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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Key steps to zero waste success

For those embarking on the zero waste journey the path to success is well worn and filled with exceptional support. National organizations like the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) mentor companies new to the journey with webinars, training sessions and conferences. The USZWBC Annual National Zero Waste Conference is a perfect venue to learn from industry veterans via the powerful program. 

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency is committed to Sustainable Materials Management (SMM). Through their Waste Wise and Food Recovery Challenge programs, the EPA offers webinars, tool kits and resources to those serious about waste reduction. The ZWA Blog article, Sustainability: an industry defining itself - a recap of the 2015 SPC Advance Conference - gives an overview of the EPA SMM Strategic Plan FY 2017 - FY 2022 under development.

At a local level most states have government agencies | departments and non-profit organizations dedicated to waste reduction support. In addition, county | city governments often offer tools based on the local infrastructure available. Google searches are an easy way to identify available resources.

With the Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ) 2009 launch at an acclaimed press conference, Elemental Impact learned steps to zero waste success. These steps flow into two main categories: Collaboration is key to success and Take baby steps, lots & lots of baby steps.

Collaboration is key to success:
The ZWZ launch was the culmination of federal, state & local government, trade associations, non-profits and the private sector working together in unison on a common mission. Each player was critical to the ultimate success.  

Collaborative ZWZ Team at
Buckhead Zone May 2009 Launch
From the government, the EPA, Georgia Department of Natural Resources Sustainability Division and the City of Atlanta represented the federal, state and local supporting resources. The Green Foodservice Alliance | Georgia Restaurant Association,and later the National Restaurant Association, were the backbone trade associations who rallied their members. Atlanta Recycles | Georgia Recycling Coalition provided industry expertise to those entering the zero waste frontier.

In addition, ZWZ Participants worked together to document lessons learned and encouraged their colleagues to join the important movement. The Hyatt Regency Atlanta opened their back-of-the-house operations to fellow hotel operators for source-separating food collection for composting education. It was inspiring to witness the camaraderie among competitors with respect to perfecting zero waste practices. Resulting quotes: This is EASY, a no-brainer, why would you not separate food waste for compost collection?

Recommendation: Connect with seasoned zero waste veterans to seek their advice on getting started, supplier recommendations and lessons learned. In general, these pioneers are happy to share with you and serve as mentors. In addition, connect with government, trade association and non-profit available resources dedicated to waste reduction and food recovery efforts.

Take baby steps, lots & lots of baby steps:
Embarking on a zero waste journey may appear daunting, filled with tremendous operational and behavior change. By breaking the journey into baby steps, the overwhelming energy dissipates in accomplishment. Here is a proven baby step pattern:
  1. Secure top management buy-in - best to also secure Board of Directors support who are responsible to the organization's shareholders.
  2. Identify a "Green Team" from across departments led by a passionate individual in a decision making capacity; for non-management team members, ensure zero waste support is written into job review criteria so they are recognized, versus penalized, for their participation.
  3. Perform a waste audit | material characterization study to set the current baseline; in addition to material type, identify the department source; important for crafting a game plan as well as establishing success metrics.
  4. Quantify value of material in waste stream along with the current disposal cost.
  5. Understand the local recycling markets and haulers available for the material.
  6. Identify "easy win" areas, whether a material type, specific loading dock area (if multiple areas) or another category; prioritize the "easy wins" & give responsibility to team members for action plan development.
    Effective signage at
    Earth Friendly Products
  7. Determine incentives for employee engagement including their suggestions and input.
  8. Develop an implementation plan filled with "baby steps" over specified periods of time; include success metrics along with rewards.
  9. Document the business reasons for implementation; include tangible (cost-savings | revenue generation) and intangible (employee morale | marketing opportunities).
  10. Incorporate an internal zero waste plan communication strategy including fun, effective signage throughout the facility.
  11. Present the well-documented plan to top management for approval.
  12. Begin implementation process, documenting progress along with rewarding success and reminders for compliance.
  13. Review progress on monthly or other specific basis and adjust plan accordingly.
  14. Communicate success & goals internally and externally (if benefits company).

In addition to the above steps, the following practices are often cornerstones in successful programs:
  • Top management participates in a waste audit and sees firsthand valuable resources the company pays to landfill; often results in new practices eliminating purchases (switch from disposable to reusable coffee cups) and reducing use (install paper product dispensers); an effective tool to keep top management focused on zero waste success.
  • Formal employee engagement program seeking suggestions for improved zero waste practices; often production line employees experience wasteful practices not seen by management.
  • Zero waste evolves into the corporate culture; zero waste culture is incorporated within the new hire interview and training process; signage is placed throughout the facility to emphasize the importance in daily activities.
  • Fun, lighthearted communication for a serious message.
  • Continuing employee education re: at work and personal zero waste practices along with opportunity for employee feedback.
The original zero waste frontier is conquered with multitudes of impressive successful programs. For those embarking on the journey, there is a well-worn path to follow where often the most biggest challenge is CHANGE!

While they are happy to share and mentor on basic material management practices, the pioneers are forging evolving zero waste frontiers. With no distinct destination, true zero waste continues to redefine itself. ... and so the journey continues with pioneers seguing into industry heroes.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sustainability: an industry defining itself

The sustainable packaging industry leaders converged on Charlotte in early October for the SPC Advance Conference, a GreenBlue (GB) | Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) members only plus guests event. Sustainability professionals traveled from across the nation and around the globe for the profound program of stellar speakers, engaging panel discussions, hands-on workshops and tours of successful Charlotte programs | facilities.

After welcoming remarks by GB Executive Director Nina Goodrich, opening conference keynote speaker Domtar President & CEO John Williams set the event tone with his Embracing Sustainability As A Business Framework To Enhance Long-Term Shareholder Value presentation. Throughout his empowering talk, John emphasized the imperative role integrity plays in crafting a sustainable corporate sustainability platform.

SPC Advance attracted a full-house
from across nation & around the globe
For success, top management, Board of Director members and shareholders must commit to a long-term program that may include short-run sacrifices. It is important to quantify success and demand the supply chain complements the sustainability platform. John recommends using a corporate scorecard to clearly communicate expectations and audit results to ensure authenticity.

John emphasized the importance of truth when telling the corporate sustainability story. It is imperative the commitment infiltrates every aspect of operations and the employees are engaged at a core level. With social media's far reaching impact, false or undocumented claims may prove devastating.

One of John's points - sustainability is an industry - was substantiated in the Two Case Studies Of Materiality And Sustainable Packaging panel discussion moderated by Nina. In his presentation, Sealed Air Executive Director, Sustainability Dan Daggett introduced the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board and the International Integrated Reporting Council as examples of an industry defining itself.

Jay introducing Kathleen
WestRock Director, Global Sustainability Christopher Davidson mentioned sustainability programs must focus on what is important to the company stockholders. With business strategy the starting point, Christopher recommended a three-step approach to program development: Identification, Prioritization, Validation. In alignment with John's theme, Christopher made a simple, profound closing statement: must be what you do and who you are. Integrity reigns paramount to long-term success!

After the morning networking break, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 4 Materials Management Chief Jay Bassett introduced Assistant Director of the EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery Kathleen Salyer for her The EPA’s Strategic Outlook On Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) presentation. It was a treat to learn about the EPA SMM Strategic Plan FY 2017 - FY 2022 under development.

An evolution from a series of reports stemming from the 2002 EPA’s report, Beyond RCRA: Waste and Materials Management in 2020, which made the argument for focusing efforts on materials management, the FY 2017 - FY 2022 plan has three SMM Strategic Priorities:

  • Built Environment 
  • Sustainable Food Management 
  • Sustainable Packaging 
Kathleen at podium
According to Kathleen's presentation 44% of the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from products and packaging in a systems-based analysis. A staggering $11,402,020,357 of valuable packaging is wasted in the U.S. Per the Weight of Nations: Material Outflows from Industrial Economies, WRI
One half to three quarters of annual resource inputs to industrial economies is returned to the environment as wastes within just one year.
Within the sustainable packaging priority, the EPA identifies three critical action areas:
  1. Convene and foster partnerships around infrastructure development.  
  2. Work with Federal Agencies as Strategic Partners.
  3. Research, Data and Policies for Packaging.
Currently, in the U.S. over 30% of edible food goes to waste resulting in significant social, economic and environmental costs. It is estimated that Americans waste 141 trillion calories of food annually at a cost of over $161 billion dollars. Food production accounts for 50% of land use, 80% of freshwater consumption, and 10% of total energy use in the United States. Food, when disposed, is a large contributor to the 18% of total methane emissions that come from landfills each year.

Under the sustainable food management priority, the EPA identifies four critical action areas:
  1. Convene and support partnerships around infrastructure development for alternatives to landfill disposal of wasted food. 
  2. Promote opportunities across food life cycle to reduce wasted food from landfills, with preference for approaches higher on EPA food recovery hierarchy. 
  3. Food Recovery Summit & Future Conferences
  4. Improve and standardize measurement of wasted food. 

Jeff Wooster (Dow Chemical) w/
Cheryl & Kathleen (EPA)
In 2011 the EPA introduced the Food Recovery Challenge (FRC) as a response to the incredible volume of food waste and wasted food destined for landfills. The ZWA Blog article, Elemental Impact Joins EPA FRC, gives a program overview. Thanks to strong EPA support, the Southeast Recycling Development Council is hosting the November 16 -18 Food Recovery Summit in Charleston, SC. The strategic plan has a strong food recovery foundation to build upon within the sustainable food management priority

With sustainable compostable packaging inherent with Sustainable Food Management, the SPC Advance was a perfect venue for the EPA to preview their SMM Strategic Plan FY 2017 - FY 2022.

Walmart Senior Sustainability Manager Ashley Hall closed the morning sessions with her Sustainable Packaging 2.0 at Walmart presentation. With an emphasis on selling products in recyclable packaging, Walmart participates in the SPC How2Recycle program. Ashley questions why a company does not use recycling labels on their consumer packaging. In addition, packaging made with recycled content is a Walmart priority.

After an excellent lunch served by the Omni Charlotte Hotel, Mecklenburg County Director, Solid Waste Management Jeff Smithburger opened the afternoon sessions with his The Local Perspective on Packaging Recovery presentation. On the second day, Laurette Hall, Mecklenburg County environmental manager, waste reduction, augmented Jeff's broad perspective with details on Charlotte | Meckenburg County's SSM programs in-place.

The remaining afternoon sessions dove into controversial industry issues surrounding extended producer responsibility for packaging, government legislation on foodservice packaging, and finished with the Point-Counterpoint: Bag Bans session. 

Brad during panel introductions
Pepsico Director Advanced Research Brad Rodgers moderated the impactful panel discussion. Leading the discussion, Five Gyres Research Director Marcus Eriksen made a powerful visual statement when he exhibited a large plastic mass found with the remains of a decomposed camel. Beyond the "shock effect," Marcus' presentation was grounded in scientific research, his personal experiences exploring the ocean's plastic gyres and infiltrated with the dangers of microplastic pollution in our oceans, waterways, soils and air.

The ZWA Blog article, Plastic GYRE Symposium: Artists, Scientists and Activists Respond, gives an overview of the powerful Atlanta-hosted event where Marcus was one of the prominent presenters. In addition, the article educates on the ocean's plastic gyres along with their tremendous environmental impact.

For the counterpoint, Elemental Impact (Ei) Partner Phil Rozenski, Novolex director of marketing and sustainability, presented on the valuable role plastic bags play along with the "cost" of their alternatives. Phil emphasized plastic bags are NOT single-use products; 9 out of 10 Americans reuse their plastic bags. In addition, Phil shared the following plastic bag facts:
  • less than 1% of litter by count, only .12% of litter volume.
  • only 2.1% of U.S. beach litter (by count, much less by volume).
  • .3% of municipal solid waste.
Bag Bans Panel
(names in FB album)
Novolex recycles 35 million pounds of plastic bags, film and wraps and consumes over 120 MM pounds of recycled content.

Thanks to Brad's artful moderation, the controversial topic was discussed with finesse and grounded in facts. Though a conclusion was not the point, the panel enlightened the audience on the many perspectives inherent within the plastic bag controversy.

For the evening, the SPC Advance hosted Dinner & Dialogues, small group dinners to discuss topics of interest for the packaging industry.  ... and then there was the popular Second Annual SPC Advance Pub Crawl!

The conference second day began with two breakout panels followed by plenary sessions. Advancing The Circular Economy: Technologies and Innovations panelists dove into the role SSM and packaging plays in creating a circular economy; advancing technologies open gateways in sustainable packaging evolution.

The EPA Grant Team
(names in FB album)
In a separate panel, Scaling Up Composting in North America: Presentation and Working Session, the EPA Grant to the SPC for Scaling Up Composting in Charlotte, NC was featured; a substantial discussion of food waste recovery options, challenges and successes followed.

The ZWA Blog article, Scaling up Composting in Charlotte, NC, details the grant goal, objectives and tasks along with listing partners | sub-grantees. "Scaling Up" was used in the grant name as Charlotte has a solid food waste composting program compliments of Earth Farms, a state-permitted facility. The grant served as a catalyst to increase food waste collection for compost throughout the metro Charlotte area. 

EPA Region 4 Environmental Scientist Kim Charick opened the panel with an overview of the EPA's food recovery commitment along with introducing the grant team. Throughout the panel presentations, the Earth Farms food waste composting facility was heralded as a strong reason Charlotte was chosen for the grant.

Laurette during her presentation
Next, Laurette shared details on Charlotte | Mecklenburg County's stellar waste reduction commitment, including food waste recovery. Beyond their financial, staff and other resources grant contributions, Laurette and her team were the door openers for a multitude of grant intro meetings. The Carolina Panthers and Mecklenburg County Jail joined the EPA Grant Program due to Laurette's introductions.

GB Associate Ryan Cooper and University of North Carolina Charlotte Research Intern Tyler Gilkerson presented on the grant logistics, metrics collections and lessons learned from the participant surveys. It was important to understand the "down and dirty" work accomplished by these two gentlemen.

Panel moderator Ei Founder Holly Elmore called Earth Farms Owner Jim Lanier and EPA Grant Participant Food Lion Sustainability Manager John Laughead for impromptu talks on their grant experience.

The ZWA Blog article, Charlotte opportunities segue into ACTION, chronicles the final EPA Grant Team Charlotte visit and summarizes many of the grant successes.

The pursuing formal food recovery strategy session flowed well into the morning break; informal conversations continued into the late morning program. City of Seattle Business Area Strategic Advisor for Waste Prevention and Product Stewardship Sego Jackson asked pertinent questions and added his valuable experience to the discussion. EPA Director, Resource Conservation and Sustainability Division Cheryl Coleman attended the panel and contributed important federal EPA perspective to dialogue.

Sarah @ plenary podum
Conference closing plenary sessions began with Meet Your 2015 Executive Committee Nominees. Ei Partner Sarah Martinez, Eco-Products sustainability maven, was one of six nominees who presented on their qualifications to serve on the SPC Executive Committee. The final two formal program sessions were Setting the Agenda for Sustainable Packaging: A Special Panel of Leadership Companies followed by Advancing the Agenda for Sustainable Packaging: SPC Member Working Session

In the afternoon SPC Advance hosted a tour of Earth Farms, a 45 minute bus ride from downtown Charlotte. Thanks to Eco-Products' donation, the on-bus lunch was served in compostable packaging and left in windrows to begin their decomposition journey.

Jim educated on Earth Farms' history, evolution and future plans along with answering a plethora of pertinent questions during the impressive tour. The Ei FB album, Charlotte Ei Ptr Tours - Day 2, is an excellent pictorial recount of an Earth Farms tour several years ago.

The EPA's strong SSM, sustainable packaging and food recovery commitment was evident at the SPC Advance with two federal and two Region 4 associates active conference participants. With a strong EPA SSM commitment, state & local governments receive support via many avenues to pursue their specific waste reduction goals.

John Mulcahy of Georgia Pacific
with Scotto Seydel
Beyond Holly & Sarah at the podium, Ei was well-represented at the SPC Advance. The Seydel Companies (TSC) President Scotto Seydel traveled from Atlanta to represent GB Chairman Emeritus and Ei Chair Scott Seydel along with TSC interests. Steve Davies & Brian Glasbrenner from Ei Partner NatureWorks and Chris Mitchell with Ei Partner Innovia Films were active conference participants. Ei Advisory Council Member Lynn Dyer with the Foodservice Packaging Institute was a speaker on the Foodservice Packaging Bans and Legislation: Perspectives on the Changing Legislative Landscape panel. ... and GB | SPC is an Ei Strategic Ally!

A highlight of the conference was embracing GB's SPC Senior Manager Anne Bedarf's baby girl Summer. Prior to her June maternity leave, Anne was the EPA Grant Team manager. It was lovely to reconnect with Anne, meet her family and catch-up on the past months while she was nurturing Summer's arrival.

The Ei FB album, 10-15 GreenBlue's SPC Advance Conference, is an event pictorial recap through Holly's lens.

Keeping with the underlying integrity theme,the SPC Advance walked an impressive talk with sustainability best practices. A source-separated five-bin recycling system was used at the conference: 1> food waste for compost, 2> recycle | paper, 3> recycle | paper 4> recycle | cans only and 5> trash | landfill. The Omni contracts with Earth Farms for food waste collection so there was no extra carbon footprint for the compost destination.

Five-bin recycling | waste station
The Whova conference app was introduced to attendees weeks prior to the event. By using the app, SPC Advance reduced paper in two main areas: 1> minimal extra small conference agendas were provided since the app included a detailed agenda, and 2> reduced business card usage since the app scanned business cards, eliminating the need for a physical exchange. The app had 2,295 views during the conference.

Working in partnership with the Omni, compostable packaging was used for the opening reception and reusuable food & beverage serviceware was used wherever practical.

As documented in the ZWA Blog Beyond Easy Wins .. article, the Spring 2014 SPC Conference in Seattle explored future directions in zero waste initiatives, available recycling options along with the integral role packaging plays in successful recovery systems. 

Once again the GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition takes a leadership role in establishing future industry directions. The SPC Advance program was designed to provoke discussion, clear confusion and establish truth | integrity within an industry defining itself.

Monday, October 12, 2015

SC ripe for food recovery

On October 6 the South Carolina (SC) Department of Commerce (SCDC) hosted the Upstate Food Recovery Event in Greenville. Prominent industry leaders shared their impressive food recovery practices in-place, along with goals for further reducing, donating and composting food waste.

After welcome and introductions, SCDC Recycling Development Coordinator Anna Lange educated on the state resources available for food recovery programs. A speed networking session followed to set the stage for lively dialogue within the powerful morning and afternoon presentations.

Kim at podium
Publix Recycling & Solid Waste Manager Kim Brunson led the Solutions for Commercial Food Recovery Panel with an empowering session. An industry leader, Publix has food waste collection for compost or animal feed programs in 607 of their 1100 stores. With 180,000 associates and 11 food waste vendors, consistent corporate training is key to Publix's success. The program uses 95 gallon bins with no pest attraction.

In partnership with Feeding America, Publix donates food no longer meeting their high quality standards. Supporting local communities is a core Publix value; an event attendee announced Publix Super Markets Charities donated $100,000 to aid in the recent SC flood devastation.

Responding to a question, Kim shared the intricacies of the Publix plastic bag | film and expanded polystyrene (foam: egg cartons, food containers etc.) programs. With dedicated staff to ensure a clean recycling stream and significant space to accumulate material in salable quantities required, the programs are an investment for Publix. Note foam and plastic bags | film are not accepted in most single-stream recycling programs offered by municipalities. 

A BIG kudos to Publix for caring, investing and providing consumer recycling options - it is a valuable gift to local communities.

According to Loaves and Fishes (L&F) Executive Director Paulette Dunn there are 800,000 food insecure residents in SC. As a food rescue non-profit, L&F works with food waste generators, such as Publix, to collect edible food and deliver it to shelters, church pantries & other organizations feeding the insecure population. L&F serves as a transportation liaison with no warehouse or storage facility.

Following Paulette, Divergent Energy Director of Business Development Scott Harke presented on their onsite food waste solutions with examples of installed systems.

Solutions for Food Recovery Panel
Martin Royaards with Michelin completed the panel with his presentation on their impressive zero waste commitment. In 2013 Michelin replaced expanded polystyrene with compostable foodservice products in the corporate dining facility and set the stage for post-consumer food waste collection; the pilot inaugurated with Atlas Organics in 2014 produces 2.5 tons of food waste per month collected for compost.

Michelin's success is grounded in a solid employee education program including excellent signage for proper disposal. Perceiving zero waste as an evolutionary process is an important ingredient to Michelin achieving their goals.

As the attendees finished the delicious lunch served with BPI Certified Compostable plates and flatware, Elemental Impact Founder & CEO Holly Elmore gave the keynote presentation. Beginning with a brief Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ) history, Holly emphasized current post-consumer food waste work within the Sustainable Food Court Initiative (SFCI) Pilots. 

With education critical to success, the Ei SMAT - Sustainable Materials ACTION Team, produced a two-hour Compostable Food & Beverage Packaging Session for Levy Restaurants requested by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority; the Georgia Dome serves as the SFCI - Event Venue Pilot. The ZWA Blog article, Compostable F&B Packaging: integral to zero waste programs and soil rebuilding, summarizes the excellent April 8 session.

The SFCI - Annual Event Afternoon in the Country (AITC) zero food waste journey was a presentation focus. With meticulous planning, the 15th Annual AITC on November 8 is staged for zero food waste complete with on-site food waste composting and a donation program complements of Second Helpings. The ZWA Blog article, Afternoon in the Country embarks on zero food waste journey, announces the SFCI Pilot; the Atlanta Food Waste Heroes: the journey continues …, article ties the SFCI – AITC into Atlanta’s strong food waste history and updates the action plan in-progress.

Holly's presentation ended with the vital role food waste collection for compost plays in rebuilding our soils. Healthy soils produce nutritious, delicious food, retain | filter water and prevent excessive erosion. Holly's PPT presentation is available for download on the Ei Speaking Engagements page.

In the afternoon panel, Mike McGirr with Feed & Seed gave an empowering presentation on the maverick market intended to evolve SC (& beyond) agriculture and food system structure. Here is formal Feed & Seed copy:
Mike at podium
Feed & Seed is a model private-public partnership devoted to training in commerce of regionally produced farm products. It will serve as an “incubator” for food-system businesses and consortium efforts. This vision of a culinary marketplace for sustainably produced, regional agricultural productivity and its secondary processing, capitalizes on existing business and public structures, while paving the way for future innovation and entrepreneurship.
Atlas Organics completed the panel with two presentations: 1> Hauling Best Practices and 2> Compost Facility.

Most important was the closing discussion on next proactive steps facilitated by Chantal Fryer, SCDC senior manager recycling development. Throughout the powerful dialogue a common theme emerged: Collaboration among the private sector, local, state & federal government, non-profits, trade associations, and higher education institutions is essential to expand food recovery.

Ei has a longstanding history with SC government and the industry. In August 2011 the SC Hospitality Association (SCHA) brought a contingent of Board members, business association executives and City of Columbia staff and councilman to Atlanta for a ZWZ tour. The ZWA Blog article, ATL ZWZ Team Hosts SC Hospitality Tour, gives an overview of the tour, documenting the strong food recovery enthusiasm.

SC Nov 2011 tour group photo
With the SC operators on-board, the SCHA came to Atlanta in November 2011 for a second tour focused on the commercial food waste composting destination. The November contingent consisted of trade association | non-profit executives, city & state officials along with two Columbia hotel associates. From Atlanta, EPA Region IV and GA Department of Natural Resources Sustainability Division staff joined the Ei-hosted tour and meetings to share their experiences in the ZWZ program development. The ZWA Blog article, An Encore ZWZ Performance, documents the tour.

Fertile seeds planted in 2011 are germinating with the SC Department of Commerce commitment to recycling and food waste recovery. It is thrilling to witness enthusiasm evolve into ACTION!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Zero Waste: breaking down myths & establishing standards

Over the past decade zero waste evolved from a buzz word to an emerging industry standard for materials management. Inherent within the evolution are growing pains, misconceptions and an identity crisis.

When the Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ) launched at an acclaimed 2009 press conference, zero waste was a youthful buzz word without grounded definitions and standards. Crafting the ZWZ Criteria required creativity to develop challenging yet feasible program parameters. It was a zero waste frontier filled with pioneers figuring out how to shift wasteful industry protocol into practices respectful of resources and the bottom line.

In the early years zero waste became synonymous with recycling | food waste composting. 

... and then major waste haulers introduced single-stream recycling as the only offered recycling service in many communities. As documented in the Container Recycling Institute (CRI)'s December 2009 Understanding economic and environmental impacts of single-stream collection systems white papersingle-stream recycling increased diversion from landfill rates yet decreased recycling rates.

Ei Chair Scott Seydel at MRF
single-stream recycling material 
Thus, the dichotomy between diversion and recycling rates arose. Zero waste metrics were determined based on an initial destination other than landfill - diversion from landfill - without regard to the final destination. Per CRI Executive Director Susan Collins, approximately 25% of material collected for single-stream recycling is ultimately landfill-destined due to contamination levels. If a community or company utilizes single-stream recycling, diversion rates often overstate actual recycling rates degrading integrity within zero waste metrics.

Note single-stream recycling is delivered to a MRF - materials recovery facility - where it flows through a series of belts, blowers, optical sorters, human sorters and other mechanisms until the material is separated by type. The material is baled and sold in the commodities market. Contaminated material is hauled to a landfill; the MRF pays hauling charges and landfill tipping fees after it incurred the sorting expense.

Elemental Impact (Ei)'s definition of contamination: an expensive trip to the landfill!

... and then there is downcycling where a valuable material is made into in a product destined for the landfill. A common example is when clean PET bottles (water | soft drink bottles) are made into clothing or reusable grocery bags. IF the product is 100% PET, the item is recyclable yet quantities rarely justify the recycling process. Often other ingredients are added in the manufacturing process rendering the product "trash" at the end of of its useful life. 

Is extending a material by one life, instead of supporting a perpetual lifecycle, recycling? An important point to consider the next time a sports team or company announces they are "greener" because they now use uniforms made from "recycled" bottles.

Another side effect of PET clothing are the tiny plastic shards released in the washing cycle. The plastic shards flow into our waterways adding to the microplastic pollution poisoning marine life. Treehugger's post Your cloths are polluting the ocean every time you do laundry gives an overview of one of the biggest ocean pollution sources.

... and then there is incineration |  gasification | waste-to-energy. Florida law classifies "burning trash" for electricity as recycling. In the SunSentintel article County planning to burn its way past recycling standards, the controversial law is addressed via Palm Beach County's new incinerator announcement. In the article, Drew Martin of the Sierra Club is quoted:
"Recycling means you reuse something and it has new life. Burning something is the end of a life."
Are communities | companies overstating, or falsely stating, their diversion rates by including incinerated material in their zero waste stats? The topic is controversial and often the basis for heated discussions.

.... and then there is how can 90% be zero? A common misconception is the industry defines zero waste as a 90% diversion from landfill rate.

Founded in 2011, the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) plays an imperative industry role defining zero waste standards and protocol. At the annual National Zero Waste Business Conferences (NZWBC) business leaders gather to share their success stories, learn from their colleagues, and explore defining industry standards. At its foundation, the USZWBC educates on how zero waste practices make good business sense and the importance of integrating zero waste into corporate policy and culture. 

On March 4, 2013 the USZWBC announced the Zero Waste Business Facility Certification Program (ZWBFC) with the issuance of the first third-party issued Zero Waste certifications to three Whole Foods Market stores in San Diego County. 

The ZWA Blog article,Third-Party Certifications Edge Industry Towards a Zero Waste Economy, validates the important role third-party certification plays in defining industry standards. In addition to introducing the ZWBFC along with its specifications, the article features Green Seal and BPI Compostable Packaging Certifications as examples of established programs. Below is the article opening paragraph:
Third-party certifications play a valuable role for evaluating products and services. Independent review / testing ensures the product manufacturer proclamations are valid and follow industry standards. In addition third-party certification is instrumental in setting standards and protocol within evolving industries. 
Within the ZWBFC certification criteria, each of the previously mentioned industry misconceptions | challenges are addressed:

Diversion vs. recycling rates - companies are required to understand the final destination of their material; recycling rates are in accordance with final destinations.

Downcycling - extending a product by one useful life is not considered recycling.

Incineration |  gasification | waste-to-energy - burning material is the equivalent of landfill.

USZWBC Executive Director
Stephanie Barger with Board Member
Gary Liss
90% recycling rate - zero waste is defined as a 100% reduction | reuse |recycling rate; however, the 90% rate serves as the baseline to begin the zero waste certification journey; a challenging yet feasible benchmark for companies to achieve.

Zero waste is a journey with an ever-expanding path to explore and define. With the ZWBFC clearing confusion on initial misconceptions | challenges, industry pioneers are exploring new frontiers. The value chain impact is an emerging frontier with many questions:
  • How does the supply chain's material management practices impact a company's zero waste policy and rate? Can a company claim zero waste if their raw material suppliers generate landfill waste? 
  • How does the company's product end-of-life impact its zero waste policy and rate? Can a company claim zero waste if their product is packaged in "trash" and | or the product is landfill-destined once used?
Value chain impact is addressed in the top-tier ZWBFC levels.

In the ZWA Blog article, Business NOT as usual: fine-tuning the zero waste journey, the 2015 NZWBC overview substantiates the industry evolution-in-process and the powerful role pioneers play in fine-tuning the journey. 

Breaking down myths and establishing standards is a continual process within the evolutionary spiral of creation. Organizations like the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council are essential to establishing and maintaining integrity within emerging industry practices.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Ei Airborne Kitchen Grease Initiative Announced

After diligent work for nearly three years, Elemental Impact formalized the Ei Airborne Kitchen Grease Initiative (AKG), a proactive approach to a costly cooking by-product, with a four-stage action plan. A formal Ei AKG Initiative launch via a press conference is slated once funding is secured.

To date, focus was on the foodservice operator, the AKG generator, with a solid platform built on cost-savings and environmental rewards. For the Ei AKG Initiative, the focus is educating communities on the municipal cost-savings associated with 1> preventing AKG from flowing into sewer systems post-cleaning and 2> increased fire safety resulting in fewer fire department responses for grease fires.

AKG Overview:

KES image from
Best Sheet Metal, Inc.
Airborne grease and smoke generated as a by-product of kitchen operations are a fire hazard, an environmental concern and costly to clean. Local and national regulations require commercial foodservice operations to install a kitchen exhaust system (KES) that evacuates heat, grease, moisture and smoke from the cooking area. Consisting of a hood, baffle filters, ducts and exhaust fan, the KES is monitored and maintained in accordance with the codes to prevent excessive buildup of grease effluent within the system. 

Grease effluent can accumulate inside the KES rapidly and provide a fuel source in the event of a kitchen fire. Local codes require the frequency of inspections depending on the cooking equipment used and the volume of cooking. Monthly or quarterly required KES inspections are most common and generally result in a system cleaning. 
The current standard practice of KES grease maintenance is reactive in nature: grease builds up within the KES followed by a system cleaning. 
On average a complete KES cleaning uses 350 gallons of water along with toxic cleaning agents necessary to remove grease from the system. In addition, the metal baffle filters are generally cleaned nightly, or at least several times weekly, requiring labor, water and toxic cleaning agents. On average baffle filter cleanings use 40 gallons of water plus toxic cleaning agents. 

AKG accumulated in
KES ducts
Local regulations require foodservice operators to install grease traps | grease interceptors designed to prevent kitchen grease from entering the sewer system. When the KES cleaning is complete, the greasy, toxic cleaning-agent-filled water is deposited into the kitchen sinks or other drains; the traps | interceptors flow capacity is exceeded by up to 12X. Thus, the AKG cleaned from the KES flows into the sewer system where it congeals. 

Beyond the costs incurred by the foodservice operator, the reactive AKG approach is costly to the community and building owners: 
  • FOG (fats, oil & grease) - build up in the sewer system and constrict flow, which can cause sewer back-ups into homes and overflow discharges onto streets. One of the main FOG sources is AKG deposited into the sewer system post-KES cleaning. Flushing KES cleaning water into the kitchen drains results in an estimated annual 1.5 billion gallons of toxic, cleaning-agent-laden water flowing into local sewer systems. 
  • Grease fires – according to the National Restaurant Association, there are over 7,500 restaurant fires each year, resulting in over $250 million in damages, and over 100 injuries. 
  • Roof damage – AKG deposits on the roof after it leaves the KES, causing costly roof damage. 
  • Air quality – AKG not deposited within the KES or on the roof flows into the local atmosphere and impacts two of the six EPA National Ambient Air Quality Standards: Ozone (O3) and Particulate Matter
A "fatberg" pulled from an Atlanta sewer drain.
A “fatberg” pulled from an Atlanta
sewer drain.
courtesy of  Atlanta Intown article
In her September Intown Atlanta article, Above the Waterline: The Tip of the "Fatberg," Sally Bethea describes how grease and disposable wipes are wreaking costly havoc in Atlanta and beyond sewer systems. Sally quotes a London water official, “If fat is like the mortar, wet wipes are the bricks in fatbergs,” 

Per Sally, the flow of untreated sewage and wastewater that backs up behind these gooey blobs has to go somewhere, so it spews from the pipes through manholes and cracks and spills into nearby creeks.

Ei Partner Ellis Fibre (EF) manufactures a patented, disposable grease filter made from a proprietary blend of sheep's wool. The filter is placed in front of the baffle filters. EF's Grease Lock Filters (GLF) collect over 98% of the kitchen grease particulates before entering the KES. By eliminating grease build-up in the system, the nightly baffle filter cleaning is generally reduced to weekly; the number of third party contracted KES cleanings is significantly reduced. 

AKG deposited on roof
photo courtesy of GLF
Until the patented GLF introduction, there was no cost-effective alternative to reactive kitchen grease management. There are several systems designed to prevent AKG from entering the KES. However, the grease collection devices are metal, require cleaning and allow greasy, toxic cleaning-agent-laden water into the sewer system.  

The Ei AKG Initiative is grounded in a proactive approach to addressing the grease build-up in KES, deposited on the roof and emitted into the atmosphere. By capturing the AKG BEFORE it enters the KES, a myriad of costly impacts are significantly reduced or eliminated. Developing a city-wide AKG template is the main thrust of the Ei Initiative. 

With Atlanta slated to serve as the Ei AKG Initiative Pilot City, the City of Atlanta Office of Sustainability gave the following Statement of Support:
The City of Atlanta, Mayor’s Office of Sustainability is pleased to support the Elemental Impact Airborne Kitchen Grease Initiative. Grease that is flushed into Atlanta’s sewer system creates significant harm to the City’s sewer pipes, wastewater system and treatment facilities, potentially leading to millions of dollars in equipment damage. In addition, airborne kitchen grease contributes significantly to the number of calls that the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department responds to each year.
Report Cover
As the Sustainable Food Court Initiative Airport Pilot, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) took a leadership role with approval of a campus-wide proactive AKG approach. A campus-wide ATL GLF installation is estimated to reduce water usage by 1.1 million gallons per year and on average save each concessionaire $7,300 per year. A successful metro-wide Ei AKG Initiative would result in an estimated 43.4 million gallons of water-savings for the Atlanta area.

Ei Partner HMSHost participated in the initial AKG Pilot to support the cost-savings report at one of their ATL restaurants. Subsequently, HMSHost executed a contract with GLF for anticipated national implementation. The independent engineers report Cost Savings in Commercial Kitchens By Using Grease Lock Filters, A Report on Restaurant Pilots is downloadable on the AKG Stage 1: Building the Foundation website page.

Prior to embarking on a city-wide AKG template, integrity within the proactive AKG approach was substantiated. Initial action steps fell into four categories: 
  1. Fire Safety 
  2. Cost-Savings 
  3. Metrics Platform 
  4. Filter End-of-Life 
The AKG Stage 1 page details the work performed to substantiate the above four categories.

Ei AKG Initiative Stages:

The Ei AKG Initiative Action Plan flows in the following four stages:

AKG is a cooking byproduct
The work within the Stage 1: Building the Foundation is substantially complete. Once funding is secure, Ei will move forward with the City of Atlanta on developing the City-Wide AKG Template, including a press conference to mark the official launch. A second city will serve as the template replication pilot to support the national expansion plan. 

Although the initial Ei AKG Initiative focus is cost-savings, the environmental impact is the essence. Cost-savings is a strong, immediate motivator for the community and business owners to take action. Via the AKG metrics platform the water, grease and toxic-cleaning agent-savings are available to quantify the long-term environmental impact. 

It is imperative to document the extensive AKG environmental impact with scientific research and educate communities, businesses and citizens on the far-reaching ramifications of current AKG reactive practices. A simple proactive approach is available that makes good business sense for the entire value chain, including the water and soil microbial communities.

Ei AKG Initiative Documentation:

In true Ei style, AKG-related work to date is well-documented in the following blog articles:

The following is a common phrase used to describe Ei initiatives:

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.

Stay tuned as the Ei AKG Pioneers segue into heroes and bring the possible out of the impossible!