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Sunday, December 18, 2016

NatureWorks publishes zero food waste case studies

With perfect timing for the November Annual Elemental Impact (Ei) Partner Meeting, Ei Partner NatureWorks published the RayDay Embraces Path to Waste Reduction and Proven Steps Culminate Into Waste Reduction Success case studies to showcase the 2015 Ei Zero Food Waste Journeys. The case studies are announced in the IMPACT Blog article, Ei 2016: Year of Recognition, within the powerful meeting recap.

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. In addition, AITC Event Producer ideaLand secured a zero food waste commitment for 2015 RayDay hosted at Serenbe.

Commercial back-of-the-house collection of food waste for compost best practices were established via the Zero Waste Zones, an Ei program launched in 2009 and sold in 2012 to the National Restaurant Association. In 2011 Ei launched the Sustainable Food Court Initiative (SFCI) to address front-of-the-house food waste practices where the consumer is responsible for material disposition. 

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport joined as the SFCI - Airport Pilot, followed by the Georgia Dome as the SFCI - Event Venue Pilot and Concord Mills, a Simon Mall in Charlotte, NC, as the SFCI - Shopping Mall Pilot.

The Ei SMAT - Sustainable Materials ACTION Team - was eager to work with RayDay and AITC management on establishing best food waste practices at an annual event. The following local government entities and companies supported SMAT with the AITC | RayDay food waste journeys:
  • City of Atlanta, Mayor's Office of Sustainability
  • ideaLand, AITC | RayDay Event Producer
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Division, Region 4
  • Inn at Serenbe | Serenbe Community, Event Host
An annual event zero food waste plan breaks down into three main categories, each equally important for effective execution:

Food & Beverage (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, soft drinks and beer.
  • Education – event F&B providers must be educated on the WHY, WHAT & HOW to serve in compostable packaging; includes support with purchasing unique serving items.
  • On-site Monitoring – volunteers | event staff visit foodservice operators upon arrival at the event to observe any F&B serviceware or other items brought by the establishment that may contaminate the food waste stream.
Food Waste Collection:
Ei Chair Scott Seydel with the
RayDay Waste Ambassadors
  • 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 unfit 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.
NatureWorks included a modified zero food waste plan as best practices in the case studies.

At both events Ei Partner Eco-Products stepped forward as a key in-kind event sponsor for BPI Certified compostable plates, flatware and beverage cups. In addition, 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.

AITC compost pile complete
as the day segued into night 
ideaLand confirmed Serenbe was open to adding post-consumer food waste & compostable packaging to their farm waste compost pile. Ei and Ei Supporter Community Environmental Management secured a Letter of Interpretation from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division stating the event 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!

Ei contracted with Let Us Compost (LUC) to orchestrate the on-site food waste compost operations at AITC | RayDay along with post-event follow-up.

RayDay Embraces Path to Waste Reduction
Ei Founder Holly Elmore
showing the food truck signage
photo courtesy Scott Seydel
On October 11, 2015 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.

A perfect scenario came together for RayDay: great, dry weather, paid Waste Ambassadors and one caterer. The event achieved zero food waste, including TFM's prep scraps from their kitchen.

In the case study RCAF Executive Director John Lanier confirms the foundation's commitment to "walk their sustainability talk" with the following quote:
"Waste is such a pervasive concept in our present day society, and efforts to reduce it should be advanced as often as possible. We at the Ray C. Anderson Foundation are particularly proud that we were able to achieve waste reduction success at our flagship annual event, RayDay."
The ZWA Blog article, Simple, easy, proven steps culminate in zero food waste success, chronicles the RayDay impressive accomplishment. 

Proven Steps Culminate Into Waste Reduction Success
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 was the event's 15th Anniversary, perfect timing to embark on formal zero food waste practices.

Kristen preparingfood waste
for compost in pouring rain.
While a perfect scenario came together for RayDay, AITC was riddled with extraordinary challenges on event day. A rainy event day, coupled with prior ten days straight of rain, greeted event organizers, participants and guests with tremendous mud during set-up and throughout the event. ... and there were 90+ chefs | restaurants participating at AITC!

Thanks to SuperHero Kristen Baskin, LUC owner, 1800 pounds of clean food waste were 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. 

The ZWA Blog article, Zero Food Waste Journeys: Successes, Challenges & Lessons Learned, chronicles how success prevailed through beyond challenging conditions. 

Thank you NatureWorks!
Extensive pre-planning and education were key ingredients for RayDay | AITC post-consumer food waste collection for on-site composting success. SFCI Co-Chair Doug Kunnemann with NatureWorks took the leadership role with SMAT work on the Ei Zero Food Waste Journeys. 

Doug presenting at the 2015
Annual Ei Partner Meeting
A few months prior to the events, 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.

Post-events, Doug led a 45-minute integrated presentation on the Ei Zero Food Waste Journeys at the 2015 Annual Ei Partner Meeting. At the January 2016 U.S. Composting Council Conference, Doug was the lead presenter on an Ei-hosted & NatureWorks-sponsored panel, Getting to Zero Waste: Composting at Special EventsThe ZWA Blog article, 2016 USCC Conference: Soils for a Greener World, showcases the Ei panel; PPT presentations are available for download on the Ei Speaking Engagements page.

In his below quote Doug emphasizes the importance of collective team effort to establish zero food waste practices at annual events:
Regardless of venue or festival size – a team effort will result in successful food and compostable food serviceware waste diversion. A collective effort led by Ei included the education of both venue service providers and attendee’s on the benefits of diverting food/compostable food serviceware waste streams from landfill to local - and  in both cases on-site composting. Final comment - you don’t need a large public or private commercial composting facility to deliver successful outcomes as both these case studies illustrate – all it takes is a focused team!
The RayDay Embraces Path to Waste Reduction and Proven Steps Culminate Into Waste Reduction Success case studies validate the important role the events played in crafting post-consumer food waste best practices for annual events. Integral to success is the use of BPI Certified compostable packaging for food and beverage service ware.

Eco-Products cold cups made
with Ingeo
NatureWorks is a world leading biopolymers supplier and innovator with its Ingeo portfolio of naturally advanced materials made from renewable, abundant feedstocks with performance and economics that compete with oil-based intermediates, plastics, and fibers, and provide brand owners new cradle-to-cradle options after the use of their products.

... and NatureWorks is a Founding Ei Partner, providing loyal support since the Green Foodservice Alliance (Ei's predessor) days! 

A big thank you to Andy Cain for her excellent composition of the case studies from the plethora of Ei Zero Food Waste Journeys documentation.

Case study pdf documents are available for download on the respective Ei pages, Afternoon in the Country and RayDay within the Zero Food Waste Journeys section.

Thank you NatureWorks for publishing industry case studies that showcase what CAN be done when a powerful team works in unison. May others follow the well-documented path for zero food waste at annual events begun with RayDay | AITC.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Recycling: The Business Case

An article series: A Recycling or Contamination Crisis? Article #2

In early November 2016, the ZWA Blog article, A Recycling or Contamination Crisis, an article series, published with acclaimed respect and empowering readership. Overall, the response to the article is a "Thank You" for clarifying the obvious, explaining the current recycling scenario, and invoking the Power of Consumer Demand to create solutions.

The article's opening paragraph sets the tone for the big hauler perspective and responsibility for the current scenario:
Over the past year numerous mainstream media articles presented a national recycling crisis. In John Tierney's October 2015 New York Times article The Reign of Recycling, Waste Management (WM) CEO David Steiner is quoted, "If you believe recycling is good for the planet and that we need to do more of it, then there’s a crisis to confront."
Susan V. Collins
photo courtesy of CRI
Published to support the December 8 U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) | Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) Recycling: The Business Case webinar, the article was featured in webinar promotion.

Elemental Impact Founder Holly Elmore moderated and co-presented the powerful Recycling: The Business Case webinar with Container Recycling Institute President Susan Collins. The webinar explained the current scenario, how we got here, and effective paths to recycling PROFIT centers.

Current Scenario:

In her presentation, Susan opened with recycling's benefits beyond landfill diversion. According to UPSTREAM (formerly the Product Policy Institute) research, 44% of U.S. Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions are generated from products and packaging. In addition to the GHG emissions, manufacturing virgin products is energy intensive, depletes the Earth's resources, and damages fragile local eco-systems. From Susan's presentation:
In total, about 2.3 million American homes could have all their energy needs met (heating & cooling, cooking, utilities, etc.) with the amount of energy required to replace the beverage containers wasted in 2010.
Contributing to wasted beverage containers is the high contamination levels within single-stream recycling, often the only option available for municipalities and businesses. According to 2015 CRI research, on average 75% of recyclables collected in single-stream are recycled into new products; on average 25% of single-stream recycling is landfill destined due to contamination.

The following images from Susan's presentation clearly show the difference between glass separately collected via bottle bills (or other systems) and single-stream recycling glass:

Bottle Bill Collected Glass vs. Single-Stream Collected Glass

Many sustainability reports include collection stats versus actual recycled material stats. Thus, single-stream recycling inflates reported recycling rates and creates a false sense of accomplishment. In addition, high contamination rates understate the actual collection cost per ton. 

A proven municipal successful recycling system is dual-stream recycling: fiber (paper, cardboard) is collected separate from containers (metal, plastic & glass).

Kansas City consumer glass collection
photo courtesy of Susan Collins
It is important to follow the material and understand the final destination. WHY: 1> receive services paid for via hauling contracts and 2> reputation risk of false recycling reporting. For protection, Susan recommends material quality and actual recycling reporting provisions are included in hauler contracts.

Susan concluded her impressive presentation with examples of successful municipal recycling systems in the U.S. and abroad. For the City of Los Angeles, the newly launched program requires better material reporting and recycling facilities must be certified. An overall program emphasis: higher quality materials create better jobs locally.

Recycling PROFIT Centers

In her presentation, Holly focused on recycling PROFIT centers supported by success stories. While Susan included municipal recycling examples, Holly's focus was the corporate | organization arena.

The Path to a Recycling Business Model slide set the stage for Holly's presentation:
  • Organization Culture | Top Management Buy-In.
  • Material Baseline Assessment | Local Available Infrastructure.
  • Clear Program Communication & Training.
  • Reward & Promote Successes.
  • Take Baby steps, lots & lots of baby steps.
Holly emphasized the list was not chronological and steps often intertwined.

Organization Culture | Top Management Buy-In

Corporate culture dictates acceptable and unacceptable behavior within daily operations. Ultimately, top management sets the overall corporate culture through policy, reward systems, and program support. Top management reports to the Board of Directors and shareholders and is the steward of the organization's bottom line. For top management's complete buy-in, a recycling program must improve the bottom-line or at the very least be cost-neutral.

In companies with an empowering culture, the organization's zero waste commitment is included in employee hiring and training processes. A Green Team is established with the team leader in a decision-making position, or at least with direct access to a decision-maker. Green Team participation is written into the employee's job description - VERY important at performance review time!

Piazza Produce Green Team
photo courtesy of Scott Lutocka
Successful Green Teams are comprised of members from across the organization's departments including operations, janitorial and administrative. The team meets on a regular basis and shares within their respective departments.

Employees experience inefficiencies within daily operations and are often the best avenue for waste reduction and recycling improvement ideas. It is important to encourage, recognize, and reward employees who contribute suggestions for program enhancement.

Supported by the organization's culture, employee perspectives shift from viewing operation by-products as "trash" to valuable material. In addition, clean material is perceived as a revenue generator while contaminated items are viewed as a business expense.

WE Consciousness is key to program success! Across the organization, employees must work in unison towards clearly defined, common goals. The Green Team establishes protocol and practices included in employee training and communicated via signage through out the facility.

... and WE Consciousness extends beyond the organization's boundaries. It is important to work as a team with suppliers, purveyors, waste | recycling haulers, and customers to minimize waste and maximize reuse and recycling. 

The WE Consciousness was introduced in the September 2012 ZWA Blog article, Zero Waste is a Team Sport. The May 2013 ZWA article, Zero Waste Success Requires WE Consciousness, chronicles the 2013 National Zero Waste Business Conference's impressive program.

Material Baseline Assessment | Program Parameters

Waste audit in-process
photo courtesy The Pitt News
One of the first action steps in crafting a recycling program is establishing the material baseline via a waste audit. Performed by the waste hauler or a third party contractor, an audit generally consists of spreading a waste compactor contents on a tarp to separate the recyclable material from the trash. 

It is important the Green Team attends the waste audit and documents it via video and still photos. If available, recruit top management to attend; they will see first-hand the cost of sending valuable material to the landfill. Remember: make the waste audit FUN to maximize effectiveness!

The waste audit will identify the recycling "easy wins:" 1> highest value material and 2> largest quantity of material type. 

Source-separated CLEAN material is the foundation of a recycling PROFIT center! For smaller generators, dual-stream recycling (containers separated from fiber) may work well as long material does NOT go to a single-stream recycling MRF.

A next step is to determine local end markets available for the material. In many cities, there are grass roots recycling companies who collect moderate amounts of source-separated material. Non-profits and government offices are an excellent resource for local recycling options. 

The following proven Program Parameters were presented:
Total Material Management Approach
- Entire material stream evaluated in one cost | revenue center.

- Materials with solid end markets (e.g. aluminum, mixed paper, certain plastics) subsidize more challenging streams generated in operations such as food waste and glass.
Metrics system 
-Important to track | report program financial, tonnage recycled and other successes.

- Key to on-site material source separation.
- Mini-balers are perfect for small to moderate generators. 

Clear Program Communication & Training

For success, clear concise communication supported by training is critical. Once the Green Team establishes the parties responsible for disposition, communication tools are crafted for the targeted audience. Internal signage may differ from signage designed for facility guests.

At most organizations multi-lingual signage supported with images, possibly with product samples, reaps strong benefits for intended disposition. In general, signage placed at eye level is most effective.

The following recycling bin best practices are well proven:
Ga Tech recycling center
photo courtesy Ga Tech
  • Always place trash & recycling bins together.
  • Use bins with holes that match the material collected.
  • Place signage at eye level.
  • Use material images to convey proper sorting.
  • Strategically place recycling centers in high traffic areas.
NOTE: melted ice from fountain soft drinks and other beverages is a BIG contaminant in recycling streams where plastics & paper are together. To prevent water contamination, collect beverage containers separate from fiber. Where practical, include a disposable option for ice.

In general, higher volume material generation resides in the operations back-of-the-house. Once the material flow is determined, allocate a convenient space to create recycling centers for collection and baling. Clearly label large containers for their respective item collection. In addition, determine a space to store bales until sufficient quantity is accumulated to warrant a hauler pick-up.

Back-of-the-house bin & signage
For administrative offices, develop a program that involves active participation. Georgia Institute of Technology devised a three-bin desk system where the tiny black bin was designated for trash. While janitorial staff collects the recycling bin contents, the employee takes their trash to the closest copy room for landfill disposal. With this system, the employee is aware of the quantity, frequency and type of trash generated.

It is important to monitor recycling programs. Contamination notices are issued for "mistakes" and clean material is recognized.

Whether third party contracted or in-house, the janitorial staff is a critical program component. In general, janitorial staff are responsible for recycling | trash bins content disposal. Using WE Consciousness, it is imperative to educate, nurture and reward the staff to ensure proper disposition. If third party contracted, ensure recycling program parameters are included in the janitorial agreement upon renewal.

Clever, creative signage infiltrated with humor is most effective!

Reward & Promote Successes

As stated previously, it is important Green Team participation is written into formal position responsibilities and incorporated into performance review procedures. Internal recognition of Green Team membership and responsibilities through employee newsletters, memorandums or other effective methods garners fellow associate respect for members.

Scott Lutocka with Piazza
Produce Awards
Regular recycling lunch 'n learn sessions substantiate management's program commitment. In addition, the sessions are excellent times for employees to share ideas for fine-tuning the existing practices. When ideas segue into waste reduction or increased material recycling, reward the associate with recognition along with financial incentives (if appropriate.)

In addition to internal program promotion, share recycling tonnage and financial stats via press releases or other publicity vehicles. Encourage Green Team members to participate in local, regional and national conferences to educate on challenges, lessons learned and successes.  Apply for certifications and other awards that recognize the organization as a community leader. Beyond a huge employee morale boost, success stories inspire others to embark on their own recycling journey.

Most importantly:
Take Baby Steps
lots & lots of baby steps!

Recycling Success Cases

To validate recycling PROFIT centers are a feasible destination, Holly featured several USZWBC member programs.
The "AMAZING Cindy Jackson"
photo courtesy of Ga Tech
Thanks to the "AMAZING Cindy Jackson," Ga Tech never succumbed to single-stream recycling, despite immense pressure from their waste hauler and university management. Out of tremendous respect, Holly refers to her good friend as AMAZING in introductions and everyone agrees.

In fiscal year 2016, Ga Tech earned $60,000 on recyclable sales including cardboard, metals, office paper, plastics, glass, pallets, aluminum, and other less common items. The $60,000 does not take into account the cost-savings achieved by reduced landfill hauling and tipping charges. Overall, in 2016 Ga Tech recycled 3.7 million pounds of material, including 743,000 pounds of food waste collected for compost.

As mentioned in the Clear Program Communication & Training section, in 2012 Ga Tech augmented their award-winning program with administrative office desk side recycling.

Earth Friendly Products (EFP)

EFP employee garden 
Impressive: EFP's five U.S. plants are ZWFC at the platinum level!!! Under the direction of EFP Vice-President of Sustainability & Education Nadereh Afsharmanesh, employees work within a zero waste culture supported by top management. The results are incredible!

Using a hands-on approach, Nadereh nurtures the culture via monthly employee lunches with educational topics that extend beyond recycling to health, nutrition and joyful living. In the back of the Garden Grove, CA plant, EFP created a lovely garden area for employees to enjoy at lunch and during breaks. The garden is complete with fresh herbs, beautiful flowers and a living wall.

Employees share their ideas for further waste reduction and there is evidence throughout the plant: 
  • Reused plastic jugs earmarked for toilet paper cardboard cores are on bathroom counter tops.
  • Small bins for staples and pens, pencils & markers staged for upcycling are in the office supply area.
  • Polystyrene packing peanuts are given to the local UPS Store for reuse.
TP core collection bin
EFP's zero waste commitment extends to their supply chain who must complete a sustainability checklist and explain any negative responses. Nadereh visits suppliers and educates them on how to set-up successful recycling systems.

Amidst soft commodity markets in 2015, EFP's recycling program earned a $21,600 profit. From 2011 - 2015, EFP earned a cumulative $318,000 profit on their recycling program, including $205,000 in revenue and $113,000 in reduced hauling costs.

Inside Supply Management's (ISM) October 2016 cover story, Full Circle: Supply management can play a key role in the circular economy, working with suppliers to eliminate waste and drive financial value, features EFP's impressive recycling program and supplier relationships. The ZWA Blog article, Zero waste moves from "best" to standard operating practices, includes an ISM article recap along with commentary.

Sierra Nevada Brewery (SNB)

In November 2013 SNB was awarded the FIRST Platinum ZWFC facility! The associated audit revealed SNB reused, re-purposed or recycled 99.8% of discards from operations. Key to SNB's success is material source-separation of cardboard, shrink wrap, glass, cans, bottles, paper, plastics, batteries, light tubes, computers, construction debris, and wood.

SNB clean plastic ready for baling
photo courtesy of SNB
SNB Sustainability Manager Cheri Chastain emphasizes "closing the loop" with the brewery, on-site pub and estate agriculture. In September 2010 SNB invested in a Hot Rot, a New Zealand in-vessel composting system, for the pub food waste and brewery organic by-products. In turn, the Hot Rot compost is used within the estate agriculture to grow food served in the pub and hops | barley for the brewery.

At SNB the recycling program is a strong profit center. In 2015, SNB recycled 5.9 million pounds of various materials (without spent grain) and earned $416,900 net profit, consisting of $41,800 in revenue, $33,000 in program costs and $408,100 in avoided costs.

Gold ZWFC PP earned $288,000 in recycling center profits during the soft 2015 commodity markets. As a USZWBC Board Member (now a GBCI Zero Waste Advisory Council member), PP Facility Manager Scott Lutocka shares his recycling wisdom across the nation at conferences and beyond.  A famous phrase from Scott's presentations:
There’s Ca$h in Your Tra$h!” and “You don’t know what you don’t know (about the value in your waste stream)!
Scott Lutocka at baler
According to Scott, several keys to creating a recycling PROFIT Center include:
  • Clean source-separation of material.
  • Teamwork across company department boundaries.
  • Close working relationships with recycling partners. 
From program inception in 2006 through 2016, PP experienced total recycling, compost, & waste diversion savings of $1.75 Million Dollars!

To download Susan and Holly's comprehensive Recycling: The Business Case PPT presentations, visit the Ei Speaking Engagements page.


SNB clean cardboard bales
photo courtesy SNB
WM complains they are losing money on their self-invented single-stream recycling and there is a recycling crisis. Yet industry pioneers prove recycling PROFIT centers continue to thrive amidst the soft commodity markets. As reinforced by the above examples, several keys to success are a top management commitment at a foundation level, employee engagement across department boundaries, and source-separated, clean material ready for sale.

Though they may still have contracts with the big haulers for the small amount of remaining waste, the pioneers work with an array of local and regional companies to collect their material bales (or otherwise contained). It is important to note, at this juncture, the big haulers are NOT part of the recipe for profitable recycling programs.

Article #2 in the A Recycling or Contamination Crisis, ends with same empowering paragraph as Article #1:

It is time for the corporate community to exercise their power of consumer demand when it comes to materials management and resource recovery. Once industry leaders break the single-stream cycle, the big haulers will follow with crafting an alternative, effective system. Simple Economics 101 may prove the best pathway to fixing a broken recycling system riddled with contamination.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Comparative Case Study: Plastic Film Recycling at Two Simon Malls

At the November 17 Annual Elemental Impact (Ei) Annual Partner Meeting, Tonya Randell with Moore Recycling Associates announced the Comparative Case Study: Plastic Film Recycling at Two Simon Malls release. Prepared by Ei on behalf of W.R.A.P. - Wrap Recycling Action Program, the case study chronicles the Charlotte plastic film recycling programs pioneered within the Sustainable Food Court Initiative (SFCI) - Shopping Mall Pilot

Initiated by members of the American Chemistry Council's Flexible Film Recycling Group in partnership with GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition and The Association of Plastic Recyclers, W.R.A.P.'s purpose is to reinvigorate plastic film recycling. The goal is to double recycling to 2 billion tons by 2020.

In 2011 Ei Industry Experts & Pioneers embarked on a commercial plastic film recycling journey targeted at moderate generators where standard-sized bale assembly was not practical. Development of a city-wide plastic film recycling template was the intended destination. 

In the 2010 | 2011 time frame, plastic film generated at shopping malls skyrocketed due to shifts in garment packaging. Previously, garments were bulk packaged for retail sales. With significant increases in internet sales, manufacturers shifted to individual, clear plastic film garment packaging for shipping.

Doug Stoner, Louis & Matt at
first plastic film recycling meeting
With the introduction of commercial single-stream recycling - paper fibers, metals and other recyclable materials mixed together for the collection vehicle - the higher plastic film volume increased a mall's waste hauling expenses. Single-stream recycling is delivered to a MRF (materials recovery facility) where the material is separated via an integrated system of conveyor belts, optical sorting, blowers, and hand separation. Since it wraps around the sorting equipment, plastic film is considered a contaminant in single-stream recycling.

Yet plastic film is a valuable commodity when collected separately and baled for sale. Historically, plastic film rebates exceed OCC (old corrugated cardboard) by three to five times on a per pound basis. Thus, there is a strong business case for separated plastic film recycling at malls: film rebates and reduced landfill hauling | tipping charges more than offset program costs.

A strong Ei Team came together to create a shopping mall plastic film recycling program template. Ei Partner Louis Herrera of Novolex (then Hilex Poly) was the visionary who devised the overall plan. As a major plastic bag manufacturer, Novolex was eager to purchase the film as post-consumer recycled content for their bag production.

Ray is all smiles with his
Orwak baler
The mall plastic film recycling model centered around on-site baling. Ei Partner Mark Lanning of Orwak shared his expertise on setting up on-site baling systems. A baler manufacturer, Orwak offers a mini baler perfect for a small recycling center located in a mall's back-of-the-house.

Ei Industry Pioneer Simon Malls was eager to recycle the abundant film generated by their tenants. In addition to cost-savings incentives, major national tenants were pressuring Simon to recycle their plastic film. Then Simon Director of Waste & Recycling Matt Hupp worked closely with the Ei Team on program development.

A Charlotte Simon Mall, Concord Mills (CM) - the SFCI Shopping Center Pilot - was selected as the first mall plastic film recycling pilot. In addition to excellent mall logistics, CM General Manager Ray Soporowski was an industry veteran committed to sustainability and "doing the right thing." The stage was set!

First on the agenda was a visit to Simon's hometown Indianapolis for a tour | education of a typical Simon Mall. The following day Hilex Poly (now Novolex) hosted a tour of their plastic film recycling plant a couple hours south in North Vernon, IN.

The Ei Team @ Concord Mills
On the second tour, Matt, Louis and Ei Founder Holly Elmore traveled to Charlotte. The trio met with CM & SouthPark Mall management to assess the current plastic film status. SouthPark is a sister Simon Mall located within Mecklenburg County. During the second tour, Mecklenburg County Government joined forces with the Ei Team and provided a local support network.

In August 2012 the CM plastic film recycling pilot launched with ease, grace & celebration. The following month SouthPark launched their plastic film recycling program.

For the case study ROI (return on investment) analysis, CM and SouthPark 2015 calendar year program stats were used. At the Annual Ei Partner Meeting, Tonya brought several hard copies of the case study published three days earlier.

Ei's pioneering role in commercial plastic film recycling is documented on the Plastic Film Recycling website page. The Ei FB album, Source-Separated Materials Recycling: building a city-wide network, is a pictorial recap of the work-in-progress. Note the Plastic Film Recycling Template expanded to the Source-Separated Material Recycling Template.

Plastic film ready for the baler
The IMPACT Blog article, Ei 2016: Year of Recognition, chronicles the powerful 2016 Annual Ei Meeting and features Tonya's presentation on the case study and beyond.

With the Comparative Case Study: Plastic Film Recycling at Two Simon Malls* release, the Ei Team is ready to reconvene with W.R.A.P. and continue the profound work started with Simon Malls. The platform is built, the stage is set, and Ei is anxious to continue pioneering commercial plastic film recycling programs.

* The case study is available for download on the Ei Reference Materials and Tools and Plastic Film Recycling pages.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Recycling or Contamination Crisis? an article series

Over the past year numerous mainstream media articles presented a national recycling crisis. In John Tierney's October 2015 New York Times article The Reign of Recycling, Waste Management (WM) CEO David Steiner is quoted, "If you believe recycling is good for the planet and that we need to do more of it, then there’s a crisis to confront."

Ei Chair Scott Seydel in front of a
MRF single-stream recycling delivery
Yet the crisis seems to revolve around WM's profitability within single-stream recycling systems. According to the September 2015 Fortune article The American recycling business is a mess: Can Big Waste fix it?, single-stream recycling is a sorting method WM pioneered in 2001. Under WM and other large waste hauler influence, single-stream recycling evolved into the only available option for curbside and corporate recycling programs in many municipalities.

In single-stream recycling, common recyclable materials - fiber (cardboard, paper), plastics, metals and glass - are placed in a single bin for later sorting at a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). Once sorted by type, material is baled for sale within the commodity market. Beginning around 2009 the big waste haulers started switching over to single-stream recycling as their offered service.

Unfortunately, contamination was rampant in single-stream recycling systems from its introduction. Contamination generally falls into three categories: 1> non-recyclable items 2> food & melted ice and 3> glass. 

In the beginning, many of the non-recyclable items in single-stream collection were due to lack of clear signage and consumer confusion. For example, bin signage may read "Plastics," rather than the specific accepted plastics. Thus, consumers include ALL plastics - lawn chairs, hoses etc. - in the single-stream bin.

Food waste on recyclable foodservice packaging is contamination. In addition to rendering the packaging unfit for recycling, the food waste may contaminate nearby material. Water (melted ice from fountain soft drinks and other beverages) causes paper to stick to plastics; the paper and plastic are impractical to separate in MRF sorting systems. Therefore, the plastic, along with the paper stuck to it, are deposited in the landfill-destined trash pile.

MRF separated glass - filled with
plastic & paper contamination
Most single-stream recycling is collected in packer trucks where the material is crushed for transportation. When crushed, glass breaks into small shards that contaminate the paper, plastics and metals in the load. Additionally, glass (essentially sand) causes significant wear and tear on hauling trucks and MRF sorting equipment.

In December 2009 the Container Recycling Institute (CRI) issued the comprehensive Understanding economic and environmental impacts of single-stream collection systems white paper. Within the paper, research findings forewarned of single-stream perils: single-stream recycling increases diversion from landfill rates yet decreases recycling rates due to contamination.

The U.S. EPA Sustainable Materials Management Web Academy presented the webinar, Single-Stream Recycling: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly, in July 2011. Within the webinar, the presenters address the effectiveness of a system designed for ease of collection. The ZWA Blog article, Single-Stream Recycling: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly, gives a synopsis of the informative webinar.

If contamination was rampant since launching, how did the waste haulers make the necessary profits to drive single-stream recycling to the predominant, often only, recycling option available for communities and corporations at-large?

2015 McCormick Place recycling bin
w/ clear signage, next to waste bin.
The answer is within commodity market pricing. As the recycling commodity markets regained strength from the 2008 pricing plummets, MRFs made profits even with significant contamination. Markets for contaminated material remained reasonably stable with China purchasing the strong majority of the "dirty material."

Large waste haulers often invested in their own MRFs to complement landfill investments. Thus, the hauler collected tipping fees from landfill-bound, contaminated MRF material.

A robust commodity market through mid-2014 masked the contamination flaws within single-stream recycling systems.

Beginning in mid-2014, recycling commodity market pricing started a downward spiral. At the same time China cut U.S. purchases significantly and demanded cleaner material. Contaminated material prices severely declined and in some instances the market disintegrated. Suddenly, contaminated material was perceived as an expensive program cost versus a system by-product. 

For larger generators, on-site source separation is best materials management practices and improves the bottom line. As noted in the ZWA Blog article, Zero waste moves from "best" to standard operating practices, the Piazza Produce source-separated material recycling program generated $288,000 of cost-savings in 2015; the program continued to improve the bottom line during soft recycling markets.

Separated material at the
S-SMRT Pilot
As a raw material in manufacturing operations, clean recyclable material retains value. When there are strong local markets, larger generators often circumvent the commodities market and sell directly to the manufacturer. The Elemental Impact (Ei) Source-Separated Materials Recycling Template (S-SRT) is grounded in clean material source-separation and direct, local sales to manufacturers. Committed to integrity, the S-SRT tagline is Contamination is a Mistake!

Thus, the recycling crisis touted by David Steiner in mainstream media is a contamination crisis.

As the first in a series, this article's purpose is to establish the contamination crisis scenario. Following articles will address available solutions to overhaul corporate recycling programs, whether at an individual location or for the municipality, into systems that make good business, community and environmental sense.

In general, the articles will address corporate recycling with little to no focus on curbside recycling. Intended topics include:
  • Waste Prevention - working with the supply chain on transport packaging to eliminate trash packaging; ensuring no waste is created when products are sold to customers.
  • WE Consciousness | Culture - ensuring organization employees work in unison toward common goals within a supportive corporate culture; includes working in partnership with the supply chain and customers.
    clear communication at
    an employee bulletin board
  • Hauler | Generator Responsibility - taking responsibility for contamination within a recycling stream; using WE Consciousness, the hauler & customer work together to craft recycling programs that generate clean streams; culture plays a critical role.
  • Clear Communication - educating employers and guests on proper placement for material and trash; includes clear, effective signage & best bin practices.
  • Local Infrastructure - working with grass roots recycling companies on flexible programs unique to the local end markets; may attract new manufacturers to the local market if a significant volume of their raw material is generated within the community.
With a positive flavor, the articles will focus on success stories and how to engineer profitable recycling systems.

It is time for the corporate community to exercise their power of consumer demand when it comes to materials management and resource recovery. Once industry leaders break the single-stream cycle, the big haulers will follow with crafting an alternative, effective system. Simple Economics 101 may prove the best pathway to fixing a broken recycling system riddled with contamination.