Highlights from OSC2 Packaging Collaborative Tour of Recology

October 25, 2018 by dev_team


Author: Lara Dickinson, Executive Director of the OSC2
Date: Oct 24, 2018

While there are certainly challenges to composting packaging at Recology, there’s a surprising amount of encouragement to keep the Packaging Collaborative work going.  We all know that pulling carbon out of the ground vs. putting O2 into the air, when it comes to making packaging, makes a lot more sense.  End of life is tricky and yesterday, we dove into this with Greg Pryor and Eric Ahnmark of Recology.  Greg & Eric led us on 3-hour discussion and tour along with reps from Numi, Alter Eco, Regrained, Lotus, Patagonia Provisions, World Centric, Fruit Guys, Choice Lunch, Elk & Futamura.  (Thank you Greg and Eric for hosting and educating us!)

Greg shared that there are a lot of challenges, but they know we need to address packaging.
Since Recology opened up in 1990 in Vacaville, this was the first time he remembers a group like this ever coming to spend time learning and working with them.” 
Today, Greg, emailed:  “I had a great time yesterday collaborating with you all. I think there are challenges ahead, but we need to take these on. We’ll be successful!”
It is clear we need to keep linking the different parts of this packaging system as we work together on more renewable and compostable packaging options.  A challenge is that Recology and many composters focus on OMRI certified products so they can sell their compost for organic farming.  This is the best compost, but it is not necessarily compatible with current compost certification standards for packaging.
He also shared that non-OMRI lines are possible, but harder.  Non-OMRI compost might go to landscapers and for land restoration use. Right now they don’t have enough technology to remove contaminants and separate out bits (other than by hand) that do not break down in their 60-day timeframe.  Note: they are trying to move to 45 days -60 days. This puts brands and packaging structure designers in an interesting spot, as we are designing to a lab-controlled 84-day disintegration standard, whereas in reality it is shorter due to commercial considerations of the composting facility.  They agree that improving the technology is critical to
pursuing Recology Zero Waste and California’s waste reduction goals.
While inspecting compost piles, we found bits of glass, metal, and even a plastic Panda Express container.

Packaging end of life, while only a fraction of the package carbon footprint, is important.  It is clearly a systems level issue and that is how we are looking at this….Recology shared that compostable packaging is a step forward….they believe it breaks down a bit in landfill and it comes from renewable materials. They also shared that the percent composition of PLA (important for package strength) in the compostable packaging continues to decline.  That is a good thing.  They also shared that if something is not well marked compostable or is shiny, it will likely catch their eye and they will remove it. This lead Elk to discuss working on a green overlay to metalized compostable structures.
Eric Ahnmark summarized that there are two sides to this work;  packaging companies adapting to commercial compost process AND composters adapting to packaging.  These gatherings and learning conversations are key steps.