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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Atlanta Shines as Zero Waste Conference Host City

The common thread in Atlanta's
zero waste story
Atlanta, a city with strong zero waste roots, was a perfect host for the third annual U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) Conference in early May. With the 2009 Zero Waste Zones launch, Atlanta took a leadership role in the commercial collection of food waste for compost.

National media attention followed with the CNN story City Aims for Zero Waste that aired prime time along with homepage listing during Earth Week 2009. Later in the year, the New York Times front-page article, Nudging Recycling from Less Waste to None, featured ZWZ Champion Steve Simon, Fifth Group Restaurants partner. The ZWA Blog article, Atlanta: Host City for 2014 USZWBC Conference, gives a short synopsis of Atlanta's zero waste history along with an USZWBC overview.

As a conference partner and media sponsor, Elemental Impact played a leading role in bringing the national conference to Atlanta along with orchestrating the local flavor portion of the excellent program. The ZWA Blog article, Creating Value Through Zero Waste, recaps the many powerful Atlanta meetings preparing for the event. Promoted pre-conference in the ZWA Blog article, National in Focus, Local in Flavor, the 2014 USZWBC Conference Program was well balanced between national | local presentations, with sessions geared toward zero waste veterans and those embarking on the journey.
CleanRiver's Sponsor booth

Ei Partners, Advisers and Strategic Allies were prominent at the conference serving as panel moderators | presenters, conference sponsors and promotional partners. In addition to their speaker roles, Ei Partners Novelis, NatureWorks, Orwak and CleanRiver Recycling Systems stepped forward as conference sponsors. Ei Strategic Ally Sustainable Atlanta served as the conference Local Host while Allies Sustainable Packaging Coalition, Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Green Chamber of the South were Promotional Partners.

Following USZWBC executive director Stephanie Barger's conference opening remarks, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 4 administrator, Heather McTeer Toney welcomed the participants from across North America to Atlanta and gave an overview of the region's zero waste commitment.

Stephanie & Laura
Photo courtesy of Melissa Selem 
As the opening plenary keynote speaker, Ei Adviser and ZWZ Founding Chair, Laura Turner Seydel served as Atlanta's Ambassador with her impressive talk on Atlanta's resilient spirit and the many grass roots organizations who make a tremendous impact, individually and collectively. In her closing, Laura spoke on Captain Planet's profound influence on the generation stepping into national leadership roles and how the Captain Planet Foundation keeps the Planeteer spirit alive through programs like the Learning Gardens.

After Laura's keynote, Ei founder Holly Elmore moderated the opening plenary panel on Atlanta's Zero Waste Story including Suzanne Burnes, Sustainable Atlanta executive director, Denise Quarles, City of Atlanta director office of sustainability, Michael Cheyne, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (Atlanta Airport) asset management & sustainability director, and Scott Jenkins, the New Atlanta Falcons Stadium general manager.

Within the introductions, Holly wove the common ZWZ thread at the foundation of current zero waste success. During the ZWZ launch and early years, Suzanne served as the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Sustainability Division assistant director and gave unwavering support through exciting, though often challenging times. At Sustainable Atlanta, Suzanne steers the metro region's EcoDistricts program and LookUp Atlanta, gathering space to share, celebrate and inspire the good work happening every day to create a better, healthier community.

Holly moderating the panel
The City of Atlanta joined the ZWZ and was a strong advocate with many introductions, including the Atlanta Airport. In her role, Denise expands upon the ZWZ foodservice industry focus to the community at-large including residential curbside recycling services. Under Denise's tutelage, the City launched Power to Change: One City. One Plan. 10 Impact Areas, a comprehensive city-wide sustainability initiative.

In addition to joining the ZWZ program, the Atlanta Airport serves as the Sustainable Food Court Initiative (SFCI) Airport Pilot. The 2011 ZWA Blog article, Atlanta Airport Makes a Bold Sustainable Statement, announced the groundbreaking contract provision requiring airport food vendors to use compostable serviceware and consumer-facing packaging under the then new concessionaire contract.

Michael @ the podium
Michael gave a profound presentation on the sustainability and zero waste initiatives at the busiest airport in the world. A true pioneer, Michael is taking an industry leadership role in a proactive approach to Airborne Kitchen Grease (AKG), a costly by-product of cooking. Approvals are in-process for a campus-wide installation of Grease Lock Filters in airport concessionaires. The proactive AKG approach is staged to reduce airport water usage by an estimated 1.1 million gallons per year while concessionaires save approximately $7,300 annually per location.  

The ZWA Blog article, Atlanta Airport Presents a Proactive Approach to Airborne Kitchen Greaseannounces the American Association of Airport Executives' February | March publication Airport Magazine article, AIRBORNE KITCHEN GREASE: A New Frontier in Sustainability, A simple solution saves tremendous water use, labor and dollars, co-written by Michael and Holly.

Holly & Scott
during break after the panel
Photo courtesy of Melissa Selem
Next at the podium was Scott Jenkins, who recently relocated to Atlanta from Seattle. A zero waste veteran, Scott brought Safeco Field to zero waste during his tenure as the Seattle Mariners vice-president of operations. 

It was exciting to hear the deep sustainability commitment by Arthur Blank, Falcons owner and Home Depot co-founder, for the stadium construction and operations.The Falcons made a strong statement by hiring the new stadium general manager and contracting with foodservice operator Levy Restaurants three seasons prior to the stadium opening.

... and the ZWZ common thread? The Georgia Dome is one of three facilities within the Georgia World Congress Center campus, a ZWZ Founding Participant and host to the 2009 ZWZ launch press conference. In addition, the Georgia Dome serves as the SFCI Event Venue Pilot with intentions for the new stadium to continue as the pilot when it opens.

During the first conference day lunch, EPA Chief, RCRA Programs & Materials Jon Johnston gave a Food Recovery Challenge overview along with accolades to the impressive program recruitment in less than three months. The ZWA Blog article, EPA Food Recovery Challenge: Region IV launches FRC in hospitality sector, gives program details and an introduction to the food waste dilemma; the Ei Joins EPA FRC article details Ei's role in promoting the program.

After Jon's presentation, Stephanie took the podium to present USZWBC Zero Heroes 2014 Awards and a Zero Waste Certification plaque. USZWBC Board vice-president Gary Liss was presented with the Board Member of the Year award for his amazing industry dedication and unwavering organization commitment.

Awards are a team effort
Ei Team picture courtesy of Scott Lutocka
Ei close friend Scott Lutocka of Piazza Produce received the Zero Waste Cheerleader 2014 Award for his heroic efforts promoting zero waste across industry boundaries. The Zero Waste is a Team Sport ZWA Blog article gives an overview of Piazza Produce's zero waste practices in-place at their distribution center. While at the podium accepting his personal award, Scott also accepted the Piazza Produce Gold Zero Waste Certification plaque. 

Holly was presented with the Zero Waste Promoter of the Year - what an honor! With tears in her eyes Holly gave a heartfelt thank you as she accepted the award. The conference was indeed a powerful event for Ei.

Scott & Holly in their Zero Waste Warrior capes!
Photo courtesy of Melissa Selem
In addition to the formal conference awards, Scott and Holly received Zero Waste Warrior Super Hero capes from dear friend Heinz Weverink of Merciel Materials. At Heinz's request, Samantha Heburn made the capes from 100% reclaimed material. The capes are a treasure and most appreciated.

During the second conference day the plenary keynotes and panels were interspersed with morning and afternoon break out sessions, many moderated by Ei staff or affiliates. In the morning, Holly moderated the Scaling Up Composting in Charlotte panel on the EPA Region 4 Sustainable Packaging Coalition Grant by the same name. 

Kim Charick with the EPA gave an overview of the grant importance and the EPA's commitment to support food waste collection for compost. Next Laurette Hall with Mecklenburg County gave an overview of the Charlotte metro area's strong waste reduction practices, including food waste collection pilots in several county schools. Wrapping up the panel, Anne Bedarf with the SPC gave a synopsis of the grant goal, tasks and objectives along with a progress-to-date update.

The EPA Grant Panel
photo courtesy of Melissa Selem
For grant details, visit the ZWA Blog article, Scaling up composting in Charlotte, NC. The Charlotte Focuses on Food Waste with EPA Support article is a recap of the Grant Team April visit to Charlotte.

In the afternoon Holly moderated the Recycling Refinement panel on the metro-wide recycling template pilot that gives the corporate community an alternative to single-stream recycling while improving bottom lines. Aligning with Ei's concept Recycling Integrity - maintaining maximum material value with minimum energy expended - the template is grounded in material source-separation at the generation point.

The ZWA Blog article, If it was easy, it would already be done, introduces the template along with inherent challenges. Beginning with plastic film recycling, the template expanded to the common recycled items - PET (#1 plastics common in bottled beverages), aluminum and paper | fiber- when the GWCC joined as a Template Pioneer. The panel represented the template value chain.

Leading the panel, Mark Lanning with Tomra | Orwak gave an overview of current single-stream recycling systems and how on-site material source-separation using small balers aligned with Recycling Integrity. 

Next Preston Fletcher with FreshPoint - the nation's largest produce distributor - presented on their role as the Lead Template Pioneer including examples of how internal practices were modified to eliminate contamination.The ZWA Blog article, Plastic Film Recycling Video Published, announces Ei's video filmed and edited by Ei Chair Scott Seydel on initial action steps in template development.

Lorraine @ podium
photo courtesy of Scott Lutocka
Preston's comments on the lack of existing infrastructure were the perfect segue to M-PASS Environmental's role in template development. Lorraine White discussed route density creation for small bale collection and working with the template recycling center on aggregating material into standard size bales. From the audience, Marvin Blow - associate warden at the Atlanta Penitentiary - confirmed the Atlanta Penitentiary will serve as the template recycling center where inmates re-bale the material to hold until sold by the tractor trailer load.

Closing the panel, Kurt Schmitz with Pratt Industries gave an overview of Pratt's 100% recycled content cardboard box manufacturing. In addition, Kurt stressed how keeping the template material local generated jobs and spurred the community economy. With their North American headquarters in nearby Conyers, GA, Pratt is the end market for fiber collected in the template. 

Keeping with the local theme, Ei program administrator Melissa Selem moderated the Zero Waste: Georgia Grown panel where the ZWZ were once again the common thread among the presenters. Abbey Patterson - Atlanta Recycles (AR) director - worked closely with Holly on the founding ZWZ Participant recruiting; the ZWZ - Downtown Atlanta was in partnership with AR. At the podium, Abbey educated on how AR is central to metro Atlanta's many recycling programs and success stories.

Gloria Hardegree - Georgia Recycling Coalition executive director - was the AR Chair during the ZWZ launch and a strong supporter. In her presentation, Gloria shared the GRC's Made in Georgia - from Recycled Materials initiative. For an overview, the seven plus minute video GRC - Made in Georgia produced by Greenshortz gives an excellent snippet of the strong end markets for recycled material in Georgia.

Zero Waste - GA Grown panel
photo courtesy of Mike Simone
Following Gloria, Fifth Group Restaurants partner Steve Simon presented on Pioneering Zero Waste for a Restaurateur. As the first dumpster-free restaurant in Atlanta, Steve was featured in the October 2009 front-page New York Times article referenced in the second paragraph. Although easy now with long-term zero waste practices in place, Steve shared the challenges faced by a restaurant group with numerous concepts and varying waste | recycling options offered by landlords.

With the 2012 National Restaurant Association ZWZ purchase, Jeff Clark - NRA ConServe program director - was perfect to wrap-up the session with his NEW ZWZ, Atlanta's Business-Savvy Conservation Program, presentation. The NRA article, Sustainability, zero waste top agenda at business council conference, is a great session recap supported by industry leader quotes.

Thanks to Ei's introductions, Suganthi Simon (EPA), Tim Trefzer (GWCC) and Cindy Jackson (Georgia Institute of Technology) presented on the Zero Waste in Sports panel. Suganthi gave a high level perspective in her Fostering a Culture of Sustainability in Collegiate Sports session while Tim and Cindy were grounded in success stories at their respective facilities.

Laura and Tim happy to reconnect
In 2013 the Georgia Dome hosted the Final Four with great success on zero waste, community involvement and overall sustainability fronts. The ZWA Blog article, Final Four green footprints continue after the games, includes a summary of the Final Four's substantial impact before, during and after the games. For in-depth details, the Final Four Sustainability Report is available for download on the Elemental Impact Resources page under the Event Recycling section.

A zero waste veteran, Cindy oversees an award-winning recycling program at Ga Tech with on-site source-separation used campus-wide. After a Ga Tech campus overview, Cindy presented on the game day grass roots recycling practices at Bobby Dodd Stadium, including tailgate programs and food waste collection for compost in the stadium suites. 

Always willing to share her success recipe, Cindy hosted Tim on the GA Tech campus in February 2012, marking the beginning of a strong friendship. For a pictorial recap of the campus tour, visit the Ei FB album, 02-27-12 GA Tech Hosts GWCCA. Check out the pictures of the CLEAN streams collected from student source-separated recycling centers.

Ei Partner Bruce Buchan of CleanRiver presented on Zero Waste: The 3 C Approach in the Property & Facility Management morning panel. According to Bruce, the Three R's (reduce, reuse, recycle) are augmented with the Three C's: Culture, Communication & Collection in effective recycling programs. For an in-depth Three C synopsis, visit the ZWA Blog article, Evolution of the Three R's along with substantiation of CleanRiver's long-term commitment to customers like Ga Tech.

Michael and Anne chat during a break
photo courtesy of Melissa Selem
In the afternoon, Ei Strategic Ally Anne Bedarf of the SPC moderated the Sustainable Packaging panel where Ei Partner Steve Davies of Natureworks presented on Perspective in Packaging and Zero Waste. As the manufacturer of Ingeo - a biopolymer (polylactic acid) - used to create eco-friendly plastics and fibers, Natureworks is at the forefront of incorporating compostable plastics into foodservice and other industries packaging. 

For commercial food waste collection programs, compostable packaging is essential to prevent plastics and other contaminants from entering the material stream. Steve's colleague, Doug Kunnemann co-chairs the SFCI where post-consumer food waste collection initiatives are the primary 2014 focus.

A keynote speaker for day two of the conference, Brenda Platt of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Ei Strategic Ally, was inspiring at the podium during her Pay Dirt: Composting in America to Reduce Waste, Create Jobs, and Enhance the Soil. Brenda educated the attentive audience about the vital role food waste collected for composting plays in soil, water and air quality.

Later in the morning, Ei Partner John Gardner of Novelis presented on Driving to a Closed Loop Business Model & Zero Waste. Epitomizing the critical role played by the supply chain in zero waste initiatives, Novelis takes a proactive approach to their environmental footprint as well as their customers' impact. As the world's largest manufacturer of rolled aluminum, shifts in Novelis practices have a profound global impact in many industries and markets.

In the Zero Waste Branding & Social Marketing panel, Ei Supporter and zero waste pioneer, Patrick Cucarro - Affairs to Remember (ATR) managing director - gave an excellent presentation on how impressive internal practices segue into powerful external messaging. Keeping with an ATR core value "We're Serious About Fun," Patrick used a clever spaghetti analogy intertwined within his presentation.

The ZWA Blog article, USZWBC Conference Theme: Zero Waste Evolution, is an overall conference recap featuring prime plenary keynote and panel presentations, including more detail on John, Brenda, and Patrick's important presentations. Conference PPT presentations are available to view on the USZWBC 2014 Conference program page by clicking on the specific session title. 

The amazing duo - Emily & Stephanie!
photo courtesy of Melissa Selem
For a conference pictorial recap, visit the Ei FB album, 2014 USZWBC Conference in Atlanta. The Ei site USZWBC Conference page recaps each of the above keynote & panel presentations along with short descriptions and PPT presentations available for download.

Conference success is always grounded in strong collaborative efforts. The USZWBC core team - Stephanie & Emily DeCremer - were amazing to work with on the local flavor within an astounding national conference. Kudos to the USZWBC on another phenomenal conference!  ... onward to Los Angeles for the 2015 USZWBC Conference!