Avendra helps hospitality operators develop unique procurement programs that enable their business to become more sustainable. Meredith Eriksen, strategic supply chain manager for disposable goods, recently spoke on this topic and shed some light on how businesses can reduce waste and find the appropriate eco-friendly products for specific applications.
Q: What can operators do to fit disposables into their sustainability programs?
A: The first thing operators tend to think of when working toward more sustainable business practices is which kind of products they can use to achieve their goals. However, it’s more important to begin with the foundation of sustainability: reducing waste overall. Begin by reducing the use of products, especially disposables, which by their nature are impactful on the waste stream.
Dispensers, for example, are a great waste reducer. Consider using dispensers for items like gloves, cups, cutlery, napkins and food film. You can achieve savings through reduced use and waste. Since manufacturing represents the greatest carbon impact of a product’s life cycle, reducing use and reducing waste before use are the most sustainable actions you can take.
Q: What are the differences between compostable, biodegradable and degradable materials?
A: Compostable products are the most sustainable if operators have the ability to compost those goods. Most disposable products that are labeled as compostable must be brought to a commercial composter. Bio-plastics will not break down without high heat and the shredding capabilities that commercial facilities provide.
Biodegradable and degradable are unofficial terms that define materials that can be broken down by exposure to the elements. It’s important to remember that these products will not break down in traditional landfills and cannot be taken to commercial composters. Except in cases where your waste stream ends at a biologically active landfill, or the product is likely to wind up on the side of the road or in a freshwater stream, a more sustainable choice would be to implement a recycling or composting program.
Q: What should operators know about recycling, recycled content and reduced resin content products?
A: Manufacturers have always used some recycled content – scraps from manufacturing are cycled back into the paper or plastic stream. Post-consumer content can be a more actively sustainable choice. In terms of cost, recycled content products may be as, or even more, expensive than virgin content products as the demand for recycled materials is outpacing supply. However, driving demand for recycled content products will also drive efficiencies within the recycling industry, thereby increasing supply and reducing cost over time. And as raw material costs continue to rise, we’ll see continued innovation in the collection and re-use of recovered materials.
Reducing the use of chemicals in the supply chain is another sustainable choice. Products with reduced resin content replace a significant percentage of the petroleum-based resin with an inert mineral or plant-based starch, thereby reducing the carbon imprint of plastic manufacturing, without diminishing the ability of the product to be recycled. For example, we contract for cutlery that is made from 30% conventional plastic and 70% plant starch.
Q: What key factors should be considered when buying disposables?
A: Consider the waste management options in your area. If you have access to composters, that method is a great choice, but if composters are out, you are better off using conventional plastics or recycled content products and driving recycling programs. Resources such as www.findacomposter.com provide local commercial composter listings. Make sure you understand your composter’s requirements for bio-plastics and food contaminated paper.
Q: How can Avendra help operators reach their sustainability goals?
A: Avendra has dozens of eco-friendly products under contract. When we evaluate the suppliers of those products, we take into account their sustainability programs, and all of the available alternatives. We examine the claims suppliers make to determine if they are true and genuine. It is a little like the “Wild West” out there in terms of green certifications, which is why it’s important to check their validity. We don’t put products in our program unless the suppliers truly meet the claims they are putting forth. When clients come to us for procurement solutions, we help them define their goals, consider all of the available solutions and find the most sustainable options for their business.