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Monday, April 11, 2016

The Zero Waste Journey: Supply | Value Chain, WE Consciousness & Power of Consumer Demand are Integral to Success

In late March Professor Basak Kalkanci at the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business invited Elemental Impact Founder Holly Elmore to give a 60-minute lecture on the Supply Chain's Role in Zero Waste to the Supply Modeling undergraduate class. It was a perfect opportunity for Holly to consolidate many topics into one powerful presentation.

ISM March 2013 cover
The Journey to a Zero Waste Supply Chain written by Holly was the featured Sustainability Column article in the Inside Supply Management (ISM) March 2013 issue.  ISM is published by the Institute for Supply Management, a national trade association. The ZWA Blog article, Supply Chain Critical to Zero Waste Success, gives an article overview along with specific examples.The article pdf is available for download on the Ei Print Media page. The article served as a starting point for Holly's presentation preparation.

After establishing Ei's prominent role in the ground breaking Zero Waste Zones followed by the Sustainable Food Court Initiative, Holly asked the question: "What is Zero Waste?" In unison with the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC), Ei answers the question with the following zero waste parameters:
  • Defined as a journey with no pre-determined destination.
  • Begins with the goal of 90% diversion of material from landfill, incineration (waste-to-energy)) and the environment.
  • Requires working with Supply Chain:
    • Shift “trash packaging" to recyclable material.
    • Addresses waste within Supply Chain operations.
Zero waste program success requires a consciousness shift on numerous levels. In simplistic terms, the following three initial shifts are necessary to create a World Without Waste:

First, the "pay and forget" era is over; the consumer must take responsibility for the by-products generated from their activities and ensure materials are reused or recycled. The Ei Recycling Refinement platform dives deeper into the holographic approach necessary to ensure integrity is maintained throughout the entire material management process.

Ei Team on the Farm AD Tour
Second, waste management is replaced by materials | by-products management. In nature there is no "waste"; it is time to emulate nature's perpetual life cycle system. The ZWA Blog post, Perpetual Life Cycle System (PLSC)- Simplicity is Key, introduces PLCS using an on-farm anaerobic digester as an example following nature's no-waste baseline.


Third, the "I" focus is replaced with the "WE" focus. The impact of our actions extends to the entire community and beyond; collective action accomplishes more profound results than singular effort. By working together, synergies are unlocked, unnecessary boundaries (including competitive barriers) disintegrate, and creative energies catapult possibilities into grounded realities.

Zero waste initiatives offer tangible opportunities to incorporate the consciousness shifts into standard operating practices. Once a company accepts the first two shifts, action is ready to begin within the third shift. The ZWA Blog article, Zero Waste is a Team Sport, introduces the WE Consciousness at work in successful zero waste programs.
As it travels the zero waste journey, a company realizes the remaining "trash" going to landfill is predominantly transport packaging. Thus, it is time to invoke the Power of Consumer Demand and work closely with the Supply Chain. 

In the ZWA Blog article, Consumer Demand: A Powerful Voice to Affect Change, the following facts are introduced:

FACT: Manufacturing companies are in the business of making products that consumers, whether corporate or personal, will purchase at a fair market value.

FACT: Manufacturers must make a reasonable profit and adapt to shifts in consumer demand to remain a viable business.  

FACT: The consumer, whether personal or corporate, may use the power of demand and spending dollars to influence items manufactured along with the related packaging and production practices.

Ei Team @ Piazza Tour
Scott is on far right
Shifts in transport packaging revolve around reducing the volume of material used and evolving from "trash" to "material packaging." With the easy win packaging shifts, ALL win as the supplier reduces theirs shipping costs, the consumer may reuse | recycle packaging and landfill bound trash is reduced. By reducing landfill hauls, the company saves dollars on tipping | pull charges. In addition, landfill life is extended - a big concern for many communities.

Working within the WE Consciousness, Piazza Produce Facilities Manager Scott Lutocka directly connected with a California-based herb farmer regarding their produce packaging. With the Styrofoam cushion | insulation glued to the cardboard box, the shipping box was rendered trash. Even though Styrofoam and cardboard are recyclable individually, collectively the box was trash due to the adhesive.

Simple solution: stop using glue to adhere the Styrofoam to the box! The herb farmer WINS with lower labor and product cost; Piazza wins with a recyclable box, instead of trash. The community wins with less material in the local landfill. Note Piazza sends the Styrofoam to a manufacturing plant that makes picture frames sold in Walmart.

the now recyclable herb
transport box
When feasible Piazza Produce delivers product in reusable containers and works with customers on collection via the following produce delivery. Piazza donates other hard plastic boxes to the Gleaners Food Bank of Indianapolis for reuse. When spent, the reusable boxes are dismantled to separate different materials for recycling.

... and Piazza Produce is Gold USZWBC Zero Waste Facility Certified! Piazza is the only zero waste foodservice distributor in the nation and a true industry pioneer thanks to Zero Waste Warrior Scott Lutocka!

The previously mentioned Zero Waste is a Team Sport article features an impressive tour of Piazza's zero waste operations. For a pictorial recap, visit the Ei FB album, 09-24-12 Piazza Produce Zero Waste Tour.

Atlanta-based Ted's Montana Grill (TMG), a national restaurant group with over 50 locations, takes their sustainability initiatives seriously. With the recent "no bare hand" contact mandates across the country, disposable gloves segued into a major purchasing item. Working within the WE Consciousness, TMG Purchasing & Sustainability Manager Paula Owens contacted their glove supplier regarding the packaging. By using a smaller cube footprint, the overall packaging was reduced for the same glove quantity. 

Result: a 7,850 pound reduction in packaging material delivered to TMG!

... and TMG is a loyal Piazza Produce customer for their Indiana-based restaurants!

clever toilet paper core
recycling container
Working within the WE Consciousness is standard operating practice at Earth Friendly Products. Under the direction of EFP Vice-President of Sustainability and Education Nadereh Afsharmanesh, zero waste action is interwoven within the corporate culture. In the facility bathrooms, there are small recycling containers next to the sink for the toilet paper cores.

Understanding zero waste success includes using "waste-free" raw materials in their manufacturing process, EFP established a Supplier Code of Conduct (SCC) including a sustainability questionnaire. Negative questionnaire answers require an explanation. With WE Consciousness at its core, EFP trains their suppliers on zero waste practices. Nadereh visits vendor manufacturing plants to witness practices in-place and provide helpful recommendations.

The EFP SCC requires vendors to deliver products in sustainable packaging, with no Styrofoam permitted. EFP works with vendors to create reusable packaging delivery systems. As a result of EFP's strong vendor relationships, a major supplier switched from adhesive labels to recyclable labels. 

... and EFP's five U.S. plants are Platinum USZWBC Zero Waste Facility Certified!

Nadereh & associate with
plant recycling bins
The ZWA Blog article, Zero Waste Makes Good Business Sense, chronicles the Fourth Annual National Zero Waste Business Conference breakout sessions. Nadereh was a panelist on the Source Separation Maximizes Material Value moderated by Holly. The article opens with a feature of Holly's EFP plant tour hosted by Nadereh. For a pictorial recap of the tour, visit the comprehensive Ei FB album, 2015 National Zero Waste Conference - "The Stars of Zero Waste.

With the above Piazza Produce, EFP and TMG "working with the Supply Chain" examples, several common points emerge:
  • Sustainable packaging shifts impact the vendor’s entire customer base.
  • Industry pioneers who take leadership roles are important for necessary supply chain | transport packaging evolution.
  • Economics are a key component in zero waste | sustainability programs. In most cases, zero waste practices - including packaging evolution - improve the bottom line for the vendor and purchasing company.

Within the USZWBC Zero Waste Facility Certification, the Supply Chain is addressed within the Zero Waste Purchasing category with the following point options:
  • Environmentally Preferred Purchasing (EPP) policy.
  • Durable goods over disposables.
  • Sustainably produced items.
  • Used, refurbished goods preferred.

In the ZWA Blog article, Third Party Certification Edges Industry Towards a Zero Waste Economy, the Zero Waste Facility Certification is introduced. In addition, the article stresses the invaluable role third party certifications play by maintaining integrity within an emerging industry and expanding standard operating practices boundaries.

As industry pioneers gain momentum in their zero waste success, the time arrived to shift focus from the Supply Chain to the Value Chain. 

In the Value Chain focus the entire spectrum of those impacted by respective products, including customers, the community, and the environment, are addressed with equal concern. For product | packaging evolution success, solutions must make good business sense for the entire value chain.

From 2011 through 2014, Ei hosted the Annual Sustainable Food & Beverage Packaging Value Chain meetings at Global Green's Washington D.C. offices. Trade association and non-profit executives from the entire sustainable food & beverage packaging Value Chain met each December for a day of vibrant dialogue and sharing. As an emerging industry, it was important to capture and nurture synergies among the powerful meeting participants.

F&B Pkging Value Chain Mtg
Group photo @ final meeting
Mission Accomplished: the original meeting intention was to harness industry synergies among the complementary organizations. During the 2014 presentations, it was empowering to witness the tremendous synergies, along with many joint pilots | programs, among the meeting participants. Beginning in 2015, the group convenes with a two-hour conference call rather than a full-day meeting.

Within the Value Chain focus, the following components emerge:
  • Industry takes responsibility for their product impact on their customers, the community and the environment.
  • WE Consciousness is at work when value chain representatives use synergies to create sustainable solutions.
  • Focus is economic, product quality | safety, and community | environmental health driven.
At the foundation of a balanced Value Chain focus is the WE Consciousness | Power of Consumer Demand with integrity intertwined within and without. Zero waste companies strive to create a World Without Waste via the following actions:
  • ensure products delivered to their facilities are “waste-free” in the manufacturing process and transport packaging.
  • manufacture, assemble and | or distribute in a "waste-free" environment.
  • sell products in recyclable | reusable packaging causing “no waste” for their customers.
Rather than seeking to "achieve zero waste," industry pioneers use their leadership role to expand boundaries and definitions of waste. Thus, the journey continues!  

______________________

NOTE: Holly's Supply Chain's Role in Zero Waste PPT presentation is available for download on the Ei Speaking Engagements page.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

"Tune in" to Zero Waste and Catch Austin's Beat to a World Without Waste

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

The Fifth Annual NZWBC is the culmination of four powerful conferences beginning with the inaugural 2012 event hosted in Costa Mesa, CA. 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 stepped forward as a key conference sponsor.

City of  LA opening plenary panel
At the 2015 NZWBC in Los Angeles, the Stars of Zero Waste shined! The ZWA Blog article Business NOT as usual: fine-tuning the zero waste journey chronicles the conference's impressive plenary sessions; the Zero Waste Makes Good Business Sense article features the conference breakout sessions along with Elemental Impact’s strong conference participation and Official Media Partner role.

... and the City of Austin "tunes in" to zero waste at the 2016 NZWBC! Austin Resource Recovery, a City of Austin service, stepped forward as the NZWBC Host & Title Sponsor.

The ZWA Blog article, 2016 Zero Waste Conference: "Tuning In" to Zero Waste, announces the 2016 NZWBC and features keynote speaker U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator - Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response Mathy Stanislaus.

Austin takes zero waste seriously and is a perfect city to host the milestone Fifth Anniversary NZWBC. In late 2011, the Austin City Council unanimously approved adoption of the Austin Resource Recovery Master Plan (ARRMP) and passed the Universal Recycling Ordinance. 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.

The aim is to reach the City Council’s goal of Zero Waste by 2040, which means keeping at least 90 percent of discarded materials out of the landfill. The ARRMP outlines aggressive milestones to ensure that goal is achieved on time, if not sooner.

For an overview of the staged-in ARRMP, coupled with substantial City support, watch the fun, informative five-minute video:


Complementary to the AARMP, the Austin re-Manufacturing Hub (Hub) is a 105 acre eco-industrial park located on a former City landfill. In July 2014 the City of Austin accepted a $1 million grant from the U.S Economic Development Administration to fund the water and sewer infrastructure necessary for the Hub. 

Understanding zero waste is beyond diversion from landfill, Austin is committed to keeping the metro area recyclable material local for use as a manufacturing raw material. The Hub is expected to bring 1,000 green jobs to Austin and leverage more than $30 million in private investment.

As a true industry leader, the City of Austin is enthusiastic to share their successes, along with work-in-progress, and learn from the powerful industry leaders attending the NZWBC. ARRMP Director Bob Gedert substantiates the City's sentiments with the following quote:
Bob Gedert
The City of Austin welcomes the opportunity to host the 5th Annual National Zero Waste Business Conference. With a goal to reach Zero Waste by 2040, we hope to inspire as well as learn from other industry experts and to further explore solutions and contributions to creating value for businesses through Zero Waste. Other goals are to develop new markets for recycled materials and have producers of the goods we consume take more responsibility for end-of-life management of their products.” 
In alignment with prior conferences, the 2016 program is local in flavor yet national in focus. Following welcoming remarks, Whole Foods Market (WFM) Global Leader for Sustainable Facilities Kathy Loftus is the conference opening keynote speaker.

Austin-based WFM takes a leadership role in supporting sustainable, local food systems. The 5-STEP® ANIMAL WELFARE RATING system outlines specific husbandry and management practices that promote farm-animal welfare. Consumers benefit by additional information about the meats they buy and farmers benefit by support within the WFM network.

In her keynote, Kathy will address how WFM's leadership role in animal husbandry, local, sustainable agriculture and their stringent GMO policy is good for business. In addition, the local communities and environment benefit by WFM's proactive role in evolving current food systems. Kathy's keynote will inspire companies to take leadership roles in their respective industries and raise the bar on acceptable operating practices and product standards.

Continuing with the local flavor, City of Austin Senior Waste Diversion Planner Teresa Chapman moderates the conference opening plenary panel Tuning in to Austin's Zero Waste efforts. Featuring industry and civic executives with a leadership role in Austin's zero waste journey, the panel includes: City of Austin Recycling Economic Development Liaison Natalie Betts, AT&T Executive Conference Center General Manager Ted Hibler and College Houses Cooperative Operations Director Ken Mills.

Sodexo Team @ 2015 NZWBC
Christy Cook on left
The conference format includes a morning keynote speaker followed by a plenary panel, networking session and concurrent panels before lunch. In the afternoon the program includes a plenary panel, another networking session along with concurrent panels. On the first conference day, attendees are treated to a two-hour happy hour reception before heading out to experience Austin dining.

Food waste is a prominent theme in the conference program. The first-day afternoon plenary panel, Food - Love it ... but do not waste it, is moderated by Dana Gunders, National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior scientist. 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.

Guided by Dana, the panelists share their vast food waste reduction expertise across the spectrum of foodservice operations. Panelists include: Sodexo Director of Sustainability Performance and Field Support Christy Cook, Ted's Montana Grill Purchasing & Sustainability Manager Paula Owens and Sustainable America Director of Events Heide Hart.

Following the plenary panel, Ei Founder Holly Elmore moderates the Food Waste Composting: challenges, lessons learned & successes panel. Drawing on their vast industry experience, U.S. Composting Council Executive Director Frank Franciosi presents from the composting facility perspective and GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition Senior Manager Anne Bedarf explains the importance of labeling compostable & recyclable packaging. Christy Cook with Sodexo shares the intricacies of crafting front and back-of-the-house food waste collection programs.

Keynote speaker Mathy Stanislaus "tunes into" zero waste's role within the circular economy in the second day opening plenary session. In addition, Mathy addresses how zero waste programs address climate action plans. As previously mentioned, Mathy is featured in the ZWA Blog article 2016 Zero Waste Conference: "Tuning In" to Zero Waste announcing the conference.

The morning plenary session USZWBC Facility Certification is moderated by USZWBC Board Member Cheri Chastain, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company sustainability manager. Zero Waste Facility Certification veterans share their experience along with helpful tips on creating a zero waste environment that falls within the certification criteria.

USZWBC President Sue Beets
at podium during 2015 NZWBC
Panelists include: American Licorice Company Quality Director Giri Veeramuthu, Walt Disney World Environmental Integration Project Manager Jason Tschanz, Walt Disney World Horticulturalist and Student Program Manager Les Frey, and J.M. Smucker Company Operations Manager Cindy Sockey.

Establishing Diversion Metrics, the final plenary panel, explores the particulars of developing a tracking program, crafting diversion metrics that make sense for particular scenarios, and addresses challenges experienced by industry forerunners. JLL Solid Waste and Recycling Program Manager Ana Wyssmann moderates the prominent panel including: Raytheon Company Solid Waste Process Owner Brian Balukonis, General Motors Global Waste Reduction Manager John Bradburn, and Rubicon Global Head of Sustainability David Rachelson.

In addition to the stellar program, pre and post-conference activities include the ZWBA Scorecard 101 Professional Training CourseAchieving Zero Waste at Colleges and Universities WorkshopZero Waste 101 Workshop and tours of local landmarks dedicated to zero waste.

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.

Kudos to USZWBC Founder Stephanie Barger along with Emily DeCremer, Thao Nguyen and the NZWBC Conference Committee for orchestrating a stellar NZWWC program! 

Registration is open for the 2016 NZWBC with the early bird special ending April 30. For those interested in conference sponsorship, the Sponsorship page details options available. Upon request, tailored sponsor packages are considered.

As the live music capital of the world, Austin is the perfect venue to "tune in" to zero waste and catch the beat of a World Without Waste! 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Ei Blogs: respected media & valuable industry resources

From their humble beginnings, the Elemental Impact (Ei) Blogs - Zero Waste in ACTION (ZWA) & The IMPACT - evolved into respected media and valuable industry resources.

The ZWA Blog was launched on January 20, 2009 with a one-sentence post and 11 pageviews! As of today, the ZWA Blog boasts 325 articles with over 240,000 pageviews - quite an accomplishment from the humble beginning!

A year later a sister blog, The IMPACT Blog, was launched on May 17, 2010 with a three paragraph post (two paragraphs were one sentence) and 11 pageviews. As a 2016 New Years Day gift, The IMPACT Blog topped 75,000 pageviews with 115 published articles.

The February 22, 2015 IMPACT article, Ei Blogs Top 250K Combined Pageviews, celebrates the monumental milestone and is filled with interesting anecdotes along the journey. In 2015, the press recognized Ei as a respected media outlet; Ei Founder Holly Elmore receives almost daily environmental industry press releases directed to the media with interview opportunities for potential articles.

In November National Geographic Channel NGC) invited Ei to join a virtual discussion on the exciting progress in the field of alternative energy. This conversation tied into an upcoming new NGC episode, "Breakthrough: Energy on the Edge." 

The discussion was centered on the following question:
Do you think that by tapping into the new alternative energy sources we can reverse most of the damage we have done to our environment?
Holly used a point | counterpoint response with the following articles:
massive industrial solar plant
photo credit: solarreserve.com
In return, Ei's perspective and article links were featured in the NGC virtual discussion Has Reliance on Fossil Fuels Irreversibly Damaged the Planet promoting their documentary. The discussion, complete with both blog article links, was tweeted to NGC's 1.06 million followers and posted on the NGC FB page with 56 million "likes."

ZWZ Chair Laura Turner
Seydel @ a ZWZ event
The ZWA Blog was originally the Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ) Blog launched to document the prominent program. In 2009 the ZWZ was featured in a prime-time aired CNN story and a front-page NY Times article. When Ei was formed in 2010 as the new ZWZ home, The IMPACT Blog was created to feature Ei work in areas other than zero waste initiatives. Upon the 2012 ZWZ sale to the National Restaurant Association, the ZWZ Blog evolved into the ZWA Blog.


When the ZWA Blog surpassed 100K pagviews in July 2013, the ZWA Blog article, ZWA Blog: A Powerful Industry Resource & Voice, chronicled Ei's evolution from a zero waste cheerleader to current work in Recycling Refinement, moving beyond landfill diversion. Below is an excerpt from the article:

Authored by Ei, the ZWA Blog articles document the evolution of zero waste from concept to emerging industry standard, tell the story of zero waste pioneers and warriors who shifted paradigms in materials management, and shine light on fallacies within accepted recycling practices.
In 2013, the Ei Blogs evolved into on-line magazines as most posts are in-depth articles with readership continuing long after publication. For the ZWA Blog, the all-time most popular articles are:
Pam Longobardi speaking @
Plastic GYRESymposium
For The IMPACT Blog, the most popular article - Ei: New Mission Statement | New Directions - with 2.9K views published in December, 2012 after the ZWZ sale. The article announced the three new Ei Platforms: Product Stewardship, Recycling Refinement, and Water Use | Integrity. The IMPACT Blog has four articles with over 1K views.

As readership escalated on both blogs, the number of articles published declined. In 2011, the ZWA Blog published 114 articles. By 2013, the on-line magazine published an average of 25 - 30 articles annually. For The IMPACT Blog, 5 - 10 articles are published each year.

The blogs are Microsoft | PC-driven: 73% of the ZWA Blog readership is Windows-based while The IMPACT readership is 55% Windows-based. Although it takes the browser lead on the ZWA Blog with 41% of the views, Internet Explorer is only 5% of The IMPACT Blog views. Less than 8% of the blog articles are viewed on phones, with Android taking the lead on The IMPACT with 6% of the readership.

Both blogs boast a 60% U.S. readership with the remaining 40% strong in Europe. For the ZWA Blog, China and India are prevalent within the 40% global readership.

For The IMPACT Blog, the top referring sites are Google, the blog itself and Ei. There were no stats available for keyword searches. On the ZWA Blog, the top referring sites are 1> Google, 2> ZWA Blog, 3> LinkedIN, 4> FB and 5> Ei. For key search words, the ZWZ are integrated within five of the top keywords; waxed cardboard and Holly Elmore were also prominent.

Laura, Ei Chair Scott Seydel &
Dianna Cohen, Plastic Pollution
Coalition Co-Founder
With the exception of one article, Holly published the blog articles from her "fingertip press." Holly is cognizant to feature companies, organizations and individuals who understand the power of cyberspace media and share the links within their networks.

Strong partners promote articles in their network by listing articles on their website media pages, featuring articles in their newsletters, posting links on FB | LinkedIN and tweeting articles to their followers.

Beyond the direct readership from the article sharing, search engine optimization increases significantly each time an article is listed on a validated site. It takes teamwork to build a powerful following supported by solid readership.

Last year the ZWA Blog article Plastic GYRE Symposium: Artists, Scientists and Activists Respond 2.4K readership was garnered via consistent retweets by Earth Island Institute (51.9K followers) and Plastic Pollution Coalition (21.3K followers) to their impressive following.

In 2014 Ei was designated the National Zero Waste Business Council Conference Official Media Partner. The following year, Ei was named the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council media partner for the organization, in addition to the conference. The partnership benefits each organization: USZWBC receives access to Ei's powerful network via articles published on the conference | organization: Ei's network grows stronger via USZWBC article promotion.

Of the 18 ZWA Blog articles written on USZWBC activities, 12 articles exceed 1K views! The following five articles are in the ZWA Blog top ten viewed articles:
Holly receiving USZWBC
award @ 2014 Conference
photo courtesy of Scott Lutocka
In true partnership spirit, the USZWBC lists ZWA Blog articles featuring the conference and | or the organization from 2014 forward in their on-line Press Room.

Supporting the Ei Blogs, the Ei FB page hosts 150+ albums documenting the important work-in-progress and success achieved. Two albums - Source-Separated Materials Recycling: building a city-wide network and Ei Plastic Film Recycling - are comprehensive in nature with over 100 photos, segregated into categories | events. An accomplished photographer, Holly captured the vast majority of the album images.

Photos are downloadable from the FB albums and available for industry use, as long as photo credit is given. Upon request, high res images are provided for print.

With seven years of consistent article publication, the Ei Blogs are well established in the environmental community as respected media and valuable industry resources.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Commercial Plastic Film Recycling: a zero waste frontier!

Plastic film recycling is a zero waste frontier filled with potential and probabilities. 


With increasing volumes of plastic film used in consumer and commercial packaging, the quantity of film landfill bound is astonishing. Industry pioneers are called upon to forge the plastic film frontier and craft new systems grounded in economics. Reduced landfill tipping costs coupled with recycling rebates are at the foundation of necessary infrastructure development.

In general plastic is recyclable as long as the stream is clean with sufficient quantity. Plastic film is highly recyclable yet the definition of a "clean stream" is confusing due to the many grades used in a wide variety of transport packaging.

Although plastic shopping bags are the most visible film product, plastic film is prominent in a myriad of consumer and commercial transport packaging. In addition to bags, common consumer film uses include bubble wrap | plastic air pillows, sleeves for newspapers, magazines & dry cleaning, and other product protection. 

Escalating internet sales over the past years is a strong contributor to astonishing increases in the volume of landfill-destined plastic film, especially in the commercial sector. In addition, strong internet sales impact how products are shipped for traditional retail sales. 

Food Lion recycling bins
provided by Ei Partner Glasdon
For the consumer, many grocery stores - Kroger, Publix and Food Lion are examples - offer plastic bag recycling via outdoor bins for their customers. Most plastic film transport packaging is accepted along with the grocery bags. UPS Stores often accept the plastic air pillows & bubble wrap for reuse in their shipping services.

With many municipalities shifting from dual or separated streams to single-stream recycling, plastic film is classified as a "contaminant" by the recycling haulers. At a MRF (materials recovery facility) single-stream recycling is sorted by material type over a series of conveyor belts and through optical sorting machinery. Plastic film wraps around sorting equipment, resulting in expensive system shutdowns; thus, valuable plastic film is considered a contaminant.

In the commercial sector plastic film is used extensively in transport packaging, ranging from shrink wrap to secure products on pallets to plastic sleeves | bags for product protection to bubble wrap | air pillows for product cushioning.

Scott Lutocka sitting on std size
plastic film bale @ Piazza Produce
Plastic film is a valuable commodity with recycling rebates often matching or exceeding OCC (old corrugated cardboard). Large commercial generators source-separate plastic film and sell the standard sized bales weighing 700 - 1000 pounds in the commodities market. Thus, plastic film is a strong contributor to their recycling profit centers.

In 2011 Elemental Impact (Ei) embarked on a commercial plastic film recycling journey targeted at moderate generators where standard size bale assembly was not practical. Development of a city-wide plastic film recycling template was the intended destination. 

In simplistic terms, the city-wide template pilot plan was to recruit 10 - 12 industry pioneers who generate a moderate amount of plastic film in their operations. Using a small baler, the pioneers collect and bale plastic film on-site for periodic collection. A local hauler collects and delivers the small bales to a warehouse. The small bales are re-baled into standard size larger bales and stored in an empty tractor trailer. Once full, the plastic film is sold by the tractor trailer load as a raw material to a manufacturer.

completed milk jug bale
A precursor to the plastic film recycling template was a successful milk jug recycling program at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the busiest airport in the world. Thanks to Ei Pioneer HMSHost's perseverance, the Starbucks milk jug recycling program established mini baler best practices. The ZWA Blog post, Milk Jugs Recycled at Atlanta Airport, announces the program launch. Note the Atlanta Airport is the Sustainable Food Court Initiative (SFCI) Airport Pilot.

Around 2011 the garment manufacturing industry shifted from bulk retail packaging to individual item packaging. RESULT: a tremendous increase in valuable, clean, virgin plastic film going into retailer waste streams. With synchronicity, Simon Property Group - the nation's largest mall and commercial real estate owner - joined the Ei Partner Program in 2011 to develop zero waste practices at their malls; Simon's focus was on plastic film and food waste.

The ZWA Blog post, Simon Property Group Embarks on Zero Waste Initiatives, chronicles the first Simon plastic film recycling meeting during Matt Hupp's - then Simon director of waste & recycling - second Atlanta visit.

Ei Ptr Louis Herrera educating
Matt Hupp on plastic film @ CM
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!

In August 2012 CM launched their successful plastic film recycling program using a mini baler. The film rebates, coupled with reduced landfill tipping fees, covered the baler and labor cost and improved the bottom line. The ZWA Blog post, ACTION: Theme for SFCI Shopping Mall Pilot, announces the mall plastic film recycling program.

With an arsenal of lessons learned, the Ei Team was ready to focus on a city-wide plastic film recycling template designed for duplication in metro areas across the nation. 

FreshPoint (FP), the nation's largest produce distributor, stepped forward as the lead Pilot Pioneer. As an early Zero Waste Zones Participant, FreshPoint has strong sustainability practices in-place and was eager to forge new recycling frontiers.

FP employee wrapping pallet with
shrink wrap for customer delivery
During distribution center tours, the Ei Team discovered FP generated colored and clear film in their daily operations. A surprise find was the "cut room" where the disposable blue aprons were made from a recyclable plastic film grade. Once the baler was delivered, simple logistics were established to separate clear and colored plastic film. In addition, the collection bins placement was easy for the truck drivers, who brought back shrink wrap from their delivery routes.

In alignment with the CM shopping mall template, FP associates produced small plastic film bales that were collected by a hauler for consolidation into standard size bales.

The Ei Plastic Film Recovery Pilot @ FreshPoint video gives an overview of the pilot along with new practices created for contaminant-free film collection.

Fellow Ei Pioneer Tim Trefzer, Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) Sustainability Director, visited FP to witness the plastic film recycling program in action. When the Georgia Dome - the SFCI Event Venue Pilot and within the GWCC umbrella - joined the Pioneer Team, the pilot template expanded beyond plastic film to encompass common recyclable materials: aluminum, mixed paper and PET. The goal was to create an on-site mini MRF at the GA Dome | GWCC.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium GM
Scott Jenkins w/ Tim @ GWCC MRF
Thus, the plastic film recycling template expanded to the Source-Separated Materials Recycling Template (S-SMRT). The linked website page details the game plan and lists blog articles that chronicle the work-in-progress. The Ei FB album, Source-Separated Materials Recycling: building a city-wide network, chronicles the template creation process.

Due to unforeseen circumstances ranging from promotions to long-term illness to business model shifts to internal corporate politics, the S-SMRT was put on hold in early 2015. The foundation is built and ready for a new life at the perfect time!

The Ei Plastic Film Recycling website page gives an overview of the important work along with links to blog articles detailing the action steps taken, challenges faced, lessons learned and successes. The Ei FB album, Ei Plastic Film Recycling, chronicles the impressive plastic film recycling work in a pictorial format.

In early 2016 Ei Pioneer Matt Hupp, Keter Environmental Services COO & former Simon Director of Waste & Recycling, committed to working with the Ei Team on plastic film recycling pilots at their Atlanta managed malls. Discussions are underway to craft the pilot team and return to action mode.

The plastic film recycling template tagline - If it was easy, it would already be done - is perfect for returning to action mode within the zero waste frontier.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

2016 USCC Conference: Soils for a Greener World

In late January industry professionals traveled from across the nation to the 24th Annual U.S. Composting Council (USCC) Conference - Soils for a Greener World - hosted at the Hyatt Regency Riverfront Hotel in Jacksonville, FL. Though a treacherous winter storm kept several speakers and award recipients snow bound in the Northeast, the conference was well attended by those eager to participate in the excellent program.

Pre-conference activities included a wide array of half and full-day workshops ranging from Aerated Static Pile Composting - Applications and Advancements to Best Practices in Community Composting Workshop along with the Annual meeting of the Compostable Plastics Task Force. The day ended with a Grand Opening Reception in the exhibit hall.


The two-day conference program included opening and closing plenary sessions along with a wide array of concurrent sessions throughout each day. Networking is an important conference component. In addition to the opening reception, the program included 45-minute morning & afternoon networking breaks in the exhibit hall and a lunch was provided in the hall on the first day.


With opening keynote speaker Mathy Stanislaus, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Assistant Administrator - Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, snowbound in Washington D.C., closing keynote speaker Mitch Kessler of Kessler Consulting shifted to opening keynote. 

An excellent speaker, Mitch used humor to make important points in his The Critical Role of Organics: Where Are We Heading? presentation. In addition, Joe Lamp'l, Star of "Growing a Greener World" gave a superb, entertaining plenary presentation including points on how to build the compost story.

In the afternoon, Elemental Impact (Ei) hosted a well attended 90-minute panel presentation, Getting to Zero Waste: Composting at Special Events, sponsored by Ei Partner NatureWorks. Moderated by Ei Founder Holly Elmore, the panel showcased the Zero Food Waste Journeys at two prominent Atlanta annual events, Afternoon in the Country (AITC) and RayDay. Both events were hosted by the Inn at Serenbe within the idyllic Serenbe Community, where nature, passion, creativity and community are valued.


Doug presenting
Sustainable Food Court Initiative Co-Chair Doug Kunnemann of NatureWorks took the session leadership role with an Ei overview and an introduction to the Zero Food Waste Journeys supported by the SMAT - Sustainable Materials ACTION Team

Ei Partner Ken Fraser with EcoProducts followed with event details, focusing on the extensive pre-planning necessary for success. Beyond site visits, strategy sessions and meetings, SMAT hosted a two-hour Compostable Food & Beverage Packaging Education Session emphasizing the critical role packaging plays in post-consumer food waste composting.

Doug came back to the podium for the event synopses. With beautiful weather, paid Waste Ambassadors and one caterer, the 2015 RayDay event in early October was literally zero food waste via on-site food waste composting at Serenbe. The caterer brought the prep food waste to the event, closing the loop on zero food waste. Due to extensive pre-planning there were minimal lessons learned in the nearly perfect event conditions. 

On the other hand, AITC was riddled with extraordinary challenges on an early November event day. A rainy day, coupled with prior ten straight days straight of rain prior to the event, greeted organizers, participants and guests with tremendous mud during set-up and throughout the festivities.


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

Next at the podium was Kristen Baskin, Let Us Compost (LUC) owner, who orchestrated the on-site event food waste composting at Serenbe. In her presentation, Kristen gave an overview of the successful on-site composting practices at both events. 

Throughout the events, Kristen kept event staff | volunteers efficient weighing food waste bags as they arrived at the compost area, cleansing the food waste of contaminants and sorting compostable flatware for grinding prior to adding to the compost pile. LUC prepared an impressive 2015 AITC video of the on-site food waste composting practices.

The Ei Team after the panel
As the final panelist, City of Atlanta Zero Waste Manager Boyd Leake spoke on the city policy implications from the zero food waste success at the annual events. In addition, Boyd played an integral role in the Zero Food Waste Journeys under his Community Environmental Management umbrella.

The Zero Waste in ACTION (ZWA) Blog article, Zero Food Waste Journeys: Successes, Challenges & Lessons Learned, gives an in-depth overview of the AITC zero food waste journey; the ZWA Blog article, Simple, easy, proven steps culminate in zero food waste success, chronicles the RayDay zero food waste success. The Ei FB albums, Afternoon in the Country, a zero food waste journey and 2015 RayDay, are event pictorial recounts.

SMAT members Rick Lombardo of NaturBag and Sarah Martell with Innovia Films, who participated in the journeys via product donation, education session presentations and event support, joined the panel audience.

Before segueing into Q&A, Doug announced a formal NatureWorks Zero Food Waste Journeys Global Case Study is in process with an anticipated spring release - EXCITING!

The NaturBag | NaturTec Team
@ their conference booth
Ei Partners were prominent at the conference via exhibit hall booths, as Board Members (USCC: Sarah Martinez with EcoProducts | BPI: Vineet Dalal with NaturTec), panel presenters and meeting with good industry friends.

A conference highlight was Sublime Soil Founder Dean Lavallee's presentation on his impressive vermiculture systems for Park Avenue BBQ & Grille food waste. Dean owns the 28 year strong 8-store restaurant concept. It was inspiring to witness a restaurateur's creative initiative for waste reduction | elimination in the nation's second largest industry.

On the final conference day, the afternoon plenary session opened with the Annual US Composting Council Awards Ceremony; USCC Executive Director Frank Franciosi served as the Master of Ceremonies. Industry icon Dr. Rufus Chaney with the U.S. Department of Agriculture was a focal point from numerous perspectives.

Dr. Chaney congratulates Dr. Das
BioCycle Magazine Editor Nora Goldstein presented the Jerome Goldstein Lifetime Award, the Composting Council’s highest recognition, to Dr. Chaney. The highest honor is named on behalf of Nora's father. Dr. K.C. Das, University of Georgia Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering Professor, received the 2015 Rufus Chaney Award for his extensive industry accomplishments over the past decades. USCC Board Member Dr. Sally Brown with the University of Washington studied under Dr. Chaney and requested a photo with her mentor.

With Mathy still snowbound in D.C., Cheryl Coleman with the EPA pinch hit as the closing plenary keynote for the Composting Council Conference - she was stellar!

Post-conference the USCC hosted the annual Equipment Show & Demonstrations. It is the largest “live” equipment demonstrations for the composting and wood recycling industry in the U.S.  

The Ei FB album, 2016 U.S. Composting Council Conference, gives a conference pictorial recap from Ei's perspective.

Conference attendees departed educated on new technologies, inspired by industry success and eager to follow-up with new friends.