February 2-8, 2015
Developing a response to the mountains of plastic pollution is a top priority for all of us… one way to reverse the tide of trash is to go after the source — PACKAGING.
When we dispose of conventional petroleum-based plastic, it is most often sent directly to the landfill—there is no potential for recycling or reuse with this kind of packaging. This is a very big problem. And people are beginning to take notice.
Eco-packaging is on the rise, due to such consumer awareness, but the sad truth is that most recycling facilities are not set up to accept plastics; particularly flexible plastic pouches. And “biodegradable” packaging does not go away like home compost would. The OSC² Packaging Collaborative is bringing together leading mission based food companies dedicated to solving this problem, and reducing our industry’s plastic footprint. It is up to companies to drive innovation, retailers to support a new kind of package, and consumers to use their purchasing power to push for change. The problem is too big for any one company to address…luckily it has become a movement.
As you will learn in this week’s Food List, it’s important we search for plant-based compostable material that can degrade in our own backyards, and not pollute our soil and watersheds.
As Grist reports, while you’re probably eager to find alternatives to land-filling packaging, don’t be fooled by marketing schemes of “compostable” and “biodegradable.”
OSC² identifies packaging as the “Achilles heel” of our food system and gathers progressive business leaders to tackle the problem.
From the homefront, Susie Wyshak of FoodStarter shares with us her quest for sustainable packaging and some tips to keep in mind to lower our carbon footprint.
Chef Kelsie Kerr applies an alternative and thinks outside the box at her Standard Fare Kitchen and Pantry in the Bay Area. Alter Eco takes us on a journey in understanding what it means to be an eco-friendly food producer for flora, fauna, and fields. And In.gredients are pioneering the possible and pursuing zero waste as a food retailer in Austin.
Learn how you can lower your carbon footprint and practice reducing your waste with these three simple lifestyle tips.
OSC², One Step Closer to an Organic and Sustainable Community, is supporting development of a compostable plant-based plastic pouch because we believe the resource recovery rate will be a lot higher compared to recyclable. With a compostable pouch, there are many different opportunities for the pouch to degrade. Some consumers will compost the pouch in their backyard, while many will dispose of it in a green bin with yard waste or food waste. Lara Jackle Dickinson serves as the group’s Marketing and Sales Executive, helping natural product companies grow profitably and sustainably.
While you’re probably eager to find alternatives to land-filling packaging, don’t be fooled by marketing schemes of “compostable” and “biodegradable.” As Rachel Cernansky of Grist shares with us, don’t be fooled. The unfortunate reality is that not all that is “bio” is compostable. As explains, biodegradability is not based on the packaging material’s source, but the chemical structure of the material. Therefore, a biodegradable bag may be composed of a plastic that breaks down into micro-plastic – a soil and water contaminant. And more times than not, “biodegradable” bags and containers are still found in landfills. Therefore, the solution of packaging may not be resolved with disposable packaging. Instead of preparing a next generation for sorting trash in what goes where, the solution may be in preparing the next generation for reusable packaging.
OSC². The formula for One Step Closer to an Organic and Sustainable Community. Recognizing the need for a community of sustainable business leaders to come together to drive for natural products in the food industry, OSC² gathers 10 times a year “to work through tough business and industry challenges.” Their Compostable Packaging Coalition is one of their driving forces for change. As one of their key initiative, the Compostable Packaging Coalition strives “to secure a functional and sustainable option for our heat sealable and flexible overwrap and pouch applications.” OSC² identifies environmentally friendly, non-GMO packaging as the “Achille’s heel” of the food industry.
Susie Wyshak of FoodStarter shares with us her story of ethical packaging. With an exciting discovery of compostable cellophane, Susie quickly learns that with sustainable option comes a cost: a short shelf life for her compostable cellophane. And so her hunt for the perfect packaging continues. She is not alone on her quest.
Our Plastic Problem
In December 2014, 5 Gyres released its shocking report estimating that 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing 269,000 tons, are distributed across our planet’s oceans. In February 2014, the EPA stated that Americans create over 251 million tons of trash each year, of which 164 million tons ended up in landfills and incinerators. These numbers are a harsh indicator of the effects of our throwaway culture.
Plastics – derived from petroleum – have been around for less than a century, yet have already had a massive impact on our world. Petroleum, a fossil fuel, is a non-renewable resource and its extraction process degrades the environment. When discarded, plastic products can only be recycled if properly sorted by resin type, which is a labor-intensive and imperfect process. In 2012, plastics made up 13% of the waste sent to U.S. Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) facilities. Of that amount, only 2.7% was recovered for recycling. The remainder – 31.7 million tons – was sent to landfills and incinerators. Plastics are the second largest volume of discarded material in MSW, trumped only by food waste (did you know that Americans waste 40% of all food produced in our country?).
Compostable Products: An Alternative
World Centric was founded in 2004 as a non-profit with a mission to raise awareness of how our pursuit of a good life is severely degrading the planet’s ecosystems and at the same time creating vast inequalities. As a for-profit social enterprise since 2009, we are tackling the problem of waste in the foodservice industry by promoting composting and replacing single-use plastics with products made from plants and guaranteed to turn back into soil.
Across the U.S., restaurants, cafeterias, and event venues serve food and beverages with disposable tableware and packaging, mostly made from plastic that ends up in landfills, or worse yet, in our oceans. Compostable products offer an alternative. Not only do these products eliminate plastic pollution, but they also serve as a vehicle for delivering food scraps to compost operations, where that carbon-rich organic material can be turned into valuable soil.
According to D6400 composting standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), compostable products must break down within 90 days into tiny pieces less than 2mm in size, leave no toxicity in the soil, and at least 60% of the carbon must be converted to carbon dioxide within 180 days. In the U.S., the main certifying body for compostable products is BPI (Biodegradable Products Institute), a neutral 3rd party that determines if compostable products meet ASTM D6400 and also conducts additional testing. Products that are marked BPI Certified Compostable or meet the ASTM D600 standards have been proven to disintegrate in industrial composting facilities.
Compostable products also use less energy than their conventional counterparts. Our internal eco-profile analysis shows that we produce 2 compostable forks with the same energy it takes to make 1 plastic fork, and 3 compostable plates with the same amount as 1 polystyrene plate. Using less energy means producing less greenhouse gas and emitting less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
We manufacture our products out of 3 primary materials: discarded wheat straw or sugarcane fiber, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper, and PLA (polylactic acid). Discarded agriculture fiber is often landfilled or burned in open fields. Using it to make compostable products like plates, bowls and take-out containers is a big value add, utilizing a waste resource, providing income to farmers and creating economic development/jobs in the manufacturing process. Our paper products use FSC paper, ensuring that the paper is coming from responsibly managed forests and there is a chain of custody from the forest to the cup. We use Ingeo™ (a brand of PLA) to form our cold cups, salad bowls, straws and other clear products. IngeoTM is made from corn grown in the USA and currently accounts for only .09% of total U.S. corn production. Currently 86% of the corn grown in in USA is GMO, with 45% of it being used for livestock, poultry and fish production and 27.5% for ethanol production. Some consumers and companies take a hard stance against using packaging that comes from PLA, as it is made from GMO corn. While we would ideally use a non-GMO source for all of our materials,unfortunately there is not yet a reliable source of non-GMO PLA. Manufacturing Ingeo™ also produces 60% less greenhouse gases and uses 50% less energy than traditional plastics.
Opportunities and Challenges
Because compostable products look similar to conventional items, they can lead to consumer confusion and end up in the trash. While there are landfills and garbage hauling services in every region of our country, the same infrastructure does not yet exist for composting. This lack of access to industrial composting facilities often results in compostable products being sent to landfill. While advanced composting infrastructure is widely developed in Europe, there is a shortage of facilities in the U.S.
These challenges raise an opportunity to educate consumers and to improve composting systems. As more and more municipalities seek to divert yard and food waste from landfill, waste management officials will invest in infrastructure to handle the demand.
More than anything, change starts here, with you and me. Every choice we make reveals how much we care for the world. Our thoughtful actions can contribute to healthy ecosystems, social and economic equality, thriving habitats and a better quality of life for all. Together, we can create a better world.
World Centric is a California Benefit Corporation and a certified B Corporation. Each year we donate at least 25% of our profits to grassroots community projects around the world working to promote economic development, education, and self-sufficiency.
Late night pizza or lo-mein to-go: nearly everyone in the US has experienced take out comfort food. Unfortunately, these foods won’t be very comforting once you read Elizabeth Grossman’s article of the chemicals lurking in most take-out boxes. PFCs and perchlorate, common ingredients in container linings, have proven to interfere with fetal development, hormonal balance, and liver and immune function. Not only can these toxins leach out into our food, but they also contaminate our water source and soil integrity after disposal. While the FDA has approached packaging companies with these concerns, packaging containing harmful chemicals can be sourced from outside the country and used by local restaurants.
In 1792, Alexander Hamilton helped found the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures. The nation’s first industrial park was built at the Great Falls’ of New Jersey’s Passaic River. A succession of industries utilized the river’s embedded energy to build everything from textiles to steel, Colt pistols to locomotives. These companies capitalized on nature. They depended on energy generated by the Passaic and saved money by dumping waste directly into the river. Externalizing those costs led to lower prices and greater profits, at least for a time. While those companies have vanished, the external costs remain. The river is now one of the most polluted in America.
The price of cheap goods is an illusion. Everything costs money. From the water in the strawberries to the plastic bags and stickers carrying your goods. You pay at the checkout stand or you pay in other more oblique ways. These external costs are hard to see. In fact, sometimes they’re only visible to future generations.
Kelsie Kerr thinks outside the box with her Standard Fare Kitchen and Pantry. Instead, she thinks in reusable ceramic containers. And glass jars. She is actively engaging her customers in sustainable take-out methods. Aware of the external costs of her kitchen, Kelsie does everything she can to lower her carbon footprint. And the footprint of her goods. As she tells Twilight of Civil Eats, “When someone comes back and says it was gratifying to have a waste-free meal, it makes me extremely hopeful.”
“In.gredients opened its doors in the summer of 2012 with a clear but ambitious mission: reduce waste; promote local, sustainable food; and build community.” in.gredients continues to pursue its vision to redefine the norm in the grocery industry. Reflecting on typical externalized costs of a food retail business, in.gredients sent zero pounds of food waste and an average of 5lbs of trash to landfills since it’s opening and supports more than 60 ethical, local food producers. Dedicated to addressing problems of our current food system, the team at in.gredients sees themselves as “pioneering the possible” and calls to action their community – “are you in?”
Compost creates a vital resource: topsoil. Topsoil increases organic matter and promotes beneficial organisms, improves soil structure and protects it from the elements, reduces dependence of petroleum-based fertilizers and provides nutrients for plants to utilize for up to 3 years!
Along with cover crop rotation, compost helps to rebuild soil health. What’s in the compost you ask? The better question is what’s not in the compost! Unused vegetables directly from the field, coffee chaff from coffee roasters, dairy and horse manure, sawdust and straw, and organic materials from neighborhood households! Essentially, if it came from the ground, it’s going back into the ground. The pile heats up to 131-150F for one week, then the heat loving bacteria start their dance to degrade the organic matter in the pile and create humus. The process takes 2-3 months.
Alter Eco shares with us their vision as stewards of land and sea. As food producers, when they think “sustainable,” they think beyond the food and back into the land. With a holistic approach to food production and recognizing the global impact of packaging methods, Alter Eco is leading by example with the use of bio-plastics.
Alter Eco’s mission is global transformation through ethical relationships with small-scale farmers, and an integral sustainability orientation at every point of the supply chain.
Alter Eco is based on the premise that food is fundamental to life — and whole, healthy, delicious food can make life better for people all over the world. By working directly with the small-scale farmers who grow our quinoa, rice, sugar and cacao, helping them institut Fair Trade and Organic practices and assisting them in improving both quality of food and quality of life, we’re creating a system that benefits everyone involved. Our values extend to the flora, fauna and fields – we work with our co-op partners to preserve heirloom grains, replenish soils and reforest the land. And as a GHG Protocol 3 Carbon Zero business, we offset more carbon than we emit.
But the achievement we’re most proud of is the family we’ve created. Together with our farmers, employees, investors and customers, we’re taking an adventure through food, and creating a vision of the future that’s fair, prosperous, healthy and mouth-watering. Though we can’t all break bread at the same table, we like to think that every time we crack open a bag or bar of Alter Eco here in the United States, we’re sharing a lively meal with Grover in Bolivia, Sompoi in Thailand, Osvaldo in Ecuador – and our consumers.
Alter Eco’s journey in the U.S. market started in 2003, and it has been a quest towards full-circle sustainability ever since. There are four pillars to our sustainability efforts and the first one has historically been Fair Trade: we source our ingredients exclusively from small-scale farm coops in developing countries respecting Fair Trade standards for everything that we buy. We always have and always will guarantee our farmer partners a just price for what they produce and sell to us. Their financial well-being also goes hand-in-hand with the respect of their health and of the health of our consumers. This is the reason why we also exclusivity source ingredients that are organic and non-GMO, the second pillar of our sustainability quest.
Taking care of the environment also means that we are aware of the carbon emissions that we release to run our business: from the emissions related to the production of the crops (quinoa, cacao, rice, sugar), to moving containers around the globe, to sending sales people travelling around the country all year long, to using energy and resources at our office, we calculate our full-carbon footprint each year and plant the equivalent in trees to offset that footprint. 1 ton of carbon = 3 trees. We call the act of planting trees within our supply chains to offset our carbon emissions INSETTING. In 2014, we have planted 5,500 trees to compensate for our 2013 emissions. Insetting is the third pillar of our sustainability efforts. The final effort, the one that closes the loop and get us to full-circle sustainability is packaging. Can we call ourselves a sustainable company when our products are wrapped and distributed in petroleum-based plastic pouches that cannot be recycled, and that end-up in the trash, in landfills, on the side of the road and ultimately in oceans?
Tackling this packaging issue has been the next frontier for us at Alter Eco for the past 3 years, and it has been a challenging one. There has been a variety of bio-plastics available in the marketplace for several years but most of these materials are made with GMOs (corn in particular). Early on, we decided that we would find packaging solutions that wouldn’t require the use of any GMOs, petroleum and chemicals, a no-compromise approach that came with real challenges. We settled on using a material called Natureflex, made out of sustainably grown eucalyptus trees, a 100% plant based material. We also had to find a sealant material to bind our packaging together, which we eventually did, made with non-GMO cornstarch.
Launching our new chocolate truffles in a compostable material was relatively easy: a truffle wrapper is a simple, single-layer wrapper that does not present too much complexity. Consumers who buy our truffles can enjoy the chocolate goodness all the way to the disposal of the wrapper as they are able to bury it in their compost bin or backyard. The wrapper will disappear within 60 days leaving no harmful residues in the ground.
Building a stand-up pouch with the same technology was a much bigger challenge. Stand up pouches are the most commonly used type of packaging nowadays, found on every shelf of grocery stores. Whereas a truffle wrapper has a single layer, a stand up pouch is a complex, multi-layered, laminated entity, thus much more complex to put together. On top of the lamination complexity, we want the pouch to have a clear window opening so that consumers can see the product, as well as a zipper in order to be able to reseal the pack. All of these elements added layers of complication. The main problem we’re encountering is finding an adequate sealant material that doesn’t contain petroleum. Given that the ultimate goal is a completely biodegradable pouch, how can we find a material that is strong enough to guarantee a sufficient shelf-life while eventually decomposing and leaving no trace? After 3 years of intense R&D, of testing and teaming with other companies, we have made some great progress recently and are hopeful that we will be able to release a fully compostable pouch made without GMOs or petroleum by the middle of 2015, thus closing our full-sustainability circle.
It can be overwhelming to think about living a waste-free life, but making the first steps will make you feel like a proud steward to your planet.
1. Think ahead! Keep a set of cutlery at your office desk, in your bag, or in your locker. When you order out, you can tell the waitress that you won’t be needing any disposable forks or knives. Take it one step further, and tell the person taking your order that you will arrive with your own (eco friendly) carry out container!
2. Buy in bulk! Find the bulk section of your grocery store and fill up on grains, flours, and dried goods. Using a glass jar, reusable sac, or returnable containers will minimize your need for disposable packaging.
3. Hydrate! We all need water. Find your favorite eco-centric water bottle to carry around with you all day. While reducing your carbon footprint by avoiding bottled water, you will also stay well hydrated.
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