Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Death of the SunChips Bag?

As you may have heard, Frito-Lay (PepsiCo) announced this week that it will abandon its compostable packaging for SunChips, due to customer complaints about noise and poor sales. It will continue to offer the compostable bag for "original" SunChips, but reinstate conventional bags for the other flavors while it researches other options.

This is extremely disheartening.  Scrapping this innovative packaging solution because of the noise?  I agree with Mother Jones that we are doomed as a species if we can't handle the loud sounds of an eco-friendly chip bag.

Another complaint is that it doesn't compost fully in a backyard setting.  Currently there is no certification for backyard composting in the U.S., but Frito-Lay hired Woods End Laboratory to show that sufficient temperatures could be reached in a backyard bin to successfully compost the SunChips bag.  This process for developing the bag and testing home compostability demonstrates that Frio-Lay was intent on finding a true solution to its packaging waste, not just attempting to greenwash a product to boost sales.

I personally think we should applaud these efforts, not attack them.  While it's true that most of the U.S. does not have access to composting facilities that can process these SunChips bags (hence the home composting angle), there is also no infrastructure for recycling conventional chip bags either (multi-layer films are extremely difficult to recycle).  Shouldn't we support this movement in the right direction?  Seattle and San Francisco now require that foodservice packaging be either recyclable or compostable, and have mandatory composting for residences and businesses (San Francisco has mandatory source separation of recyclables and organics, whereas Seattle requires participation in its green cart program, unless notified that a resident is composting at home).

And granted, there is customer confusion about how to recycle (and now compost) items, some of which has to do with problematic labeling.  The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) has the Labeling For Recovery project, which addresses many of these issues.

I hope that Frito-Lay does not give up on composting as a viable option for some of its traditionally non-recyclable packaging.  And I hope that we can all see how properly managing our waste stream requires a cooperative vision: improved labeling of recyclables, more food waste composting infrastructure, clear communication about recycling and composting, local government commitment to organics diversion and higher recycling rates, and product redesign to promote reduction, reuse, and recycling/composting. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Food Waste Composting in Cleveland

Food waste composting programs are taking off in Ohio, as the infrastructure to processes those organics rapidly expands. This is much to the credit of the Ohio EPA, which works closely with businesses looking to divert food waste, and helps composting facilities with permitting.

A recent news story in Cleveland's The Plain Dealer highlights the sports stadiums and businesses in downtown Cleveland that are diverting food waste to a new facility, Rosby Resource Recycling, located 6 miles south of the city in Brooklyn Heights. Here is a video from the Plain Dealer:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Compost Matters

Earlier this month I was at an all-day event in Philadelphia that focused on composting in the Delaware Valley. Titled "Compost Matters," it was co-sponsored by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the PA Horticultural Society.

The key note speaker was Will Allen of Growing Power. Will's presentation was captivating, covering the astonishing depth and breadth of Growing Power's programs and outreach.

There were also talks about: Peninsula Compost's new Wilmington Organic Recycling Center (WORC), which opened last December, and has the capacity to compost 500 tons/day; Two Particular Acres, which composts food waste from a variety of Philadelphia locations, including Four Seasons Hotel; a group of restaurants near U. Pennsylvania that are composting food waste on site; and a panel discussion about composting policies, which I moderated.

Overall, it was a full day of people interested in setting up new food waste composting programs in the Philadelphia area. As food waste programs develop, there are several opportunities:  WORC in Wilmington is close by, and the PA DEP announced a new permit that will make it easier for municipal yard trimmings sites to begin accepting food wastes. That means the leaf and yard trimmings composting site in Fairmount Park could soon begin to accept food wastes. 

Update:  Conference presentations and videos are now available.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Compost Buttons

Do you love compost, and want everybody to know about it? Then check out these new buttons! One of my new projects is RRcraft, where we combine art with environmentalism, with green themes and greeting cards printed on 100% recycled paper with soy inks.

The concept for this button is a family story. When I started writing for BioCycle magazine, my grandmother was very excited. She has long been an avid composter, and recalled a story from many years ago, when she was profoundly critical of the state of affairs in the world (somewhat similar to today). My grandfather asked her, "Well Natalie, do you believe in
anything?" She quickly responded, "Yes, I believe in COMPOST!"

My grandmother is still composting, even th
ough space is limited at her retirement home, and she uses a walker to get around. She has a small balcony, and puts her food scraps in a large planter, using a big kitchen spoon to stir the compost. The spoon is sterling silver, so those food scraps get the royal treatment!

Check out all of RRcraft's items at:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Italy II - Slow Food

While in Italy last September, I attended a Slow Food Cheese event. Slow Food is an international nonprofit that was started in Italy in 1989. It was founded on the ideas of gastronomy, which is the study of the relationship between culture and food. The nonprofit was established in part to counteract the proliferation of fast food, perceived as a threat to Italian culture.

Slow Food has grown significantly since 1989, and now has 1,000 local chapters (called "convivia") in 132 countries, with a total of more than 100,000 members. Events are held all around the
world, but the largest festivals are held in Italy. These include the annual Terra Madre (“Mother Earth”), and the biennial events Salone del Gusto (“Hall of Taste”) and Slow Cheese.

In 2008, Slow Food launched an initiative to green its events, entering into a multi-year partnership with Novamont, an Italian bioplastics producer. Together, the organizations are working to progressively reduce the environmental impact of Slow Food events, targeting waste generation, packaging, furnishings, cutlery, logistics for transporting goods, CO2 emissions and energy and water resources.

I was lucky enough
to attend the seventh Slow Cheese event, held in the town of Bra in the Langhe region of Piedmont (northern Italy), famous for its Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Bra is the hometown of Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini.

Slow Cheese 2009 attracted 160,000 visitors, of which 50,000 (30%) came from outside of Italy. Forty-five waste stations were strategically place
d around the town to capture residuals, monitored by volunteers who helped direct patrons. Each waste station had five bins for source-separated materials: glass and metal, paper and cardboard, organics, plastic and trash. There were approximately 250 exhibitor booths, which all had organics bins, and kitchens had 30 organics collection points. All organics bins were lined with compostable bags made from Novamont’s Mater-Bi® resin. Other compostable products and packaging used at the event include cutlery; paper cups, plates, bowls and trays; PLA cups and bowls; and wooden stick cutlery.

Slow Food Italy events manager, Gabriele Cena, told me that environmental sustainability is connected to the overall mission of its events. “Our events are about promoting food that is good tasting, socially responsible and environmentally sound,” explained Cena. “The exhibitors need to show that all aspects are linked, and organics are an important part of this because the output, food waste, becomes the input, compost.”

I interviewed Roberto Burdese, President of Slow Food Italy, in their offices during the event. We discussed how their nonprofit addresses issues of environment, economics and culture through the act of eating: “Slow Food is a revolution beyond food, it is a change that starts with food and reeducates the way we eat. Our vision is of a circular system, acknowledging that resources aren’t infinite and that we are a part of nature, not its adversary. This goes against the mainstream, which is a linear, industrial path. We’ve spent the last 20 years promoting food culture, rediscovering food heritages that are being lost. Now we are leading by example with our events, reducing our environmental impact to show that it is not only possible, but is a necessary part of Slow Food.”

For a more detailed review of the organics diversion at the Slow Food event, please see my article published in BioCycle magazine.