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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sustainable F&B Packaging: moving from an emerging to a maturing industry

On December 11 industry leaders converged on Global Green's Washington D.C. office for the Fourth Annual Sustainable Food & Beverage (F&B) Packaging Value Chain Meeting. The one-day meeting addresses the challenges | obstacles to sustainable F&B packaging.

Ei Chair Scott Seydel with
Paul Walker of Global Green
Elemental Impact (Ei) orchestrates the powerful annual meeting. Invites are extended to the trade association and non-profit executives who operate within the F&B packaging value chain. 

A BIG THANK YOU to Global Green for hosting the meeting in their shared office space. It was an honor Paul Walker who heads the D.C. office was in town and joined the meeting.

Each year the meeting discussions exemplify the shifts and growth in an evolving industry. The ZWA Blog article, Tackling the Challenges | Barriers to Sustainable Packaging, is an overview of the 2013 meeting while Second Annual F&B Packaging Meeting, recaps the 2012 meeting. For a synopsis of the inaugural 2011 meeting, visit the ZWA Blog article, Sustainable Foodservice Packaging Meeting.

Anchoring the value chain organizations are the following participating trade associations:

Scott during welcoming remarks
Numerous non-profits who work in arenas impacting food & beverage packaging attended the meeting:
Many meeting participants joined Ei Chair Scott Seydel for a pre-meeting dinner at GS certified Beacon Bar & Grill. Great food and lively, fun dinner conversation set the stage for the powerful meeting the following day.

In the morning, each organization presented on their mission, stakeholders, 2014 activities and finished with planned 2015 projects. The meeting agenda, PPT presentations and attendee list are available for download on the Ei Meetings & Events page. 

It was intriguing to witness the accomplishments over the past year. The 2013 morning presentations were summarized as follows:
Lack of consistency and confusion within the value chain was a consistent challenge interwoven within presentations. To create common ground several organizations are in various development stages for packaging standards, tool kits and other educational mediums. These documents are designed to assist the entire value chain - from manufacturers to foodservice operators to recycling and composting facilities - with decision making that aligns with emerging best sustainable packaging practices. 
During the morning presentation, 2014 accomplishments included a plethora of action taken or in-process relating to tool kits and educational platforms:

Foodservice Packaging Institute
Lynn Dyer with FPI presenting
  • Foodservice Packaging Recovery Toolkit - organized by sectors: communities, MRF (material recovery facilities) and end markets; includes an interactive map of end markets and case studies of successful foodservice packaging recovery.
  • Foam Recycling Coalition - formed in 2014 to establish and fund proactive, multi-year grant programs geared to drive foam recovery & generate success stories; call for grant applications in early 2015 with grant announcements slated for spring 2015. 
  • Recycling & Composting Toolkit for foodservice operators slated for 2015 in partnership with the NRA.
  • Paper Recovery Alliance | Plastics Recovery Group formed in late 2011 continue as the working groups behind FPI tool kit development, educational webinars and industry alliances for joint projects.
GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition
  • SPC Foodservice Packaging Industry Leadership Committee, launched in 2013, is working on a Design Guide that connects design with recovery. A supporting workshop is scheduled at SUSTPACK 2015.
  • How2Recycle (H2R): Clear. Consistent. Concise, recycling labels that make sensea voluntary, standardized labeling system that clearly communicates recycling instructions to the public; collaborating with BPI on incorporating composting into H2R label; consumer testing RFP (request for proposal) slated for release: McDonald's, Kellogg's, Wegmans & Honest Tea use the H2R labels on consumer packaging.
Brie Welzer with Green Seal
Green Seal
  • Restaurant & Food Service Standard (GS-55) requirements address the significant impacts of food services: sustainably-sourced food (options are local and environmentally preferable), waste minimization, use of environmentally-preferable products, and conservation of energy and water. Launched in 2014 with 10 restaurants certified. 2015 Goal: become more visible & increase publicity on certified restaurants.
  • Food Service Packaging Standard (GS-35) - establishes environmental requirements for food-service food packaging, which includes single-use containers for packaging or carry-out of products from restaurants and other retail food service establishments.
  • Greening Food & Beverage Services - a Green Seal Guide to Transforming the Industry; published in 2011 and continues as a valuable industry tool.
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Brenda Platt with ILSR
National Restaurant Association
  • NRA Sustainability Report, Shedding Light on Sustainability, the NRA's first-ever sustainability report focuses on environmentally-stable trends and initiatives within the restaurant industry. The report presents the industry’s efforts to reduce waste and conserve resources through practices including composting, recycling, energy and water efficiency, and food donations. A second report is slated for February 2015 publication.
  • Recycling & Composting Toolkit for foodservice operators slated for 2015 in partnership with the FPI.
  • Composting & Food Donation Toolkit slated for 2015.
  • Restaurant Litter Reduction Project with FPI & Keep America Beautiful underway.
Sustainable Biomaterial Collaborative
  • Guidelines for Sustainable Bioplastics provide a road map for the development and continuing improvement of biobased plastics throughout their lifecycle; The Guidelines reflect the current collective wisdom of a wide range of organizations who address the potential benefits and challenges of biobased plastics.
  • BioSpecs for Foodservice WareEnvironmentally Preferable Specifications for Compostable Biobased Food Service Ware, define the criteria for manufacturers to determine the sustainability of their compostable foodservice ware; includes a sample bid document that purchasers may use when going to bid for compostable foodservice ware.
The preceeding list exhibits the significant industry strides in developing consistent packaging standards, clear labeling, and resources to diffuse confusion when shifting food & beverage packaging to sustainable options.

Cary Oshins with USCC
The Composting Council Research and Education Foundation (CCREF) - the philantropic arm of the USCC - is a catalyst for advancement of composting technologies, practices, and beneficial uses that support resource conservation and economic and environmental sustainability. Within their mission, the CCREF positively impacts communities locally and globally by:
  • Fostering scientific research opportunities
  • Increasing awareness and educating the public
  • Advancing the stature and practices of the composting industry
In her presentation, ILSR co-director Brenda Platt emphasized the important role grass roots composting systems play in food waste recovery. Working with the Washington D.C. Department of Parks & Recreation, the ILSR and ECO City Farms offer the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders training program, a community composter train-the-trainer program with a community service component.

Over 1,000 New York City citzens completed the Master Composting Program. According to Brenda, these Master Composters serve as community activists encouraging fellow residents to embark on neighborhood composting solutions for food waste and rebuilding the soil. Grass roots efforts, grounded in neighborhood activism, create the culture where public policy, supported by community leaders and private enterprise, may segue to macro solutions for food waste.

Anne Bedarf & Matt de la Houssaye
during the afternoon break
In her presentation, Anne Bedarf with the SPC gave an update on the EPA Grant Scaling Up Composting in Charlotte, NC. The ZWA Blog article, Scaling up composting in Charlotte, details the grant goal, objectives, tasks and team members. Ei is honored to serve as subgrantee on the grant.

Anne outlined three grant outcomes:
  1. Improve Waste Diversion & Infrastructure
  2. Food & Packaging Waste Characterization
  3. Lessons Learned & Transferability Report
An early lesson learned is packaging is a second step in food waste diversion programs. Grant program participants include Central Piedmont Community College, Carolina Place, IKEA and the YMCA.  

Ei founder Holly Elmore updated on the SFCI - Atlanta Airport implementation of the compostable packaging provision in the recent concessionaire contracts. The ZWA Blog article, Atlanta Airport's Leadership Role in Compostable Food & Beverage Packaging, includes a history of the contract provision along with an overview of the October SFCI Vendor Fair.

Scott using a "recyclable"
tripod to record presentations
On the West Coast, CoRR brings food scrap recovery systems to multi-family buildings in the San Francisco Bay Area, and beyond. When tenants were presented with the bin and bag kits, nearly all showed a strong desire to participate in the program. Education on use of the compost end product is incorporated into the pilot. Piloting Food Scrap Composting in San Francisco Bay Area Apartment Buildings is an excellent short video of the in-progress pilots. 

During the labeling discussion, BPI executive director Steve Mojo mentioned a prominent compostable packaging manufacturerer received a hefty fine due to its certified compostable label. The packaging was sold in an area without a composting site within 30 miles. Thus, clear labeling for product end use is contingent upon local legislation and destinations available. 

BPI, USCC and FPI are jointly working on legislation for labeling of compostable products. The SPC is working on measuring access to composting facilities to check consistency with Federal Trade Commission Guidelines.

In addition, BPI and USCC are working together on potential revisions to the ASTM - American Society for Testing and Materials - Standards at the foundation of the BPI compostable product certification criteria. With advancement in packaging technology and anaerobic digestion (AD) coming forth as a post-consumer food waste destination, it is time to review the standards with regards to industry evolution.

Chris Weiss with DCEN was the local hero and perfect host for the group in Global Green's shared office space. Lively discussion followed Chris' presentation on the status of local D.C. initiatives and public policy.

Patrick Serfass with ABC presenting
With perfect timing, the ABC joined the meeting group to participate in evolving industry discussions. ABC Patrick Serfass executive director gave an introductory presentaiton with an overview of ABC's mission and work-in-progress. Synergies abounded and collaborative seeds were planted during breaks and intermingled within the afternoon strategy session.

After a lovely lunch catered by Whole Foods Market, the afternoon strategy session began with a discussion on the group's focus and objectives. For the 2014 meeting, the focus was on increasing organics recycling in the commercial | institutional foodservice sector (includes outdoor festivals and food trucks). Curbside (residential) and retail (grocery store) organics recycling were relegated to future meetings.

The NRA teams with the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute in the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA). Targeted at retail grocery stores, the FWRA focuses on food waste reduction, donation and recycling. When the meeting focus expands to retail grocery, the NRA will invite the appropriate FWRA associates to join the group at the annual meeting.

Elissa Elan with NRA
during strategy session
Interwoven throughout conversations were the industry resources available for the foodservice operator via task forces, toolkits and documented case studies. In addition to those included above in the morning presentation outline, the following resources are available on-line:
Business case and end markets were included as one discussion topic; strong end markets for compost and biogas are the drivers to create a sustainable value chain where all parties make a reasonable profit. 

In 2014, Maryland passed HB878 & SB814by December 30, 2014, the State Highway Administration (SHA) is required to establish a specification for the acquisition and use of compost and compost-based products for:
  • erosion & sediment control
  • post-construction stormwater management
A SHA report is due to the State Assembly by December 1, 2015.

Driving policy at the state level is key to creating strong end markets. In addition to the SHA there are many other state-run agencies | divisions that benefit from compost use. Colleges | universities, parks & recreation, and state government centers are several examples.

Challenges abound in multi-tenant facilties where the foodservice operator does not control the waste | recycling contracts. In these scenarios, the tenant often pays for the organics collection yet does not benefit from the reduced landfill cost-savings. Ei's Sustainable Food Court Initiative was created in early 2011 to address the challenges associated with multi-tenant facilities.

Often organics recycling programs cost more than landfill tipping fees. Post-consumer food waste recycling programs may include packaging shift costs and upgraded consumer recycling centers with new signage.  

Holly Elmore with Ei presenting
In Ei's Source-Separated Materials Recycling Template (S-SMRT), a Total Materials Management Approach (TMMA) is used where materials with solid end markets (e.g. aluminum, mixed paper, certain plastics) subsidize more challenging streams generated in operations (e.g. food waste). The ZWA Blog article, Total Materials Management Approach, introduces TMMA and gives an in-depth S-SMRT overview.

Processing capacity emerged as the biggest industry challenge at this juncture. Without local or regional organics recycling destinations, there is little incentive for foodservice operators to convert food and beverage packaging to sustainable options. 

As Brenda emphasized in her morning presentation, the Master Composter Program is a grass roots approach to building community, even neighborhood, composting destinations that bridge gaps. The master composters are educated residents who drive a public consciousness shift towards the value of organics recycling for rebuilding healthy soil.

The majority of yard debris composting sites do not accept food waste. An educational campaign encouraging these facilities to accept food waste may collectively increase current capacity by a significant amount.

Barriers to increasing organics recycling capacity include:
  • Permitting, in some states permits take an average of 18 months
  • Access to land, especially in the Northeast
  • Demand for organics recycling programs
  • Community acceptance of organic recycling facilities
  • Available financing
Biogas specific barriers include:
  • Low cost financing
  • Interconnection of gas and electricity
  • Long-term feedstock contracts
Pre-meeting group at
Beacon Bar & Grill
Product labeling was introduced during Anne's morning presentation and included as a strategy session topic. Even with the significant label strides over the past year, especially with the SPC H2R label program, there is frustration and confusion with developing industry standards. How granular is appropriate for labels - should labels be on the product or only the transport packaging? 

As mentioned earlier one manufacturer was fined for labeling a BPI certified product compostable due to state regulations. Thus, public policy and state regulations are key to developing consistent label standards. Can national labels work with varying state regulations?

Education is key to organics recycling success.The group defined the following audiences for educational materials:
  • Composters
  • Foodservice operators | brand owners
  • Distributors
  • Packagers | manufacturers
  • Packaging designers
  • Purchasing associates
  • Marketing | sales departments
  • Legal teams
  • Government officials
2015 Meeting Group Photo
see FB album for names
False compostability claims are abundant under the auspices of oxodegradable, biodegradable and omnidegradable. Within educational materials, it is important to include a section on how to identify compostable products accepted by the organics recycling destination. The ZWA Blog article, Third Party Certification Edges Industry Towards a Zero Waste Economy, identifies BPI certification as the nation's accepted standard for compostable products.

Contamination was the final topic addressed in the vibrant strategy session. Woven throughout the many topics were solutions for contamination ranging from education to labeling to industry standards. A close relationship between the food waste hauler and operator is essential to creating a clean stream. The hauler must take responsibility for the stream collected and work in partnership with the operator on creating in-house practices for contaminant-free material.

As with all successful meetings, action points were summarized as part of the closure. In 2014 the group convened for the first time mid-year via a two-hour call; in 2015 a 90-minute group call will facilitate communication throughout the year. The referenced toolkits and other industry resources are loaded onto the Ei Reference Materials page for a common research focal point. Public-access documents are available for download on the page.

The Ei FB album, Fourth Annual Sustainable F&B Packaging Value Chain Meeting, is a pictorial recap of the powerful meeting.

In the past four years, Sustainable Food & Beverage Packaging transformed from an emerging to a maturing industry. Clarity comes forth from prior years confusion in the form of a plethora of industry toolkits, webinars and resources. Standards are developing along with the necessary structure to mature into success. 

The Annual Sustainable Food & Beverage Packaging Value Chain Meeting is critical to the common industry voice and abundant collaboration among the key participating organizations. Stay tuned as the industry evolves from maturing to mature ...

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