Tag Archives: recycling

Is BPA-Free the Way to Be?

Look at any food packaging, especially in the foodservice industry, and you’re likely to see a lot of plastic. There are many good reasons for the prevalence of plastics; plastics carry bpa-freemuch less weight than aluminum or glass, and plastic packaging can prevent up to 1.7 pounds of food waste for each pound of plastics.

However, plastic packaging brings some significant chemical impacts.  Among these, some of the most troubling come from a class of chemicals known as endocrine disruptors which influence the endocrine system and alter hormonal functions. Cheap, lightweight, and shatterproof, Bisphenol A (BPA) used to be one of the most commonly used plastics for food packaging, appearing in everything from plastic pouches to water bottles to the linings of some canned food. Unfortunately, BPA is one of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals; in 2008, the National Toxicology Program Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction found that there is “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.”

The US Food and Drug Administration still classifies BPA as safe at its current human exposure level. Nonetheless, pressure from consumers and consumer protection groups has spurred food storage companies to drastically reduce their use of the chemical. This is particularly true for products aimed at infants and young children, like infant formula packaging, baby bottles, and toddler sippy cups, but even many general use products now carry the label “BPA-Free.” In the foodservice industry, both Rubbermaid and Cambro offer BPA-free options.

Unfortunately, just replacing BPA does not appear to have solved the problem of endocrine-disrupting chemicals leaching into food. Scientists currently focus on chemicals having estrogenic activity—activity that mimics, increases, or decreases the body’s naturally-occurring estrogen with synthetic hormones. So while eliminating BPA is a good start and can help raise employee awareness of the dangers of chemical contamination, it is not a panacea. Study after study shows that most plastic products leach estrogenic chemicals into the food and drinks we consume.

Some simple steps can further reduce risks, both for foodservice companies and the customers they serve. Keeping plastics away from heat—boiling water, microwaves, and sunlight—is crucial, as heat accelerates the leaching process. In foodservice kitchens, make sure to heat food only in glass or metal containers, and in office kitchens, offer alternatives for employees to heat their own food. Keep bottled water out of hot cars and sunlight, and educate employees about the potential dangers of keeping food or liquid in plastic for too long.  As always, knowledge is power!



How to Encourage Better Recycling in Your Company

Sustainability Focus: Recycling

Modern materials recycling—converting paper, metal, and plastics into reusable materials—got its start in the 1970s, along with the rise of modern environmentalism. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, and in 1976, Massachusetts received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pilot a curbside collection program for mixed materials collection. By 1992, there were 5,404 curbside recycling programs, and by 2017, these programs—most of which offer single-stream recycling—are nearly ubiquitous in municipal areas.

How to Encourage Better Recycling in Your Company

The aim of recycling programs has always been to recycle more: to divert more waste from landfills. To that end, recycling companies have focused on making it easier to recycle common materials. The accessibility of recycling receptacles makes it just as easy to recycle materials as it is to throw them in a regular trash can (one that sends waste to a landfill rather than a recycling center). Now, the act of recycling paper, metal, and plastic has become a habit for many people.

The EPA recommends that everyone “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.” These three commandments are ordered hierarchically; you should first reduce the amount of resources you use—then reuse whatever you can. When all else fails, recycle what you can. Recycling is certainly an important component of being environmentally responsible. However, recycling should not be an end in itself; it should be seen as a means to the end of reusing materials. Running recycling programs is expensive; for-profit materials management companies make their profit by selling the feedstocks—recycled materials—that result from the recycling process.

But the economics of recycling are changing dramatically, especially in the area of plastics. Plastics make up a larger percentage of the waste stream than ever, due to technological advances in the manufacturing process. However, many of these new plastics, especially flexible plastic films and pouches, are not recyclable. They contaminate the waste stream and make it more expensive for materials processors to create high-quality feedstocks. At the same time, global financial trends, like lower oil prices and a slower Chinese economy, are reducing demand for plastic feedstocks. This is creating an economic “perfect storm,” in which recycling companies are having trouble staying in the black.

How can your office recycling program help? Make sure employees understand what is recyclable and what isn’t, especially when it comes to lightweight plastics and films. Provide recycling receptacles with signs showing best practices. Consider adding a composting program if possible. And remember, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle!



The Demand for Sustainability

The growing interest in environmentally sensitive packaging comes from a growing awareness of the impact that our choices may have on our planet. This may be reflected in the demand for sustainabilityan organization’s corporate responsibility policy, or it may be important to the message that a company is trying to convey to its own clients.

Sustainable packaging is packaging that may be recycled, reused, or composted. It also may include using less materials for the packaging, such as reduced layers or a smaller package, or including recycled content. Sustainability also includes how the product was made. The energy efficiency of the manufacturing process as well as the transportation of the final product are both significant.  Whether the energy and resources came from renewable sources are also potential factors.

Products advertising their sustainability or environmental sensitivity must make specific claims as to their recycled content and recyclability. Producers cannot claim an item is recyclable unless recycling facilities are available to at least 60% of consumers or communities; otherwise, the product must have a disclaimer that it may not be recyclable in your area.  Similarly, there are regulations on claiming a product has been made using renewable energy or contains recycled content. More information about environmental marketing claims is available from the FTC.

More products are now available in their own recycled and recyclable packaging.  Water bottles made of thinner plastic and compostable bags for snacks are already available, and companies continue to find new technologies.  For example, the Coca Cola company has a product called PlantBottle, a recyclable PET plastic bottle made partially from plants. Odwalla, a subsidiary of Coca-Cola, switched all of its bottles to an HDPE plastic made of up to 100 percent plant-based materials derived from sugarcane.  According to the American Chemical Society, the technology for creating edible packaging already exists, and companies are experimenting with food wraps made from mushrooms and nuts.

Of course, sustainability does not just apply to the packaging. In the current “foodie” culture, consumers are increasingly conscious of the route that food traveled to get to their table. In addition to seeking food choices that are nutritionally sound, many employees may be interested in understanding as much as they can about what they are consuming.  Along with the interest in healthier choices, they may want to know about its origins—are the vegetables locally sourced? Is the coffee fair trade? Organic products, while sometimes considered healthier,  are also understood to have a smaller environmental impact and are considered socially responsible choices.