Product End-of-Life

What happens to our products when they are done being used is not only a meaningful part of their overall environmental impacts, it is also incredibly important to our customers who are striving to achieve zero waste and working to keep as much material as possible out of landfills. For this reason, we devote significant resources to understanding and addressing this issue.

Expanding access to commercial composting

At our first Sustainability Advisory Committee meeting in 2014, committee members urged us to be more of an advocate for expanding access to commercial composting, given how closely tied this environmental issue is to our business. We agreed, and as a result of that conversation, we set a goal in 2015 to make this a higher priority.

We recognize the lack of access to commercial composting represents a perfect overlap between our commitment to environmental issues and our business interests: Composting keeps organics out of landfills, addresses climate change, and creates a valuable soil amendment. Our customers want to divert waste from the landfill by composting their food scraps, and compostable packaging is a vehicle for keeping food out of landfills. We have seen our GreenStripe products play a critical role in waste diversion for our customers, such as the Seattle Mariners and Larkburger.

Compost Truck
When food scraps are composted, they create a valuable soil amendment. Using compost in soil conserves water, reduces storm water run-off, improves plant health, and minimizes the need for artificial fertilizers (among many other benefits). Using compostable packaging eliminates having to separate food from its container at the bin.

Today, there are thousands of composting facilities that process landscaping debris, but relatively few that process food scraps. Some states are taking the lead on changing this by banning large generators of organics from sending that material to landfills. They are doing this to not only alleviate pressure on landfills, but also to address climate change since organics rotting in landfills emit methane, a greenhouse gas over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Banning large organizations from sending food to landfills is a great start, but without enough infrastructure to process the material, we haven’t solved anything.

In 2015, we convened and facilitated multiple conversations and meetings with industry stakeholders, including representatives from the US Composting Council, the Biodegradable Products Institute, BioCycle, the Foodservice Packaging Institute, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, NatureWorks, and others. We discussed barriers, opportunities, and priorities for growing commercial composting infrastructure for food scraps.

The issue is gaining increased attention, in part due to activity at the state level, as well as high-profile developments such as ReFED and the US Department of Agriculture/Environmental Protection Agency goal to reduce food waste in the U.S. 50% by 2030. Importantly, our Sustainability Maven was elected to the board of the US Composting Council and was instrumental in raising the issue with the board. Can we get a “hell yeah”? As a result of her involvement, the USCC is in the process of determining how to better leverage its influence and resources to expand access to composting. Bumping this issue up the priority list of the leading composting industry organization is major progress, and our Sustainability Maven will be deeply involved in this work.

Plastic sleeve recycling

GreenStripe® Cold Cups in a Plastic Sleeve

While we have found a compostable film for our cutlery kits, we have not yet found a good option for larger sleeves for cups, plates, and other products. Therefore, we are working to help our customers recycle the polyethylene sleeves our products are shipped in. Most recycling programs do not accept plastic bags and films because they get caught in the machinery, so we have a pretty good hunch many of our bags end up in a landfill. Many retail locations accept plastic films for recycling, but telling our customers to drop off their bags at the grocery store didn’t seem like a great approach.

In 2015, we did a pilot with Snooze, a Colorado-based restaurant chain, and Boulder Community Health, the largest healthcare provider in Boulder. Both of these organizations are committed to sustainability, and even have dedicated sustainability staff. Piloting a film recycling program required putting multiple pieces in place: finding a buyer for the film who would recycle it into something else, finding a hauler to pick it up, and working with Snooze and BCH to train their staff to separate and collect films. Lessons learned: What sounds simple, isn’t always.

We were able to find a buyer and a hauler relatively easily. The hard part was ensuring the collected films were “clean enough.” The companies buying the films can’t handle bread crumbs and pickle juice ending up in their manufacturing process, just like the broader plastics recycling industry struggles with food contamination. Fair enough. Through repeated training and communication, Snooze was able to consistently keep contamination to a minimum, and we were able to connect them to North Metro Community Services, who takes their films to Eco-Cycle’s recycling center. Check out our video on this exciting partnership here. In In 2016, we are expanding the pilot to another Snooze location, and we hope to engage another operator as well. By the end of the year, we hope to be able to determine whether this program is truly scalable, or if the hand-holding needed to minimize contamination is prohibitive.

Lifecycle Plastics

Lifecycle Plastics is one of those amazing stories that kind of makes you feel inadequate. Many people are likely tired of seeing plastic beverage cups go to a landfill, but how many started a nonprofit, secured funding, and opened a plant to recycle post-consumer plastic foodservice packaging? We know of one: Lifecycle Plastics. You may remember us introducing our work with them with a video on our YouTube channel (back when they were called Recycle Projects).

Crucial to Lifecycle Plastics securing funding for equipment and a location was proving there is a reliable buyer of the plastic that will be processed; that’s where we came in. We were part of a proposal by Lifecycle Plastics to Colorado’s Recycling Resources Economic Opportunity grant fund, confirming that we would buy the recycled plastic and use it to make new cups and other products.

The grant was secured, and in late 2015, Lifecycle Plastics opened up shop. It’s been awesome to see this idea come to fruition. We are now working with Lifecycle Plastics to obtain FDA approval of the process so it can scale. Stay tuned.

Other End-of-Life Issues

We would be remiss if we didn’t discuss an article that generated a ton of debate in the recycling world in 2015. On October 3rd, the New York Times published an opinion piece by John Tierney, entitled “The Reign of Recycling.”

The article was extremely critical of recycling, questioning its environmental and economic benefits. Eco-Products believes this piece was misleading, one-sided, and deeply flawed. While we recognize that recycling is not perfect (what is?) and that sustainability challenges often encompass complexity and trade-offs, we believe the portrayal of recycling by Tierney was egregious in its misrepresentation. You may read our response to this article on our website.

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2015 Goals:

  • In 2015, increase our advocacy for expanding access to commercial composting
  • In 2015, pilot a take-back program for recycling the plastic sleeves our products are shipped in
  • In 2015, partner with Recycle Projects to build viable end markets for post-consumer plastic within Colorado

2016 Goals:

  • In 2016, increase our advocacy for expanding access to commercial composting
  • In 2016, expand film recycling pilot and determine scalability
  • In 2016, continue to partner with Lifecycle Plastics to build viable end markets for post-consumer plastic within Colorado