SustPack16 – Who’s Who in Sustainability and Packaging

Sustpack16 composting 2

Keurig Green Mountain, Nestlé, SC Johnson, IKEA, Carlsberg Group – as Packaging Digest so aptly described it – “a virtual who’s who in sustainability and packaging” converged on Chicago from April 11 -13 for the 9th annual SustPack Conference – #SustPack16.

Organized in partnership with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, Smithers Pira and Packaging Digest, this conference tackled key issues and presented emerging solutions in areas as diverse as the circular economy, a return on investment (ROI), compostability, recycling, marine debris and ecommerce challenges.
Thought-provoking keynotes included:
• Ken Webster, head of innovation for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, who talked about “What’s the Fit? Plastics, Packaging and a Circular Economy.”
• Lars Petersson, president in the U.S. for Ikea, who spoke on “Investment and Innovation for a Low Carbon Future.”
• Leyla Acaroglu, Ph.D., founder of The Un-School of Disruptive Design, who made a presentation on “Designing Change for Circular Systems.”
In addition to the line-up of more than 40 presentations, SustPack also arranged six different local tours that allowed attendees to see behind the scenes at Method’s LEED Platinum Certified Southside Soap Factory, McCormick Place convention center, two leading Chicago museums, the Waste Management Willow Ranch composting facility and two craft breweries.

Facts/perspectives on the state of the industry and why recycling is not performing as well as expected that were discussed included:
• There has been a $1 billion USD investment in recycling infrastructure but the U.S. is now in the 5th year of a decline in commodity prices. The Chinese economy, low oil prices and strong U.S. dollar were given as reasons for this decline.
• 70% of households have access to recycling, yet only 35% recycle. Cities/states with best recycling rates appear to have strong legal structures forcing action, and they have often have been around the longest, with the West coast leading in recycling. As a benchmark, Finland has a 98% plastic bottle recovery rate.
• The question is how we can move the needle on the national recycling rate. Awareness and education are key and consumers need to become more engaged. More education of the public was suggested as a solution to increase recycling rates. As Keefe Harrison of the The Recycling Partnership which boosts recycling rates nation-wide said, “We don’t want people to think about recycling every day. We want them to recycle [properly] without thinking about it.” According to Kim Carswell Of Target, “ Recycling is a core value like education, open public spaces and the arts. How do we invest to align with this value?”
• The How2Recycle label was highlighted as a great resource for the consumer. S.C. Johnson made the point that consumers confused about recycling. 67% of consumers assume packaging is not recyclable if they don’t see a recycling claim on the package, however 83% of consumers learn from the How2Recycle label and are recycling more and more accurately. In terms of helping brands, How2Recycle now has an online calculator for brands to analyze the benefit of recycling.

• To advance better labelling to help both consumers and generators provide clean food scrap streams to composters, compostability will be added to How2Recycle. According to Nina Goodrich, “We are making progress, and have some wins – a pilot is coming soon.”
• In discussing the next steps in building a composting infrastructure, Nina Goodrich, Executive Director of Green Blue talked about a “Composting Collaborative” that could become a sister entity to SPC.
• The importance of including compostable packaging as a part of the food waste stream was discussed. According to Nestle USA it is a challenge for consumers to understand compostability – education via social media was suggested as one way to address this.
• During the field trip to the Waste Management Willow Creek Quarry Composting Facility the commercial aspects of composting and the importance of having end markets for the compost were discussed. Willow Creek is now the only composting facility in the greater Chicago area – down from the three that were previously operational. Without an increase in reliable large customers for the compost it would seem that the future of this final facility is also uncertain.
• Nature’s Little Recyclers is Chicago’s leading redworm breeder and organic recycling plant dedicated to diverting organic food waste, and turning it back into clean soil. Their facility is located in Back of the Yards, a neighborhood in Chicago with a urban farming focus. They take organic waste-such as coffee grounds, vegetables, and feed it to their worms turning them into worm castings, which is rich in nutrients and free of chemicals and can be used as fertilizer for both conventional and organic plants.