“…and into the mainstream.” That was the opening statement, theme, and challenge laid out by U of O Professor Robert Young at the Compostable Summit last week. He was speaking to a mixed audience of private and public influentials including Coca-Cola, Starbucks, International Paper, Burgerville, Allied Waste, DEQ, Portland Metro, Gov. John Kitzhaber and on and on… (don’t ask me how we got there). The goal was to bring these disparate groups together to tackle some of the largest waste issues facing the state, country, and world. Citing statistics such as 30-40% of all food produced is wasted and looking at life cycle analysis of plastic PET bottles vs. compostable bottles, the questions that arose from this debate were “What are we going to do about it? What additional research is needed (conveniently Dr. Young has a research staff)? And, what policy can we draft to implement change?”
In true professorial fashion, Dr. Young did not make clear to us exactly what we were doing until almost the close of the day, when in conjunction with John Kitzhaber he explained that he wanted to combine the results of our breakout sessions with additional research in order to design new policy. The way that he brought so many crucial stakeholders to the table to design policies for the future was extremely effective and inspiring.
As a composting company, we are constantly thinking about what happens to an item when it gets thrown in the can. One of the breakout sessions focused on waste prevention, a fascinating new topic for me. Our group looked at where is waste generated: the farm, the retailer, or in the home? Is it due to portion size, or over-buying, or spoilage, or “expiration?” A group that caught my attention was Lean Path, which developed software and hardware allowing the likes of Intel to reduce their food service waste by 47%. In a sense, it doesn’t matter whether you care about the environment; these kinds of reductions in waste create strong business cases. Apply Intel’s food waste prevention to state organizations (schools, prisons, etc…) and you can start to close budget gaps.
All in all we were honored to be invited and are excited that so many people took the time to further the discussion on waste prevention, waste utilization, and policy creation. It’s large companies like Coke and Starbucks that can truly make a global impact, but many times it all starts with the smaller guys like Burgerville. As Dr. Young said, it is definitely time to move beyond the pilot. We already know a lot of what works; it’s time to go mainstream.