Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Is Plastic Food Packaging Preventing our Local Businesses from Composting?

We recently had an interesting exchange with another member of a sustainability group. Kathy W. said: "Any hope for composting movie theater trash? I have a client that generates a lot of trash at their multiple locations. We've got them recycling the cardboard and larger plastics, but the bulk of their waste is from the snack bar. There is nothing clean about any of it: nacho cheese sauce on boxes, popcorn, cups with soda, etc. Is there any hope to help them compost or otherwise recycle this mess? They do not, under their current staffing levels, have the time or manpower - or even storage space - for sorting. I welcome any suggestions!"

Now you'd think that it should be fairly simple for a movie theater to divert most of its waste either to a recycling or composting bin. After all, what are the major waste categories at a theater:
  1. Tickets = Paper (Recyclable or Compostable)
  2. Paper Towels in the Bathrooms = Paper (Compostable)
  3. Food and Drink = Organic (Compostable)
  4. Food and Drink Packaging from the Snack Bar = Plastic (! Not Compostable !)
There it is again... pesky plastic food packaging getting in the way of businesses who want to move toward zero waste. As Kathy notes later "Many theaters have tried cafes with baked goods, healthy foods, etc, but the public still wants their jumbo popcorn, drink and jumbo candies when they go to the movies. And that is where the theaters make their money, not on the price of the ticket." So the food packaging is here to stay (at least for now). The question is, can we divert it to a recycling or composting bin? So with that, here are:

3 Quick Recommendations for Diverting Your Waste and Reducing Your Business' Plastic Food Packaging

  1. Create Killer Signage on Your Composting & Recycling Bins - Ever since San Francisco started requiring businesses to offer composting to their customers I've seen great examples of recycling and composting signage. The best signage in my opinion involves:
    • Color coded bins (blue = recycle, green = compost),
    • A large sign on the bin that says either "Recycle" or "Compost", and
    • (this is the most important point) Pasted onto these signs are the actual objects that are supposed to go in either the recycling or composting bin. This is an amazing visual cue for customers and it's very effective at getting the waste into the right bins.
  2. Switch to compostable food packaging - If you're municipality will not recycle your plastic soda cups, lids, styrofoam containers, etc, then move to compostables. Most of these items come with some form of labeling (typically a green-stripe) and while it may take some effort to get your customers to place them in the correct bin, good signage will go a long way.
  3. Remove your trash can or make it dramatically smaller. Let's take the example of a movie theatre. They should be able to use compostable containers made from PLA-lined paper or bagasse for all their popcorn, hot dogs, nachos, etc. Soda cups, straws, and lids could all be made out of compostable PLA. The trouble is, you still have all those plastic snack wrappers and you're not going to get the snack companies to move away from those over night. So what do you do? How about reducing the size of your trash can by 3X and leaving just a very small hole only large enough for a crumpled up snack wrapper. This will make customers think twice the next time they throw something away and should prevent the vast majority of your larger compostable and recylable containers from being put in the wrong bin.
Plastic Food Packaging may be unnecessary, tough to get rid of, and bad for our environment, but it doesn't have to prevent us from diverting 80-90%+ of our waste to recycling or composting bins. PS - I mentioned to Kathy that some snack manufacturers, like SunChips, have already moved to compostable bags, and that maybe they should be working with SunChips more. What did she say: "I mentioned the Sun Chips bag and my client laughed -- 'Do you know how loud that new packaging is?', he said. Not a good fit for a movie theatre." Ha. Guess she has a point there.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Compostable Coffee Pods - Taking Out The Trash

The number of coffee pods or capsules thrown into landfills each day is staggering! Biome Bioplastics, a leading developer of natural plastics made from plants is trying to change that. Check out the video to see a compostable coffee pod.

In the US alone, 9.1 billion single serve coffee and drink containers end up in the landfill each year.
Biome Bioplastics CEO Paul Mines sums it up with this quote:
"Single–serve coffee pods are an excellent example of the fundamental role that packaging plays in delivering quality and convenience in the food service sector. The challenge is to reduce environmental impact through packaging optimisation without impacting on food quality or safety, or inconveniencing the customer. Bioplastics are an important part of the solution."
Ultimately we should not go down this road of single servings anymore than we should use disposable packaging for our business, but the reality is coffee pods are here and growing like crazy. Rather than generating mountains of new plastic that will be here for thousands of years and use barrels of oil, maybe for now we can switch to a compostable solution. At Viv, we don't sell coffee pods so we bring you this info in the hopes that if you do use them or sell them, do the right thing and insist on compostable pods from your suppliers.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Keep Compostables Clear of Recyclables

More and more compostable packaging is being used by businesses and consumers. That's a good thing. Mixing compostable plastic into a waste stream designed for recycled plastic is not so good however. People in the plastics business, especially the recycled plastics industry are working hard to stay ahead of the curve. PlasticsNews recently published this article "Compostable plastics may help boost cities' food-waste programs".  Imagine a plastic banding strap holding a pallet of barrels together. The last thing you want is compostable plastic (designed to compost and biodegrade) to end up in that strap. On the flip side, you don't want a green washed PlantBottle that was actually designed for recycling, to end up in a compost system. The labeling makes it easy to get confused.

Make sure you and your customers have an easy way to keep compostable plastics, out of your recycled plastics waste stream. We've written about this in the past, and will post some new guides in the near future. Until then, keep it simple. Switch your disposable packaging to compostables in groups, like all your cups, all your cutlery, etc. That way you can have clear signage with pictures showing:

If you can afford to take the plunge, make all your plates, cups, napkins, straws, and utensils compostable and show them in your signs. That way your customer knows to toss most everything into the "Compostables" bin, and "Recyclables" can be for cans and bottles.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Polylactic Acid and its Plastic Food Packaging Applications

Polylactic acid (also referred to as poly lactic acid, polylactide, or PLA) is a biopolymer made from renewable resources such as corn starch and cane sugar. It is biodegradable in a commercial composting environment and has a broad range of applications, including: textiles, furnishings, medical devices, food packaging, and more.

Polylactic Acid Pellets
This article is going to focus exclusively on polylactic acid as it relates to food packaging and food packaging products.

Physical Properties

PLA products are typically clear and look and feel very similar to typical petroleum based plastic products. Traditionally the products have been weaker and more brittle than petroleum-based plastic products (e.g., a hot cup coffee lid could crack or tear when being placed on a cup) but recent manufacturing advances have brought overall strength of these products in line with petroleum-based plastic products.
Unless specifically noted most poly lactic acid food packaging products are meant strictly for cold food and beverage and have a maximum heat tolerance of 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
Many product manufacturers offer custom printing on PLA products and thus the PLA can be colored.


To make polylactic acid, field corn is harvested and broken down into its various component parts, one of which is corn sugar or dextrose. Dextrose is then fermented and distilled into a substance called lactic acid, and lactic acid is than converted into PLA.
Natureworks is the leading commercial manufactuer of polylactic acid. Natureworks is an independent company wholly owned by Cargill, the international producer and marketer of food, agricultural, financial and industrial products and services. Natureworks produces a PLA polymer under the brand name Ingeo™, and this Ingeo™ resin is what’s found in most polylactic acid food packaging products today. Naturework’s manufacturing facility is located in Blair, Nebreska and has a production capacity of 300 million pounds per year.


Food packaging applications of polylactic acid include compostable: cold cups, lining for hot cups, portion cups, deli containers, clamshells, cutlery, straws, bags, and more.
Typically, manufacturers purchase the Ingeo resin from Natureworks in the form of pellets. Polylactic acid pellets are then melted and used to shape a range of food packaging products. Leading manufacturers include: EcoProducts, Nature Friendly, World Centric, Asean, Fabrikal, Solo, Pactiv, and more.

Environmental Benefits

PLA has a variety of environmental benefits, as it:
  • takes 43 percent less energy to produce than conventional oil-based plastics including PET (Polyethylene terephthalate), PP (polypropylene), and PS (polystyrene or styrofoam)

  • From Natureworks - The Lifecycle of Ingeo
  • generates 48 percent fewer greenhouse gasses
  • and contains no toxins
(the above statistics are specific to the Ingeo biopolymer)
As stated, PLA is also fully compostable and thus when composted results in zero waste.
The Ingeo™ brand of PLA has been certified to be free of any genetic material by GeneScan Inc. (the leading international authority for testing food, feed and raw materials). Ingeo™ does not contain genetic material, and its production does not require any genetic content from field corn.
You can download the full life cycle analysis of Ingeo™ for more.
Have you used PLA or polylactic acid products before? Tell us about an experience you’ve had.

World Centric's Social Responsibilty and Sustainability

One of the criteria we look at when partnering with a supplier is their commitment to Social Responsibility / Sustainability.
On this front, we’re proud to say that World Centric is really head and shoulders above most companies and is a true social leader in the food service space.
World Centric's Sustainability
We mention a few of the things they do on our suppliers page, but the larger list is really quite impressive. So without further ado, World Centric:
  • Offsets their entire carbon footprint.
  • Donates 25% of their proceeds to grassroots environment & social organizations with a goal of eventually donating 100% of their proceeds to organizations that positively affect our world & environment.
  • Tests all products to ensure they are 100% compostable as certified by the industry leaders in composting standards (i.e. BPI and ASTM).
  • Sells 5-compartment compostable lunch trays to K-12 schools at cost to encourage schools to move away from Styrofoam / expanded polystyrene trays that are polluting our environment.
  • Audits all of their factories for compliance with fair labor guidelines to ensure fair wages & working conditions.
  • Encourages employees to use public transportation on their way into work through a $250 monthly reimbursement.
  • Powers their office with renewable wind & solar energy from Palo Alto Green.
  • Regularly hosts community events including a social justice film and speaker series.
For more details check out World Centric’s Sustainability page (again, fantastic transparency here that other companies should take note of).

Monday, November 4, 2013

We are back !

It’s been a long time but we are back to blogging. A big THANK YOU goes out to Dinesh and Arul for keeping the site going over the years. We are now blogging from our new home in Colorful Colorado!!! The site is in the middle of a full redesign and fresh new look. Hopefully the old posts and info will make it through the changes. Let us know what you think.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Recycling Methods Around the World

Located in one of the greenest cities of the world (San Francisco), we’re constantly asking ourselves why our city has not mastered the art of educating citizens on how to properly dispose of their waste. So we decided to study some of the systems used around the world in order to better understand the ways in which cities approach waste management.

Santa Monica, California

A single stream in full force
Within the Californian City of Santa Monica, all the communities waste is put into one waste bin. This is then hand-sorted by workers at the recycling centre in the cities Industrial zone, which is run by a private company, paid for by tax dollars. This single-streaming process seems laborious, but it has the advantage of focusing the operation in a single venue and eliminates the responsibility of residents to sort out their trash from their recyclables.
Within the center, plastic waste is packed into bales. 4 out of 5 bales are sent by train to companies within the US that transform them into textiles and carpeting. The fifth bale is shipped to China for processing there. Glass is sorted and sold to re-processors and manufacturers locally, and aluminum cans are sold to the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Missouri for re-processing.

Dubai – Consumer Incentives

Still in test & learn
Along with the booming growth that makes Dubai one of the most rapidly flourishing cities in the world, the emirate also has the unfortunate distinction of generating high amounts of waste. Statistics show that, at 3.7 lbs per capita per day, Dubai is one of the largest producers of waste (after the US…)
To ameliorate their carbon footprint, Dubai has installed recycling systems in various service centers, encouraging participation through their “recycle and win” campaign in 2006. Each time an individual utilizes these units, they automatically obtain coupons that entitle them to participate in special offers and receive discounts for products at the Emirate’s retail outlets.
In the same year, Dubai implemented a law that bans export of all types of waste from the Emirates. This effort has also greatly benefitted companies that produce recyclable and environmentally friendly products in Dubai.
Dubai allows for both public & private operation of its recycling facilities (among the largest being the new publically run Tadweer waste treatment LLC, which has the capacity of receiving and sorting 4000 tons of municipal solid waste per day), and with waste predicted to grow by 16% over the next few years, it will need all hands on deck as it strives to develop a simple and comprehensive way for citizens to responsibly dispose of their waste.

Paris – the French Way

Two recycling bins are used in Paris
White for glass, and yellow for paper, metal and plastic. All other trash is put into a green bin. Council officials claim that two recycling options is the limit they believe Parisians will tolerate. This is born out with a conservative estimate in the city that in every recycling bin collected, seven items will be correct, and three will be un-recyclable and should have been put in the trash.
At a recycling center on the outskirts of the city, workers hand separate items before technology takes over: steel is removed with a magnet, and plastic and cans are kept together, while paper and cardboard are shipped by barge to a plant in Rouen for pulping.
Officials claim that all the separate recycling processes are done within France. France has been a leading pioneer in terms of recycling technology development, so much so that countries within the UK would send their waste to be processed in their centers.

Berlin – German Efficiency

The 7 bin system
Germany is a true pioneer in the field of recycling: one poll suggests that 9 out of 10 householders willingly separate their trash. This is demonstrated clearly in the capital, Berlin, where seven different bins exist for all the various recyclable waste – general waste, paper, compost, plastic/metal, amber glass, clear glass, and green glass. A private company is responsible for dealing with all this, and it uses state of the art recycling plants to do so. Waste is separated by scanners, and packed into appropriate bales by machinery. As with France, Germany claims to deal with all its waste within its own borders. It has long had an enviable reputation as a country committed to dealing with its waste sustainably.
Somehow, this system has not been able to uproot itself from its German origins and make its way to other parts of the world. The mindset of the people combined with the impeccable technology seems to be the winning combination here.

Madrid – Spanish Collaboration

The residents of Madrid have three bins for their waste
Spanish law demands that food and drink companies must pay for the cost of recycling the glass that their products are sold in. This gives a thriving market for private companies to specialize in glass collection, sorting and re-processing.
A separate glass-treatment facility is used outside the city. Here, it is subject to scrutiny by conveyor belts, human hand, magnets and sieves before being melted down and processed into bottles again. Spain leads the market in its glass recycling technology.
Last year, people in Spain recycled more than six out of every ten containers on the market (62%), surpassing by seven points objectives laid down by the EU. Encoembes, the nonprofit charged with managing the collection of plastic, aluminum, and paper, has collected ten million tons of trash in recycling bins since it started it work in 1988. Of these ten million tons, eight million have been recycled, entailing a massive reduction in CO2 emissions and saving nearly nine billion kilowatts of energy (which is the equivalent to the annual electricity usage of 90,000 Spaniards) and 214 million cubic meters of water (the annual consumption of nearly 4 million people).
Looks like Spain has more to celebrate than just their victory in the 2010 World Cup!

Recycling Locally: Sharing Resources and Technology

These few examples of city initiatives in recycling give a glimpse of what is happening in this field, both in Europe and further abroad. It is clear that where one country specializes in a certain kind of recycling technology, this knowledge should be shared with others, rather than one country exporting waste to another.
Ultimately though, the issue is one that is driven by consumers – if the will to recycle is there, each and every community will find a way to do it. Be part of recycling efforts wherever you live!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Buying Groups | From Group Purchasing to Group Buying

A Brief History of Group Purchasing

Group Purchasing (or Group Buying) is a very simple concept that adheres to the old adage: “there’s power in numbers” –> groups of buyers come together and leverage their size to gain access to large discounts on products or services.
The model originated in the healthcare space in 1910 when the first group purchasing organization (GPO) was established by the Hospital Bureau of New York.
Hospitals purchase a vast array and volume of supplies (just think of the number of gowns, scalpels, etc that they go through), and overtime the GPO model become quite popular within the healthcare space, with ~40 GPOs by the mid 1970s and 100+ by the 80s. (see Wikipedia)
GPOs typically earn revenue from the suppliers they’re partnered with via a small percentage rebate or administrative fee on the total purchase volume of its members. Group purchasing has since moved into the food & beverage industry (e.g., FoodBuy), the retail industry, manufacturing, and more… though even today, the healthcare space is still the best known industry for group purchasing (and even a simple google search for ‘group purchasing’ will show 5 of the top 10 results all related to healthcare).

The New Age of ‘Group Buying’

In more recent years though, a new consumer focused model has emerged out of group purchasing. It’s called Group Buying.
The model was pioneered by Chicago-based Groupon. Groupon offers consumers a massive discount or “deal” each day (typically 50%+ off) on a product, service, or experience. Then, if a certain number of people sign up to purchase the deal it becomes available to all (and if that pre-determined minimum is not hit, the deal does not become available). Groupon (and most copy-cat sites including: LivingSocial, Tippr, BuyWithMe, and about 20 other sites) typically offer 1 deal each day to consumers in a specific geography (typically a city or metro area) who are subscribed to their program. Groupon, still only 2 years old, was recently valued at $1.35 billion dollars(!) and is now in almost every major city across the US.
Group buying has also emerged in other less conventional areas – one of our favorites being the group buying program for solar power, 1 Block Off The Grid or 1BOG. 1BOG pools together households in local communities who all want to purchase & install solar panels on their homes. 1BOG then goes out and negotiates larges discounts on solar installations on behalf of all the landlords / homeowners in a given area that sign up for it’s program. 1BOG has a presence in almost 15 major metro areas across the US.
So where will group purchasing go next? Group buying of education? Group buying of real estate? Drop us a comment and tell us what you think.
(Oh yeah, and if you didn’t know, we happen to run an eco-minded group purchasing program as well :-))