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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Macro Cost of Micro Contamination

Micro level contamination yields tremendous hidden costs to communities, the environment and food chain systems. Though often not seen by the human eye, fragmented microplastic pieces are poison to our soils | water microbial communities as well as to fish, mammals, birds and most all life forms. 

Prominent organizations - Plastic Pollution CoalitionAlgalita and The 5 Gyres Institute (5 Gyres) to name several - are dedicated to researching and educating on the plastic pollution crisis in our oceans and waterways. The facts are chilling:


The amount of plastic that enters the ocean each year.


The estimated number of pieces of plastic floating on the ocean surface.


Once in our waterways, plastics act as sponges, soaking up all the chemicals – like PCB, DDT – that don’t mix with salt water.


Toxic-laden plastics look super tasty to fish. And we all know fish look tasty to us.

Dynamic Duo: Rick & Lia
The above facts were extracted from 5 Gyres Director of Global Partnerships & Community Engagement Lia Colabella's MORE OCEAN, Less Plastic presentation at the Fifth Annual National Zero Waste Business Conference (NZWBC) hosted in Austin June 1 - 3. Lia teamed with Natur-Tec Director Business Development, North America Rick Lombardo on the Elemental Impact (Ei)-hosted The Macro Cost of Micro Contamination panel moderated by Ei Founder Holly Elmore.

While Lia presented on the documented plastic pollution crisis in our oceans, Rick educated on a similar dilemma building within our soils in his Compostable Plastics vs. Traditional Plastics presentation.

To help understand the origins of microplastic contamination, Rick educated on fragmentation, biodegradability and compostability as follows:

Fragmentation – first step in the biodegradation process, in which organic matter is broken down into microscopic fragments.

Biodegradability – complete microbial assimilation of the fragmented product as a food source by the soil microorganisms.

Compostability – complete assimilation within 180 days in an industrial compost environment. 

Note the difference between biodegradability and compostibility is TIME. By definition, material decomposes within 180 days while bio-degradation may take as long as millions of years.

Due to the fragmentation process, ocean plastic pollution is now referred to as plastic smog. Clean-up is challenging to impossible due to the microscopic size of the plastic. Aquatic life consumes the fragmented plastic; larger pieces remain within the digestive tract and smaller ones integrate within the flesh. Thus, plastic enters the human food system!

3 month fish with 17 pieces
of plastic in stomach
Lia provided a visual of a three month old rainbow runner with 17 pieces of plastic in its stomach.

Starting with the basics, Rick explained the origins of plastics with a reminder most traditional plastics are derived from petrochemicals. After an overview of the important role compost plays in soil health, Rick shared the role compostable plastics, derived from organic sources, play in effective post-consumer food waste collection for compost programs.

To ensure a contaminant-free compost, it is important foodservice ware (cups, plates, flatware & other containers) are BPI Certified Compostable, an independent third party certification program. Rick gave an overview of the ASTM 6400 and ASTM D6868 Standards at the foundation of the BPI Certification requirements.

Rick showcased contamination at compost facilities resulting from traditional plastics. In addition, Rick addressed "green washing" through look alike products and deceptive product descriptions. "Oxo" degradable bags and degradable cutlery made from biomaterial additives and plastic resins are common contamination culprits.

degradable cutlery in
compost pile
photo courtesy of  Rick
In his presentation, Rick cited the EcoCycle | Wood's End 2011 Study, Should Plastic Coated Materials be Allowed in Materials Collected for Composting?, with a quote:
This study showed conclusively that micro-plastic fragments were shred from all plastic coated samples, whether single or double-coated. This means any plastic-coated paper product, even those that are partially screened out during the composting process, is contaminating the finished compost with plastics particles.” 
1955 Life Magazine cover
Within their respective presentations, Rick & Lia included slides on the impact of the "disposable society" that culminated in the plastic pollution | smog crisis. In 1955, Life Magazine ran a memorable cover photo celebrating the new disposable lifestyle. Lia gave shocking stats on plastic production and consumption. 95% of plastic packaging material value - $80 - 120 billion annually - is lost to the economy after a single use.

If a massive plastic clean-up is not feasible at this juncture, what can we do? Lia offered the following suggestions:

Better collection and recycling systems. “Burn & Bury” infrastructure is not the answer.

Reduce, reuse, recycle, rethink.

Scale innovations in product and packaging design.

Bag bans, microbead laws. Global Plastic Protocol.

During the vibrant Q&A session, Holly reminded the audience the soils are equally contaminated with microplastics. Forthcoming research will substantiate plastic pollution - macro that fragments into micro - is a water | soil crisis.

The Macro Cost of Micro Contamination panel was a huge success! A prominent attendee confided in Holly "this was the BEST conference panel - I learned so much and I appreciate gaining visibility to such important issues!"

Rick and Lia's PPT presentations are available on the Ei NZWBC page. The ZWA Blog article, A "Tuned In" Industry Catches a Vibrant Zero Waste Beat, is a NZWBC program overview while the Ei FB album, 2016 National Zero Waste Business Conference, is a conference pictorial recount.

Scott w/ Laura Turner Seydel &
PPC Co-Founder Dianna Cohen
In March 2015, Ei Chair Scott Seydel presented at the Plastic GYRE Symposium: Artists, Scientists and Activists Respond hosted jointly by the Welch Foundation at Georgia State University, David J. Sencer Museum of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC). The ZWA Blog article, Plastic GYRE Symposium: Artists, Scientists and Activists Respond, is a synopsis of the powerful symposium along with an introduction to the plastic pollution crisis.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation published the January 2016 The New Plastic Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics report with a circular economy approach to address the future of plastics. For the first time, the report is a vision of a global economy in which plastics never become waste and outlines concrete steps towards achieving the systemic shifts necessary. Scott is an Ellen MacArthur Foundation USA Board Member.

SURREAL: the first fully synthetic plastic, meaning it contained no molecules found in nature, was invented by Leo Hendrik Baekeland in 1907 and by the mid-1950's the disposable society was celebrated. In just over 100 years humans mass contaminated the Earth's waters and soils with "molecules not found in nature."

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A "Tuned In" Industry Catches a Vibrant Zero Waste Beat

On June 1 - 3, 2016 sustainability leaders from across industry boundaries converged on Austin, Texas for the Fifth Annual National Zero Waste Business Conference (NZWBC) presented by the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC). With the "Tuning in" to Zero Waste" theme, the conference program showcased how zero waste companies and communities top the charts in dimensions beyond landfill diversion.

The NZWBC 5 Year Club!
The Fifth Annual NZWBC was the culmination of four powerful conferences beginning with the inaugural 2012 event hosted in Costa Mesa, CA. Next was a visit to the Midwest in Cincinnati followed by the Southeast in Atlanta. In year four, the NZWBC returned to the West Coast when the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation (LABS) stepped forward as the conference host sponsor.

For a more in-depth overview of prior conferences, with links to detailed information, visit the ZWA Blog article, 2016 Conference Theme: "Tuning in" to Zero Waste.

At the fifth annual event the NZWBC hit a stride grounded in prior successes and solid paths for future programs. With a strong base of regular attendees, the program topics evolved over the years from zero waste basics to include challenges faced by industry veterans. Food waste reduction, donation and collection for compost were prominent in plenary and breakout sessions.

Reina Pereira & Greg Good
The City of Los Angeles set the foundation for the host city stepping forward as the lead conference sponsor. In addition to their 2015 NZWBC host sponsor status, the LABS was a 2014 NZWBC sponsor in Atlanta. Reina Pereira and Greg Good with the City of Los Angeles continued their zero waste commitment at the 2016 NZWBC as active attendees.

Austin takes zero waste seriously and was 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 (ARRMP) and passed the Universal Recycling Ordinance (URO). A culmination of two years of research, stakeholder engagement and community input, the ARRMP sets the stage for the Department’s programs and services for the next 30 years and beyond. 

By October 1, 2018, the URO requires all food enterprises to ensure their employees have convenient access to organics diversion services. Food service enterprises include: grocers, farmers’ markets, and the food & beverage industry (restaurants, bars, catering).

Zero waste sign at
As the Host & Title Sponsor, Austin Resource Recovery (ARR), a service of the City of Austin, was instrumental to the Fifth Annual NZWBC success. The ZWA Blog article, "Tune in" to Zero Waste and Catch Austin's Beat to a World Without Waste, details the aggressive Austin public policy augmented with solid regulations, education and support along with a quote from ARR Director Bob Gedert.

The day prior to conference activities, ARR Senior Public Information Officer Susanne Harm treated USZWBC Board Member Scott Lutocka of Piazza Produce and Elemental Impact (Ei) Founder Holly Elmore to a personalized tour of Austin landmarks. A key stop was in.gredients, an eclectic package-free grocery store, who boasts zero pounds of food waste to landfill since opening in August 2012. Last month in.gredients sent a mere 7.3 pounds of trash to landfill.

Pre-conference activities included several workshops: Achieving Zero Waste at Colleges and Universities, Zero Waste 101 Workshop and ZWBA Scorecard Professional Training Course. The afternoon was filled with three excellent tours: Zero Waste at University of Texas at Austin, Samsung Austin Semiconductor, and Circuit of the Americas (COTA)/X Games.

As the finale to a great pre-conference day, the Farm2Fork Fundraiser was a grand success. Complimentary to sponsors and speakers, the reception was the perfect venue for industry friends to reconnect in a relaxed, fun environment.

The NZWBC Conference Program is designed for the seasoned zero waste veteran ready to evolve their program to next dimensions as well as the novice interested in learning how to create effective systems. In addition to the formal education, the industry connections are invaluable once the conference is a memory.

Long-time friends tease the
photographer @ reception
Cindy Jackson, Jack DeBell& Christy Cook
Overall the conference program flowed each day with opening remarks followed by a keynote presentation, plenary panel and a mid-morning networking break. Concurrent panel presentations closed out the morning sessions. A plated, seated lunch was served in the main conference room with announcements as attendees finished lunch. The afternoon program included a plenary session, networking break, concurrent panel presentations and closing remarks.

Conference sponsors set-up display tables around the plenary room periphery and were easily accessible to educate on their products and services.

NZWBC Day One opened with a hearty welcome by Austin Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo followed by a powerful plenary session featuring Austin. Whole Foods Market (WFM) Global Leader, Sustainable Facilities Kathy Loftus gave an empowering opening keynote presentation on WFM's Approach to Zero Waste & Sustainability. WFM takes their waste impact seriously: the Southern Pacific region leads in zero waste with 28 stores certified, 5 in process and 23 stores planned for the future.

Kathy @ the podium
Food waste is a strong WFM focal point. In 2015, excess food donations increased 25% over 2014 donations. More than 75% of WFM stores nationwide have food waste collection for compost programs in-place.

In addition to an emphasis on their zero waste practices, Kathy shared many of Austin-based WFM's impressive energy-saving practices along with their well known leadership role supporting sustainable, local food systems.

Completing the Austin plenary sessions, ARR Director Bob Gedert opened the Tuning in to Austin's Zero Waste Efforts panel with excellent remarks filled with empowering anecdotes. Bob emphasized the important role innovative solutions play in materials management. As the National Recycling Coalition President and National Stewardship Action Council Board Member, Bob brings national expertise to the ARR while he guides the course within Austin's zero waste goals.

Following Bob's opening remarks, ARR Strategic Initiatives Division Manager Jessica King moderated the impressive panel: City of Austin Recycling Economic Development Liaison Natalie Betts, College Houses Cooperative Operations Director Ken Mills and AT&T Executive Conference Center General Manager Ted Hibler.

Bob during opening remarks
After a thorough overview of the ARRMP, URO and other work-in-progress, Ken's Striving for Zero Waste One Little Victory at a Time  presentation was entertaining while educating on the important zero waste programs in-place at College Houses Cooperative. In addition to the environmental significance, the programs are instrumental to instilling a sustainable living focus in the students.

Ted's "can do" approach at the AT&T Executive Conference Center is the foundation for the facility's zero waste practices. Rather than wait for city's 2018 regulations to take affect, Ted crafted an effective food waste collection program working with locally owned Texas Disposal Systems. Beyond the business and economic ramifications, Ted operates within "it is the right thing to do" realm in his community leadership position.

Morning concurrent panels included: Zero Waste 101 - Getting Started on Your Zero Waste Journey, Taking Zero Waste to a Higher Level and How Do You Get to 90% Diversion? 

For the afternoon plenary panel, Food Waste Icon Dana Gunders, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior scientist, moderated an excellent panel on food waste: Food - Love it ... But Don't Waste It!  In her monumental 2012 NRDC Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill Issue Paper, Dana brought the food waste crisis to the forefront of mainstream media and consciousness.

Paula sharing the TMG
sustainability commitment
Guided by Dana, the panelists shared their vast food waste reduction expertise across the spectrum of foodservice operations. Ted's Montana Grill (TMG) Purchasing & Sustainability Manager Paula Owens emphasized the restaurant chain's food waste prevention practices, mainly via small batch preparation of food items. Food waste averages 3-4% in full-service restaurants; annual TMG food waste is 1.57%!

When TMG joined the EPA Food Recovery Challenge in 2014, Paula explored implementing a formal food donation program. Due to strong, consistent standard operating practices, TMG generates minimal to no food waste that meets the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (GSFDA). Thus, a formal donation program was not applicable for TMG!

In her presentation, Sodexo Director of Sustainability Performance and Field Support Christy Cook also emphasized the important role small batch prep plays in food waste prevention. In addition, Sodexo prevents food waste by upgrading kitchen equipment, controlling portion size, and maintaining a culture committed to minimizing food waste. Tracking food waste generated is integral to Sodexo's food waste reduction success.

Food Waste Reduction Panel
Christy, Dana, Heide & Paula
As Sodexo operates a multitude of cafeteria-style dining operations along with catering services, excess food meeting the GSFDA is common within their daily operations. Thus, a strong excess food donation program is standard in most Sodexo-operated dining facilities. 

Sustainable America (SA) Director of Events Heide Hart completed the panel with her presentation on their We Value Food, a food waste reduction program as well as zero food waste practices at events. SA worked with Chowdafest, SXSW Eco, and NASCAR events to reduce on-site food waste with grand success. At the 2013 SXSW Eco 10 events, in 8 venues, with between 150 and 600 people in attendance at each event, 97% of the material generated was recycled or collected for compost - impressive!

The Ei-hosted Food Waste Composting: challenges, lessons learned and successes panel moderated by Holly segued the food waste discussion from reduction to destinations with clean streams. U.S. Composting Council (USCC) Executive Director Frank Franciosi shared the plethora of industry tools available on their website to support existing composting facilities to expanding infrastructure. Frank ended with the importance of a "clean food waste" stream, emphasizing the detrimental impact of contamination.

Happy about Compost!
Emily Kahn, Frank & Jason Sanders
GreenBlue | Sustainable Packaging Coalition (GB|SPC) Senior Manager Anne Bedarf continued the contamination discussion in her The Importance of Clarity presentation. Anne gave excellent examples of "look alike" packaging that are strong contributors to contamination in recycling and composting feedstocks. 

Third party certification and proper labeling bring clarity to packaging confusion and aid the consumer | foodservice operator with preventing contamination. Anne closed her presentation with an overview of the GP|SPC How2Recycle label program.

Building off her plenary presentation, Christy shared the food waste composting challenges, lessons learned and successes from a foodservice operator perspective. Sodexo is committed to implementing food waste collection programs yet is often limited by lack of local infrastructure. In addition, Sodexo is a contracted foodservice operator - a "guest" on college | corporate campuses and healthcare facilities - and may be limited by contract parameters.

Continuing the lack of clarity discussion, Christy gave examples of inconsistent consumer food waste bins and signage, even within the same facility. Strong education programs, consistent bin signage and culture are the key components for successful food waste collection for composting.

Jason Tschanz and Tammy Kaleel
of  Walt Disney Parks & Resorts 
Concurrent with the Food Waste Composting panel, the Zero Waste Research and Training from Colleges to Universities and Marketing Your Zero Waste Efforts attracted enthusiastic audiences.

After Day One closing remarks, the networking reception was enjoyed as folks gathered for the scheduled "table topic dinners" at local dining destinations. Later, many ventured to Austin's popular 6th Street to experience the "Live Music Capital of the World!"

USZWBC Board Member Gary Liss opened the Day Two program with an introduction to keynote presenter U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Assistant Administrator - Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response Mathy Stanislaus. In his The Path Forward – Actions to advance to Circular Economy keynote, Mathy emphasized Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) is a global issue and gave a high level EPA SMM Strategic Plan 2017–2022 overview.

Further emphasizing the importance of reducing food waste, Mathy noted 21% of U.S. waste is food. Combined with yard trimmings (9%) and Paper & Paperboard (15%), a total of 45% of the U.S.'s waste is compostable with a mix of the carbon & nitrogen compost recipe.

Mathy & Gary post-keynote
In November 2015 the EPA supported the Food Recovery Summit hosted in Charleston, SC with the following emerging themes:
  • Public Awareness
  • Improving Data
  • New Partnerships
  • Date labeling
  • Building Infrastructure
  • Seek Prevention Strategies
The Summit Call to Action: opportunities and necessary steps toward reducing wasted food and meeting the national goal.

Later in the morning, Mathy served on the Importance of Data Tracking to get to Circular Economy concurrent panel for an opportunity to dive deeper into zero waste's integral role in establishing a circular economy. In addition, EPA Region 4 Physical Scientist, Resource Conservation and Recovery Division, Kim Charick updated on The State Of Curbside Recycling EPA Grant awarded to The Recycling Partnership.

Additional concurrent morning panels included: Establishing Zero Waste Procurement Policies & Contracts for Services, The Macro Cost of Micro Contamination, and Leveraging Existing Partnerships in the Supply Chain to Improve Zero Waste. The ZWA Blog article, The Macro Cost of Micro Contamination, is an overview of the Ei-hosted panel and introduces the microplastics crisis as a water | soils crisis.

In March 2013 the USZWBC launched the Zero Waste Facility Certification Program (ZWFCP) to meet the requests of zero waste businesses for a valid, comprehensive verification of their zero waste achievements. Since the WFM San Diego 2013 certification launched the program, a total of 59 facilities were zero waste certified at the following levels: Bronze - 28, Silver - 1, Gold - 12 and Platinum -18.

Jason, Cheri, Les, Giri & Cindy
The ZWA Blog article, Third Party Certification Edges Certification Towards a Zero Waste Economy, introduces the ZWFCP along with a solid program overview.

USZWBC Board Member Cheri Chastain with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company moderated the morning plenary panel celebrating the ZWFCP success and educating on the certification process. Beyond their zero waste accomplishments, the panelists shared helpful advice to prepare for the certification process with a focus on solid documentation.

The Certification Panelists included: Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Environmental Integration Project Manager Jason Tschanz, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Horticulturist & Student Program Manager Les Frey, American Licorice Company Quality Director Giri Veeramuthu and Smuckers Natural Foods Operations Manager Cindy Sockey.

Following the certification panel, Gary Liss honored USZWBC President Sue Beets-
Atkinson for five years of dedicated industry service. As she is always on time and keeps the organization moving in a timely fashion, Sue was gifted with an engraved clock commemorating her dedication and service.

Gary honoring Sue for five years
of dedicated USZWBC service
In addition to the previously mentioned Importance of Data Tracking to get to Circular Economy panel, conference attendees chose between the following powerful concurrent panels: Establishing Zero Waste Procurement Policies & Contracts for Services, Leveraging Existing Partnerships in the Supply Chain to Improve Zero Waste and The Macro Cost of Micro Contamination.

The final conference plenary panel Establishing Diversion Metrics, moderated by USZWBC Board Member & Jones Lang LaSalle Solid Waste & Recycling Manager Ana Wyssmann, educated on the important role metrics play in successful zero waste programs along with helpful advice on establishing a sound metrics platform. 

Raytheon Solid Waste Process Owner Brian Balukonis summarized his impressive panel presentation with the following advice:

  • Prepare an internal metrics definitions & reporting instructions guide.
  • Conduct gap analysis to identify existing programs, internal/external suppliers & key contacts.
  • Develop standardized electronic report to collect metrics from suppliers.
  • Communicate requirements & develop relationship with suppliers.
  • Collect and monitor metrics.
Panelists General Motors Global Waste Reduction Manager John Bradburn and Rubicon Global Head of Sustainability David Rachelson further educated on metrics collection and its role in achieving zero waste goals.

USZWBC Executive  Director
with ARR Director Bob Gedert
Prior to the conference closing remarks, attendees chose between three concurrent panels: Making the Business Case for Zero Waste, Engaging Employees to Change Behavior, and Working with State and Local Ordinances to Drive Zero Waste.

Fifth Annual NZWBC attendees traveled from coast-to-coast, Canada, Central America and literally across the globe to attend the stellar conference. 

For his third Austin zero waste event, Leonard Ssenoga traveled from Uganda to attend the NZWBC! Thanks to Organics by Gosh, ARR and Keep Austin Beautiful's hospitality, Leonard toured a plethora of facilities, made new industry friends, and returned to Uganda excited for development | expansion of zero waste programs in his home country. The USZWBC is now Leonard's "go to resource" for zero waste tools and education.

Christy @ plenary podium
Two common themes emerged from presentations across the multitude of topics: 1> corporate & community culture is a key ingredient for zero waste success and 2> food waste is a top priority among industry leaders. Food waste infiltrated presentations either as direct topics or within company | community zero waste programs and priorities.

Christy Cook with Sodexo presented on the plenary food waste panel and the concurrent session food waste composting panel. In her industry leadership role, Christy is committed to sharing Sodexo's proven practices and eager to learn from as well as collaborate with her fellow leaders. In Christy's words:
An important part of Sodexo’s approach to food waste reduction is to share our expertise in on-site waste reduction and collaborate with others to drive further engagement. The National Zero Waste Business Conference in Austin presented by the USZWBC was a great platform to share our experiences, best practices and results, and provide some lessons learned that others might bring with them on their journeys.  As we continue on our path to zero waste to landfill by 2025 and donating 1 Million Meals this year, we too benefit from these opportunities to learn from and collaborate with others. 
Clear, fun signage leads to
clean recycling & food waste streams
Thanks to the NZWBC Green Committee Chair Jason Sanders of EcoSafe Zero Waste the conference followed zero waste best practices with three-bin waste | recycling stations, complete with clear signage. Organics by Gosh collected food waste generated at the conference for composing. 

An estimated 750 pounds of kitchen prep scraps and plate scrapings from the two lunches were included in the collected food waste. The relatively low amount reflects the food waste reduction practices employed. Any excess food was either consumed by the hotel staff or donated to Keep Austin Fed.

Kudos to USZWBC Executive Director Stephanie Barger along with her amazing staff for orchestrating a phenomenal Fifth Annual NZWBC!!!  The California staff includes Emily DeCremer, Thao Nguyen, Audrey Nguyen and volunteer Liesl Thomas.

... and a big THANK YOU to NZWBC Chair Stephen Groner, NZWBC Program Chair Cheri Chastain and the entire USZWBC Board for your tremendous commitment and efforts necessary to present the zero waste industry's national conference!

Stephen & Cheri
The Ei FB album, 2016 National Zero Waste Business Conference, is a conference pictorial recount. Program PPT presentations are available for view on the USZWBC 2016 Conference page.

With the industry "tuned in" to zero waste, the vibrant beat continues in Boston at the 2017 National Zero Waste Business Conference!

Elemental Impact is the Official NZWBC Media Partner. Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are courtesy of Ei Founder Holly Elmore.