Product End-of-Life

Increasing advocacy for expanding access to commercial composting

The composting infrastructure in the United States has expanded greatly over the last 20 years or so. However, as the regulatory landscape continues to increase mandated diversion of organics from landfills, in many markets the existing infrastructure is not sufficient to keep up with demand. We continually get questions from customers and potential customers about whether they should invest in our GreenStripe products if they cannot compost them commercially. Sadly, many communities simply don’t have access to commercial composting. (Nevertheless, we believe strongly in the benefits of using products made with renewable resources, regardless of where they end up!)

We couldn’t be more excited about the increasing legislative progress that has been made in recent years to keep food scraps out of landfills. California, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island have all passed laws banning large volume foodservice operators from sending their leftover food to the landfill. Cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, and New York have also passed laws restricting food from being sent to landfills.

Why is this so important? Because when food scraps go to the landfill, they often breakdown in the absence of oxygen (anaerobically) and emit methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. 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). The benefits of compost are so significant that Denver Water requires its use in all new construction in the city, and the state of Texas Department of Transportation requires its use in road construction projects.

So, with compost being so cool and governments starting to mandate food diversion from landfills, we should be set up for a whole new approach to materials management² right? Unfortunately, that is not the case. There simply is not enough commercial composting capacity today to handle everyone’s half-eaten burgers and left-over fries. This has created a sense of urgency for us.

To explore barriers and opportunities for expanding access to commercial composting, we mapped out the commercial composting value chain, including the suppliers of raw materials for compostable products such as ours, the foodservice operators generating organic material, the haulers that pick it up, the composters themselves, and the buyers of finished compost. For each stakeholder, we were able to quickly identify composting roadblocks, but we wanted to hear from others.

We spent several months on many phone calls with stakeholders at every link in the chain. To facilitate broader dialog, we hosted a dinner for about twenty industry leaders to discuss these issues in person at the annual meeting of the USCC. There was consensus that the single greatest opportunity for expanding composting infrastructure is in the legislative realm. From mandating organics diversion and the use of compost, to streamlining the permitting process, to ensuring composters can market the full benefits of their product, legislators can play a key role in infrastructure expansion. Given how composting saves water, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and slows pressure on landfills, municipal and state governments should have a vested interest in growing this sector.

Many of us believe what is needed now is a strategic roadmap for expanding access to commercial composting. This should involve those already active in the discussion, as well as additional stakeholders such as government representatives who oversee materials management, water, and climate change issues. Currently, no industry group or individual is taking the lead on this.

We have shared our feedback with the board of the US Composting Council and expressed our desire for them to lead the development of this roadmap. They are uniquely suited to bring together the broad coalition of stakeholders needed to make this vision a reality. We offered to serve on or lead committees, provide success stories, and help in any other way we can. The USCC is developing its five year strategic plan this summer, and we sincerely hope that expanding access to commercial composting plays a prominent role.

Building viable end-markets for post-consumer plastic within Colorado

Think we’re all about composting and aren’t giving recycling its due? Think again! We are proud to be part of an innovative program to help build the recycling industry in our home state of Colorado.

While recycling plastic beverage bottles is common, recycling plastic cups is much less common, because it is difficult for recycling facilities to properly sort them into the correct categories for plastics buyers. As a result, plastic cups often go through the recycling facility and end up in the landfill.

We’re not OK with that, so we are teaming up with an organization called Recycle Projects here in Colorado to try and find a solution. Recycle Projects is aiming to develop a successful business model for recycling #5 polypropylene cups – the cold cups used at fast food chains and convenience stores for large soft drinks.

After we worked with Recycle Projects to prove there is a substantial amount of polypropylene cups available for recycling, we helped identify a company to clean and grind the plastic cups. We then took that plastic “flake” and manufactured new cups out of it. We were happy to see it performed well, so we are seeking Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to make new cups out of this plastic. (The FDA wants to make sure any packaging coming into contact with food is sufficiently clean and safe. That’s a good thing.) When the FDA gives the thumbs-up, we will be ready to close the loop on recycling polypropylene cups into new cups.

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2014 Goals:

  • Continue to participate in industry efforts to address end-of-life challenges, such as the USCC Compostable Plastics Task Force and Food Service Packaging Institute’s PRA/PRG.

2015 Goals:

  • Increase our advocacy for expanding access to commercial composting.
  • Partner with Recycle Projects to build viable end markets for post-consumer plastic within Colorado.

²Note we are not using the common term “waste management” since we are adamant about the fact food scraps are not waste. They are valuable.

The Recycle Projects team sorts plastic by resin code before it gets ground into flake. In late 2014, Recycle Projects sought funding from the Colorado Recycling Resources Economic Opportunity Grant Program to fund the launch of this endeavor. Eco-Products was part of the proposal, demonstrating that there was a willing buyer of post-consumer polypropylene cups. We were thrilled to learn this was one of three projects to receive funding. We are hopeful the FDA will soon issue approval for use of this plastic in cups so we can start closing the loop in our own backyard.