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National Restaurant Association - Eco-friendly packaging, sustainability practices explored

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Eco-friendly packaging, sustainability practices explored

Switching from wax coated, corrugated cardboard packaging to more eco-friendly varieties can happen through better communication and collaboration among suppliers, manufacturers and industry members, sustainability and foodservice experts said at an NRA Show education session last week.

The session, "Challenging the Value-chain to Transform Transport Packaging: Eco-friendly, Wallet-Friendly Solutions", examined some of the current packaging options available and discussed how foodservice operations could become more sustainable in their practices by eliminating paraffin-wax-coated boxes from their respective inventories.

Moderated by Lily Kelly, program director for the Coalition for Resource Recovery, or CoRR, a division of sustainability nonprofit Global Green USA, the session featured panelists Myles Cohen of Pratt Industries Recycling, Pete Bugas of Interstate Container, Larry Saywell of chicken producer Mountaire Farms and Linda Dunn of contract foodservice concern HMSHost Corp.

According to Kelly, approximately "1.45 million boxes are covered in paraffin wax, so they can't be recycled," she said. "The cost is about $200 million in foregone revenues and hauling fees." She further added, "There are coatings available that are recyclable."

Kelly also noted that Global Green and CoRR is currently focusing attention on the produce industry because, "By far it is the biggest piece of the pie."

In addition to looking at packaging options, the panel explored some of the issues currently surrounding the practice of sustainability.

Saywell, whose firm hatches approximately 6 million eggs per week, said his company has a "tremendous desire to reduce our energy [footprint]." To that end, he noted Mountaire has eliminated the wax-covered boxes from its production process because it is "an oil derivative." He added that the company also reduced its water consumption by incorporating better technology that cut down on its use of ice and provided recycling options versus sending waste products to the landfill like it normally did.

"Break out of your shell," he told session attendees. "Think about sustainability; it's absolutely critical to our survival. Demand your suppliers look at [alternatives] and support the people who are driving these things forward."

Linda Dunn, vice president of supply chain and analysis for HMSHost, said the onsite concern, which specializes in contract foodservice operations at travel hubs such as airports and auto plazas, has focused on several sustainable initiatives, including reducing its total environmental impact and offering consumers more products that are rooted in wellness and nutrition.

Dunn noted, however, that the company has faced a number of challenges in adhering to its sustainability pledge. They include:

• space contraints (for the recycling and composting of materials)

• infrastructure issues (not enough composting or recycling facilities available)

• employee education (many different languages need to be understood)

• collection and measurement of sustainability metrics and/or data

• lack of cradle to grave independent assessments

"To make progress," she said, "you do have to measure and develop a baseline. You also have to ensure you have top management support, make it fairly easy to find new ideas and report back out to your participants [on progress made].

Dunn further stated that she sees a bright future for sustainability in the foodservice industry. She envisions an increasing number of recycling and composting suppliers entering the space as well as more viable options available to operators.

"I've always said you need two horses in a race to be competitive," she asserted. "We also need more impartial third-party data and data sources. Progress also will be made on cross contamination and space issues, and there will be better collaboration, a greater sharing of best practices."

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