All posts by dbrooks

Composting: The 24 Percent Solution

Leaves in Andrew Skwor's compost heap north of Baraboo were hot to the touch Friday afternoon. They once sat in the yards of Village of West Baraboo residents and will soon break down into an environmentally friendly material that his brother can use for his landscaping business.

If you’re looking for a positive story about community composting, check out Baraboo, Wisconsin.

Tim Damos, from the Sauk County News Republic recently published an interesting profile of local composter Andrew Skwor. Skwor runs a large-scale mixed organics composting facility in Baraboo.

For about ten years, Skwor has experimented with composting, a method for breaking down organics into a nutrient rich material that helps plants flourish.

As an engineering student at UW-Platteville, Skwor studied the viability of turning wastewater sludge into a form of compost. Since then, he’s worked with scientists at Cornell University to develop software that helps compost producers find the right blend of materials for the product they need

The article does an excellent job of pointing out how food scraps and yard trimmings make up 24 percent of the waste that municipalities handle, and how a local composting operation that handles source separated organics (including yard trimmings, food scraps and wet, non-recyclable papers, can recycle these source-separated organics into an organic potting soil which can be sold for $15 per cubic yard.

“Oxo” Bag Advertising Claims Trashed by Better Business Bureau

The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (NAD) recently recommended that GP Plastics Corp., the maker of PolyGreen® plastic bags for the newspaper industry, modify or discontinue certain advertising claims for its PolyGreen plastic bags.

You will recall an earlier post on that questioned similar claims made by The New York Times in its announcement to use degradable’ bags for home delivery of newspapers.

Some of GP Plastic’s marketing claims that the NAD found unsupported included:

• PolyGreen plastic bags are “100% oxo-biodegradable”

• PolyGreen plastic bags are “disposable through ordinary channels” and go “from front lawn, to waste bins to the landfill”
• “You won’t notice any difference but the environment will.”
• “The greatest thing to ever hit the earth.”
• “Eco-Friendly Plastic Newspaper Bags”
• PolyGreen plastic bags are “environmentally friendly.”
• “Our bags are completely recyclable”
• “The result is obvious – bag it with PolyGreen and increase your margins while saving the planet.”

Ah, yes, nothing quite says you’re a ‘green company’ than the duality of enhancing customer margins while saving the planet!

There are some good takeaways here:

For marketers, simply put, making frivolous or empty ‘green’ claims is a losing game.  The NAD has reaffirmed the directions set out by the by the Federal Trade Commission’s Environmental Marketing Guides.

Next, consumers are becoming more sophisticated (and skeptical) of green claims. Genuine attempts to offer truly “green” products attract the attention of sophisticated consumers and harness powerful market forces which can be a catalyst for true environmental progress.  Frivolous claims only attract powerful legal and political forces looking to make an example of a marketing wizard.

Also, this decision really challenges the notion of product ingredients or additives that confer magical “green” properties on products.

To make ‘biodegradable’ a real solution, manufacturers need to first develop products and packages that completely biodegrade, in a timely fashion, under the appropriate conditions. They also need to educate consumers and municipal officials about the merits of composting as a waste-diversion tactic. And finally, marketers, consumers and their legislators need to support sustainable, community-based composting programs.

PS: GP stated that they would appeal the NAD’s findings. Stay tuned.

Think COOL2012 (Let’s Stop Filling Landfills with Recyclable Organics)

In a recent post on, Robin Shreeves commented on her town’s municipal composting program.

This past spring, my family and I were able to get all the compost we needed for our vegetable garden from a local community’s compost pile at their department of public works. The compost was created from all of the leaves and yard clippings that had been collected curbside. Many communities collect leaves, clippings and other outside organic matter to turn into compost, but some communities are taking it a step further.

Food that is mixed in with regular trash is estimated to make up about 40% of the trash in landfills. It also is the biggest offender in creating landfill methane which is a powerful greenhouse gas – 72 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Reducing landfill methane is just one of the benefits of keeping this type of waste out of landfills.

Curbside composting’s many benefits include:

  • saving money by reducing trash to landfill service and thereby lowering garbage bills;
  • conserving valuable organic resources by returning organic matter and nutrients to the soil;
  • reducing climate warming gases from landfills and reducing the risk of potential groundwater pollution
  • extending the life of our landfill by saving space

We think these are excellent and astute observations, especially since it demonstrates the fundamental need for keeping organic materials OUT of landfills!

When advocating “green” in your local town, think about the 40% of recyclable (compostable) trash. Not only can you help prevent global warming (by reducing the potential of methane production in landfills), but you can help your town reduce solid waste disposal fees by diverting a significant percentage of the total waste stream from the landfill. For more information about the benefits of diverting compostable materials from landfills, visit COOL2012 website.

To paraphrase Margaret Mead once remarked, a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change a short-sighted municipal solid waste plan!

Identifying Greenwashing When You See it

In a recent story published by the Palm Beach Post, environmental marketing consultant provides some strong evidence of how to recognize and resist exaggerated green marketing claims that sound appealing yet do little good.

Scot Case of Philadelphia-based Terra Choice Environmental Marketing, Inc., said with the rise in ‘green’ marketing claims has come an increase in “greenwashing” – false or misleading green claims.

“When it comes to green products, buyers need to do their homework, and check out a company’s environmental track record, Case said. He advises looking for products certified by a qualified and independent third party such as EcoLogo or GreenSeal.”  Ed. note:  The certified biodgegradable logo from the Biodegradable Products Institute would be another good choice.

In 2007, his firm surveyed more than 1,000 consumer products making 1,753 environmental claims. All but one of the claims were either false or misleading, Case said.

For example:

• A dishwasher detergent boasts “100 percent recycled paper” packaging, and yet the container is plastic.
• A caulking product claimed to be “Energy Star” certified, but Energy Star doesn’t certify such products.

Case said the vast majority of companies are not following marketing guidelines provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Trade Commission and Consumers Union.

“The gist of the guidelines is that folks should be making specific, accurate environmental claims and should have substantial proof to back up the claims,” Case said. “It is a very simple litmus test that most companies are failing miserably.”

“Oxo-biodegradable films have more PR value than environmental value”

Speaking at the Emballage show in Paris last week, Hélios Ruiz, marketing director for Sealed Air’s European shrink packaging business, was quoted for saying oxo-biodegradable films had more value as a PR message than as a tool to bring real environmental benefits.

“Oxo-biodegradable film is not the answer. You need light and oxygen for it to biodegrade but in landfill there is neither.”

Ruiz goes is quoted as saying that Sealed Air has pledged to focus its green efforts on lightweighting its films as a solution to environmental issues.  “We are not going into biodegradable films, but focusing on source reduction;” he said. “We would rather make an impact on reducing the materials than have a communications story.”

The article summarizes that Sealed Air has become the latest major packaging player to express doubts over biodegradable plastics.

Our take is that manufacturers like Sealed Air are correctly focusing on source reduction, then considering the likely disposal method used by consumers. If left-over plastics packaging films remain dry, clean and can be economically taken to a recycling facility, then recycling is a much better option, then landfilling.

In this context, biodegradable plastics, such as bubble wrap, don’t make much sense, especially when they are landfilled.

However, what if you had a fast food restaurant with bins mixed with wet paper and food-soiled plastic utensils, plates and cups?  In that context, recycling is not possible.

Certified compostable plastics, on the other hand, are ideally suited for these applications where small amounts of biodegradable plastics can safely biodegrade in a professionally managed composting facility.  Tons of otherwise worthless trash is diverted from the landfill, and the organics are recycled back into a higher purpose (like humus or soil amendments).