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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

2016 Zero Waste Conference: "Tuning in" to Zero Waste!

On June 1 - 4, 2016 sustainability leaders from across industry boundaries will converge on Austin, Texas for the Fifth Annual National Zero Waste Business Conference (NZWBC) hosted by the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC). With the "Tuning in" to Zero Waste" theme, the conference program showcases how zero waste companies and communities top the charts in dimensions beyond landfill diversion.

The Fifth Annual NZWBC is the culmination of four powerful conferences beginning with the inaugural 2012 event hosted in Costa Mesa, CA. Moving to the Midwest, the Second Annual NZWBC - Creating Value Through Zero Waste - in Cincinnati, OH was amazing. It took three ZWA Blogs to document the incredible program: Know Your Trash Up-Close & Personal, Zero Waste Success Requires WE Consciousness, & Zero Waste is a Team Sport, a powerful USZWBC conference panel.

Next was the 2014 NZWBC hosted in Elemental Impact's hometown Atlanta, GA with a stellar program keeping with the Creating Value Through Zero Waste tagline. The ZWA Blog article USZWBC Conference Theme: Zero Waste Evolution emphasizes the plenary sessions along with the annual conference evolution; the Atlanta Shines as Zero Waste Conference Host City article is an in-depth synopsis on Ei Partners' and Strategic Allies' role in the conference program.

At the 2015 NZWBC in Los Angeles, the Stars of Zero Waste shined! The ZWA Blog article Business NOT as usual: fine-tuning the zero waste journey chronicles the conference's impressive plenary sessions while the Zero Waste Makes Good Business Sense article features the conference breakout sessions along with Ei’s strong conference participation.

Mathy Stanislaus
Building on the strong conference foundation, the Fifth Annual NZWBC program expands beyond the practicalities of zero waste within individual businesses and the local community to its global implications. Keynote presenter U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator - Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response Mathy Stanislaus will "tune into" zero waste's role within the circular economy. In addition, Mathy will address how zero waste programs address climate action plans.

A chemical engineer and environmental lawyer with over 25 years of experience in the environmental field in the private and public sectors, Mathy was appointed by President Obama and confirmed by U.S. Senate in June 2009. Leading the effort to advance the transition to circular economy through life-cycle based sustainable materials management approach, Mathy represented the U.S. at the Group of Seven (G7) Summit that led to G7's declaration to take actions to advance resources efficiency | sustainable resources management. Mathy oversees an annual $1.3 billion operating budget and approximately 2,600 full-time employees.

It is a true honor for Mathy to educate on how zero waste integrates within global platforms beyond sound material management practices.

Austin takes zero waste seriously and is 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. A culmination of two years of research, stakeholder engagement and community input, the Master Plan sets the stage for the Department’s programs and services for the next 30 years and beyond.

NZWBC 4-Yr Club in 2015
Will all be in the 5-Yr Club?!
The aim is to reach the City Council’s goal of Zero Waste by 2040, which means keeping at least 90 percent of discarded materials out of the landfill. The Master Plan outlines aggressive milestones to ensure that goal is achieved on time, if not sooner.

City of Austin Senior Waste Diversion Planner Teresa Chapman moderates the conference opening plenary panel featuring industry and civic executives taking a leadership role in Austin's zero waste journey.

Additional plenary panels include: Food - Love it ... but don't waste it!, USZWBC Certification and Establishing Diversion Metrics. Complementing the keynote presentations. each conference day has two plenary panel discussions supported by two breakout sessions, filled with a multitude of panels available for attendees.

Ei Founder Holly Elmore is slated to moderate two breakout sessions: Ei Airborne Kitchen Grease Initiative, taking zero waste beyond materials management and Post-Consumer Food Waste: Compostable Packaging Plays a Vital Role for Clean Streams & SUCCESS. 

In addition to the stellar program, pre and post-conference activities include the ZWBA Scorecard 101 Professional Training Course, Zero Waste 101 Workshop, Achieving Zero Waste at Colleges &  Universities Workshop, and tours of local landmarks dedicated to zero waste. Scheduled tours to date include University of Texas at Austin and Organics by Gosh.

Stated conference goals are:
  • Helping businesses achieve zero waste to both help the environment and their bottom line.
  • Teaching businesses waste reduction methods from the leaders in the field including industry specialists and experts from zero waste businesses that have achieved more than 90% diversion. 
The conference is designed for zero waste veterans as well as those embarking upon the path with the following attendee profile:
  • Corporate sustainability managers and facility managers looking to cut costs through greener practices.
  • Small and mid-sized business managers looking to improve waste reduction practices.
  • State and local government employees who help businesses reduce waste and get to zero waste.
  • Environmental consulting firms that want to learn about the latest successes in zero waste and certification.
Holly & Industry Pals @ '15 NZWBC
Photo courtesy of Scott Lutocka 
For the third consecutive year, Ei serves as the Official NZWBC Media Partner. In addition, Ei is the USZWBC promotional partner. The USZWBC Press Room page includes a list of UZWBC-oriented ZWA Blog articles.

Registration is open for the 2016 NZWBC with early bird rates available through January 15. For those interested in conference sponsorship, the Sponsorship page details options available. Upon request, tailored sponsor packages are considered.

Join colleagues in Austin for the 2016 NZWBC Conference "Tuning in" to Zero Waste" and catch the beat of a World Without Waste!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

SMAT: the possible emerges from the impossible!

The Elemental Impact (Ei) task force SMAT - Sustainable Materials ACTION Team - was busy in 2015 educating, advising and sharing their industry expertise to pioneers forging new Recycling Refinement frontiers. When Industry Experts and Industry Pioneers team together, the possible emerges from the impossible!

As Ei Industry Experts, SMAT members commit their resources, time and expertise to support Ei endeavors. The following lists SMAT members:
SMAT was formed in 2014 to support the EPA Region 4 Scaling Up Composting in Charlotte, NC Grant to Ei Strategic Ally GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition. Ei was a lead sub-grantee. 

Ei’s role centered on powerful Charlotte government and private enterprise connections, commercial food waste program experience, grant work documentation via blog articles & FB albums, and coordination of grant team visits.

The ZWA Blog article, Scaling Up Composting in Charlotte, NC, gives an overview of grant objectives, tasks and goal.

During the two-year grant period - October 2013 to September 2015 - Ei orchestrated five Charlotte visits filled with powerful meetings, site visits | tours along with productive dinners where the magic flowed into action plans. The Ei Charlotte Visits page documents the important visits.

The SMAT was the backbone of Ei’s grant contributions via their in-depth industry expertise.

SMAT working session in Charlotte
L to R: Rick, Kim, Sarah & Ken
At the October 2015 SPC Advance conference Ei Founder Holly Elmore moderated the Scaling Up Composting in North America: Presentation and Working Session featuring the EPA Grant results | successes. A substantial discussion of food waste recovery options, challenges and successes followed. The ZWA Blog article, Sustainability: an industry defining itself, is a SPC Advance recap with the grant session featured.

In addition to the EPA Grant, the SMAT provides the food & beverage (F&B) packaging support for the Sustainable Food Court Initiative, co-chaired by Ei Chair Scott Seydel and Doug Kunnemann with NatureWorks. The following SFCI Pilots address the unique challenges in their respective food court categories:

At the present juncture, SMAT recommends single-use F&B packaging is BPI Certified Compostable to avoid contamination in the food waste stream. The exception is pre-packaged beverages, such as soft drinks, water and beer.
Ready to expand their recycling practices to the next dimension, Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) Director of Sustainability Tim Trefzer requested the SMAT to prepare a comprehensive Compostable F&B Packaging Education Session for Levy Restaurants' downtown campus. Foodservice operations are contracted with Levy at the GWCC, Georgia Dome, Centennial Olympic Park, Phillips Arena and the under-construction Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Doug & Tim after education session
Under Doug’s direction, SMAT crafted a powerful two-hour session that included ample time for Q&A and discussion throughout the presentations. On April 8, 2015 the SMAT members converged on Atlanta for the Levy education session. 

The ZWA Blog article, Compostable F&B Packaging: integral to zero waste programs and soil rebuilding, is an overview of the session and the important role packaging plays in zero waste programs; the Ei FB album, 04-08-15 Compostable F&B Packaging Education Session, gives a pictorial recap. An abbreviated session PPT is available for download on the Compostable F&B Packaging Education Session page. The education session was instrumental in the Zero Food Waste Journeys, another powerful SMAT endeavor. 

On June 15, 2015, Les Dames d’Escoffier International, Atlanta Chapter (LDEI) agreed to partner with Ei on a zero food waste journey at their prominent fundraiser Afternoon in the Country (AITC) hosted by the Inn at Serenbe within the Serenbe community. The 2015 AITC was the event's 15th Anniversary, perfect timing to embark on a zero food waste journey!

The ZWA Blog article, Afternoon in the Country embarks on zero food waste journey, announces the AITC zero food waste journey.

Ken educating @ RayDay
In addition, AITC Event Producer ideaLand secured a zero food waste commitment for 2015 RayDay. On October 11 the Ray C. Anderson Foundation (RCAF) hosted the third annual RayDay in a lovely Serenbe country meadow. Over 1400 guests celebrated Ray's legacy, learned at the plethora of educational booths and enjoyed excellent cuisine served by The Food Movement (TFM) food trucks.

The ZWA Blog article, Atlanta Food Waste Heroes: the journey continues …, updates on the extensive pre-event planning accomplished to set the stage for event day success.

On August 20, the SMAT hosted a two-hour Compostable Food & Beverage Packaging Education Session for the AITC | RayDay Team; the session was a modification of the April GWCC session. 

For details on the event specific successes, challenges and lessons learned visit the respective AITC and RayDay pages.

The Sustainability for the Foodservice Industry Course is scheduled for beta testing in early 2016 by the World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS), the umbrella organization of world chef societies. When finalized the course will be available to global culinary schools and potentially chef societies, such as the American Culinary Federation.

The WACS sustainability course is designed to embed the importance of sustainability within daily practices, whether in a kitchen, home, business environment or public area, along with establishing the ability to critically think and solve problems.There is no one answer to most sustainability challenges and solutions are driven by local infrastructure available.

Kendall College Vice-President, School of Culinary Arts Chef Chris Koetke orchestrated the sustainability course curriculum on behalf of WACS and invited Ei to provide the Waste | Recycling course material. … and the answer was a big YES!

The SMAT went to work on crafting a 50+ page PPT presentation complete with photos | visuals, instructor notes, and a glossary of industry terms. With impeccable timing, Ei Intern Jarrett Cohen came on-board for the administrative aspects of the curriculum development.

Following Chris’ guidance, the Waste | Recycling flowed from the broad, big picture viewpoint to the foodservice industry’s tremendous waste generation to the environmental impact and ended with the chef’s leadership role | responsibilities.

For the “In Summary” slide the following three points were made:

  • Materials have value; Trash has cost.
  • Zero waste practices make good business sense.
  • Sustainability provide a competitive edge on many levels.

The SMAT @ CNN Center
The ZWA Blog article, Sustainability: a matter of thinking critically & solving problems in an adaptive manner, introduces the Sustainability for the Foodservice Industry Course with a focus on the Waste | Recycling Curriculum. An abbreviated Waste | Recycling Course is available for download on the World Chefs Waste | Recycling Curriculum page.

In addition, Rick Lombardo presented on SMAT accomplishments at the 2015 National Zero Waste Business Conference on the Source Separation Maximizes Material Value panel moderated by Holly. 

At the 2015 Annual Ei Partner Meeting Rick gave an impressive presentation on SMAT accomplishments. Rick’s SMAT PPT presentation is downloadable on the Annual Ei Partner Meeting page. The IMPACT Blog article, Ei 2015: Year of ACTION, is an overview of the Annual Ei Partner Meeting featuring SMAT work throughout the afternoon presentations.

The SMAT work with Ei Industry Pioneers follows the Ei mantra:

Ei is a creator, an incubator. 
Ei determines what could be done that is not being done and gets it done. 
Ei brings the possible out of impossible.
Ei identifies pioneers and creates heroes.

With the Year of ACTION coming to a close, the Sustainable Materials ACTION Team is excited to enter the Year of Accomplishments! Stay tuned ...

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Transport Packaging: shifting from trash to valuable material

petro-wax cardboard box
destined for the landfill
As businesses move down the zero waste path, audits of remaining "trash" often reveal packaging is the main component of items destined for the landfill. For the food industry, petrowax-coated cardboard boxes for produce (fruits and vegetables) and protein (meats, seafood & poultry) are a significant contributor to a foodservice operator | grocery store's waste hauling charges.  

During recycling, OCC (old corrugated cardboard) is shredded, mixed in a water slurry, and processed into new paper through the recovery of recycled fibers. In the water-fiber mixture the petrowax agglomerates, clogging screens and other processing equipment; the result is decreased fiber recovery. Petrowax-coated boxes are a contaminant in OCC recycling.

With a strong commodity market, operators who bale OCC on-site often create a recycling profit center with OCC revenue more than offsetting the additional labor. On the other hand, petrowax-coated cardboard goes in the trash dumpster costing the operator waste hauling charges.

petrowaxed asparagus boxes
@ Piazza Produce
Global Green’s Coalition for Resource Recovery (CoRR) is currently surveying the corrugated cardboard industry to update the cost-savings and benefits related to the use of wax alternatives. Early survey calculations demonstrate over 1 million tons of petrowax-coated cardboard are currently going to U.S. landfills, costing about $50 million annually in hauling and landfill tipping fees. The equivalent recycling value is around $135 million for a net industry benefit of an estimated $185 million annually.

The CoRR Wholesale Packaging page details CoRR's impressive petrowax-free box research and successful pilots.

Ei Industry Expert ChemolCompany developed coating alternatives derived from natural, sustainable raw materials (vegetable oils and animal fats.) The alternative coating provides similar water resistance and wet strength characteristics to petrowax coatings.

Petrowax alternative coatings are cost-neutral to box manufacturers. The same equipment with little or no modification is used for the coating process. 

OCC recyclability is certified by the Fibre Box Association (FBA) who requires each box manufacturer pass a rigorous fiber recovery protocol. Boxes with Chemol’s petrowax-free alternative coating pass the FBA OCC recyclability certification.

CoRR's Lily Kelly @ podium
In 2012 Ei began work on petrowax-free boxes. The May 2012 Zero Waste in ACTION article, Waxed Cardboard = Landfill Destiny = $$ Lost, is the second most popular blog article with nearly 5,000 views. The article features the National Restaurant Association Show education session Challenging the Value-Chain to Transform Transport Packaging: Eco-Friendly, Wallet-Friendly Solutions orchestrated by Ei Chair Scott Seydel.

As a first step to understanding on-farm packaging practices, the Ei Team visited two South Georgia farms with on-site slaughter houses and packing operations. ZWA Blog post, Consumer Demand: A Powerful Voice to Affect Change, gives an overview of the farm tours and Ei's foray into Product Stewardship. As the title indicates, Ei intends to work with Industry Pioneers to invoke the powerful consumer demand to affect shifts in box coating practices.

In August 2013 a portion of the Indy Zero Waste Tours was dedicated to petrowax-free box education. Industry Pioneer Ted’s Montana Grill (TMG) joined the tour of Piazza Produce followed by the education session. The Ei FB album, 08-13 Indy Zero Waste Tours, gives a pictorial recap of the Indy tours.

Paula Owens w/ TMG during
Piazza Produce tour
The Ei PetroWax-Free Box Initiative was announced at the 2015 Annual Partner Meeting. The IMPACT Blog article, Ei 2015: Year of ACTION, recaps the meeting; PPT presentations are available on the Annual Ei Partner Meetings page. Chemol President Fred Wellons will take the initiative leadership role.

First action steps are forming the Industry Pioneer Team, including foodservice operators, grocery stores, and produce | protein distributors. Next Ei will recruit box manufacturers to serve as the initiative Industry Experts.

Industry Pioneers hold the key for transport packaging evolution. By using their power of consumer demand and working on common goals with their supply chain, Industry Pioneers will craft scenarios where businesses and the environment benefit. Petrowax-free boxes are an easy win for shifting transport packaging from trash to valuable material. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Proactive Approach + Simple Solutions = BIG Toxic Chemical-Laden Water Savings

Cooling tower on a college campus
In the commercial sector, cooling towers are prevalent in large facilities such as airports, distribution centers, office towers, convention centers, hotels, data centers and power plants. The cooling towers use a tremendous volume of water and the “blowdown process” releases toxic chemical-laden water directly into the sewers.

Per the Cooling Technology Institute, a cooling tower is a heat rejection device which extracts waste heat to the atmosphere through the cooling of a water stream to a lower temperature. The type of heat rejection in a cooling tower is termed "evaporative" in that it allows a small portion of the water being cooled to evaporate into a moving air stream to provide significant cooling to the rest of that water stream. 

Cooling tower water must be treated to prevent scale, corrosion, and bio-fouling. Standard industry practices use toxic chemicals to treat the cooling tower water. Due to evaporation, the chemical balance becomes too concentrated and the remaining water is released into the sewer system via the “blowdown” process. 

“Blowdown” can be 10% – 35% of the total tower water consumed. The cost of "blowdown" water and associated sewer charges can be significant. In addition, the released water is filled with toxic chemical agents.

WCTI system
The Water Conservation Technology International system uses "nature's way" by removing all of the hardness in source water. Eliminating hardness prevents scale. As the water cycles up, sodium silicate naturally forms and the high pH creates a biostatic condition in the tower water. Sodium silicate reacts with metal surfaces to form a protective barrier against corrosion. In a biostatic condition, bacteria and pathogens cannot propagate. 

RESULTS: no scale build-up along with effective control of corrosion and biological growth. Thus, the use of chemical additives and "blowdown" are eliminated, tremendous water is saved and water laden with toxic chemical additives is no longer released into the sewer system.

Introduced in 2004, WCTI has a proven track record with prominent clients including Apple, Verizon, Microsoft, Boeing and Universal Studios. The ROI (return on investment) generally runs between six months to two years.

In May 2013 the Elemental Impact (Ei) Team visited the Tampa Verizon Data Center for a tour of their WCTI installation. It was an impressive tour and important to witness the WCTI system in action. The Ei FB album, Tour re: WCTI System @ Tampa Verizon Data Services, is a tour pictorial recap.

Jim on right with Joe Salpietra,
Chair Ei AKG Initiative
At the 2015 Annual Ei Partner Meeting, Ei Supporter Jim Harrell with Renaissance Technology presented on the WCTI system. The Partners were in awe of the tremendous water | toxic chemical-savings available with an easy ROI. In his final slides, Jim announced the Ei Cooling Tower Blowdown Initiative with an anticipated mid-2016 launch.

Via an Ei introduction, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) – the busiest airport in the world -  is in the WCTI assessment process for the 2017 FY Budget, beginning July 1, 2016. If installed, ATL is staged to save an estimated 7 - 10 million gallons of water annually. The intent is for ATL to serve as a Lead Pioneer in the Ei Cooling Tower Blowdown Initiative along with formal City of Atlanta Office of Sustainability support.

The Ei Cooling Tower Blowdown Initiative joins the Ei Airborne Kitchen Grease (AKG) Initiative as recently announced Water Use | Toxicity Platform initiatives. The genius in the patented technology used in the respective initiatives is its simplicity.

Both technologies use a proactive approach to reduce water consumption where the "spent water" released into sewer systems or other waterways is laden with toxic chemicals. In addition, the initiatives make good business sense from a corporate and community perspective.

In the ZWA Blog post, Zero WATER Waste: more than a goal, a necessity, the foundation for Ei’s Water Use | Toxicity Platform is established. The ZWA Blog article, Ei Airborne Kitchen Grease Initiative Announced, gives an in-depth overview of AKG and its implications.

"Nature Knows Best" rings true in the Water Use | Toxicity Platform where simple solutions result in tremendous savings in toxic chemical-laden water usage.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Sustainability: a matter of thinking critically & solving problems in an adaptive manner

The World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS), the umbrella organization of world chef societies, developed a Sustainability for the Foodservice Industry Course, which is ready for beta testing in early 2016. When finalized the course will be available to global culinary schools and potentially chef societies, such as the American Culinary Federation.

In many countries chefs are leaders with the ability to influence the general population in an empowering manner. Culinary students are future leaders within an industry that has a profound impact on the Earth’s resources. In the United States, the foodservice | hospitality sector is the second largest private sector employer.

At the core of sustainability is the ability to think critically and solve complex problems in an adaptive manner. 

The WACS sustainability course is designed to embed the importance of sustainability within daily practices, whether in a kitchen, home, business environment or public area, along with establishing the ability to critically think and solve problems. There is no one answer to most sustainability challenges and solutions are driven by local infrastructure available.

Within the course, sustainability is broken down into four categories – food, water, energy and water – in seven two-hour classes. The following is the class outline:
  1. Looking at the big picture: Why sustainability matters to the world and to foodservice.
  2. Food Part I: Agriculture – growing in dirt
  3. Food Part II: Animal husbandry
  4. Food Part III: Seafood
  5. Energy
  6. Water
  7. Waste
Kendall College Vice-President, School of Culinary Arts Chef Chris Koetke, orchestrated the sustainability course curriculum on behalf of WACS and invited Elemental Impact to provide the Waste course material. … and the answer was a big YES!

Holly & The Chris Triad
Moyer, Newman, Koetke
Ei met Chris when he presented on the 2011 National Restaurant Show education session The Compost Hero Returns with the HOW moderated by Ei Founder Holly Elmore. The following is a quote from the ZWA Blog article, Compost, The Quiet Hero at 2011 NRA Show:
The star of the session, Chris Koetke with Kendall College, educated on the specifics of HOW organics collection works within foodservice operations.  A true pioneer, Kendall College is in their fifth year with an organics collection program.
The Ei SMAT – Sustainable Materials ACTION Team – went to work on crafting a 50+ page PPT presentation complete with photos | visuals, instructor notes, and a glossary of industry terms. With impeccable timing, Ei Intern Jarrett Cohen came on-board for the administrative aspects of the curriculum development.

Following Chris’ guidance, the Waste | Recycling (Ei added recycling to the title) flowed from the broad, big picture viewpoint to the foodservice industry’s tremendous waste generation to the environmental impact and ended with the chef’s leadership role | responsibilities.

In the big picture portion, Ei emphasized waste is inevitable. When waste is viewed as trash, it is landfill destined; when it is viewed as a valuable material the waste is donated | reused, recycled or upcycled. Throughout the presentation, the business perspective is emphasized and how respecting material improves the bottom line.

Affairs to Remember
front-of-the-house event decor
The “My What a Big Pantry You Have!” and “the Waste FRONTier” sections focus on the tremendous volume of various materials used in back-of-the-house and front-of-house, respectively, operations. Next packaging is addressed in the “Box it Right” and “Make it Compostable” sections. 

Within the “Where does it all go?” slides the Three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – are addressed with an emphasis on donation of excess food. In addition, source-separated and single-stream recycling are presented in a pros | cons format.

In “Contamination: an expensive trip to the landfill” the focus is on food waste, one of the biggest contaminants in recycling streams. When it decomposes in landfills food waste produces methane gas, a GHG (greenhouse gas) 20 – 25 times more potent than naturally occurring carbon.

Retaining the food waste focus, the “Where Oh Where is our Soil?” section educates on the deteriorated state of our soils and how food waste composting is a solution for soil rebuilding. “Beyond Landfill Destination” details the four main destinations for food waste, other than landfill.

The “Chefs are Leaders …” uses Jamie Oliver, champion of better food in schools, as the powerful role chefs play in their new SuperStar status.

“Zero Waste” defines the emerging industry standard and emphasizes the importance of third certifications, such as the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council Business Facility Certification.

The “Business Perspective” slide is the perfect segue to Ei Partner NatureWorks case studies that ground “Success Stories.” NatureWorks provides four documented examples of waste diversion, zero waste events, waste reduction and landfill diversion at global venues.

For the “In Summary” slide the following three points are made:
  • Materials have value; Trash has cost.
  • Zero waste practices make good business sense.
  • Sustainability provides a competitive edge on many levels.

Each slide includes detailed instructor notes along with  links to supporting documentation for the information presented.

Kudos to the World Association of Chefs Societies for stepping to the plate and providing a comprehensive introduction to sustainability within the foodservice industry. It is important our future leaders develop the skills of critical thinking and problem solving, especially in the sustainability realm.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Zero Food Waste Journeys: Successes, Challenges & Lessons Learned

In June 2015, Elemental Impact and the Les Dames d'Escoffier International (LDEI) Atlanta Chapter agreed to partner on a zero waste food journey for their prestigious Afternoon in the Country (AITC) fundraising event. Event Producer Sue Anne Morgan, ideaLand owner, was excited to learn how to orchestrate zero food waste events along with keys for success. The ZWA Blog article, Afternoon in the Country embarks on a zero food waste journey, announces the Ei | LDEI partnership for zero food waste at AITC.

Known as one of Atlanta’s most unforgettable food and wine-tasting events, AITC is a fund-raiser for local non-profits and scholarships for women in the culinary profession. The November 8, 2015 AITC is the event's 15th Anniversary, perfect timing to embark on formal zero food waste practices.

Inn @ Serenbe
Hosted by the Inn at Serenbe within the Serenbe Community, the AITC is held in an idyllic setting where nature, passion, creativity and community are valued. With over 1800 guests tasting delicious food samples served by over 90 prominent restaurants, hotels and caterers, there is a significant amount of food waste generated at the event. In the past, food waste was landfill-destined.

The zero food waste Ei | AITC partnership aligns with the Ei Sustainable Food Court Initiative (SFCI) focus. In mid-2014, SFCI Co-Chairs Scott Seydel and Doug Kunnemann of NatureWorks proclaimed: 
The primary SFCI focus is post-consumer food waste collection.
Two challenges are prominent in post-consumer food waste programs: 1> food & beverage (F&B) packaging and 2> consumer responsibility for food waste disposition.

The Ei task force SMAT – Sustainable Materials ACTION Team - provides SFCI support for food & beverage packaging. At the present juncture, SMAT recommends all single-use F&B packaging is BPI Certified compostable to avoid contamination in the food waste stream.

Challenges abound at food courts for implementing effective material management systems:
Scott with the RayDay
three-bin waste|recycling system
  • Common property waste and recycling contracts for the entire property.
  • Landlord | tenant relationships with contractual legal restrictions and obligations.
  • Franchisee | franchisor relationships with contractual legal restrictions and obligations.
  • Consumer disposition and separation of food waste, recycling and trash.
  • Third party products brought into the food court not purchased from the Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) or retail outlets.
  • Food may be prepared in a commissary or off-site kitchen and transported to the QSR with minimal on-site preparation.
  • Multiple packaging items used in the front and back-of-house by QSR’s and the landlord or property manager.
  • Contracted custodial services by the landlord or property manager.
  • In addition, each food court category has its own unique challenges.
For a quick recap of the post-consumer food waste program status at each of the SFCI Pilots - SFCI Atlanta Airport Pilot, SFCI Concord Mills Pilot & SFCI Georgia Dome Pilot - visit the Ei Post-Consumer Food Waste Focus website page. The ZWA Blog article, SFCI targets post-consumer food waste, announces the focus along with substantiating the existing food waste foundation.

In addition to many of the overall food court challenges listed above, annual events experience the following unique challenges:
  • Annual event – by their very nature, it is difficult to shift event practices on a one-time per year basis.
  • Fundraising-oriented – many annual events are fundraisers for a non-profit and | or cause with a primary focus on raising money versus sustainable practices.
  • Volunteers – many annual events are produced by a committee of volunteers who change each year.
A zero food waste plan breaks down into three main categories, each equally important for an effective plan:

F&B Serviceware:
  • Compostable packaging – single-use F&B serviceware must be BPI Certified compostable; an exception is pre-packaged beverages in recyclable containers, such as bottled water. 
  • Education – event foodservice providers must be educated on the WHY, WHAT & HOW to serve F&B in compostable packaging; includes support with purchasing unique serving items.
  • On-site Monitoring – volunteers | event staff visit foodservice operators upon arrival at event to observe any F&B serving or other items provided by the establishment that may contaminate the food waste stream.
Eco-Products signage
for event food waste bin
Food Waste Collection:
  • Waste | recycling bins – in the beginning, a three-tier bin is used:  1> Food Waste, 2> Recycling, 3> Landfill; at future events the system evolves into a two-tier system: 1> Food Waste, 2> Recycling.
  • Clear signage – the bins must be supported by clear signage designating proper disposal; visuals are most helpful.
  • Monitor attendee disposal – volunteers | event staff assist attendees with disposal of items into proper bins to prevent contamination.
Food Waste Destination:
  • Donation – ensure a plan is in-place for donation of leftover food in accordance with the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.
  • Compost – deliver remaining food waste, back & front-of-the-house, to a composting site operating within state food waste permit regulations.
  • Animal feed – when compostable packaging is mixed with food waste it is not fit for animal consumption; food waste generated under the same roof as meat is often not permitted for animal feed pursuant to respective State Department of Agriculture regulations due to past disease outbreaks.
Working under the guidance of Doug and Ei Founder Holly Elmore, SMAT members moved into action mode to craft a working pre, during and post-event plan. It was empowering to witness the teamwork in-place necessary for success.

F&B Compostable Pkg
Education Session
Ei Partner Eco-Products stepped forward as a key in-kind event sponsor for BPI Certified compostable plates, flatware and beverage cups. In addition, Ken Fraser with Eco-Products played a vital role in education support and created clear signage for event food waste bins. Compostable bags were provided by Ei Partner NaturBag thanks to Rick Lombardo's team spirit.

On August 20, the SMAT hosted a two-hour Compostable F&B Packaging Education Session for the AITC Sustainability Task Force; the session was a modification of the April Georgia World Congress Center-requested education seminar for Levy Restaurants. The ZWA Blog article, Compostable F&B Packaging: integral to zero waste programs and soil rebuilding, gives an in-depth overview of the session.

Myron @ AITC
Establishing an excess food donation program was an action point from the education session. Second Helpings stepped to the plate as the excess food donation team member. Myron Smith with Second Helpings agreed to educate AITC attendees on the importance of food donation and collect the excess food for delivery to local shelters.

In the meantime, Sue Anne confirmed Serenbe was open to adding post-consumer food waste & compostable packaging to their farm waste compost pile. Holly & Boyd Leake with Community Environmental Management secured a Letter of Interpretation from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division stating the AITC food waste falls into Category I of the permit regulations; thus, a formal composting permit is not required within the regulations.

With on-site composting, the carbon footprint associated with food waste composting was reduced from over 100 miles to the nearest state-permitted facility down to zero! The intent is to set-up on-site food waste composting for Serenbe's many weddings and other smaller events hosted throughout the year. In addition, the Serenbe community has several restaurants, including one within the Inn @ Serenbe.

Serenbe site visit
Ei contracted with Ei Supporter Let Us Compost to orchestrate the on-site food waste compost operations at AITC along with post-event follow-up. A Serenbe site inspection was essential to understand the site circumstances and develop a rapport with the farm personnel.

The ZWA Blog article, Atlanta Food Waste Heroes: the journey continues ..., details the extensive planning implemented in the months leading up to the AITC event day. 

As the Event Producer for RayDay hosted at Serenbe, Sue Anne secured the zero food waste commitment from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. With the team in-place, Ei quickly pulled together an effective plan for the third annual RayDay. It was a perfect opportunity to test the AITC zero food waste plan.

On October 11 over 1400 guests celebrated Ray's legacy, learned at the plethora of educational booths and enjoyed excellent cuisine served by The Food Movement (TFM) food trucks. Key note: TFM was the sole foodservice operator via their fleet of food trucks. Prior to the event, Sue Anne & Holly met with TFM owner and secured complete support for the RayDay zero food waste. EcoProducts provided the compostable food serviceware; beverages were served in a reusable keepsake cup.

Holly next to sign
photo courtesy of Scott 
Ken arrived early to RayDay and met with each food truck manager to go over the use of compostable packaging at the event. In addition, Ken placed laminated signs for the packaging on each truck to educate the event guests.

With 1200 pounds of food waste composted on-site , RayDay was zero food waste! TFM brought their prep waste to the event, closing the food waste loop. Thanks to the Waste Ambassadors (paid event staff) monitoring the three-bin waste | recycling centers placed throughout the event site, the food waste delivered to the compost site was CLEAN. The only contaminants were two latex gloves.

Added Bonus: Ei Chair Scott Seydel attended the event as a guest! The ZWA Blog article, Simple, easy, proven steps culminate in zero food waste success, recaps the RayDay zero food waste success.

The following are several lessons learned at RayDay:
  1. Only grind the compostable forks for the pile; it is time-consuming and not necessary to grind the plates.
  2. Coordinate with event staff to bring food waste throughout the event, versus the majority of bags arriving to the compost area as the event closes. 
  3. Weigh the food waste bags upon arrival at the compost area, versus estimating the weight based on prior experience.
Muddy seating area @ AITC
photo courtesy of Doug
While a perfect scenario came together for RayDay: great, dry weather, paid Waste Ambassadors and one caterer, AITC was riddled with extraordinary challenges on event day. A rainy event day, coupled with ten straight days of rain prior to the event, greeted organizers, participants and guests with tremendous mud during set-up and throughout the festivities. 

Of the 20 committed volunteers, only four showed up ready-to-work in the extreme conditions. And work they did! Cardboard waste | recycling bins disintegrated into the mud. The farm tractor promised at 11:00 a.m. was finally delivered at 4:00 p.m. as the event closed. Note the tractor was necessary for the compost pile construction. ... and there were 90+ chefs | restaurants participating at AITC!

The Ei Team - Doug, his lovely wife Rebecca, Kim, Ken, Holly, Boyd and Sarah Martell with Innovia Films - rolled up their sleeves to pinch hit within the challenges and created success amidst abundant lessons learned. 

Superhero Kristen finishing
the compost pile construction
Thanks to SuperHero Kristen Baskin, LUC owner, along with her associate Corey Helms, 1800 pounds of clean food waste was included in the on-farm compost pile. Throughout the day, Kristen kept the volunteers efficient weighing food waste bags as they arrived at the compost area, cleansing the food waste of contaminants and sorting flatware for grinding before added to the pile. Boyd was instrumental to building the compost pile, using his extensive composting experience.

At AITC there was approximately 90 pounds of contaminants delivered to the compost area within the food waste bags. Most related to non-compostable F&B serviceware brought to the event by the chefs and beverage companies.

Rainy, muddy conditions played a valuable role for showcasing lessons learned necessary to build a solid, effective zero food waste template for annual events. The majority of lessons learned relate to stronger communication ranging from waste | recycling signage to Waste Ambassador training to the event compostable F&B packaging policy.

Condiment container contaminants
Many of the restaurants were not aware of the compostable F&B packaging requirement; most were happy to switch once compostable packaging was delivered to their table. A handful of restaurants brought prepared condiments in plastic containers causing contamination in the food waste. Several beverage companies brought branded plastic cups while the liquor stations used plastic shot glasses.

Post-event there was a significant amount of food waste left on seating tables and restaurant stations sent to the landfill by the clean-up crew. At future events, the Waste Ambassadors can easily scour the event for the food waste sitting on tables before the clean-up crew breaks down the area.

Thanks to the two tents along with several lights in the compost area staging, the food waste cleansing was effective in the rainy, muddy conditions. LUC brought a total of three tarps to AITC, versus one to RayDay; three tarps were necessary for efficiency in the rain and delayed compost pile creation.

Although it was scheduled for an 11:00 a.m. arrival, the tractor necessary for building the compost pile did not arrive until the event ended at 4:00 p.m. After repeated requests, the Serenbe farm hand finally brought a wheel barrow to pinch hit with the pile building at 3:30 p.m. The LUC crew was resourceful, creative and cheerful throughout the challenging process.  ... and the compost pile was complete before dark (barely)!

Final compost pile with
tree branch garnish
Stellar teamwork coupled with strong pre-planning brought impressive success amidst the profound challenges at the 2015 AITC.

The Ei FB album, Afternoon in the Country, a zero food waste journey, is a pictorial recap of the pre-event planning along with the event day challenges and successes.

RayDay and AITC zero food waste journeys are the topic of an Ei panel at the 24th Annual U.S. Composting Council Conference hosted in Jacksonville, FL on January 25 - 28.

In addition, NatureWorks intends to document a formal zero food waste case study on the event successes, challenges and lessons learned. Ei plans to craft an Annual Event Zero Food Waste Template consisting of pre, during and post-event best practices.

... and so the journey continues!