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Tossing and Turning: Tackling Today’s Toughest Challenges

If you were to ask me what keeps me awake at night, I would tell you it’s not how my five year old is doing in kindergarten. I would also tell you that I don’t lose sleep over how the Redskins played this year (although my husband probably does). What I do lose sleep over is how FPI is going to help support the industry with two of its toughest challenges: decreasing the amount of foodservice packaging that is littered and, perhaps at the same time, increasing the recovery of it.


You see, these challenges are both real and perceived threats to our industry. There are a number of folks who would have you believe that foodservice packaging is filling up our landfills, that it is destroying the natural beauty of our roads and waterways and threatening our wildlife. These are arguments often made by well-meaning legislators who push for passage of bans or mandates that restrict packaging in a foodservice operation. But what’s the real story?


When it comes to foodservice packaging in landfills, we can turn to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for data. For decades, they have tracked the generation, recovery and disposal of a whole host of products and materials, including paper and plastic foodservice packaging. I love asking this question when I give presentations: “Any guesses what amount of our municipal solid waste that ends up in the landfill is foodservice packaging?” People often guess 25-30 percent. What’s the truth, according to the EPA? Roughly ONE percent! Since 2000, the number has fluctuated between 1.1 and 1.3 percent of total discards (that’s generation minus recovery, for you data crunchers out there). Admittedly, when FPI commissioned its own study on the topic, the number was slightly higher – about three percent – but our study was more comprehensive and included a broader array of products.


But, even one to three percent is too much, and FPI, through our Paper Recovery Alliance (PRA) and Plastics Recovery Group (PRG), is working to increase the recovery of foodservice packaging to keep these valuable materials out of landfills and give them a second life through recycling, composting and even energy recovery. I won’t go on and on about the PRA and PRG’s terrific work – Natha covers that work in this blog – but instead I will just point you to our Stewardship page if you’re interested.


When it comes to the challenge of litter and marine debris, there’s a similar story. If we look at data compiled by the experts at Keep America Beautiful (KAB), their research shows that fast food packaging (the greatest component of all foodservice packaging) contributes less than SIX percent to total litter. While some blame the sheer existence of the package itself, studies show that the top reason for litter is consumer behavior: consumers who intentionally drop that cigarette butt, beverage container, etc. on the ground instead of properly disposing of it in a trash, recycling or composting receptacle. By the way, back to the legislators for a moment… simply banning a product to reduce litter doesn’t do the trick. When San Francisco banned polystyrene foam a few years ago, the city determined that littering of these products decreased by over 30 percent, but paper foodservice packaging increased by the same amount! It’s not the package, it’s the person. If we have a better understanding of how foodservice packaging ends up as litter, perhaps we’ll be in a better position to help reduce it. FPI has already begun discussions with KAB as well as the EPA regarding the reduction of foodservice packaging that ends up as litter and marine debris; more on that later this year.


These are real challenges that our industry faces, but I hope you now know that they are often based on misperceptions. We have our work cut out for us in 2014 (and beyond), but I am confident that together we will make progress – and that I’ll get a better night’s sleep soon.






Posted By Lynn M. Dyer (President) | 1/7/2014 8:56:27 AM