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Saturday, August 25, 2012

ACTION: Theme for the SFCI Shopping Mall Pilot

Within a week of announcing Concord Mills serves as the Sustainable Food Court Initiative shopping mall pilot, the Elemental Impact team visited Charlotte.  An incredible action plan came together during the 24-hour visit.  The ZWA Blog, Concord Mills - SFCI Shopping Mall Pilot, gives the pilot launch details.

First on the agenda was jump-starting the plastic film recycling program after almost a year of discussions and planning. The June, 2011 ZWA Blog post, Simon Property Group Embarks on Zero Waste Initiatives, details the SPG Atlanta meeting marathon where the sky rocketing plastic film dilemma at malls was a major discussion point.  At the June 16, 2011 meetings, Matt Hupp, then  SPG director waste & recycling, met the two main partners in the plastic film recycling program, Louis Herrera of Hilex Poly and Susan Stanton of Orwak.

Ray with Orwak baler
Six days before the Charlotte adventure, the Orwak baler, workhorse for the program, was delivered to Concord Mills. Ray Soporowski, Concord Mills general manager, was prepared for the Ei group with several bales pre-made and an ample plastic supply from tenants. An unused back portion of a tenant space serves as a perfect plastic film recycling center location.  

During the afternoon educational session, a bale weighing approximately 150 -175 pounds was made of typical tenant-generated plastic.  A visual inspection noted the plastic was 80-85% LDPE (low-density polyethylene) and contained approximately 5% contamination.  Ray estimates Concord Mills' tenants generate approximately 150 tons of plastic film per year.

Ei Team with plastic film bale
In order to secure tenant participation, especially those located further away from the recycling center, Ray determined a porter service for material collection was a must. Including the porter service expense, Ray anticipates a nice bottom line improvement due to the strong LDPE commodity market.  With significant mall square footage, Ray plans to create a second recycling center to service the other half of the mall.

Kevin Robertson, SPG corporate,
with Susan & Ron in discussion
At Simon Property Group sister mall, SouthPark Mall, a plastic film recycling system for a mall quadrant is in place under the oversight of operations director Ron Rentschler. After meeting with the Ei Team, Ron is eager to explore how using the Orwak baling system may improve his collection ability, keep the loading area neater and improve the bottom line.

A central focus for the SFCI is food waste collection beginning with back-of-the-house and seguing into front-of-the-house.  On May 21, Earth Farms Organics began BOH food waste collection from the HMSHost-operated Concord Mills food court along with one other mall restaurant.  With approximately 3,000 pounds per week collected, the program to date collection is just over 8 tons of food waste previously destined for the landfill.

Brian Shetron, HMSHost
Concord Mills GM  
With one more mall restaurant to join the program, Ray plans to invite the single-standing restaurants on the mall outskirt property to participate in the collections.  In addition to the environmental impact, the restaurants' volume will build the Concord area route into an economically viable long-term option.  Jim Lanier owner of Earth Farms Organics is a true team player and to date willing to work on the SFCI pilot collections without route density.

At the Atlanta Airport SFCI Pilot, the concessionaires are required to use compostable foodservice packaging and front-of-the-house food waste collection systems will be implemented when the entire airport operates under the new contract provisions (about 18 months).  In Charlotte, current plans are to retain existing food court packaging, much of which is not compostable or recyclable.

CleanRiver signage on SPG
recycling compactor
Thus, an opportunity arises to develop a food waste and napkin-only food court collection system.  Easy-to-identify bins along with superb signage are key to success.  Ei Partner CleanRiver has the equipment and expertise to design an effective system.  One of CleanRiver's assets is their in-house graphics department and print shop.  As noted in the ZWA Blog post, Simon Property Group at Sustainability Helm, CleanRiver created an excellent signage program for mall recycling and trash compactors.

former landfill destined, BOH
food waste now goes to composting
During the SouthPark meetings, Ron and general manager Randy Thomas were enthusiastic to  join Concord Mills in BOH and FOH food waste collection.  With SouthPark's three big-box restaurants (Maggiano's Little Italy, The Cheesecake Factory, & McCormick & Schmick's) and a strong food court including a California Pizza Kitchen with seated dining, there is tremendous potential for impressive food waste collection and cost-savings.  Ron and Randy left the meeting with a big action item: Visit Ray at Concord Mills!

For a pictorial recap of the Ei Charlotte visit, see the Ei FB album, 08-12 Charlotte SFCI Trip.  Be sure to like the Ei FB page while there!

Eric Dyer of Grease Lock
explaining the filter system
In addition to recycling, the SFCI is focused on REDUCTION.  While in Charlotte the first steps were taken for a kitchen hood filter system pilot designed to capture grease before it enters the hood system.  Anticipated results are a significant reduction in hood cleaning, kitchen labor and maintenance expense for grease build-up on roofs.  Note each hood cleaning uses approximately 350 gallons of water that goes into the sewer system along with the toxins inherent in the cleaning solutions. Renown engineering consultant Jayendra Parikh will analyze the pilot and write an independent report on pilot results.

Plastic film, food waste and kitchen grease are the three main initial action areas for the SFCI shopping mall pilot.  Although the SFCI Team in formation will retain a food court focus, the overall Ei Team is excited to work on  zero waste initiatives, including resource reduction, throughout the entire mall operations and grounds.  Stay tuned for future blog posts on the exciting Charlotte projects.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Food Waste Reduction in Foodservice Distribution Channels

After reading Jonathan Bloom's American Wasteland, the August, 2012 NRDC Wasted Food Food Issue Paper  and other related articles, it is clear the root of global hunger is grounded in waste, not lack of supply.  One of the avenues rarely seen by the public eye is the food waste inherent in produce distribution systems.  Due to quality standards, a staggering amount of food suitable for human consumption within the farm to foodservice channels goes to animal feed, compost or the landfill .

For food waste, the U.S. EPA published the food hierarchy where feeding humans is only second to source reduction and followed by animal feed.  Following the EPA hierarchy the Zero Waste Zones Criteria requires the Participant to donate food in accordance with the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act first and compost remaining food along with kitchen scraps.

ZWZ Participant FreshPoint, a national produce distributor to the foodservice industry, sends approximately 100 -110 tons of food waste per month to composting.  Of the food waste going to compost, an estimated 40% is edible yet not salable within FreshPoint's quality standards.  Comprised of scraps from their on-site cut shop along with cases of unsalable produce, the edible food in general requires further preparation before ready for human consumption.  

Committed to moving the destination of their approximately 500 tons per year of edible, unsalable food to human consumption, FreshPoint and Elemental Impact are exploring a donation program.  With tax benefits from donating the food, rather than sending for composting, there is strong potential to develop a program that improves the bottom line.
FreshPoint food waste
awaiting compost collection

The FreshPoint scenario epitomizes a common Ei refrain, "If it was easy, it would already be done."  With the exploration begun in 2010, potential program partners and challenges are identified as follows:
  • Food Safety - Georgia Tech Research Institute Food Processing Technology Division is interested in developing a laser scanning system to detect harmful bacteria on the food identified for donation.
  • Common Kitchen Destination - FreshPoint can easily delivery the identified food within hours to a local kitchen facility for preparation into meals.  Due to the significant quantity, a substantial kitchen is required. The kitchen must meet the Food Donation Act criteria for the donations to qualify for a tax deduction.
  • Culinary Expertise - complicated logistics and immediate action require a top-level chef to orchestrate the food deliveries, menu planning, preparation, and communication to local shelters for available food.  Most food delivered to the kitchen must be prepared into meals within 12 to 24 hours.  Another challenge is the inconsistency of quantity and type of food each day.  The American Culinary Federation - Atlanta Chapter attended the 2010 meetings.
  • Food Shelter Delivery Logistics - a flexible, fluid system must be established to collect prepared meals from the common kitchen for delivery to shelters with notice given hours prior to meal availability. Second Helpings serves as the shelter delivery system expert.  In 2010, the Atlanta Community Food Bank was toured to determine how the program would complement existing services.
  • Solid Technology Platform - the key to program success is a solid technology program to coordinate and communicate the food trail: 1> inform the Chef of what food will be delivered when along with food shelf life 2> common kitchen inventory system to assist the chef with menu preparation 3> communicate to participating shelters of quantity, type and timing of food availability for pick-up and 4> coordinate pick-up | delivery system for the shelters without their own transportation.
Edible food scraps are inherent
with the tomato slicing in the cut shop
While FreshPoint determines their Atlanta baseline, Ei is reactivating the 2010 players along with bringing new partners on-board to create a formal action team. The goal is to develop the template for a national program. With an estimated 500 tons of edible food available at one regional distribution center for one company, the potential food waste reduction is stupendous. No matter the challenges, the program must be developed.

Within the program development, the goal is to create a job training aspect where food recipients are taught skills necessary for food or other industry employment.  In addition, farmers may choose to donate food that does not meet spec for sale and is often composted on-site or plowed back into the field soil.

Beyond the immediate food donation, the template development is a strong step in creating an evolved global food distribution system where food is honored, widespread hunger is eliminated and dignity is restored to the impoverished population.  It is thrilling to be an active participant in creating the evolved paradigm!

Beyond Landfill Diversion

In many sustainability reports, "diversion rates" are a key component in the zero waste section. Diversion refers to an initial destination other than landfill.  It is time to address final destinations and highest good use of the disposed items, rather than simply diversion from the landfill.

As companies shift from zero waste programs to materials management focus, waste and recycling cost centers often evolve into recycling profit centers.  The ZWA Blog post, Emerging Trend:  Recycling Profit Centers, details how astute business leaders understand by-products generated in their operations are valuable materials for another industry's production process.  At the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council June conference, the powerful presentations validated a strong materials management program improves bottom lines.  The ZWA Blog post, U.S. Zero Waste Business Council hosts first-rate conference, gives an overview of the conference along with links to speaker presentations.

single-stream load during an
Ei MRF tour
Single-stream recycling systems often are a false recycling indicator.  With significant contamination common in single-stream collections, the final destination of an unacceptable  percentage of the intake is either incineration or landfills, not intended recycling. China is tightening its material acceptance standards and the U.S. generated mixed plastics bales filled with contaminated material are losing their welcome at our faraway friend's recycling centers.  The ZWA Blog post, Single-Stream Recycling Controversy, documents how single-stream systems achieve their goal of increasing "diversion rates" yet result in decreased actual recycling due to contamination.

In July, 2011 The U.S. EPA hosted a webinar, Single Stream Recycling: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. addressing single-stream recycling's effectiveness, or lack thereof.  The ZWA Blog, Single Stream Recycling: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, gives a webinar overview along with commentary.

Within Recycling Integrity, maintaining maximum material value with minimum energy expended, the by-product generator retains responsibility for a "highest good" material destination.  Education on the available options and infrastructure is key along with a proactive approach.  

A common theme in successful materials management programs is teamwork between companies and their suppliers.  For many manufacturers a significant portion of their waste is in the form of packaging.  Companies like Ricoh Electronics and Subaru of Indiana Automotive  worked with suppliers to develop reusable packaging that is returned for use in the next shipment.  Thus, reducing waste and costs.

waxed cardboard is
one of the fire log ingredients
As documented in the ZWA Blog post, The Perpetual Spiral, extending a material's end of life is not recycling and is only one step away from landfill destination.  An example of extending life, versus recycling, is sending waxed cardboard, not recyclable or compostable, to "fire log" manufacturing.  Without diving into the possible toxins involved in manufacturing and burning the logs, the use gives a false sense of environmental stewardship. Waxed cardboard is commonly used in produce and meat packaging for commercial food operations, ranging from retail outlets to hotels & conference centers to restaurants.

Cost-effective coatings that are recyclable and compostable exist to replace traditional wax . Thus, the cellulose fiber in the cardboard may recycle another five to six times before its final paper use in compostable napkins and tissue paper. Note a significant portion of napkins and tissue paper is made from virgin forests, wasting potentially six to seven fiber lives in various paper products.  

waxed cardboard box
It takes the power of consumer demand to educate farmers on the importance of using an alternative to waxed cardboard. The personal consumer is the perfect vehicle to inspire corporate consumers like Whole Foods to use their powerful voice to effect change at the farmer and produce company level.  

The ZWA Blog post, Waxed Cardboard = Landfill Destiny = $$ Lost, is an overview of the National Restaurant Association 2012 Show educational session, Challenging the Value-Chain to Transform Transport Packaging:  Eco-Friendly , Wallet-Friendly Solutions.  Ei Chair Scott Seydel orchestrated and Lily Kelly with Global Green's CoRR moderated an excellent educational session on transport packaging, with a focus on waxed cardboard boxes.

Working together and using the power of consumer demand, national industry leaders are creating an evolved paradigm where sustainable practices are best practices as they make solid business sense.  The ZWA Blog post, Consumer Demand: A Powerful Voice to Effect Change, sets the stage for Ei's Product Stewardship focus grounded in Economics 101, the power of supply and demand.

These are thrilling times!  Pioneers are stepping forward as industry heroes and blazing trails to a reality where landfills are mined for valuable material and no longer a destination.  Stay tuned ...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Role Compostable Packaging Plays in Food Waste Systems

When Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport included a groundbreaking provision in their new concessionaire contract requiring food vendors to use compostable packaging, the catalyst was set in motion for a major shift in foodservice packaging. The ZWA Blog post, Atlanta Airport Makes Bold Statement, gives an overview of the contract provision at the world's largest airport.  The foodservice industry is at the cusp of a new era in packaging where compostable and|or recyclable products are the norm.

To ensure integrity within the new packaging era, the BPI Compostible Packaging Certification program and Seattle-based composter Cedar Grove set strict standards to ensure compostable packaging  breaks down within the ASTM D6400 Standard in traditional windrow or covered-aerated-static pile systems. Yet many municipalities and companies are exploring other technologies for handling food waste.These systems range from in-vessel composting to on-site digesters to anaerobic digesters. Industry experts are addressing how compostable products work in these food waste systems.

With strong European success, anaerobic digestion for commercial and residential food waste is gaining momentum in the U.S.The technology has solid  U.S. traction at municipal water treatment facilities and on-farm, yet is a frontier for food waste.  

Predominately enclosed in a facility, anaerobic digestion systems tend to make the permitting process easier where citizens are concerned about smells generated at traditional composting operations. A challenge is if the state regulations do not contain anaerobic digestion provisions, leaving regulators perplexed as to the permitting process.
anaerobic digestion facility
picture from CleanTech solutions site

In layman's terms, anaerobic digesters decompose organic material in a closed anaerobic (without air) environment where the methane gas produced is captured for energy use.  Each system has its own "recipe," including food waste, yard trimmings, FOG (fats, oils & grease from kitchen operations) and other organic material.  After the energy is extracted from the organic material, digestate remains as the system by-product.  With further "curing" the digestate is often used as a soil amendment.

windrows are turned to
incorporate air into the process
Traditional windrow composting uses an aerobic (with air) system where the piles are turned, thus not producing methane gas.  The energy component inherent within food waste remains within the compost, providing nutrients for the soil's microbial community.
With the pending shift in foodservice disposable items to compostable products coupled with zero waste programs, the food waste feedstock may soon include a significant portion of man-made products.  What is the impact of these compostable products on the sensitive anaerobic digester recipes?  Will the products contribute to the energy generated in the system?  Are the products a contaminant?  Will the products hinder the system's energy generation? Are the products benign, flowing through the system without impact?  If so, is there reduced energy generated due to the recipe change?

At the October 15 -17 Biopolymers Symposium in San Antonio, TX, the half-day Anaerobic Digestion Forum on Monday, October 15 will answer the above questions along with providing a wealth of information on the role biopolymers (compostable plastics) play in the process.  

With stellar speakers from the public, private and consulting sectors, the forum is staged for informative presentations and lively dialogue.  According to the Forum Co-Chair Debra Darby of Darby Marketing,  "There is an increasing interest in anaerobic digestion as a growing part of urban or municipal integrated waste management. The key is to involve commercial stakeholders and educate the public about organics diversion programs as both a sustainability effort and an economic driver," 

As a Biopolymers Symposium speaker, Elemental Impact founder and Sustainable Food Courts Initiative director Holly Elmore is excited to attend the forum.  A supporter of the Atlanta Airport's compostable packaging provision and proponent of zero waste programs, Ei will explore the implications of compostable packaging on the various food waste technologies.  

The Anaerobic Digestion Forum is an excellent venue to meet the industry experts, learn from powerful presentations and ask pertinent questions to those with answers. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Concord Mills - SFCI Shopping Mall Pilot!

Concord Mills, a Simon Property Group mall located in the metro Charlotte, NC area, is the Sustainable Food Court Initiative shopping mall pilot!  Committed to action, Concord Mills general manager Ray Soporowski spearheads a dynamic mall team dedicated to the SFCI mission:  To bring zero waste initiatives to food courts and develop industry sustainable best practices for Back-of-the-House and Front-of-the-House operations.
Concord Mills Team:
HMSHost & SPG Managers

In June, 2011 the SFCI debuted with the Atlanta Airport, the world's largest airport, stepping forward as the airport pilot.  The ZWA Blog post, Atlanta Airport - First SFCI Pilot Project!, announces the pilot and sets the initiative into action mode.  In April, 2012, the Georgia Dome was named the SFCI event venue pilot in the ZWA Blog post, Georgia Dome - SFCI Event Venue Pilot!.

A strong foundation is built at Concord Mills, beginning with the Elemental Impact Team visit last October chronicled in the ZWA Blog post, Fertile Charlotte Grounds.  In January an action plan was set in motion with the "Charlotte Road Trip" by Matt Hupp, then SPG Director, Waste & Recycling, Louis Herrera of Hilex Poly and Ei founder | SFCI director Holly Elmore. The ZWA Blog post, 2011 Planning = 2012 ACTION, gives details of the productive, fun Charlotte trip.

Ei Partner HMSHost is the Concord Mills food court concessionaire and integral to the stellar mall team. HMSHost general manager Brian Shetron is amazing with his flexibility and commitment to create mall food court zero waste practices that make solid business sense.

HMSHost places food waste
in bins for composting collection
Back-of-the-house food waste collection for composting is first on the action agenda. Thanks to local composter Jim Lanier of Earth Farms Organics working closely with Brian and Ray, collection started in early May. As of mid August, 16,500 pounds of Concord Mills food waste was diverted from the landfill to local composting operations.  

During a late August Ei visit, the team will convene to address successes and challenges in food waste collection to date.  Discussion items include:  bin size (64 gal vs 32 gal), collection frequency and use of compostable liners for the bins.

Future blog posts will document how the SFCI pilot serves as a launch pad for mall-wide initiatives and announce the formal SFCI Concord Mills Team in the formation process.

KUDOS to Ray and Brian for their excellent teamwork with the action accomplished to date.  Stay tuned as the effective fun is escalating!!!!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

ZWZ Garners Media Attention

From its February, 2009 launch, the Zero Waste Zones attracted strong national media attention, beginning with the CNN story, City Aims for Zero Waste, that graced's homepage during Earth Week 2009.  

Later in 2009, the New York Times ran the front-page story, Nudging Waste From Less to None, featuring ZWZ Champion Steve Simon of Fifth Group Restaurants and Jon Johnston, U.S. EPA Region IV along with a paragraph dedicated to the ZWZ. More recently, featured Holly Elmore, ZWZ director and Elemental Impact founder, in her profile, trash to cash, within the six-part article six green leaders in red states.

Holly & Lauren @ The River's
recording studio
In perfect timing with the National Restaurant Association's deepened partnership commitment, the local Atlanta media recognizes the program with well-deserved accolades.  In August, Holly and the ZWZ are included in Atlanta Magazine's The  Innovation Index complementing their Groundbreakers lead article. The ZWA Blog post, ZWZ Listed in The Innovation Index, details of the honor and the post, NRA | ZWZ | Ei Partnership - Powerful!, is an overview of the NRA's June visit to meet Atlanta community and civic leaders.

On Sunday, August 12 FM 97.1 The River aired an interview with Holly and Lauren Dufort, Central Atlanta Progress director of sustainability, by host Johnathan Maloney about the ZWZ and the future of sustainability initiatives in the metro Atlanta area. 

Within the interview flow, the topics broke down into three categories:

In the beginning ... - the ZWZ history and its importance to Atlanta along with the platform built for future successful programs.
  • development of ZWZ Criteria
  • recruiting of Founding Participants
  • major immediate national media
  • explanation of zero waste definition, including brief discussion on the role of incineration and recycling integrity
Johnathan with Holly &
Lauren at end of the interview
Where we are now ... the ZWZ serves as a launch pad for taking the focus beyond foodservice and zero waste.
  • plastic film recycling pilot ready to launch at Concord Mills, a Simon Property Group mall in Charlotte.
  • recycling | waste cost centers moving to recycling profit centers
  • Kimberly-Clark's search for a consistent #5 plastic post-consumer feedstock for manufacturing of recyclable industrial products
  • introduction of Ei's three focus areas: Product Stewardship, Toxin-Free Environments and Zero Waste Initiatives
Where we are going ... beyond zero waste and how CAP & Ei are working with the City of Atlanta to achieve Mayor Kasim Reed's sustainability goals.
Thank you Jill Lerner of Jill Lerner Communications for arranging The River Current interview.

The powerful media accolades validate the importance of zero waste programs and how they are integral to well-balanced sustainability programs.  Intertwined within the various media commentary is collaboration among the government, non-profit and corporate sectors is integral to success.  

Zero waste practices are on the verge of mainstream adoption and the media is taking notice.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

ZWZ Listed in Innovation Index

Recognizing the importance of growing and building smarter, Atlanta Magazine dedicated their August issue to "New Ground", naming Atlanta Groundbreakers in their feature article.  The individuals and projects honored are shaping the city's  future and tackling current challenges. Groundbreakers run the gamut of important issues from alternative senior healthcare (GATSBII) to urban agriculture amid food deserts (Rashid Nuri) to a connecting thoroughfare (The Atlanta Beltine).

Continual growth, long used as the barometer of community success, is no longer a viable solution. The time is NOW for community leaders to understand "smarter and effective" is more important than bigger. Kudos to Atlanta Magazine for dedicating an issue to the local heroes with the foresight to break the "bigger is better"  pattern with pioneering projects or products that are solution-based.

Serving a supporting role, the Innovation Index lists twenty-four breakthroughs, bright ideas, and brave new advances. The Zero Waste Zones are included in the index with the following copy:
In 2009 Holly Elmore—founder of Elemental Impact (Ei), an Atlanta-based nonprofit committed to sustainability—developed Zero Waste Zones, a program to reduce the volume of food-service waste hauled to landfills. “I thought, how do we create a program that makes good business sense on every level?” she says. Two years after its founding, Ei collaborated with the National Restaurant Association, a partnership that offers national reach and resources to ZWZ participants such as Ecco, a Midtown restaurant with a compost-friendly rooftop garden (and no Dumpster).
It is an honor the ZWZ are included among Atlanta's breakthough programs building the city into its full potential within the incoming paradigm. On September 18 Atlanta magazine hosts their first inaugural GROUNDBREAKER AWARDS RECEPTION where the groundbreakers and innovators are recognized - Ei founder Holly Elmore and Ei  program director will represent the Zero Wastes Zones at the event. 

Thank you Atlanta Magazine!