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Monday, May 18, 2015

Business NOT as usual: fine-tuning the zero waste journey

Stephanie Barger & Gary Liss
of the USZWBC
The U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) hosted their fourth Annual National Zero Waste Conference in Los Angeles at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel on May 6 & 7, with pre-conference workshops and tours on May 5. Sustainability leaders traveled from across the nation to learn, share and network with the Stars of Zero Waste. The ZWA Blog article, Stellar conference program highlights the "Stars of Zero Waste," gives a comprehensive overview of the impressive program.

At the 2014 National Zero Waste Conference hosted in Atlanta, the evolution of the zero waste industry was evident in the plethora of success stories. Industry standards, grounded within the Zero Waste Certification Program (ZWCP) launched in 2013, were established by the many pioneers receiving certification for their comprehensive materials management programs. In addition, the Zero Waste Business Associate (ZWBA) certification was launched to train professionals on zero waste practices and learn how to achieve zero waste certification at their facilities.

The ZWA Blog article, USZWBC Conference Theme: Zero Waste Evolution, recaps the amazing conference as well as chronicles the zero waste evolution since the inaugural 2012 conference. 

Throughout the 2015 conference presentations, it was evident the zero waste industry evolution continues via fine tuning of practices and standards. The progress was inspiring as conversations focused on necessary shifts in packaging, how the supply chain impacts the corporate and personal consumer, hard-to-recycle items, and the importance of maintaining maximum value of generated materials.

Scott Lutocka during
his introductions at dinner
At the pre-conference speaker | sponsor dinner the "program" was self-introductions featuring the motivation for zero waste passion. It was a perfect venue for the zero waste stars to reconnect or meet via a personal story, many citing a grandparent's influence.

The timing was perfect for Title Sponsor LA Sanitation to host the National Zero Waste Conference. With the Solid Waste Integrated Resources Plan under development, LA is transitioning to a new waste and recycling system for all businesses and large apartment complexes. The goals of the new system - a franchise program called Zero Waste LA - include:
  • Higher Recycling (90% diversion from landfills by 2025) 
  • Fair Customer Rates 
  • Reduced Street Impacts & Cleaner Air
  • Superior Customer Service
Official conference festivities opened with a profound Welcome by Honorable Mayor Eric Garcetti, City of Los Angeles. It was empowering to witness the Mayor's core commitment to zero waste public policy evolving into "business as usual." 

Following the Mayor, the plenary panel Discover the Zero Waste Stars of LA moderated by LA Director Infrastructure Services Greg Good educated on LA zero waste successes and programs under-development. The panel featured LA key stakeholders: Enrique Zaldivar, LA Bureau of Sanitation director, David Piper, LA Unified School District director and Timothy Eng, Kaiser Permanente project manager.

Stephanie Barger with
Matt Peterson
LA Chief Sustainability Officer Matt Peterson closed the LA-dedicated morning sessions with his keynote presentation. Prior to joining LA, Matt was co-founder & president of Global Green USA for 19+ years. During Matt's Global Green tenure, the Coalition of Resource Recovery was launched first in New York City and later expanded to a national platform. 

Matt presented on The Sustainable City pLAn: Transforming LA: Environment, Economy & Equity released by the Mayor on April 8, 2015.  A comprehensive plan, the Mayor says:
It is important to emphasize that the pLAn is not just an environmental vision - by addressing the environment, economy and equity together, we will move toward a truly sustainable future.
Another aspect of zero waste fine-tuning is integration within sustainability, economic and social consciousness public policy. The comprehensive pLAn accomplishes the necessary integration for long-term, sustainable success.

Source-reduction and reuse of materials is at the foundation of effective zero waste programs. Though easy with a hindsight lens, determining how to reduce and reuse can be challenging, especially when the value chain is involved. 

Completing the morning program, Reuse Institute CEO MaryEllen Etienne moderated the Exploring Source Reduction and Reuse plenary panel. A powerhouse team from The Walt Disney CompanyHewlett Packard and IFCO shared their respective journeys to successful programs.

Mariaylce Pederson at podium
In her presentation, Marialyce Pederson - Disney senior representative, corporate citizenship - shared how Disney reuses film sets and repurposes the plethora of character costumes from movie production and Disney Parks. Laundry lint from washing cotton towels and bed linens is composted at the zero waste-certified Circle D Ranch.

As the first-day lunch keynote, Fedele Bauccio, Bon Appétit Management Company (BAMCO) co-founder, explained his company's pioneer role in environmentally sound operating policies. BAMCO provides foodservice to corporations, universities, and museums in 32 states. Complementing its longstanding food-waste reduction efforts, BAMCO was an early partner of the Food Recovery Network and has three dozen cafés Food Recovery Certified.

In his closing remarks, Fedele addressed food quality issues: GMO's - they are in everything from baking soda to canola oil, Salmon - there is no such thing as sustainably farmed salmon; purchase wild-caught or not at all, and Meat Consumption - reduce the centerplate (meat) & increase vegetables & starch; BIG step in addressing food crisis.

Afternoon sessions launched with the Hard-to-Recycle Packaging plenary panel moderated by Tom Wright of Sustainable Bizness. Associates from the Carton Council, Upstream and Recycling Analytics & Titus MRF Services (Titus) shared their expertise on the panel. Mike Centers of Titus educated on how MRF (material recovery facilities) miss approximately 20% of the single-stream material delivered. Secondary MRF may further sort the remnant material; density is key: it takes four primary MRFs to support one secondary MRF.

Holly Elmore taking photos
during breakout sessions
photo courtesy of Scott Lutocka
The remainder of the first-day conference program was filled with two concurrent break-out session series. A wide range of topics were addressed in the panels: Getting Down & Dirty: A practical guide to Zero Waste audits,What Waste Haulers & Recyclers Wish Businesses Knew, Green Labeling: What does that label mean and why should I careTaking a Lesson from Higher Education on Environmentally Preferred PurchasingSource-Separation Maximizes Material ValueMarketing your Zero Waste EffortsSolutions for Organics DiversionMeasuring What CountsSupporting Actors: Critical role non-profits play in your Zero Waste PlanPieces of Zero: Critical components for a successful Zero Waste program.

After the first-day program closed, conference attendees enjoyed a lovely reception and appreciated the opportunity to continue conversations in a casual setting. Long-time friends reunited and new acquaintances became friends over a glass of wine and delicious food. Groups gathered for dinner at various downtown restaurants.

USZWBC President Sue Beets of SBM Management Services (SBM) welcomed attendees to the second day along with thank yous to the event sponsors, volunteers and others who contributed to conference success. Dual keynote speakers Eric Lombardi, Eco-Cycle International executive director, and Michelle "Mitch" Hedlund, Recycle Across America (RAA) founder & executive director, gave excellent presentations on fine-tuning the zero waste industry.

Eric Lombardi at podium
photo courtesy of Scott Lutocka
Eric emphasized the importance of the business community and corporate citizens coming to the front lines for zero waste policy and program development. The local chambers of commerce along with business associations were specifically cited as important players for effective city-wide zero waste platforms. Social enterprise was highlighted as a strong vehicle for necessary shifts in "business as usual."

Using her over 20 years of experience in marketing, communications and branding, serving Fortune 500 companies as well as small to mid-sized companies, Mitch founded RAA in 2010. RAA promotes standardized recycling labels as a major step in alleviating consumer confusion, a leading cause of contamination in public and corporate facilities. RAA partners with Green | Blue Institute's How To Recycle product labeling campaign.

In her presentation, Mitch used a series of standard protocol, including "Stop Signs," created to alleviate confusion while promoting public safety. The "Stop Sign" was once a novelty that flowed into an accepted standard; RAA is committed to evolving consistent recycling bin signage into common practice. Per Mitch, "Do not wait for government to make changes; standards bring safety and health."

Mitch Hedlund during
dinner introductions
Following the keynote speakers Sierra Nevada sustainability manager Cheri Chastain moderated the USZWBC Certification panel. As the first Platinum Zero Waste-Certified business, Sierra Nevada is an industry leader and Cherie was perfect to moderate the panel. Associates from Disneyland ResortsFetzer Vineyards and Raytheon Company presented on their certification experiences and accomplishments.

A prominent zero waste certification program is an effective tool for grounding emerging protocol into standard industry practices, infiltrated with integrity. For example, incineration was a hot topic at the inaugural 2012 National Zero Waste Conference as "waste to energy" was considered recycling by a minority. Subsequently, incineration was classified equivalent to landfill in the ZWCP and is no longer a discussion point.

The ZWA Blog article, Third Party Certification Edges Industry Towards a Zero Waste Economy, introduces the ZWBCP, honors the pioneers who earned the first certifications and lists program parameters.

Prior to lunch, USZWBC Executive Director Stephanie Barger gave the USZWBC 2015 State of Zero Waste and facilitated a participatory Next Steps for USZWBC discussion session. 

Elvis Nolasoc speaking while Mitch
Hedlund & Nicole Starr listen
During the tasty vegetarian lunch, Mitch moderated the Moving the Needle to Zero Waste through media and celebrity support plenary panel featuring Nicole Starr of Participant Media | Pivot TV and Actor Elvis Nolasco of ABC's American Crime. It was empowering to learn Elvis' story of overcoming challenges in his youth along with his passion for zero waste. 

Celebrities and media reach the consumer in avenues not available to local, state and federal governments and corporations. Consumer consciousness shifts are necessary for zero waste communities to emerge from current wasteful conditions. In RAA campaigns, Mitch brings celebrities to the forefront with "let's recycle right" endorsements.

As zero waste moves from an emerging to a maturing industry, strong leadership is essential to ensure integrity is maintained. Albertsons|Vons Manager Refuse & Recycling Curt Smith moderated the Leadership: Directing the Zero Waste Journey plenary panel during the second day afternoon sessions. Executives from Kellogg Garden ProductsToyota Motor Sales and Ingersoll Rand shared their respective roles in guiding standard industry practices development.

While at the podium, Kathy Kellogg of Kellogg Garden Products spoke on the state of the soils, the valuable role compost plays and how our soils are often not capable of producing nutrient-rich fruits & vegetables.

The mid-afternoon program consisted of the following concurrent break-out sessions: Zero Waste at Multi-Tenant PropertiesConnecting National Chains to Local ProgramsMake Your Event Shine - Zero Waste Events, Big & SmallMaking Zero Waste Happen: and Changing Behavior for Total Participation,and Complement your Zero Waste Efforts with Additional Certification.

Thanks to USZWBC volunteer Jason Sanders of EcoSafe Zero Waste the conference walked the zero waste talk. Jason educated hotel staff on food waste collection for compost practices. 

Jason Sanders honoring hotel staff
Each morning and afternoon, the kitchen staff received a brief training on the how’s and why’s to composting and recycling. The conference was the hotel's first food waste collection experience.

Near the conference close, Jason gathered the key kitchen and other back-of-the-house staff to the stage for recognition. Hotel General Manager Wanda Chan joined the staff on stage to add hotel management kudos. The audience gave the hotel staff a standing ovation!

A keynote discussion, Our World Without Waste: The Global Crisis Suggests New Opportunities moderated by Christine Nguyen with the USZWBC, officially closed the conference's stellar program. Eric Lombardi was joined by Richard (Rick) Anthony of Richard Anthony Associates, a consulting firm that focuses on Zero Waste planning, and Captain Charles Moore, Algalita Marine Research founder and discoverer of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 

Captain Charles Moore adorned
in plastic pollution from oceans
In late March, Charles was the closing keynote presenter at The Plastic GYRE Symposium hosted in Atlanta. The ZWA Blog article, Plastic GYRE Symposium: Artists, Scientists and Activists Respond, gives an overview of Charles' similar eye-opening presentation on the stark reality of plastic pollution in the oceans.

The closing discussion emphasized humanity may no longer live within "business as usual" mode. Beyond fine-tuning, an overhaul of our civilization's foundation is necessary to navigate within and beyond the global trash crisis. Consistent with his earlier keynote presentation, Eric sent a call-to-action for corporate citizens to join the front lines on creating viable pathways to a World Without Waste.

For those who arrived a day early, there were substantial pre-conference activities including the morning Achieving Zero Waste at Colleges and Universities Workshop sponsored by CleanRiver Recycling Solutions

Tom Lembo & Bruce Buchan
of  CleanRiver
Within the program CleanRiver founder Bruce Buchan spoke on Zero Waste - The Three C's Approach. The ZWA Blog article, Evolution of the Three R's, introduced the Three C's: Culture, CommunicationCollection, via a feature of Ricoh Electronics' presentation on the Five R's at the 2012 USZWBC Conference.

Running concurrent in the morning, the Zero Waste 101 Workshop was tailored for those embarking on the journey. The introductory workshop provided the basics for starting or evolving recycling programs. In the afternoon Loyola Marymount University Campus Sustainability, Comprehensive Recycling, Food Waste Diversion Tour was a walking tour of the impressive zero waste practices-in-action.

An all-day ZWBA Scorecard Training 101 Course was intended for those interested in pursuing the professional ZWBA Certification, though open to anyone interested in learning more about the ZWCP.

The USZWBC Four-Yr Club
The USZWBC Four-Year Club includes a handful of folks who attended each of the four USZWBC Conferences. Pictured from left to right: Randy Van Winkle (SBM), Ryan McMullan (Toyota), Stephanie Barger (USZWBC), Gary Liss (Gary Liss & Associates), Holly Elmore (Elemental Impact), Sue Beets (SBM) & Scott Lutocka (Piazza Produce). Rick Anthony and Bruce Buchan were not available for the photo.

For a pictorial recap of the conference, visit the comprehensive Ei FB album, 2015 National Zero Waste Conference - "The Stars of Zero Waste."  Thank you Scott Lutocka for your invaluable teamwork documenting the conference and contributing many of the album photos. 

Congratulations to Stephanie, Emily DeCremer and the USZWBC Board, staff and volunteers on an excellent conference!

It is amazing to witness the zero waste progress over the past years. Within the progress is a knowing the journey is merely beginning. Industry pioneers are enthusiastic to move beyond business as usual and into the frontier of a World Without Waste

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Zero Waste in ACTION Blog tops 200,000 pageviews!

On May 12, 2015 the ZWA Blog topped 200K Views!

The 200,000 milestone for a niche blog is a monumental achievement, catapulting the published article collection into a prominent industry resource and respected journalism.

Launched in early 2009 as the Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ) Blog, the original posts chronicled the challenges and successes of the ZWZ program along with industry specific topics. When the National Restaurant Association purchased the ZWZ in 2012, the name evolved into the Zero Waste in ACTION (ZWA) Blog.

When the ZWA Blog surpassed 100,000 pageviews in July 2013, the ZWA Blog article, ZWA Blog: A Powerful Industry Resource & Voice, chronicled Elemental Impact'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
The first 100,000 pageviews accumulated over 52 months - over four years. With accelerated readership, the second 100,000 pageviews occurred in 22 months - less than two years!

With a total of 322 blog articles, the ZWA Blog is a valuable industry resource and plays a leading role in Ei's powerful cyberspace voice. Over the past year, the average pageviews per article increased from 475 to 620 while the number of annual articles published decreased. In 2012, the ZWA Blog published 73 new articles, in 2013 31 articles and a further decline to 22 articles in 2014. To date 9 articles published in 2015.

In 2013, the ZWA Blog evolved into an on-line magazine as most posts are in-depth articles with readership continuing long after publication. The all-time most popular ZWA Blog articles are:
Ei Chair Scott Seydel with
Laura Turner Seydel & Dianna Cohen
Within a mere six weeks The Plastic GYRE article soared into the third most popular post! In addition to Ei's FB and LinkedIN posts, Twitter played an invaluable role in the readership momentum. The Earth Island Institute (@earthisland - 72.6K followers) and the Plastic Pollution Coalition (@plasticpollutes - 18.1K followers) retweeted most of Ei's tweets on The Plastic GYRE article and were significant drivers for the impressive readership.

Ei was named the US Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) 2014 Conference Media Partner for the Atlanta-hosted event. In 2015, Ei was named the USZWBC Media Partner for the annual conference as well as the organization. ZWA Blog articles are vital to the media partner status with the USZWBC staff promoting the articles within the organization's network. Most USZWBC-related articles well exceed the average 620 average pageviews.

The ZWA Blog strong readership stats are grounded in Ei's powerful cyberspace network including the Ei website (average 5,000+ monthly visits), Ei Twitter (1,080 followers), Ei Newsletter (3,000+ distribution) and Ei FB page (nearly 600 likes & growing). In addition, Ei Founder Holly Elmore uses her significant personal connections and cyberspace presence to promote article readership.

Holly "shooting"
Photo courtesy of Scott Lutocka
Personal e-mails to those featured in articles are another important vehicle for driving readership and encouraging others to promote articles within respective networks.

In addition, the Ei FB Albums include over 150 albums documenting Ei's important work and serve as a valuable industry resource. Photos are often used by industry professionals in PPT presentations at national conferences and other events. In general, the photos are provided by Holly.

To date, Holly's "fingertip press" published each of the ZWA Blog articles.

The IMPACT Blog, the ZWA sister blog, stands her own in readership with 68,250 views for the 120 published articles with an average of 570 views per article.

With the monumental 200,000 pageviews benchmark surpassed, a well-orchestrated foundation is built to catapult into dimensions beckoning exploration and activation. Stay tuned, exciting times are around the corner!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Atlanta Airport honors sustainability partners at greeningATL Excellence Awards

Michael Cheyne 
On April 24, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) hosted the first annual greeningATL Excellence Awards 2015, Recognizing Excellence in Sustainable Business Practices. The well attended event honored corporations and individuals within the airport community who contributed to ATL and the surrounding area's sustainability success.

ATL General Manager Miguel Southwell states the airport's sustainability vision and commitment:
“At Hartsfield-Jackson, we don’t want to be known as just the world’s busiest and most efficient airport, but also the most sustainable airport. Our guiding principles are very clear. We are focused on striking an effective, meaningful balance between environmental sustainability, economic stability and social responsibility. Today’s award winners illustrate our collective and demonstrated commitment to these goals.”
With more than 63,000 employees, ATL is the largest employer in Georgia and boasts a direct economic impact of $34.8 billion in metro Atlanta and $70.9 billion in Georgia. ATL has tremendous impact, economic and otherwise, on travelers, employees and the surrounding community. 

In March 2014, the Atlanta Aerotroplis Alliance, a new economic coalition centered around the airport, was launched. In addition, the ATL EcoDistrict, comprised of various stakeholders within the defined airport area, was founded on the concept of continual improvement and provides a unified voice to focus on sustainable practices within the airport community.

Myrna @ podium
Teamwork among internal divisions and organizations along with concessionaire, airline and other business partners is integral to success. Local, state and federal government, non-profits and the surrounding community schools and businesses are vital players in building a solid sustainability platform.  At the awards luncheon, ATL honored businesses and individuals who excelled in their respective roles.

Arriving guests were greeted with a personal welcome by Michael Smith, ATL senior deputy general manager, and Michael Cheyne, ATL director of asset management and sustainability. In the ample pre-program networking time guests enjoyed catching up with long-time friends and meeting new colleagues.

ATL Director, Office of Public Affairs Myrna White opened the luncheon program and served as the Master of Ceremonies. Michael Smith gave welcoming remarks followed by a lovely Invocation by ATL Interfaith Airport Chaplain Reverend Dr. Chester Cook.

Scott @ podum
After the delicious lunch, Myrna introduced Elemental Impact Chair Scott Seydel for his keynote address. In his usual entertaining manner, Scott used clever humor to chronicle ATL's early history from racetrack (no planes!) to the current status of busiest airport in the world. Within his presentation, Scott applauded the airport on sustainability successes intertwined with fun visuals.

The award presentations were tag-teamed by Myrna and Michael Smith. Ei Partner HMSHost was a double winner for the corporate Innovation and individual Innovative Leadership Awards. 

Dating back to 2009, HMSHost took the leadership role in the collection of spent grease (from fryers) for bio-fuel production. Working with their sub-concessionaires and the other master concessionaire, HMSHost created a working model where all airport spent grease was collected for bio-fuel production.

In 2011, Ei worked with HMSHost on crafting a milk jug recycling program for the ATL Starbucks. With approximately 2500 milk jugs used per week, 130,000 milk jugs per year, HMSHost took the initiative to bale the milk jugs back-of-the-house in one store location and deliver the mini bales to a local recycling company. Revenue generated covered the baler and labor costs. 

Scott DeFife (NRA), Holly & Tim
w/ Going Green Airports award
The ZWA Blog post, Milk Jugs Recycled @ Atlanta Airport, is an overview of the system. The Ei FB album, 12-05-11 SFCI ATL Airport Milk Jug Recycling, gives a pictorial play by play of the collection, compacting and baling process.

Later in 2011 HMSHost worked closely with ATL on a successful back-of-the-house food waste collection for compost pilot on Concourse T. During this time frame, Michael Cheyne included the groundbreaking compostable food & beverage packaging provision in the then Concessions Contract RFP - request for proposal. The ZWA Blog post, Atlanta Airport Makes Bold Sustainable Statement, announces the groundbreaking contract provision.

As 2011 drew to a close, ATL was the recipient of the prestigious Going Green Airport Award for the monumental concessionaire contract provision. The ZWA Blog article, Atlanta Airport wins National Award, announces the award.

In 2013, HMSHost was the leader in Ei's Airborne Kitchen Grease (AKG), a proactive approach to a costly cooking by-product, initiative. Pei Wei, an HMSHost restaurant on ATL's international terminal, participated in the eight-week AKG pilot. The Water, Chemical, & Cost Savings in Commercial Kitchens By Using Grease Lock Filters (GLF), an independent engineer's report, established the cost-savings inherent within the GLF system. 

Devon & Tony with awards
The ZWA Blog article, GREASE: a new frontier filled with economic & environmental promise, announces the pilot report and describes how an AKG proactive approach saves water, toxic chemical use, labor and dollars.

As documented in the ZWA Blog article, Atlanta Airport Presents a Proactive Approach to Airborne Kitchen Grease, ATL committed to a campus-wide GLF installation. Due to the AKG proactive approach, ATL anticipates 1.1 million gallons per year in water-savings and an estimated $7,000+ cost-savings per concessionaire. HMSHost was the first concessionaire to install GLF in their ATL restaurants. With a GLF contract in-place, HMSHost is developing a national GLF installation plan for their airport and travel plaza operations.

Devon Ray, HMSHost senior manger, contracting, flew in from D.C. to accept the corporate award. As he was unavailable to attend the lunch, Tony Szajdek - HMSHost assistant general manager - accepted the individual award on behalf of Tim Slaney, HMS senior director operations. 

Other greeningATL Excellence Awards included:

greeningATL awards
  • Community Leader Award - Ray Williams, Benjamin E. Mays High School
  • GreeningATL Eco-Employee Award – Pat Gallimore, Atlanta Airlines Terminal Corporation 
The creative greeningATL eco-sphere awards were compliments of ATL senior sustainability planner, Liza Milagro's ingenuity.

As lunch closed, Liza announced each table was complete with Ei Supporter Asean | Stalkmarket compostable containers and requested guests to place uneaten food in the containers for later composting. Ei founder Holly Elmore and Sustainable Food Court Initiative Co-Chair Doug Kunnemann of NatureWorks joined Rick Mills, Asean national account & sales manager, and Paul Brown of Paul Brown Consulting at the Asean sponsor table. Paul Brown recently joined forces with Asean to share his airport concession expertise.

Michael Cheyne gave the greeningATL luncheon closing remarks as well as facilitated the raffle drawings.

Ei Partners EcoProducts and NaturBag were sponsors and recognized in the event program as well as during the raffle drawing.

Doug, Scott, Stephanie & Michael C.
Incoming City of Atlanta Director of Sustainability Stephanie Benfield made the greeningATL event a priority in her hectic schedule. Twice Stephanie was honored during presentations. Friends from the metro area were thrilled to personally congratulate Stephanie on her new role and offer their support.

The Ei FB album, greeningATL Excellence Awards 2015, gives a pictorial recap of the impressive first annual awards ceremony.

Ei has a long-standing close working relationship with ATL dating back to early 2011 when Michael Cheyne's current position - Director of Asset Management & Sustainability - was created. With new projects within the Water Use | Toxicity platform underway, Ei is a strong supporter in ATL's quest for "greenest airport in the world" designation.

The greeningATL Excellence Awards are an important vehicle to recognize ATL's partners, whether employee, contractor or area organization, who accelerate sustainability success at the world's busiest and most efficient airport. .... soon to be the world's greenest airport!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Compostable F&B Packaging: integral to zero waste programs and soil rebuilding

During the early Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ) days, in 2009 | 2010, Atlanta foodservice pioneers led the nation in the commercial collection of food waste for compost. 

ZWZ Chair Laura Turner Seydel
@ ZWZ Two-Yr Anniversary Event
Immediately following the renowned February 2009 ZWZ launch press conference at the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), then ZWZ director Holly Elmore made a monumental announcement at the Meeting Planners International conference closing luncheon: 
All food related to this 1200-person luncheon was consumed, donated to the Atlanta Community Food Bank or collected for food waste compost! 
The ZWZ food waste collection focus was back-of-the-house where employees were responsible for separating food from recyclables and trash. Before long, quotes were abundant with the message: This is easy, why would an operator NOT separate food waste for compost?

In 2011, Elemental Impact formed the Sustainable Food Court Initiative (SFCI) to address the much more challenging collection of front-of-the-house food waste. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) joined as the SFCI - Airport Pilot in 2011, followed by the Georgia Dome as the SFCI - Event Venue Pilot in 2012.

By its nature, front-of-the-house food waste collection requires operators to address their food and beverage (f&b) packaging. Within current technology, reusables or compostable f&b service ware are the options for successful programs. Recyclable service ware is not recommended due to food contamination.

Typical Georgia Dome suite
foodservice set-up
At the Georgia Dome, Levy Restaurants opted to use reusable f&b serviceware in the suites with great success. Though the reusables brought the suites foodservice to near zero waste, the impetus was cost-savings for Levy. Added value: an enhanced fan experience with china, stainless flatware and glass beverage service accompanied with cloth napkins in the suites!

ATL committed to compostable f&b packaging with a provision in the 2011 concessionaire contract requiring food vendors to use compostable consumer-facing packaging & flatware. The ZWA Blog article, Atlanta Airport’s Leadership Role in Compostable Packaging, gives a brief history of the contract provision along with an update on implementing the provision at the busiest airport in the world.

Ready to expand their recycling practices to the next dimension, GWCC Director of Sustainability Tim Trefzer requested the Ei SMAT - Sustainable Materials ACTION Team - to present a comprehensive Compostable F&B Packaging Education Session to Levy Restaurants' downtown campus. Foodservice operations are contracted with Levy at the GWCC, Georgia Dome, Centennial Olympic Park, Phillips Arena and the New Falcons Stadium.

Doug & Tim after session
Under the direction of SFCI Co-Chair Doug Kunnemann with Natureworks, SMAT crafted a powerful two-hour session that included ample time for Q&A and discussion throughout the presentations. On April 8 the SMAT members converged on Atlanta for the Levy education session. 

Tim welcomed the Levy associates from the downtown Atlanta campus as well as Spencer Treadwell, Atlanta Falcons director of logistics and facilities, with an emphasis on the GWCC's sustainability commitment. Ei founder Holly Elmore followed with an Ei overview flavored with the long-term Ei | GWCC relationship.

In her presentation, Holly reminded the audience of the challenges inherent within food courts, specifically event venue operations. Holly's closing comments delineated the three-step approach: 1> establish baselines 2> create a game plan and 3> implement in stages. A final reminder: Baby Steps, lots of baby steps, are Key to Success! 

Rick explaining role compostable
bag play in food waste separation
Rick Lombardo of Natur-Bag gave the core presentation establishing the important role compostable packaging plays in zero waste programs. Within his slides, Rick educated on bio-plastics and their integral relationship with most compostable foodservice products. Importantly, Rick explained the difference between fragmentation and decomposition along with the impact of contamination on compost and soils. Several examples of "greenwashing" in the market place were given. 

Finishing on a high note, Rick included several prominent examples where compostable packaging was standard within corporate operations.

Following Rick, Doug introduced the importance of independent, third-party certification when choosing f&b packaging products. BPI Compostable Certified is the industry standard recognized by food waste destination facilities. The slides included the certification parameters & what they mean, benefits of certification, and where to find certified products. Doug concluded his informative presentation with Levy successes at stadiums and facilities across the nation.

Ken during his presentation
Ken Fraser with Eco-Products was next on the agenda to showcase success stories. Along with listing program stats at Safeco Field, University of Colorado and Red Rocks Amphitheater, Ken included a pictorial page of compostable products used. The visuals demonstrated products may be branded to serve as consumer-facing marketing vehicles.

Closing the formal program, Sarah Martell of Innovia Films presented on the ramifications of contamination along with suggestions for prevention, especially within the back-of-the house. Sarah emphasized the technology is available for a shift to compostable packaging for challenging items, including snack packaging. Several samples of retail products were on-hand to emphasize the point.

Suppliers have solutions - it is important for the foodservice operator to set new packaging standards and communicate the standards to their distributors. The power of consumer demand is necessary to evolve industry packaging practices. Sarah encouraged Levy to use their consumer voice for a shift to compostable packaging for their pre-packaged items sold in concessions.

Sarah presenting on contamination
Holly moderated a vibrant Q&A session that meandered through many pertinent topics. As part of an answer, Holly spoke about the critical state of our soils and the imperative role food waste collection for compost plays in rebuilding the Earth's soils. The ZWA Blog article, Urban Ag: vital on many fronts, includes an introduction to the state of our soils.

After the formal program conclusion, many of the Levy associates stayed to continue the dialogue. Tim was most pleased with the session.

With a substantial industry resource validated in a successful event, the Compostable F&B Packaging Education Session is available upon request for local governments, trade associations and large groups. An abbreviated presentation PPT is available on the SMAT page. Contact Holly with inquiries.

SMAT before lunch
In true Ei-style, the SMAT members convened for a lovely lunch at McCormick & Schmick's Seafood & Steaks located around the corner in the CNN Center. Lunch was an excellent opportunity to regroup on session success and suggestions for improvement.

Later in the evening SMAT members gathered at Ecco - Georgia's first dumpster-free restaurant - for a lovely dinner. Tim along with Liza Milagro, ATL senior sustainability planner, and Michael Smith, ATL deputy general manager, joined SMAT for the festive, productive dinner.

The Ei FB album, 04-08-15 Compostable F&B Packaging Education Session, gives a pictorial recap of the GWCC | Levy session.

Dinner at Ecco
Compostable f&b packaging is integral to zero waste programs where foodservice is involved. With many options available and abundant greenwashing, education is key to creating programs grounded within integrity. 

It is time for the foodservice industry to step to the plate, understand their responsibility for diverting foodwaste from landfill in a contaminant-free, beneficial stream, and use their power of consumer demand to evolve packaging standards. Industry pioneers set the stage with their effective programs in-place, some years ago; a path to follow is well-established.

The Compostable F&B Packaging Education Session is a valuable industry resource and an easy first step. 

Our soils, the foundation for our food system, require immediate rebuilding to sustain an ever-growing population. Compost is food for the soil's microbial community and essential to rebuilding our soils. Food waste is a key compost recipe ingredient and nearly all is destined for landfill in most communities.The time for action is NOW!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Urban Agriculture: vital on many fronts

On a crisp early spring day, Elemental Impact orchestrated a tour of Atlanta's robust urban agriculture (ag) for Fulton County and EPA Region 4. The overt tour purpose was to introduce Valerie Rawls, Fulton County senior policy advisor to Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chairman John Eaves, and Kim Charick, EPA physical scientist in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Division, to the local farmers | non-profits operating farms.

On a deeper level, the tour educated Valerie, Kim and Ei founder Holly Elmore on the urban ag systems in-place, their connectivity (or lack thereof), the far-reaching implications of urban farms beyond providing fresh, seasonal produce to impoverished neighborhoods, and the valuable role compost plays on the farms. 

Valerie is charged with crafting and executing a sustainable community development plan for Fulton County, the largest county in Georgia including downtown Atlanta. Urban agriculture, community gardens and food waste composting are integral to the plan as well as addressing the penal system (re-entry | recidivism) and the homeless population.

Greenhouse @ Good Samaritan w/
compost pile in foreground
The Ei | EPA close working relationship is grounded in the 2009 Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ) launch where Stan Meiburg, the Acting Regional EPA Director, opened the program announcement press conference. More recently Ei is a sub-grantee under the EPA Scaling Up Composting in Charlotte Grant to GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition

The ZWA Blog article Scaling Up Composting in Charlotte introduces the grant; the Charlotte: A Land of Opportunities is an overview of the empowering February Charlotte Grant Team visit.

Creating a solid, local composting infrastructure for food waste generated in homes and commercial foodservice operations is a strong EPA focus. Each farm visited had active compost piles and mentioned they could always use more compost for their soil. 

On-farm or community garden compost is limited to produce, egg shells and farm debris. Proteins & fats are not permitted since pile temperatures may not kill pathogens.The potential varmint attraction from proteins is an issue in urban environments.

Boyd at the Good
Samaritan compost bins
Pursuant to state regulations, commercial composting operations are required to reach specified temperatures for designated time frames to ensure pathogens are killed. Thus, the general rule for commercial composting: if it once lived, it can compost - relates to sea life, animals (including road kill), birds, reptiles and vegetation.

While the EPA focus is on expanding food waste destination options, Ei is intent on creating strong end markets for compost. Urban ag is a developing end market as the farms work to rebuild the often abused soils. In addition, Department of Transportation road maintenance and Parks & Recreation erosion control represent two government end markets.

Note sediment is the #1 water pollutant source; the U.S. spends approximately $44 billion dollars per year to clean top soil out of waterways. Healthy, well-structured soil with solid plant root systems, does not as easily run-off into waterways or blow away in storms. Compost is food for the soil's microbial community and key to rebuilding healthy soils. Thus, the government will save significant funds via a commitment to soil rebuilding.

By identifying valuable compost end markets, many of the challenges with food waste composting destinations will dissipate due to simple supply | demand economics. It is important for city, county and state government agencies to "demand" compost for their operations and work with their counterparts in the permit | regulatory division on resolving the current lack of supply.

With established deeper intentions, the group set out on a fun day touring urban ag, learning from the experts and making notes for future action points. Boyd Leake with Community Environmental joined the group and shared his vast wisdom from operating the Georgia State Prison recycling and composting programs for 18 years.

Chris at Good
Samaritan Farm
First on the tour agenda was The Good Samaritan Farm operated by the Southeastern Horticultural Society (SHS) on a one-acre plot behind the Good Samaritan Health Center founded by Dr. Bill Warren. Part of Dr. Warren's vision was to create a FoodRx program by “prescribing” a farm share to patients with identified nutrition needs. The intent is to implement the FoodRx program with the 2015 farming season. Farmer Chris Theal, a SHS employee, runs the Good Samaritan Farm including its volunteer and educational events.

Upon arrival, SHS Executive Director Caroline Leake educated on the SHS history and their urban farm projects. With roots dating back to mid-1930's, the SHS predecessor organization produced the original Atlanta Flower Show later evolving into the Southeast Flower Show. In 2008, the SHS was born out of the Southeast Flower Show as a non-profit planning to promote the knowledge, art and enjoyment of horticulture throughout the Southeastern U.S.

Launched in 2010, the SHS Learning Gardens & Farms serve as outdoor classrooms that advocate environmental literacy. These classrooms promote healthy lifestyles through organic gardening and farming and teach people in local communities about good nutrition. Along with providing professional development for educators, the classrooms introduce teens and young adults to green jobs and careers in the environmental sector, and serve as locations to teach current sustainable techniques.

In addition to the Good Samaritan Farm, SHS currently partners with the following gardens | farms:
Next on the tour agenda was a visit to Urban Fresh, a community garden supported by the SHS. Located in a challenging area of town, Urban Fresh is a creative avenue to bring community together through gardening. Beyond the fresh food produced, camaraderie and self-esteem rebuilding are several of Urban Fresh's contributions to the community.

Urban Fresh Community Garden
Originally, Urban Fresh re-purposed plastic milk crates for their garden "plots."  Though effective, the system limited the type and quantity of produce planted. With the SHS's assistance, a new raised bed program is gearing up for its first resident gardeners. Several of the raised beds are higher for elder folks with challenges bending over. 

In the next weeks a gravity-fed water catchment system is scheduled for installation. Once operational, the water catchment system will make Urban Fresh water self-sustaining, using no city or well water.

Powerful mural by Xuan Alife from
Spain on Urban Fresh back building 
Alejandro Delgado property owner & manager is on a mission with a vision for the run-down, closed apartment complex Urban Fresh uses for its garden beds. Though the buildings appear dilapidated, Alex confirms the structure is solid for rebuilding back into a vibrant community for elderly veterans and others outcast from society's mainstream. The back side of several buildings are the backdrop for amazing Living Walls murals holding the promise of Alex's vision.

Leaving Atlanta's Westide, the group converged on Truly Living Well (TLW), Center for Natural Urban Agriculture, where urban ag icon Rashid Nuri, TLW CEO & President and former Clinton Advisor on Agriculture, spent time educating the group. Per the website, TLW mission is:
Natural urban agriculture combines the vitality of city life with the benefits of being close to nature, creating communities that are TRULY LIVING WELL.
  • We grow Food
  • We grow Community 
  • We grow People 
TLW is truly an urban farm!
In addition to growing abundant food within the historic Sweet Auburn district, Rashid is committed to education, including potential new farmers, enthusiastic citizens and community leaders. In addition to a robust raised bed farm, the TLW Wheat Street Gardens visited by the group is a gathering site for workshops, programs, tours and events geared towards sharing the community benefits of urban ag.

At the Plastic GYRE Symposium hosted at the Center for Disease Control & Prevention last month, Rashid gave a passionate, empowering talk on the role urban agriculture plays in social justice. In his talk Rashid dispelled the term "food desert" as the residents are no farther from stores with healthy food than affluent neighborhoods; these individuals lack the means to travel to the stores. In addition to its direct health benefits, Rashid linked food grown within an urban environment to significantly reduced plastic packaging. 

The ZWA Blog article, The Plastic GYRE Symposium, Artists, Scientists, Activists Respond, is an overview of the empowering event and features Rashid's session.

Following a lovely lunch at the close-by Sweet Auburn Curb Market, the group traveled to their final destination, Metro Atlanta Urban Farm (MAUF), located on Main Street in College Park near the Atlanta Airport. MAUF CEO Bobby greeted the group and hosted an excellent walking tour of the five-acre farm. Per the website, the MAUF Vision | Mission are as follows:

At the Metro Atlanta Urban Farm, our vision is to build strong and healthy communities through sustainable urban agriculture.

The Mission of The Metro Atlanta Urban Farm is to reduce barriers to Metro Atlanta healthy living in urban communities by encouraging, promoting and supporting health education and sustainable high-quality low-cost agricultural production through gardening and farming training.

MAUF five-acre farm
In addition to the commercial farm, MAUF includes community garden plots offered to local residents for $10 per month. Gardeners may grow any legal crops yet are required to adhere to organic-style farming methods. MAUF staff is available for assistance upon request.

Holly and Bobby know each from the early ZWZ days when Bobby assisted ZWZ Participants create on-site chef's gardens. At the time, Bobby served as the Fulton & Dekalb County ag extension agent, a position he held for nearly 30 years.

Common themes emerged at each urban farm visit:
  • Community education on the invaluable role urban plays in healthy, vibrant communities.
  • Central gathering place for community events including volunteer programs.
  • Compost is integral to farming operations; each farm visited had an active compost pile used to rebuild and maintain the farm soil.
With many new friends made, the group departed enthusiastic to embark on the tours' deeper intentions. A next step is a tour of a closed metro Atlanta government facility that may serve as an indoor food waste composting facility along with an on-site garden or farm, depending on available space.

A farewell group shot @ MAUF
The Ei FB album, 04-03-15 Atlanta Urban Ag Tours, is a pictorial recap of the monumental day.

Rebuilding soils, urban and rural, is critical to building a secure food system based on local agriculture with community engagement. The current soils cannot sustain food production levels to feed the world's growing population. In addition, food grown is often void of necessary nutrients due to the soil's depleted state. A food crisis is on the brink of an explosion.

As stated above, compost is food for the soil's microbial community and key to rebuilding soils to a healthy condition. Food waste collection for compost is essential to soil rebuilding yet there are often no local composting destinations. Simple economic principals of supply | demand may prove the equalizer that breaks through destination challenges.

On the surface the urban ag tours were a fun day spent with new and long-time friends. Yet the undercurrent of imperative action was strong and it was thrilling to realize urban ag's vital role on fronts beyond food security and community engagement.