Tackling the Challenges: Barriers to Sustainable Packaging

In December 2013, Green Seal's VP of Marketing Linda Chipperfield joined the Annual Sustainable Food & Beverage Packaging Value Chain Meeting to talk about our Food Service Packaging Standard (GS-35), as well as our upcoming release of Green Seal's nationwide restaurant standard (GS-45).

Our partner Elemental Impact (Ei) wrote the below article to share the successful event with their network, and has kindly allowed us to re-post this article to share with our supporters. If you enjoy this post, we highly recommend that you check out The EI Blog - Zero Waste in Action - to hear more from Ei's founder and CEO Holly Elmore.

Tackling the Challenges | Barriers to Sustainable Packaging

In December Ei orchestrates the Annual Sustainable Food & Beverage (F&B) Packaging Value Chain Meeting where challenges/obstacles to sustainable packaging are addressed. Global Green hosts the important meeting at their D.C. offices. Meeting invites are extended to the trade associations and nonprofits who operate within the F&B packaging value chain. Each year the meeting discussions exemplify the shifts and growth in an evolving industry. Anchoring the value chain organizations are the following participating trade associations:

Numerous nonprofits who work in arenas impacting food & beverage packaging attended the meeting:

Many meeting participants joined Ei Chair Scott Seydel for a pre-meeting dinner at Logan Tavern. Great food and lively, fun dinner conversation set the stage for the powerful meeting the following day.

Lack of consistency and confusion within the value chain was a consistent challenge interwoven within presentations. To create common ground several organizations are in various development stages for packaging standards, tool kits and other educational mediums. These documents are designed to assist the entire value chain - from manufacturers to foodservice operators to recycling and composting facilities - with decision making that aligns with emerging best sustainable packaging practices.
Completed documents include Green Seal Standard #35, Foodservice Packaging, NRA Recycling Tool Kit, and  ILSR | Ei Compostable Foodservice Ware Packet prepared for the SFCI - Atlanta Airport. The USCC received a grant for a Compostable Plastics Tool Kit and the request for proposals is issued for 2104 work. Noting a frequent disconnect between packaging designers and effective end results, the SPC lists a Design Guide for Foodservice Packaging as 2014 projected work.
Industry working groups are another common thread among the participating organizations. In 2012 FPI formed the Paper Recovery Alliance and Plastic Recovery Group, which work on parallel yet complementary paths.The NRA formed the ConServe Sustainability Advisory Council comprised of environmental leaders from 14 restaurant and food service businesses spanning the value chain. Several Ei Partners and Advisors serve on the NRA Council. In 2013, the SPC created the Foodservice Packaging Leadership Committee focused on recovery.
Understanding the flow of packaging during the recovery process was a focus area for CoRR and FPI in 2013 and continuing into 2014. Working with the American Chemistry Council, the Association of Post-Consumer Plastics Recyclers, the Carton Council and the National Association for PET Container Resources, FPI is interviewing 50+ MRFs - material recovery facilities - to benchmark current foodservice packaging recovery including final destinations. Within the boundaries of proprietary agreements, FPI intends to share the results with industry counterparts.

Green Seal is in the midst of the GS Pilot Standard for Sustainable Chicago Restaurants development with the final revised Standard due for publication in February 2014. As of December 11, six restaurants are certified under the new Standard. The NRA is relaunching the NEW Zero Waste Zones in Atlanta following the program purchase from Ei in late 2012.

During her presentation, Brenda Platt with ILSR | SBC made an astute observation: End of USE is the appropriate term versus the common End of LIFE used in the industry. The ZWA Blog article, Perpetual Life Cycle Systems - Simplicity is Key, further discusses Brenda's comment.

With updates and presentations complete, the meeting segued into a powerful industry strategy session focused on the challenges | barr iers to sustainable packaging. As participants are well-acquainted from prior meetings and industry events, the group discussion was candid, honest, respectful and geared towards common goals.

Strategy session topics flowed into several subject matters: Recyclable vs. Compostable vs Reusable, Policies & Regulations, Contamination, Best Practices, End Markets, Outreach | Education and Working Together | Collaboration.

Food contamination is a major obstacle for recyclable food & beverage packaging and gives strong support for compostable options. In recent curbside research, FPI found food waste contamination at acceptable levels for most recycling operations. The group will continue research, observation and dialogue throughout the year on the topic. A 2014 goal is a common industry voice for the recyclable vs. compostable choice. Most participants agree reusable food & beverage serviceware are preferable when practical.

Overall the group supports public policy and regulations mandating recycling and food waste diversion from the landfill. A sufficient grace period is important for infrastructure development. In addition to public laws, the group is in favor of contractual provisions between landlords | facility managers and service contractors | tenants that require action necessary for successful zero waste programs. Janitorial contract provisions specifying collection services that minimize contamination and maximize material value is a high priority.

Independent third party certification is important for developing programs; the group supports BPI Compostable Packaging Certification as the industry standard for compostable packaging. Packaging labels to assist the consumer with desired disposition was a strong discussion point. The SPC takes a leading role in labeling with their How2Recycle label initiative, which is up to 21 participants.

A group goal is industry best practices development. Diverse end markets and infrastructure in various locals is a challenge to standard packaging templates and best practices creation. The general consensus is program development must be at the local level yet based on an existing  broad sustainable packaging foundation. The SPC Essentials of Sustainable Packaging educational workshop offers a comprehensive introduction to sustainability considerations that apply to the entire packaging life cycle: material sourcing, packaging design, manufacturing, transport, and final disposal.

In many circumstances sustainable packaging is more expensive than existing packaging and increases costs for food & beverage departments within a large facility or tenants in an event venue, office building, mall or other facility. Yet the switch to sustainable packaging shifts the disposition from waste to a material, saving on compactor pull charges and landfill tipping fees. In general, reduced materials management fees are realized by the facilities department or venue landlord |  management company.

There was discussion on the disparity between those incurring the increased packaging cost and those benefiting from the disposition cost-savings. Unless required by contract or lease provisions, most food & beverage departments or outlets do not incur the additional expense without sharing in the disposition savings. An equalizing of the costs | benefits within the value chain is required for sustainable packaging to emerge as standard packaging.

Throughout the discussions, synergies among various programs and initiatives were apparent and the respective organizations made a point to further discuss working together, if not doing so already.  In addition to the Annual Meeting, the group decided a midsummer conference call is important to enhance communication and strengthen work-in-progress.

Great food and fun are integral to Ei's successful meeting model. Thanks to Whole Foods catering, the group was treated to delicious, healthy food for a light breakfast, substantial lunch, dessert afternoon break, and importantly an ending wine reception. Compostable packaging was used and Melissa Selem, Ei Program Administrator, delivered the meeting food waste and packaging to Whole Foods for composting prior to the finale dinner.

For the meeting pictorial recap, visit the Ei FB album, 2013 F&B Packaging Value Chain Meeting

An emerging industry in the evolution process, sustainable packaging is ready for best practices, tool kits, educational material and templates for the food and beverage industry to adopt and follow. The Annual Sustainable Food & Beverage Packaging Value Chain Meeting brings together the industry leaders who address the challenges | barriers to sustainable packaging becoming standard packaging.