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National Restaurant Association - Packaging summit: Collaboration key to improving recovery, sustainability efforts

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Packaging summit: Collaboration key to improving recovery, sustainability efforts

Restaurateurs and various industry stakeholders at the National Restaurant Association's first Foodservice Packaging Recovery Summit said they are committed to collaborating on increasing packaging recovery and landfill diversion.

The summit, held in partnership with the Foodservice Packaging Institute Nov. 7-8 in Austin, Texas, brought more than 100 participants together to address issues that currently affect packaging recovery, waste reduction and advancing their own sustainability goals. Topics for discussion included understanding the role of policy tools in recovery initiatives, how national campaigns can help increase recovery, energy recovery options for foodservice packaging, and increasing consumer engagement.

"This is a new area of work for the NRA," said Scott DeFife, the Association's executive vice president of policy and government affairs. "It is something we've wanted to do for at least the last three or four years. Restaurants typically don't get such high marks on sustainability ... so we want to help educate operators on best practices and offer them measurability in the best practices area."

DeFife added it is important for the restaurant industry to get ahead of the packaging issue before lawmakers pass legislation and regulations that make compliance difficult and costly.

"There is a lot of activity right now at the state and local levels," he said. "We must try to engage with local policymakers before the mandates begin."

Clarice Turner, senior vice president of U.S. retail operations for Starbucks Coffee Co. and chair of the NRA's Sustainability and Social Responsibility Committee, told attendees the summit was a proactive step toward directing the conversation rather than reacting to it.

"I can't tell you how delighted I am to be here," she said. "We will look back on this day and say it was the day we changed how the industry looks at foodservice packaging. You have no idea how serious my company is about sustainability," she noted, "but we've discovered there is no silver bullet that will get it done. The regulatory environment needs to be collaborative rather than defensive. We must try to help [policymakers] understand that we are trying to solve the problem, not avoid it. It is complicated, but doable."

FPI president Lynn Dyer also stressed the importance of collaboration, saying the development of critical mass within the industry would drive action and help grow the development of recovery solutions.

"No one company can effect change," she said. "We needed to bring the stakeholders together to work on voluntary, industry-based solutions. Our summit gave us a tremendous opportunity to do this, and to not only showcase what FPI's Paper Recovery Alliance and Plastics Recovery Group have accomplished so far, but also lay out the work that still needs to be done. We are hopeful attendees left energized and ready to tackle the challenges ahead."

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