Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Recycled Office Paper – What Buyers Need To Know About Pre & Post Consumer Recycled Content

Buying printer paper used to be a relatively simple task for most small business owners & consumers. Increasingly though, it is getting much more difficult, and we are met with a huge array of options.
This is even more true for the environmentally-minded buyer who wants to purchase greener office paper and has to evaluate the eco benefits associated with each brand. In particular, it isn’t really clear to many buyers what “recycled content” means and what the best forms of recycled content are.
As such, I’ve put together a brief list highlighting two of the most significant eco attributes associated with recycled copy paper and various other goods. These are the things you should consider when making your purchase:
1) Recycled Content – This is one of the most significant factors to take into account. Whenever you’re buying copy paper, pens, filing folders, etc you should really look to see how much recycled material is in the product. Is it 20% or is it 80%? Normally, products with higher levels of recycled content will cost a bit more, but if you’re a savvy buyer or if you purchase in bulk you can still find really good deals on products with substantial levels of recycled content.
2) Post-Consumer Recycled Material – There are 2 main types of recycled content: post-consumer and pre-consumer. Post-consumer recycled content indicates that the content was used and thrown away (or placed in a recycling container) by a consumer (e.g., you or me) not a business. Pre-consumer recycled content means that the content in the product could have simply been discarded during the manufacturing process (e.g., trimmings from paper while slicing the paper into 8.5″ X 11″ size sheets). Post consumer content is considered to have a larger eco benefit than pre-consumer waste because post consumer waste is much more likely to end up in a landfill when it isn’t recycled.
To say it another way, companies are going to try and reuse all the copy paper trimmings that they can because it saves them money; they’re then going to recycle any remaining paper because they have a monetary incentive to do so; consumers, however, do not have these financial incentives, and thus are far more likely to throw away copy paper that they have used. So by purchasing products with large levels of post consumer content you’re providing more incentives for cities to run efficient curbside recycling programs and in the end providing more incentives for consumers to recycle.
Finally a product which is only tagged as having a certain percentage of “recycled content” (without stating whether it is pre-consumer or post-consumer) is merely stating that they either do not know whether the recycled material is post or pre-consumer or that the product is made from a mix of pre-consumer & post-consumer material and they do not know what the mix is.
The most eco-friendly choice is to use a type of recycled paper that is made of 100% recycled content and if at all possible a very large percent (e.g., 70%, 90%, or 100%) of post consumer recycled content.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Green Business Blog Carnival #16

Are you ready to eat some funnel cake!!

Well you better be because we’re getting ready to dive into some of the richest, moistest, most savory funnel cake this weeks green blogosphere has to offer – Welcome to the Green Business Blog Carnival, Contest #16!
If you missed last weeks contest, head over to Doc’s Green Blog to get your fix.

And without further ado, lets welcome this weeks top contenders:

In Green Washing we have Nick, from TriplePundit.com, who tells us about a not so sweet idea from the jokers over at the corn lobby to change the name of high fructose corn syrup to “corn sugar.” If you haven’t heard about this yet, it’s a must read. This has been all over the news and blogosphere and has completely blown up in the face of the corn industry.
In Green Energy we have Antonio, from EnergyRefuge.com, discussing the differences between renewable and sustainable energy and some of the controversies surrounding types of renewable power.
In Eco Awards we have Jeff, from SundanceChannel.com, who’s giving us the skinny on Alex Eaves, founder of Stay Vocal (a company that sells redesigned used t-shirts) who is promoting his Green America People’s Choice Award nomination with a US tour… along with singer/songwriter Dandelion Snow.
In Health and Wellness we have David, from TheGoodHuman.com, who’s put together a list of10 toxic ingredients to avoid when shopping. You must be 48 inches or taller to ride this one folks – it can get a little scary.
In Social Resources we have Lorna, from GreenMarketing.tv, who’s assembled a meaty list of the best social entrepreneur blogs. If you run a socially oriented business or are thinking about starting one, get your bookmarking tool ready.
So that’s the lineup.
Thanks to all our contestants for sharing such wonderful content! I’ll speak for myself and say that after reading all that tasty cake, I’m feeling plump and happy – hope you are as well :-).

Are you a Green Business Blog Carnival Roadie?

Next week the carnival is heading over to CleanTechnica, so make a note and stop over for another dose of deep-fried goodies, whirly rides, and meaty green news. (the full schedule and past hosts are over at Sustainablog.com)
And green bloggers don’t forget to submit your posts to star in next week’s carnival!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Are Compostables a Crutch When We Should Be Using Reusable

I was down in Atlanta last weekend and I had the pleasure of getting together with Becky Striepe, editor of EatDrinkBetter.com and a fellow eco blogger.
Are compostables a crutch
Becky and I were chatting a bunch about the green blogosphere and our businesses, and she raised an interesting question / concern about compostables… one that I think a lot of the more liberal folks in the green space have.
She asked “I wonder sometimes whether compostables are a crutch for consumers who should really be using reusables?”
It’s an excellent question and given the fact that we (as Viv) are enabling businesses to purchase compostables at a discount, it’s one that we’ve definitely thought through.
Here are our thoughts:
  1. For most consumers using compostables in their home, our answer is yes – compostables rarely make sense. Just as there’s no need to use disposable plastic cutlery or plastic cups in your home, there’s really no need to use compostables either. Most consumers will save money by using reusables as opposed to single use plastic items or compostables. Really the only argument for using disposables is that it’s more convenient, and even this argument is tenuous. Is it really that much more convenient to eat with a plastic fork then to pull a metal one out of the drawer and throw it in the dishwasher once you’re through? I think the vast majority of folks would say it’s no more convenient and for the few that say it is, that extra convenience should not outweigh the increased cost of having to purchase disposables.
  2. For a few consumers using compostables for large events or social gatherings, our answer is maybe – compostables make sense sometimes. It honestly depends on how large your gathering is and what your appetite is for cost vs convenience. Example: say you’re having a big BBQ for 150 guests. Unfortunately, you only have enough plates & cutlery for 40 guests. Does it make sense to go out and buy another 110 ceramic plates just for the party? This definitely doesn’t make economic sense and it also doesn’t make environmental sense (the footprint of those 110 ceramic plates which are only getting 1 or 2 uses / yr is much larger than that of 110 disposables). You could try and borrow these items from friends, but that may be too inconvenient (you have to borrow from 3 different neighbors and send them home with dirty dishes?). You could also hire a catering service that could bring ceramic and metal tableware, but that may be too costly. In such a case, compostables are your best disposable option. On the other hand, if your BBQ only has 30 guests, you could just use your own items – no disposables needed. Sure it’s a little extra cleanup, but it’s also lower cost and a more enjoyable dining experience.
  3. For most businesses, our answer is no – compostables are not a crutch and they make sense for to go food. Food service businesses that focus on take out move through very high volumes of food, and as such they use large amounts of food packaging & tableware. When you’re delivering food and beverage to potentially thousands of customers a day, two problems arise if you want to use reusables for your to go packaging: a) most importantly, reusables are more expensive and if you give someone their two enchiladas in a reusable container to take home… it’s very likely you’re not going to get that container back. This, I think, is fairly obvious and is the primary reason why most businesses can not use reusables for to go packaging, b) secondly, many to go focused businesses are small operations with limited space and limited employees. Even if customers were to return their reusable packaging (or say if they just ate their two enchiladas at a local park and then dropped the container back off before heading back to work) it may not be economically feasible for a taco truck to wash & store all these returned dishes. (PS – if it wasn’t clear, we always recommend food service businesses use reusables for folks that are dining in… it’s cheaper, better for the environment, and a better dining experience for the customer).
So that’s our take.
What do you think? Should people be using compostables in their homes, at large events, or for their businesses?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Innovative Recycling Signs

As you know, we’re big fans of killer recycling signage, and we believe the best type of recycling signs are large, 3 dimensional, and out of the ordinary.
Recently, Shefali Bhardwaj (an old Viv intern!), spotted these signs outside of a Trader Joe’s in Boston. They definitely fit our bill.
What do you think? Would these signs make you more likely to recycle your aluminium cans and plastic bottles?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Paper Coffee Cups - What You Should Know Before You Make a Purchase

There are a lot of things folks don’t know when they’re purchasing paper coffee cups. Here’s what you should be looking for if you’re trying to make sustainable choices when purchasing your paper coffee cups.

#1 – Do you need to be using disposable cups in the first place?

A lot of folks who purchase paper coffee cups simply don’t need to be buying them. They’re purchasing the cups for an office or an area where there is just not a large throughput of traffic. If this is the case, you should be using a re-usable mug or container. Paper coffee cups are needed for “to-go” purposes at cafes where they can’t be handing out ceramic mugs that cost $1 a pop to folks who aren’t going to return the mugs. They’re also needed at some events and venues where there is just such a high throughput of people that it’s not economically feasible for a business to carry & maintain (i.e. wash) re-usable mugs.
Studies have been conducted to compare the environmental footprint of re-usable cups vs. paper coffee cups. Typically, manufacturing a re-usable mug takes more energy then manufacturing a paper coffee cup. The break-even point at which a re-usable coffee cup becomes more environmentally friendly than a paper coffee cup is actually quite low though – just 24 uses.1
If you’re in an office space, we definitely recommend pushing your co-workers to use a re-usable mug. You’ll be doing some good for the environment in less than a month :-).

#2 – Is the paper in the cup recycled or is it FSC certified?

Virgin paper has a significantly higher environmental footprint than recycled paper. Run a few calculations over at the Environmental Defense Fund’s Paper Calculator to see the numbers for yourself. Increasing recycled content in your cup results in a direct 1:1 drop in the amount of wood used (e.g., using cups with 50% recycled content as opposed to 0% requires 50% less wood) as well as reductions in the amount of energy used, waste water, and solid waste (these reductions are not 1:1, but are still significant at anywhere from 1:5 to 1:3).
Similarly, paper that is FSC certified comes from well managed forests which means that the forests are managed according to the strictest sustainability standards, which include:
  • Strong forest and environmental protection standards
  • Requiring protection of old growth and endangered forests
  • Establishing limits on large-scale clear cutting
  • Encouraging forestry practices that reduce toxic chemical use
  • Strong community protection standards
  • Consistently protecting native peoples rights
And that’s just naming a few.

#3 – Is the Paper PCF or ECF?

PCF standards for processed chlorine free. ECF stands for elemental chlorine free.
Why is it important to purchase paper that is PCF or ECF? White paper bleached with Chlorine and Chlorine Dioxide emits dioxins and other organochlorides into the air and water. These toxins get into the food chain and accumulate in the fat cells of animals. Through consumption, dioxin moves up the food chain and reach their highest concentration in the animals who are at the top of the food chain. As you would guess, humans occupy one of these slots. Once in our bodies, dioxin help cause diabetes, endometriosis, immune system suppression, infertility and cancer.

#4 – Are the paper coffee cups compostable?

If you can compost your paper coffee cups than you are eliminating the solid waste created by these cups.
Paper coffee cups can be certified compostable according to standards ASTM D6400 and EN13432. The simplest way to check whether a brand of cups is certified compostable is to check the Biodegradable Products Institute’s list of approved food service products.
It’s also important to note that cups that are lined with PE, polyethelyne, are not accepted by 90% of composting facilities that accept food waste (as the PE contaminates the compost). There are cups out there that are lined with PE and have been greenwashing and claiming to be compostable (see Perfectouch Hot Cups). Be sure to steer clear of these cups if you’re planning on composting your paper coffee cups.

So, for the eco-minded purchasing managers & business owners out there, those are the 4 questions you need to ask yourself when you’re purchasing paper coffee cups.
Hope they’re helpful!
(PS – Do you have a 5th question we should be asking? Drop it in the comments and share it with our community)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Viv Biz Club Videos: Purchasing Tips, Compostability, and More

If you haven’t seen them yet, we’ve been busy the past few weeks creating a series of educational videos on topics related to compostable food packaging.
We’ve noticed over the past several months that a very serious knowledge gap exists amongst purchasers of compostable food packaging. Many buyers are unclear or confused about: 1) how to purchase compostables that are truly green, and 2) how and where to compost compostable packaging.
As a result, we decided to explore some of these issues through a few in-office Viv shorts. Hope you enjoy!

Viv Video: Biodegradable Packaging vs Compostable Packaging – DON’T get Greenwashed

Viv Video: 4 Tips To Ensure Your PLA Corn Cups Are Actually Composted

Viv Video: 4 Tips to Buying Truly Green Biodegradable Coffee Cups

Viv Video: Bagasse Products & Packaging – Why We’re Big Fans of 


(PS – I’m thinking a blue collared shirt for the next videos :-)… need to keep up this solid colored golf shirt motif)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Taking Out the Trash... For Good - Why You Should Trash Your Trash Can

The DIY Bin Solution Constructed by Rigolo
Last week we highlighted a major issue that eco-minded businesses are facing:
Plastic food packaging is preventing many of them from recycling more, composting more, and moving toward zero waste. One of the recommendations we discussed to increase your businesses waste diversion was to eliminate or dramatically reduce the size of your trash can.
Today, I’d like to go into more depth here on this issue and why I think this is one of the most powerful and under utilized tactics to increasing your waste diversion rate as a business.

4 reasons why you should eliminate or dramatically reduce the size of your trash can

  1. Eliminating your trash will dramatically increase your recycling & composting rates. Why is this true? Well, changing a person’s behavior is not an easy thing to do. If unmotivated, people tend to do what they’re used to, what’s easy, and what’s comfortable. Most people are used to putting all of their waste in 1 trash can. So long as a trash can is available, that will continue to happen. That’s why you need to do something that will force behavior change. If you’re used to putting all your trash in a trash can and all the sudden there is no trash can… well, now you have to figure out what to do with that waste.
    • *ENTER OPPORTUNITY TO CHANGE BEHAVIOR*. Now you’re confused. You have a bunch of waste, but no trash can, and you’re looking for someone to tell you what to do with your waste. This is where amazing recycling and composting signage + trained employees are key. These signs & people educate you and tell you to put your recyclables in the recycling bin and your compostables in the composting bin. And as a result, you change your behavior and divert more of your waste to recycling and composting bins.
  2. Cut down on your waste hauling costs. Many municipalities and waste haulers charge money to take away your trash. If you have less trash, then that’s less money spent having it hauled away. Further, some cities (e.g., San Francisco) offer businesses rebates if they shift their waste from trash to recycling & composting.
  3. Save space in your store or office. Many of the small businesses we’ve worked with have told us that they have trouble finding space for 3 bins: trash, composting, and recycling in the front of their house. The simple solution – eliminate your trash can and move to a 2 bin system for recycling & composting only.
  4. 3-compartment waste containers can be hard to find. We’ve also heard this from multiple business owners. One of the businesses we’ve worked with, Rigolo, in Laurel Heights in San Francisco, CA had such a difficult time finding a classy 3 bin system that he eventually had to go forward with a DIY approach (shown at top of page), where he sawed holes into the lids of these bins. If you only need 2 bins, there are more options available and you don’t encounter these problems.

And we’re not just talking about food service businesses or retail…

Under desk recycle bin.
To throw something in the trash now, employees must get up from their desk and walk to the kitchen on the floor. Once at the kitchen there are then also composting and recycling cans available with signage encouraging employees to put items into the correct bins.My girlfriend is interning at Clorox in Oakland, CA this summer. She told me earlier this week that the Clorox green team has removed all the trash cans in every cubicle within the building. Cubicles now only have recycling bins.
This is a huge step in the right direction and a big kudos to Clorox.
3 Bin System in Clorox kitchen areas
If you think about the type of waste you have at an office, almost all of it can be recycled: copy paper, mail / envelopes, plastic bottles, staples / paperclips, packaging, etc. The fact of the matter is though, most of us are quite lazy. If you have a trash can in your cubicle, you’re very likely to take the easy route and just put all your waste into that one trash bin.
Clorox however has now forced employees to get up and take their waste to an area where they’re encouraged to compost & recycle most of their waste. Great work.

But what do I do with items that can’t be composted or recycled?

First, eliminate as many of these items as you can. Most should not have to be used daily. Restaurants and food service businesses can move to re-usables & compostables. Offices, as I’ve said, should be able to recycle the vast majority of their waste.
For the few businesses though that still have to use items that are not recyclable or compostable, I recommend having a very small trash can that is not easily accessed by customers or employees. For instance, Loving Cup, a rice pudding shop in San Francisco, keeps a very small trash bin behind their counter. This way customers must ask an employee to use the trash if they really have something that shouldn’t go in a recycling or composting bin.

But, aren’t our recycling and composting bins going to be contaminated?

This is a very valid concern. If you do eliminate your trash can, customers and/or employees are going to incorrectly sort their waste. Recyclables will end up in the compost, compostables in the recycling, and so forth. I have 4 thoughts on this:
  1. Preventing contamination is the key, and as we’ve said before, good signage will go a long way toward preventing contamination.
  2. It’s dirty work, but if you have the will and manpower, employees can sort through bins after they’re full and remove the items which are causing the contamination.
  3. Recycling and composting facilities will resort the waste at their facility. These facilities have specific technologies and practices in place to sort through composting and recycling piles and minimize contamination before these items are processed.
  4. The Greater Good must win out. In this case, we need to bite the bullet on increased contamination of our recycling and composting in the short-term, to enable the education of our citizens and a much larger diversion of our waste in the long-term.
With that, I call upon all business managers, owners, green teams, and others to eliminate or dramatically reduce the size of your trash can.
Let’s take out the trash for good.
Have you eliminated a trash can in your home or workplace? Share you story.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Evolution of Disposable Cups: From Plastic to Compostable to Edible?

As you know, we cover a lot of innovations in the food packaging space. We’re big fans of compostables and all the innovation that’s taking place in that industry, but a new product is really taking the idea of compostable to a whole new level:
Meet Jelloware – an edible concept cup made entirely out of agar agar(a vegan gelatin derived from red algae that’s often used in Asian deserts).
The cups are designed by The Way We See The World, a New York based design consultancy. They’re available in various flavors to compliment your drink, including: lemon-basil, ginger-mint, or rosemary-beet. They are disposable and are meant to be thrown in the grass to biodegrade after you’re finished (and as TWWSTW points out, agar agar actually nourishes the growth of plants).
Now over the course of running the Viv Biz Club we’ve had quite a few folks ask us what happens if they accidentally take a bite out of a corn cup made from PLA.
The short answer is: “well, we don’t recommended eating PLA products, but you should be fine”. PLA is non-toxic and a small piece will simply pass right through your gastrointestinal tract.
That being said, if you have been looking for an edible cup, well look no further.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

PerfecTouch Hot Cups Not Compostable | Buy BPI Certified Cups

Every so often we need to call out products and/or manufactures in the industry that claim their products meet certain environmental standards when they blatantly do not.
This happened recently with Taterware’s Utensils and unfortunately it’s now happening withGeorgia Pacific’s PerfecTouch Hot Cups.
As you can see in the 2nd bullet on the right,

Georgia Pacific is claiming that their Perfectouch hot cups are compostable.

(If the print is a bit small, just click the picture to see the live version on Georgia Pacific’s site).

We know this is false for two reasons:

  1. The hot cups are not certified by the BPI (the leading certifier of compostable packaging) nor is there any evidence that the hot cups meet the national standards for compostability, ASTM D6400 & D6868, and
  2. The hot cups are lined with a plastic polymer, polyethylene (PE), and in a recent study commissioned by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition it was found that only 8.3% of commericial composting facilities that accept food packaging accept paper hot cups lined with polyethylene (vs. 80% acceptance for paper cups lined with a bio-plastic like poly-lactic acid).
These Perfectouch hot cups are unfortunately green washing and they do the entire industry a disservice.
UPDATE (8/3/2010): Viv Video | “Compostable Hot Cups – 4 Tips to Buying Truly Green Biodegradable Coffee Cups”
If you’d like learn more about how you can make sure you’re purchasing hot cups that are 100% compostable and earth friendly, please see our Buyer’s Guide for Compostable Hot Cups.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Plastic Containers With Lids - 6 Reasons To Go Compostable

Food service businesses of all types have been using plastic containers with lids for decades. The containers come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and are used as: take out food clamshells, deli containers, water and soda bottles, coffee cups, personal care bottles (e.g., shampoo or body wash bottles), and a great number of food items lining the shelves of grocery stores (e.g., milk cartons, food trays for produce, yogurt cups).

Traditionally, these items have been made from petroleum, but increasingly a new generation of containers and lids are available that are made from renewable resources including polylactic acid (corn), bagasse, paper, and wheat straw. These materials can be used to make food containers and lids that are certified 100% compostable according to ASTM D-6400 and D-6868, and can thus be composted in a commercial composting facility.
So with that, here are:

6 Reasons to Switch from Plastic Containers to Compostable Containers

  1. In the US, only ~6% of all plastic waste gets recycled. This compares with a 50% recycling rate for paper, 37% for metals, and 22% for glass (according to the EPA). The low recycling rate for plastic containers is due to a range of factors, including: a) consumer confusion regarding which plastics (#1 – #7) can be recycled in their municipality, b) complexity in the process of sorting and processing each of the various types of plastic, and c) the unfavorable economics of processing certain types of plastic. Some plastics do have higher recycling rates (e.g., ~24% of water & soda bottles, plastic #1, are recycled each year), but most are unfortunately downcycled into other secondary products like textiles or plastic lumber (this again is unlike metals and glass which are often recycled back into new cans / bottles).
  2. Health concerns with BPA (in plastics #7 and #3). BPA is a common chemical used in the manufacture of plastic containers and to line some metal containers. It is found in baby bottles, water bottles, almost all canned food, soda cans. When these items are heated or cooled BPA can leech into foods and BPA has been found by some studies to be in the urine of 95% of Americans. BPA is a known endocrine disruptor and when in your body, it can mimic your hormones, eventually causing an imbalance. Several studies have linked BPA to medical problems, including breast and prostate cancer, thyroid disruption, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, hyperactivity, disruptions in fetal and infant brain development, and possibly miscarriages.
  3. Health concerns with styrene (in plastic #6), also known as polystyrene or Styrofoam.From the EPA – “Acute (short-term) exposure to styrene in humans results in mucous membrane and eye irritation, and gastrointestinal effects. Chronic (long-term) exposure to styrene in humans results in effects on the central nervous system (CNS), such as headache, fatigue, weakness, and depression, CSN dysfunction, hearing loss, and peripheral neuropathy… Human studies are inconclusive on the reproductive and developmental effects of styrene; several studies did not report an increase in developmental effects in women who worked in the plastics industry.” The EPA has also not released a formal classification of Styrene as a carcinogen, but studies have linked styrene exposure to increased risk of leukemia and lymphoma.
  4. Using renewable resources as opposed to relying on petroleum based products. The BP Oil Spill has finally been capped, but with it, we saw the “worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.” Much finger pointing and blame gaming has taken place, but the most compelling piece of blame I’ve seen has been written about in the NYT, by Thomas Friedman, saying “The BP Oil Spill is My Fault”. Friedman quotes his friend Mark Mykleby in a letter to the editor written by Mark – “If we want to end our oil addiction, we, as citizens, need to pony up: bike to work, plant a garden, do something.” One of the major focuses of our country (and the planet for that matter) is on lessening our dependence on oil… and one of the simplest things we can do is to step up and stop using petroleum based plastic containers.
  5. Increasing demand for composting access & curbside composting programs. There are ~3,400 composting facilities across the US, but unfortunately some research asserts less than 5% of U.S. communities have direct access to composting. We need to drive demand for more commercial composting facilities, for more curbside composting programs, and for increased diversion of food waste and compostable food packaging from landfills by municipalities. This can only be done if more people and businesses are using compostable containers and growing demand.
  6. Prices on compostables are coming down. Traditionally, plastic containers and lids have been cheaper than most compostable options, but this is becoming less and less true. While Styrofoam (or plastic #6) is still the cheapest of all food packaging options, paper based compostable food containers has been found to be comparable in price to plastic food containers (download PDF file from City of Richmond). Containers and products made from bio-plastics such as PLA do tend to still be more expensive than plastic containers, but prices are coming down dramatically each year as production capacity increases, and other alternatives, such as group purchasing organizations(like us :-)) exist to helps businesses move to compostables at a more affordable rate.
Are you a consumer who has stopped using plastic containers or perhaps a business owner who’s now purchasing compostables? What made you switch?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Recycle Styrofoam - Why You Shouldn't Do It

First, Styrofoam is a brand name and is a trademark of the Dow Company. The scientific name for the material is polystyrene or expanded polystyrene, often abbreviated EPS. For the purposes of this article however, we will refer to polystyrene as Styrofoam.
Second, when we say that recycling styrofoam shouldn’t be done, by no means are we advocating that you purchase lots of Styrofoam and throw it in the landfill. Actually quite the opposite. What we mean is that you shouldn’t recycle styrofoam… because you shouldn’t be using it or buying it in the first place.

Reasons why you should never use Styrofoam

  1. Your Health – The primary chemical component of polystyrene is…drum roll – styrene. Studies have shown that over time small amounts of styrene can leak into your food & beverage – particularly hot food and beverage. If you’re a frequent drinker of coffee for example, drinking 3 a day in polystyrene cups, you could consumer as much as an entire cup of ‘styrene’ over the course of a 3 year period. Styrene is also noted as a possible carcinogen by the EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer and studies suggest that it is a disruptor of normal hormone functions and may be linked to other hormone problems such as breast & prostate cancer (see GrinningPlanet).
  2. It Pollutes our Planet & Water Systems – Styrofoam is a widespread, persistent environmental pollutant, which breaks down into tiny pieces which are often ingested by marine life and other wildlife thus harming or killing them; in some areas of the Pacific Ocean, small pieces of Styrofoam & plastic outnumber zooplankton by up to six times, which may impact marine life such as filter feeders.
  3. Styrofoam is banned in over 100 cities across the country – Due to the first 2 points, many cities & counties have banned Styrofoam and if they’ve found a way to stop using it, you surely can.
  4. Recycing Styrofoam is difficult – Most municipalities do not offer Styrofoam recycling as part of their curbside recycling program. Thus, to recycle styrofoam you usually have to either drop it off at a recycling facility or mail it in via a program like the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers.

Typical Reasons why people use Styrofoam today

  1. Cost – Styrofoam packaging is significantly cheaper than other forms of sustainable packaging (e.g., a case of 1,000 Styrofoam cups could be half the price of a case of compostable cups). And this is the case if you look strictly as the cost you pay when you go to Costco and purchase Styrofoam containers, but this is not the case when you take into account the full lifecycle cost on the planet when you use Styrofoam. We need to start being responsible for the full cost of the things we consume and that includes the negative externalities on our health & planet.
  2. “I didn’t purchase it, I just used it because I had no other choice.” Think about a time where you were given Styrofoam and had to use it. Did you really have to use it?? Could you have brought your own re-usable container or could you have asked for another container from the restaurant? Could you have run across the street and gotten a paper cup?

Recommended Alternatives to Styrofoam

  1. Re-usables – Very simple – bring your own re-usable ceramic or glass cup / container.
  2. Compostables – There are a variety of packaging products available now (both food packaging and other packaging) that are compostable. Look for products that are certified by the BPI (Biodegradable Products Institute) and meet standards ASTM D-6400 and D-6868 for compostability.
So that’s that. You shouldn’t have to purchase or use Styrofoam… and if you don’t use it, you shouldn’t have to recycle it.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Do We Need a Compostable Products Association?

Kathleen Boylan from the Waste Reduction Store in Canada posed the above question in a recent blog post citing the lack of product stewardship in the compostables industry.
From Kathleen:
“It would seem that the compostable industry simply expects that by developing resins made from plants, then manufacturing these more expensive products and certifying them as compostable, makes them inherently responsible and allows us to abdicate end of life responsibility while competing industries step up. We simply are not, defacto, product ’stewards’… we too need to step up and develop the infrastructures [such that] the waste from our profits ends up in composting systems.”
It’s a powerful point and one supported by many of the events currently taking place in the compostables space, including:
  1. The lack of a standard certification for all compostables. Today a variety of certifiers exist across various regional markets, including: The Biodegradable Products Institute (the leading US certifier of compostable products), Cedar Grove (the largest composting facility in the US), OK Compost (the Belgian certification program run by Vincotte), Canada now appears to also be developing its own certification program, and more.

  2. The lack of standardized acceptance of compostables across composting facilities. A recent study by the sustainable packaging coalition has found that not all composting facilities that accept food waste accept all compostable food packaging products (see chart on the right that shows the % of facilities that accept a given product if they accept food waste).
  3. The green-washing taking place by certain manufacturers who are making false claims that their products are compostable (e.g., Taterware and Georgia Pacific), without providing any compostable certification to support these claims.
To address these issues and others, Kathleen’s proposal is that we need a Compostable Products Association to work with 1) compostable product manufacturers, 2) composting facilities, 3) compostable certification programs, and 4) governments to ensure the proper infrastructure and processes are in place so that compostable products are indeed composted.
Now my first thought was:

Well, why can’t the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), the leading certifier of compostables, perform this function?

After trading a few emails with Kathleen, I’ve started to see why the BPI (or any certifier for that matter) is not well positioned to this…
As we know, the BPI is a certification program that certifies products as compostable according to ASTM standards D-6400 and D-6868. The BPI is a non-profit, but it also makes revenue through its certifications. As such, it has a clear goal of continuing to support itself through the advancement of its logo and certification program.
The trouble with having a certification organization operate as the industry association is that they’ll be inherently challenged (and potentially bias) when it comes to working with other certification programs and adopting practices which are best for the industry (which includes the manufacturers, composting facilities, certifications programs, etc) as opposed to just doing what’s best for their certification program.

So what do you think?

Do we need a Compostable Products Association? Perhaps even an ‘International’Compostable Products Association to ensure that the infrastructure, processes, and standards we’re developing make sense across each of the world’s major marketplaces for compostables.
Drop a comment below and tell us what you think.