main conference room with announcements as attendees finished lunch. The afternoon program included a plenary session, networking break, concurrent panel presentations and closing remarks.

Conference sponsors set-up display tables around the plenary room periphery and were easily accessible to educate on their products and services.

NZWBC Day One opened with a hearty welcome by Austin Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo followed by a powerful plenary session featuring Austin. Whole Foods Market (WFM) Global Leader, Sustainable Facilities Kathy Loftus gave an empowering opening keynote presentation on WFM's Approach to Zero Waste & Sustainability. WFM takes their waste impact seriously: the Southern Pacific region leads in zero waste with 28 stores certified, 5 in process and 23 stores planned for the future.

Kathy @ the podium
Food waste is a strong WFM focal point. In 2015, excess food donations increased 25% over 2014 donations. More than 75% of WFM stores nationwide have food waste collection for compost programs in-place.

In addition to an emphasis on their zero waste practices, Kathy shared many of Austin-based WFM's impressive energy-saving practices along with their well known leadership role supporting sustainable, local food systems.

Completing the Austin plenary sessions, ARR Director Bob Gedert opened the Tuning in to Austin's Zero Waste Efforts panel with excellent remarks filled with empowering anecdotes. Bob emphasized the important role innovative solutions play in materials management. As the National Recycling Coalition President and National Stewardship Action Council Board Member, Bob brings national expertise to the ARR while he guides the course within Austin's zero waste goals.

Following Bob's opening remarks, ARR Strategic Initiatives Division Manager Jessica King moderated the impressive panel: City of Austin Recycling Economic Development Liaison Natalie Betts, College Houses Cooperative Operations Director Ken Mills and AT&T Executive Conference Center General Manager Ted Hibler.

Bob during opening remarks
After a thorough overview of the ARRMP, URO and other work-in-progress, Ken's Striving for Zero Waste One Little Victory at a Time  presentation was entertaining while educating on the important zero waste programs in-place at College Houses Cooperative. In addition to the environmental significance, the programs are instrumental to instilling a sustainable living focus in the students.

Ted's "can do" approach at the AT&T Executive Conference Center is the foundation for the facility's zero waste practices. Rather than wait for city's 2018 regulations to take affect, Ted crafted an effective food waste collection program working with locally owned Texas Disposal Systems. Beyond the business and economic ramifications, Ted operates within "it is the right thing to do" realm in his community leadership position.

Morning concurrent panels included: Zero Waste 101 - Getting Started on Your Zero Waste Journey, Taking Zero Waste to a Higher Level and How Do You Get to 90% Diversion? 

For the afternoon plenary panel, Food Waste Icon Dana Gunders, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior scientist, moderated an excellent panel on food waste: Food - Love it ... But Don't Waste It!  In her monumental 2012 NRDC Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill Issue Paper, Dana brought the food waste crisis to the forefront of mainstream media and consciousness.

Paula sharing the TMG
sustainability commitment
Guided by Dana, the panelists shared their vast food waste reduction expertise across the spectrum of foodservice operations. Ted's Montana Grill (TMG) Purchasing & Sustainability Manager Paula Owens emphasized the restaurant chain's food waste prevention practices, mainly via small batch preparation of food items. Food waste averages 3-4% in full-service restaurants; annual TMG food waste is 1.57%!

When TMG joined the EPA Food Recovery Challenge in 2014, Paula explored implementing a formal food donation program. Due to strong, consistent standard operating practices, TMG generates minimal to no food waste that meets the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (GSFDA). Thus, a formal donation program was not applicable for TMG!

In her presentation, Sodexo Director of Sustainability Performance and Field Support Christy Cook also emphasized the important role small batch prep plays in food waste prevention. In addition, Sodexo prevents food waste by upgrading kitchen equipment, controlling portion size, and maintaining a culture committed to minimizing food waste. Tracking food waste generated is integral to Sodexo's food waste reduction success.

Food Waste Reduction Panel
Christy, Dana, Heide & Paula
As Sodexo operates a multitude of cafeteria-style dining operations along with catering services, excess food meeting the GSFDA is common within their daily operations. Thus, a strong excess food donation program is standard in most Sodexo-operated dining facilities. 

Sustainable America (SA) Director of Events Heide Hart completed the panel with her presentation on their We Value Food, a food waste reduction program as well as zero food waste practices at events. SA worked with Chowdafest, SXSW Eco, and NASCAR events to reduce on-site food waste with grand success. At the 2013 SXSW Eco 10 events, in 8 venues, with between 150 and 600 people in attendance at each event, 97% of the material generated was recycled or collected for compost - impressive!

The Ei-hosted Food Waste Composting: challenges, lessons learned and successes panel moderated by Holly segued the food waste discussion from reduction to destinations with clean streams. U.S. Composting Council (USCC) Executive Director Frank Franciosi shared the plethora of industry tools available on their website to support existing composting facilities to expanding infrastructure. Frank ended with the importance of a "clean food waste" stream, emphasizing the detrimental impact of contamination.

Happy about Compost!
Emily Kahn, Frank & Jason Sanders
GreenBlue | Sustainable Packaging Coalition (GB|SPC) Senior Manager Anne Bedarf continued the contamination discussion in her The Importance of Clarity presentation. Anne gave excellent examples of "look alike" packaging that are strong contributors to contamination in recycling and composting feedstocks. 

Third party certification and proper labeling bring clarity to packaging confusion and aid the consumer | foodservice operator with preventing contamination. Anne closed her presentation with an overview of the GP|SPC How2Recycle label program.

Building off her plenary presentation, Christy shared the food waste composting challenges, lessons learned and successes from a foodservice operator perspective. Sodexo is committed to implementing food waste collection programs yet is often limited by lack of local infrastructure. In addition, Sodexo is a contracted foodservice operator - a "guest" on college | corporate campuses and healthcare facilities - and may be limited by contract parameters.

Continuing the lack of clarity discussion, Christy gave examples of inconsistent consumer food waste bins and signage, even within the same facility. Strong education programs, consistent bin signage and culture are the key components for successful food waste collection for composting.

Jason Tschanz and Tammy Kaleel
of  Walt Disney Parks & Resorts 
Concurrent with the Food Waste Composting panel, the Zero Waste Research and Training from Colleges to Universities and Marketing Your Zero Waste Efforts attracted enthusiastic audiences.

After Day One closing remarks, the networking reception was enjoyed as folks gathered for the scheduled "table topic dinners" at local dining destinations. Later, many ventured to Austin's popular 6th Street to experience the "Live Music Capital of the World!"

USZWBC Board Member Gary Liss opened the Day Two program with an introduction to keynote presenter U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Assistant Administrator - Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response Mathy Stanislaus. In his The Path Forward – Actions to advance to Circular Economy keynote, Mathy emphasized Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) is a global issue and gave a high level EPA SMM Strategic Plan 2017–2022 overview.

Further emphasizing the importance of reducing food waste, Mathy noted 21% of U.S. waste is food. Combined with yard trimmings (9%) and Paper & Paperboard (15%), a total of 45% of the U.S.'s waste is compostable with a mix of the carbon & nitrogen compost recipe.

Mathy & Gary post-keynote
In November 2015 the EPA supported the Food Recovery Summit hosted in Charleston, SC with the following emerging themes:
  • Public Awareness
  • Improving Data
  • New Partnerships
  • Date labeling
  • Building Infrastructure
  • Seek Prevention Strategies
The Summit Call to Action: opportunities and necessary steps toward reducing wasted food and meeting the national goal.

Later in the morning, Mathy served on the Importance of Data Tracking to get to Circular Economy concurrent panel for an opportunity to dive deeper into zero waste's integral role in establishing a circular economy. In addition, EPA Region 4 Physical Scientist, Resource Conservation and Recovery Division, Kim Charick updated on The State Of Curbside Recycling EPA Grant awarded to The Recycling Partnership.

Additional concurrent morning panels included: Establishing Zero Waste Procurement Policies & Contracts for Services, The Macro Cost of Micro Contamination, and Leveraging Existing Partnerships in the Supply Chain to Improve Zero Waste. The ZWA Blog article, The Macro Cost of Micro Contamination, is an overview of the Ei-hosted panel and introduces the microplastics crisis as a water | soils crisis.

In March 2013 the USZWBC launched the Zero Waste Facility Certification Program (ZWFCP) to meet the requests of zero waste businesses for a valid, comprehensive verification of their zero waste achievements. Since the WFM San Diego 2013 certification launched the program, a total of 59 facilities were zero waste certified at the following levels: Bronze - 28, Silver - 1, Gold - 12 and Platinum -18.

Jason, Cheri, Les, Giri & Cindy
The ZWA Blog article, Third Party Certification Edges Certification Towards a Zero Waste Economy, introduces the ZWFCP along with a solid program overview.

USZWBC Board Member Cheri Chastain with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company moderated the morning plenary panel celebrating the ZWFCP success and educating on the certification process. Beyond their zero waste accomplishments, the panelists shared helpful advice to prepare for the certification process with a focus on solid documentation.

The Certification Panelists included: Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Environmental Integration Project Manager Jason Tschanz, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Horticulturist & Student Program Manager Les Frey, American Licorice Company Quality Director Giri Veeramuthu and Smuckers Natural Foods Operations Manager Cindy Sockey.

Following the certification panel, Gary Liss honored USZWBC President Sue Beets-
Atkinson for five years of dedicated industry service. As she is always on time and keeps the organization moving in a timely fashion, Sue was gifted with an engraved clock commemorating her dedication and service.

Gary honoring Sue for five years
of dedicated USZWBC service
In addition to the previously mentioned Importance of Data Tracking to get to Circular Economy panel, conference attendees chose between the following powerful concurrent panels: Establishing Zero Waste Procurement Policies & Contracts for Services, Leveraging Existing Partnerships in the Supply Chain to Improve Zero Waste and The Macro Cost of Micro Contamination.

The final conference plenary panel Establishing Diversion Metrics, moderated by USZWBC Board Member & Jones Lang LaSalle Solid Waste & Recycling Manager Ana Wyssmann, educated on the important role metrics play in successful zero waste programs along with helpful advice on establishing a sound metrics platform. 

Raytheon Solid Waste Process Owner Brian Balukonis summarized his impressive panel presentation with the following advice:

  • Prepare an internal metrics definitions & reporting instructions guide.
  • Conduct gap analysis to identify existing programs, internal/external suppliers & key contacts.
  • Develop standardized electronic report to collect metrics from suppliers.
  • Communicate requirements & develop relationship with suppliers.
  • Collect and monitor metrics.
Panelists General Motors Global Waste Reduction Manager John Bradburn and Rubicon Global Head of Sustainability David Rachelson further educated on metrics collection and its role in achieving zero waste goals.

USZWBC Executive  Director
with ARR Director Bob Gedert
Prior to the conference closing remarks, attendees chose between three concurrent panels: Making the Business Case for Zero Waste, Engaging Employees to Change Behavior, and Working with State and Local Ordinances to Drive Zero Waste.

Fifth Annual NZWBC attendees traveled from coast-to-coast, Canada, Central America and literally across the globe to attend the stellar conference. 

For his third Austin zero waste event, Leonard Ssenoga traveled from Uganda to attend the NZWBC! Thanks to Organics by Gosh, ARR and Keep Austin Beautiful's hospitality, Leonard toured a plethora of facilities, made new industry friends, and returned to Uganda excited for development | expansion of zero waste programs in his home country. The USZWBC is now Leonard's "go to resource" for zero waste tools and education.

Christy @ plenary podium
Two common themes emerged from presentations across the multitude of topics: 1> corporate & community culture is a key ingredient for zero waste success and 2> food waste is a top priority among industry leaders. Food waste infiltrated presentations either as direct topics or within company | community zero waste programs and priorities.

Christy Cook with Sodexo presented on the plenary food waste panel and the concurrent session food waste composting panel. In her industry leadership role, Christy is committed to sharing Sodexo's proven practices and eager to learn from as well as collaborate with her fellow leaders. In Christy's words:
An important part of Sodexo’s approach to food waste reduction is to share our expertise in on-site waste reduction and collaborate with others to drive further engagement. The National Zero Waste Business Conference in Austin presented by the USZWBC was a great platform to share our experiences, best practices and results, and provide some lessons learned that others might bring with them on their journeys.  As we continue on our path to zero waste to landfill by 2025 and donating 1 Million Meals this year, we too benefit from these opportunities to learn from and collaborate with others. 
Clear, fun signage leads to
clean recycling & food waste streams
Thanks to the NZWBC Green Committee Chair Jason Sanders of EcoSafe Zero Waste the conference followed zero waste best practices with three-bin waste | recycling stations, complete with clear signage. Organics by Gosh collected food waste generated at the conference for composing. 

An estimated 750 pounds of kitchen prep scraps and plate scrapings from the two lunches were included in the collected food waste. The relatively low amount reflects the food waste reduction practices employed. Any excess food was either consumed by the hotel staff or donated to Keep Austin Fed.

Kudos to USZWBC Executive Director Stephanie Barger along with her amazing staff for orchestrating a phenomenal Fifth Annual NZWBC!!!  The California staff includes Emily DeCremer, Thao Nguyen, Audrey Nguyen and volunteer Liesl Thomas.

... and a big THANK YOU to NZWBC Chair Stephen Groner, NZWBC Program Chair Cheri Chastain and the entire USZWBC Board for your tremendous commitment and efforts necessary to present the zero waste industry's national conference!

Stephen & Cheri
The Ei FB album, 2016 National Zero Waste Business Conference, is a conference pictorial recount. Program PPT presentations are available for view on the USZWBC 2016 Conference page.

With the industry "tuned in" to zero waste, the vibrant beat continues in Boston at the 2017 National Zero Waste Business Conference!

Elemental Impact is the Official NZWBC Media Partner. Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are courtesy of Ei Founder Holly Elmore.