EPISODE 2: As the Soil Turns… A Compost Story: Adventures in Lytton

This is the second post in a multi-part series on our journey from certification to acceptance of our compostable food ware products in Metro Vancouver. Read Episode 1 for the background on this story, 3 and 4  for more, and bookmark our blog to follow along!

This week we tell you about our time spent at a turned windrow composting facility in Lytton, BC.

Revolution Resource Recovery (RRR) serves the Vancouver Lower Mainland, and is actually two business in one: a waste hauler, and a compost facility, formerly known as NorthWest Waste Solutions and Northwest Organics, respectively.

A hauler operating their own compost facility puts them in a unique position. For most 'Organics' Means Food Wastehaulers, contamination in their organics stream has the potential to cost them more, if the facility they take it to catches on and charges them. For RRR, contamination in the organic waste stream directly impacts their composting operation, so their sister hauler has a vested interested in encouraging their customers to go compostable without contamination. So, this compost facility welcomes BSIbio’s certified compostables with open arms.

This compost facility also has a 180-day plus compost cycle. The perfect place to start our study!

It’s 5am, the sun is just breaking through the clouds. We’re in a covered pickup truck owned by the UBC Faculty of Land and Food System, with our bags and boxes of compostable food ware for the test trial. This is our first facility and there’s a buzz of excitement in the air, although it’s a bit of a bumpy ride in the typical pickup benchseat.

Revolution Resource Recovery - Aerial view

An aerial view of Revolution Ranch

By the time we reach Revolution Ranch, John the facility manager is ready to welcome us through the bear and cattle proof gate, past rolling fields of alfalfa, and horses. We find out that much of the land we drove through is a working ranch where the compost is applied.

We begin the day inside, sorting and bagging the different products we’re testing. We chose 16 product types to represent every material combination we sell from plain, unlined paper, to paper hot cups lined with a compostable bio-polymer, to our transparent PLA beer cups and cellulose bags.

View from the porch at Revolution Ranch

View from the porch at Revolution Ranch

We sort and arrange all our products, and before we know it we’re ready for lunch! The sun-filled deck outside the headquarters has a perfect view of the mountains which enclose the valley the compost facility is nestled in, and if you stop talking you can hear the faint giggle of a stream off to the right.

Revolution is a turned windrow facility, where long rows of compost sit beside each other on a concrete pad, and are turned with a specialty machine.  We chose a windrow that has already been formed and is past the initial composting stage, to reduce our sample maintenance to every 2-3 weeks instead of every week. This means we have to dig the bags into the side of the windrow.

Digging Holes for Compostability Testing at Revolution Resource Recovery

Digging holes at Revolution Ranch to "plant" our compostable foodware samples!

Excited to get our hands dirty, we head to our chosen windrow away from the edge of the facility, since the outside rows tend to experience more extreme temperatures. It’s only when we start digging that we see the task ahead of us – our plan to dig 62 holes for our 62 bags was an ambitious one, and it took over 6 hours to get them all in. Fortunately we had our BSIbio team and a helping hand at the facility to get the job done in one day.

To test our products, we simulate an actual composting environment inside a sample bag. The test method for this type of turned windrow facility is simple; dig, fill the sample bag with products and compost from the hole you’ve dug, mix thoroughly, tie and bury. (If you’re interested in more details of the protocol, gives us a call!)

It’s fun to see our hard-prepared bags dip below the compost, and satisfying as another member of the team fills the hole, with only a rope tail hanging out as a marker to find it again when we come back each time the windrow is turned.

As the sun begins to dip beneath the mountains, the ubiquitous buzz of country insects dies down. The bugs knew when to stop work for the day, but we didn’t!

Once the very last bag is buried, there are smiles and congratulations all around. We’ve planted the bags to stay for 4-10 months, and we’ll be back every two to three weeks to repeat the process when it’s time to turn the pile. The specialty turning machine would rip through our bags in seconds, so we have the pleasure of making the trip to these lovely hills throughout the fall.

Bookmark us and check back next week for our adventures with tunnels at Whistler Compost Facility!

 

BSI dug into the compost at regional facilities with the University of British Columbia to make sure our products return to the earth.

Why do you care? Compostable products become a part of our Canadian landscape through the soil. When these pass through your hands, you want to be sure they really do what they say they do. At BSIbio it’s our duty to make responsible products, taking into account that they will never disappear, and can only be converted into something else. Your interest and support of our mission helps make that happen!

Posted in Certification, Circular Economy & Life-Cycle Analysis, Compostable Series, Green Spotlight, Organics Ban, Zero-waste | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

EPISODE 1: Once Upon a Time… A Compost Story: How We Got To Here

This post begins a multi-part series on our journey from certification to acceptance for our compostable food ware in the
Vancouver Lower Mainland of BC, Canada. See Episodes 
Episodes 23 and 4 for more!

BSIbio is a specialist in compostable food ware and packaging. We entered the industry ten years ago, pre-2010 Olympics, with the single minded intention to create foodware that would go back to the earth after it was used.

A few years in the industry and the cracks began to show around us – blended plastics marketed as compostable when they are not adding to the confusion between conventional and compostables (both within the industry and by the consumer), and most importantly – facilities not accepting certified compostable products. This is not what we envisioned!

THE QUESTION: What happens when you create a product designed to solve a problem, and you find out it’s only halfway to its potential due to issues outside your control?

Yes, BSIBio’s compostable products are bio-based to reduce reliance on ancient fossil fuels, a huge step in the right direction. But, we need a composter to make the connection for a circular economy.

Hot Cup Undergoing Composting

A semi-backyard composted hot cup circa 2009

We began with a survey of municipal composters in the Pacific Northwest. We asked them, “Do you accept our products? If not, why not?”, and came to some startling conclusions.

As of August 2013, only 53% of facilities in our target markets accepted all of our compostable food ware.

The reasons were many:

  • It’s confusing
  • The facility has no capacity to remove contamination
  • Too hard to tell the difference between compostables and non-compostables (blended products don’t help!)
  • Bio-plastics aren’t allowed in certified organic compost
  • The one that really struck us was: bio-plastics don’t compost

How could this be? Our compostable products are certified under the most reputable international lab standards; they meet the scientific definition for composting; and we have a handful of facilities that not only like our products, they encourage customers to use them to increase organics diversion.

Third Party Testing

Taking matters into our own hands, we gathered momentum behind a research pilot to address how we can close the loop. Starting in the winter of 2014, we partnered with the Foodware & Soiled Paper Working Group, convened under Metro Vancouver in preparation for their Organics Ban. We began working with the Metro Vancouver Research Collaborative, and hooked up with UBC Land and Food Systems. In mid-May we had our team together to apply for funding and the NSERC Engage grant was the perfect fit. By September 2014, we had the partnerships and tools to walk the talk in compostable food ware, beginning an exciting 10 month journey into the world of commercial composting.

Tune in next week for the second installment of this 5-post blog series into and beyond our research project!

 

BSI dug into the compost at regional facilities with the University of British Columbia to make sure our products return to the earth.

Why do you care? Compostable products become a part of our Canadian landscape through the soil. When these pass through your hands you want to be sure they really do what they say they do. At BSIbio it’s our duty to make responsible products, taking into account that our products will never disappear, and can only be converted into something else. Your interest and support of our mission helps make that happen!

Posted in Circular Economy & Life-Cycle Analysis, Compostable Series, Green Spotlight, Organics Ban, Zero-waste | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

CEO Speaks! Testing Compostable Foodware and Building Industry Relationships at SUSTPACK 2015

Next week, our CEO Susanna Carson and Compost Specialist Emily McGill will be attending SUSTPACK 2015, a convergence of experts on all topics relating to packaging and sustainability, including compostables!

Susanna was interviewed by Packaging Digest about her talk and some critical questions about compostability and food ware.

Check out the article here or read the full text below!

BESICS and BSI Biodegradable Solutions CEO Susanna Carson

We test our compostable products at facilities, and here's why! At this year's SUSTPACK 2015 Sustainable Packaging Conference in Orlando, FL, Susanna Carson will be presenting the afternoon breakout session "“Certification vs Collaboration: Securing End of Life Options for Compostable Packaging” based on BESICS' experiences doing on-site facility testing with our products in the Vancouver Lower Mainland from September to February this past year.

Decisions about which packaging materials to use for your products continue to be influenced by sustainable strategies and goals. Compared to recyclable and/or recycled-content materials, compostable packaging often seems to be dismissed before really being considered.

But with a resurging interest in “bio” materials, packaging designers might want to take a second, closer look.

At the upcoming SustPack 2015 conference (Mar 31-Apr 2; Orlando, FL), Susanna Carson, president, BSI Biodegradable Solutions, will be presenting a case study of how one brand owner is working to bring stakeholders together to create solutions and improve material acceptance in a session on “Certification vs Collaboration: Securing End of Life Options for Compostable Packaging.”

Here, Carson remains optimistic on the future of compostable packaging and confronts the issue of certification head on.

 

What is the level of interest in compostable packaging materials in the U.S. today and why?

Carson: The highest level of interest is from the consumer. People are genuinely interested in doing better for themselves and their communities. The more that people (and science) learn about the long-term impact of packaging waste in our oceans and landfills, the more tired we are of being given convenience products that cause health and environmental problems down the road. We make brand choices when they fit and are affordable; and this consumer demand creates interest from corporations.

Compostable packaging is being driven largely by the consumer and adopted by brands who are listening to what consumers want. While interest is high, the use of compostable packaging materials is lower as companies work out issues of price, operational systems, disposal and facility acceptance and material performance considerations. No one wants to fail, so this takes time.

 

Why aren’t certifications enough to ensure end-of-life acceptance for compostable packaging materials?

Carson: Compostable packaging materials are the result of amazing technology. Plant-based materials and bio-polymers look, feel and perform just like conventional petroleum based materials, except that certified compostables won’t last for decades or centuries in the environment. The similarity in look and feel is a bonus for those of us who use the products—we get what we are used to. But it can make it hard for facilities to tell the difference between a non-compostable petroleum material, a greenwashed “biodegradable” non-compostable material and a certified compostable material.

Healthy compost is essential, so facilities may reject all materials (even certified compostable) out of a real concern that their compost will be impacted by the non-compostable.

 

Can you give us a preview of the case study you’ll be talking about at the SustPack 2015 conference and how successful the company has been so far?

Carson: I’m going to tell the story of Besics certified compostable consumer foodservice and food packaging products. Besics products have been on the market commercially since 2005 in Canada and as a retail line since 2010 in the United States and Canada.

Our brand promise is a quality service-ware product that doesn’t need to go to land fill or incineration, but what do you do when your compostable product can’t go to compost? At Besics, we decided to start a conversation…then we decided to get dirty and put our brand promise to the test. We built a research project, gathered partners and worked directly with facilities.

The result has been incredibly positive. Facilities better understand our products, their compostability and the integrity of the Besics brand. We better understand what facilities need in order to work with certified compostable packaging materials. We’re building tools to help with testing and assessment. In the end, we have the same goal—to create healthy compost for the North American landscape. Besics is one of a growing group of brands collaborating to make it happen.

 

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Leading the Industry: Our CEO presents at this year’s SUSTPACK 2015!

Our very own CEO Susanna Carson will be at this year’s SUSTPACK 2015 in Orlando, FL, hosting an afternoon breakout session on “Certification vs Collaboration – Securing End of Life Options for Compostable Packaging“.

She’s bringing our experiences researching compostable food ware in the Lower Mainland to this world-class sustainable packaging event that’s gathering speakers from Target, DOW, 3M, Pepsi, and more!

Check out the details of the Biopolymer’s Interconnectivity session on Day 1 of the conference, and click here for the full program. Early bird special ends Feb 13!

Afternoon session on Biopolymer’s Interconnectivity – Day 1 of SUSTPACK 2015

 

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Are you ready for the Organics Ban?

Metro Vancouver is implementing an organics ban beginning tomorrow.  

Are you ready?

What it means for you:

  1. Ensure you have an organics bin**
  2. Arrange for organics collection from a waste hauler**
  3. All pre- AND post-consumer food waste must go into the organics bin – this means separating food from packaging and containers if the package is not compostable.

**If you are a tenant in a commercial building and waste hauling is part of your agreement, ask your property manager what their plan is to adhere to the ban.

You may not see fines or surcharges for food waste at first.  There is a grace period and a gradual implementation schedule.  Check out the details on the Metro Van website.

Don’t wait for a fine to hit – it’s cheaper to haul organic waste than landfill so the more waste you divert away from landfills and into organics, the more you save!

Compostable food ware is the perfect one-stop solution to the organics ban. Instead of finding a tedious and difficult process to separate food from its container, or asking your customer to do it, make that container compostable and you’re good to go!

Have a look at Rain or Shine Ice Cream or The Fish Counter.  You’ll notice there is only one bin for front of house operations because everything they serve food on or in is compostable.

Check out this video on Terra Breads.  They’ve gone with compostable food ware too:

Terra Breads and Compostables

Recyclable containers still have to be separated from food before they are recycled.  A certified compostable container, food-soiled or not, can all end up in the compost.

Try fibreware or unlined paper for your food service; both those materials are widely accepted into organic waste streams.  Our Besics brand products are a great example of certified compostable food ware.

Can compostable plastics go in the green bin?

The truth about certified compostable bio-based plastics (most common material: PLA or Polylactic acid) is that some waste facilities accept this material and some do not.  It depends what kind of system they have in place.  Ask your waste hauler if they accept PLA materials into their organics waste stream.  If your waste hauler does not accept PLA, take this opportunity to shop around for one who does – there are lots!  It will save you the hassle of separating food from packaging.

Ask us for a preferred hauler list if you want to get started.

 

For any more questions about specific materials, feel free to contact us at BSI – we can help you find the right food service container and the right hauler too. 

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$2,500 Scholarship Available – Growing Talent in Composting

We love seeing talent grow in our field.  If you’re a student considering the wonderful world of composting, have a look at the following announcement from the US Composting Council:

With the support and donation from Filtrexx International, the Composting Council Research and Education Foundation has founded a Young Investigator Scholarship. The focus of the program is to help support a young professional’s research in the fields of compost use and application for soil conservation effort. We are looking for a student (undergraduate through PhD) whose research and interests are focused on composting. More specifically, the ideal candidate will have interest in compost application and utilization as it relates to increasing drought tolerance, nutrient content, reducing erosion and water pollution.

The goal of the Young Investigator Scholarship is to bring attention to emerging young professionals in the field of compost research and to spark interest in the future of the composting industry.

Application Requirements:

Submission Opens: October 30, 2014

Application Deadline: December 12, 2014

Recipient of the scholarship will be awarded funds to support their research and education. The recipient be invited to display a research posted at the USCC Conference in 2015.

All materials must be submitted, by the deadline, to Leanne Spaulding, Development Officer, at leannespaulding@compostfoundation.org

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Demystified: Biodegradable or Compostable?

biodegradable

The ever-evolving world of sustainable food ware and packaging can be hard to keep tabs on. If you’re an event organizer, food vendor, sustainability advocate or just a person trying to figure out what bin to put something in, we can help!

When starting your journey to reduce waste or create a ‘zero waste’ plan, you will inevitably ask, or be asked, this question:

“What’s the difference between biodegradable and compostable?”

The short answer – compostable is preferable to biodegradable.

What you’re looking for are certified compostable products.  A certified compostable product is the scientifically tested solutions to ”closing the loop and addressing your customers’ concerns about food ware waste.

Why is this so important?   ”biodegradable” products might not be compostable, which can contaminate the organics waste stream, defeating the purpose of choosing a sustainable product and possibly result in contamination fees.

3 Easy Steps to clear-up confusion:

  1. Use the term ‘certified compostable’ - this is important for all vendor  and marketing communications.
  2. Educate your team and customers – let them know you’ve done your homework!  They will appreciate it.
  3. Check for certification  – ask the supplier if the product is “certified compostable” and look for the Biodegradable Products Institute BPI (or other 3rd party certifier) logo.


The detailed answer  

You say Biodegradable when You say Compostable when
the product can be broken down by the activity of microbes the product is proven to biodegrade (not just break apart into tiny pieces) AND

  •   biodegrades in a compost environment at a rate consistent with natural materials, and so much that it is not visible in 3-6 months
  • the end compost  not negatively affect plant growth, nor contain regulated heavy metals above the legal thresholds[1]

[1] American Society for Testing and Materials D6868

A product is certified compostable when a third party agency has tested it and made sure it fits all these criteria.   In North America, look for the BPI symbol or another internally recognized third party certifier who tests to the ASTM D6400, D6868, or EN13432 standards.

From the BPI website

Don’t know if you should trust the certifier? Ask us!

You can also Check out the US Composting Council’s latest quick guide for more info on logos and what to look for.

Here’s where certification makes it easy: they prove that the  product  truly biodegrades and doesn’t just break apart – how?  By tracking the CO2 that the microbes emit when they metabolize the product. Cool eh?  The final compost is then used to grow plants in a test ensuring the product has not left any toxic residue that could inhibit the plant’s growth.   

Here is how to keep it straight; every certified compostable product is biodegradable, but NOT every biodegradable product is certified compostable.

The fact is, certified compostable is the minimum you need to ensure your food ware is accepted at your local compost facility. Making sure your waste stream goes where you want it to requires a conversation with your hauler and compost facility. We’re doing the legwork for our customers right now, on the ground with 3 regional facilities testing our compostable products. Keep an eye out for our Compost Adventures blog line this fall!

Sidenote: Yes, we’re called BSI Biodegradable Solutions.  As a 10 year old company, our roots were established when the need to differentiate between the terms was not so strong – similar to the Biodegradable Products Institute!  As the importance of clarification grows, we may change our company name to better reflect our company’s vision and the higher standards of our certified compostable products.

 

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3 Ways for a World Without Waste

Can you imagine a world without waste?
We can!

Believe it or not, Canada currently produces more waste per capita than any other country (CBC). Our landfills are brimming, our climate is changing and we are wasting resources in the process.

This revelation came up at the Zero Waste Conference (#zwc2014) on Sept 16th and made it even more relevant that the conference is held in Canada, where we stand the most to gain by changing our relationship with waste. This was our second year attending the Zero Waste Conference, and we loved the growth from last year’s question:

What would a world without waste look like, and how do we get there?

To what felt like this year’s statement:

A world without waste is achievable, and here are some ways to do it.

The diagram below appeared many times during the day, and is a great snapshot of what is called a ‘circular economy’.

Butterfly Image of the Circular Economy

The central line shows what our present-day is most like – raw material extraction and use leads to landfill or incineration. The “butterfly wings” show what a waste-free economy looks like – after use, products become nutrients for a new manufacturing cycle. You can see why it’s called circular!

This year’s conference presented great solutions – ideological and on-the-ground – to making this circular economy a reality.

    Steps Towards a Circular Economy:

1) For businesses: Design for disassembly – through careful design, everything we produce could be unmade, then remade into something else (see Joseph Chiodo’s work). We love this, since compostable packaging is rooted in disassembly – by nature! What better way to dispose of food-soiled, bio-based and compostable materials than putting them back into the earth, where they can feed a new stage of bio-based design and production? The key to making a product able to disassemble is collaboration in design, bringing everyone in the supply chain together to ensure the product disassembles after use, BEFORE making it – in our case, making sure compost facilities will take our products!

A great resource for making products sustainable by design is the Cradle to Cradle education portal.

2) For consumers: Be an advocate – vote with your wallet! In this day and age the power is in the consumer’s hands, which means if you don’t like how something is made, or it has no end-of-life solution, you can choose a sustainable alternative, some of which were featured at the conference. Don’t think there is one? Ask! Businesses invest in studies to find out what consumers are thinking, why not just tell them?

This includes telling your favourite restaurant that you love their food, but don’t want the styrofoam!

3) For everyone: Keep it out of the landfill. Although landfill ‘mining’ gets some press (trying to find usable resources in old landfills), landfills are essentially a dead-end, and incineration even more so! Pay attention to what you buy and where it can go after use, then follow up with great recycling and organics collection. The conference featured businesses like MBA Polymers and the Plastic Bank that work to keep plastics in a technical nutrient cycle, and out of landfill.

We’re proud that our CEO founded BSI 9 years ago, when compostable food ware was still in its infancy, because by using compostable food ware, it’s easier for you to get organics where they belong – composting!

    Paradigm Shifts:

1. “Waste management” = Resource Recovery

The Plastic Bank presentation by David Katz

To quote David Katz from the Plastic Bank; “the problem is that we view plastics as disposable.” Take a second and think – what was the last thing you threw in the garbage? What about in the recycling? How do those feel different? What value does the recyclable have over the ‘landfillable’?

Now, imagine that everything belongs in the recycling. Paradigm shift! No longer are we ‘managing waste’, we’re recovering valuable resources.

That’s the feeling of your green bin, of compostable food ware; the feeling of resource recovery – where products get put to use, after use. In the circular economy, all products become a nutrient for a new manufacturing cycle.

2. Collaboration, not competition
Although competition gets you ahead financially in the old-fashioned economy, it’s collaboration that works best in the new economy, where ecosystem health is a priority. This is embodied from actual industrial symbiosis to the collaborative efforts from the National Zero Waste Council and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Project Mainstream. Our business is a great example, since we only flourish by creating multi-level partnerships between suppliers, haulers, and compost facilities!

This reminds us of the Leverage Lab hosted in May by Future Strategies, in partnership with VanCity and ScienceWorld, where we rubbed shoulders with a ton of like-minded individuals and discovered real linkages across our supply chains! It’s awesome realizing this motion is already happening in Vancouver.

3. The changes are possible and already happening
Jeremy Rifkin spoke about the sharing economy. His intelligent discussion on how waste is dramatically reduced in a society with near-zero marginal costs was an eye-opener. It became clear that a low-waste economy is not only achievable, but in some ways, well on its way!

An example of this is streaming videos online – a video is uploaded once, and then it can be watched millions (billions?) of times around the world, with near-zero cost for each additional time played. This compares to the cost – and waste! – of producing one more physical CD, DVD, etc. In every industry there’s the opportunity for a sharing economy to take place and reduce waste.

If you want to talk to us about the circular economy and how compostable food ware fits in, get in touch!

P.S. For more information on the speakers from the conference, check out this link:
Zero Waste Conference 2014

And you can see videos and presentations from the awesome 2013 conference here:
Zero Waste Conference 2013

Posted in Green Spotlight, Zero-waste | 2 Comments

They’re HERE! Try our new BESICS Compostable Hot Cups & Lids

Brand new and in stock now! Sturdy… stackable… recyclable and compostable… what more could you want for your morning coffee?

NEew BESICS Compostable Hot Cups & Lids!

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UBC Masters Research Assistant Position Available: Compost

We have an exciting opportunity to share! Are you or someone you know interested in compost, composting technology and compostable food ware? Do you want to advance material assessments for compostability?

BSI and the University of British Columbia are working together to refine disintegration protocols and quality analysis for compostable food ware and packaging. A position is available for a Masters level graduate research assistant to conduct this project with the Faculty of Land & Food Systems at UBC as the initial seed for a 2 year Master’s program. Details below!

ANTICIPATED START DATE: August 2014
POSITION TYPE: Masters level graduate research assistant
FACULTY: Faculty of Land & Food Systems
GRADUATE PROGRAM: Integrated Studies in Land & Food Systems; Soil Science

The research assistant (RA) will work as part of the Sustainable Agricultural Landscapes Laboratory with an industry partner to develop details for a comprehensive interdisciplinary analysis of compostable packaging, from the establishment of new protocols for the composting industry, to the assessment of the quality of compost products. The RA will review existing compostable food ware and packaging composting protocols, and survey composting facilities to develop a protocol for various facility types. The RA will then use the protocols to test the disintegration of compostable products from the industry partner at various compost facilities and will conduct a greenhouse study to assess the impact of various compost products on vegetable production. Finally the RA will participate in compost field trials where vegetable yields and nutrient dynamics (e.g. greenhouse gas emission and nitrogen leaching) will be quantified.

For more information and details on how to apply, please see the full description here.

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