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Episode 8: What’s a Food Co-op and How Do You Start One?

Episode 8: What’s a Food Co-op and How Do You Start One?

Interview with Ellery Richardson from Nashville Food Co-op

Episode 8: What’s a Food Co-op and How Do You Start One

Who wouldn’t want a grocery store where they are part owners and can vote on the items being sold, where they come from and how they are packaged. Learn what a grocery co-op is and how to start one in our conversation with Ellery Richardson from Nashville Food Co-op.

Maris Masellis: Welcome to the show. This is Zero Waste Trash Talk. My name is Maris Masellis and that’s Michael Britt and today we are going to talk about the Nashville food Co-op with Ellery Richardson. Yay, welcome Ellery.

Ellery Richardson: Thanks for having me.

Maris Masellis: I don’t know too much about co-ops or food co-ops, but I’m really excited to learn. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself Ellery? We were just chatting about how you kind of grew up between here and Chattanooga.

Ellery Richardson: Yes, yes. So my dad grew up in East Nashville, back before it was cool. But when we were young, he got transferred to Chattanooga with his job. So I actually grew up in Chattanooga, but then in high school, He moved us back. So they live in Brentwood right now, but I’ve claimed sort of both cities as my own. Went to Vanderbilt then decided I wanted to do environmental issues. And so I went up to Vermont for to go to law school at Vermont Law School because they are known as an environmental for their environmental policy law program. Nice. And that’s actually where I discovered food color co-ops, and then I came back here and was shocked that Nashville didn’t have one.

Maris Masellis: Well, I am originally from New Jersey and I have a lot of family from the northeast. So but in Vermont is a special place. It’s definitely its own place. How long were you in Vermont?

Ellery Richardson: So just three years, but I remember my first year the governor allowed the first McDonald’s to come into the state. And it was like super controversial because Vermont you know, very pro local, no chains. The only way they were allowed to come in is because they promised to use Vermont maple syrup on their breakfasts. I just remember that because it was a big deal.

Maris Masellis: What part of Vermont was your law school in?

Ellery Richardson: So my law school is in a tiny town called South Royalton. It’s about 2000 people. It is maybe 20 minutes from the New Hampshire border where Hanover is. Woodstock is more of a touristy town nearby that people may have heard of, but sort of Central Vermont and I was in complete culture shock living in Tennessee my whole life to move up there with all the snow and the land of Bernie Sanders.

Maris Masellis: Yeah,

Michael Britt: I bet. Coming from East Nashville, even though it wasn’t cool it’s still not a backwoods. Chattanooga is becoming what Nashville is now or five years ago, right? Do you keep missing the waves of where the cities get cool?

Ellery Richardson: I think so.

Michael Britt: Yeah, I keep looking at Chattanooga thinking that’s a neat place. I’d like to spend more time there.

Ellery Richardson: I’ve going back, it’s a great spot. It’s just small and very outdoorsy.

Michael Britt: So you’re trying to start up a co-op, and like Maris was saying, why don’t you give us a definition of what a co-op is for people who don’t quite understand it?

Ellery Richardson: Okay, so the cooperative is a business structure just like a nonprofit or an LLC, or a corporation. But what makes it unique is that it’s owned by the people who benefit from it. So I guess the best way to explain it to people who haven’t heard of it is the owners, the members are the shareholders, but no one can have any more shares than anyone else. So it’s very democratically owned, and that’s sort of the basis of it. No one can buy extra interest. We’re all in this together. One person, one vote. And you join because you care about the mission and want to be involved in what is happening. There are a lot different types of co-ops credit unions are cooperatives. A lot of people are familiar with those. A lot of electric co-ops and farmers co-ops in Davidson County farmers co-op is a farmer facing co-op, then their consumer co-ops and grocery co-ops are consumer cooperatives.

Michael Britt: Oh, but I’m glad you explained it like that because I in my head I was confused a little bit as far as like I know Publix is an employee owned grocery store. But people can have more shares and the board can have more shares and and so that’s where a co-op is going to be a little more equal.

Maris Masellis: Everyone is equal. Yeah, like that.

Ellery Richardson: Yes, Whole Foods is no longer a co-op, but they actually started off as a small co-op. I think it was Austin maybe somewhere in Texas.

Michael Britt: Austin was the first one. I think Dallas was a second one. I live near the second Whole foods, I used to get oat pizza crusts fresh from the bakery, they would make oat pizza crusts on Tuesdays. I still miss that. $10 for two pizza crust fresh made in the bakery back in the 80s. It was nice. So the word co-op, a lot of us think, Oh, cool. Food co-op, food is going to be healthier, locally sourced, you know, and it’s gonna be a nice neighborhood, maybe a little hippie vibe kind of thing. But there’s so many people that have a negative, I don’t know what it is, feeling towards the word co-op. I read this article about how in the farm country, they don’t really have grocery stores. They’re feeding us and the grocery store chains bought everything up and then close the under performing ones. And people in these farming communities are having to go to 99 cent stores to get their food, which is ridiculous. And so there was a movement to start co-ops, but everyone thinks co-ops are socialism. That’s not anything we want to be part of. So there’s this whole article in The New York Times about how they had to call it, they couldn’t call them co-ops. They’ve had to call them something else. I forgot what they were saying. They changed the name, but it just a matter of semantics. And sometimes in the south and the Midwest, you have to play these kind of semantic games. Have you run into that? Hearing people say, Oh, we don’t want to be part of a communist co-op or anything like that.

Farm Country Feeds America. But Just Try Buying Groceries There.

An exodus of grocery stores is turning rural towns into food deserts. But some are fighting back by opening their own local markets. Great Scott! Community Market sits in an old shoe store in Winchester, Ill. Credit… Daniel Acker for The New York Times WINCHESTER, Ill. – John Paul Coonrod had a banana problem.

Ellery Richardson: Actually, no, because most people have never really heard of co-ops in Nashville. The response I get is, well, what’s a grocery co-op? But it is really interesting that a lot of the ones I’m part of as a group I mean, it’s a loose association of clubs that are starting across the country and a lot of them don’t call themselves the x city food co-op, they call themselves, you know, x market or x store. And they don’t really broadcast that they’re a co-op, even though once you get on their web page, that’s obviously what they are. There’s one food co-op in Tennessee, it’s in Knoxville. It’s the Three Rivers Market, and it’s an amazing co-op. And if you’re ever up there, I encourage you to stop by.

Inside The Store

Welcome to Three Rivers Market, Tennessee’s first and only food cooperative. We are open from 10 AM to 7 PM everyday but Christmas Day, with limited hours on Thanksgiving Day (10 AM – 3 PM) and New Year’s Day (12 noon – 9 PM). Our Patio and Dining Room are currently closed.

Maris Masellis: So is it like open all the time? Is it like it is a daily thing?

Ellery Richardson: Yes, it’s a full service grocery store open seven days a week. It actually recently expanded

Maris Masellis: I see pictures online sometimes the package free stores is it kind of like that is everything package free?

Ellery Richardson: I think a lot of the co-ops from the 70s which is getting back to what Michael was talking about were like that, you know, the bulk buys, because there was a big resurgence of co-ops in the 70s which is why there is a negative connotation because people think of those as weird hippie stuff. But a lot of the newer modern ones definitely have bulk sections, but they don’t really look like refill stores. They look like grocery stores.

Maris Masellis: I feel like the refill idea is probably going to be a little different now that COVID has changed the world as well.

Ellery Richardson: Yeah, I hope that will come back. But when we’ve been talking to our consultants, they have said, you know, everyone likes bulk, everyone asks for bulk, but when you put it up there, not enough people buy from the bulk aisle. So that’s why even co-ops don’t have huge bulk sections. They have more than other grocery stores. But people like the convenience of packaging, which is obviously something we’re gonna have to work on, right, as we all know, the problems with that.

US Supermarkets Are Doing Bulk Food All Wrong | Civil Eats

The recent wave of zero-waste stores-think Brooklyn’s Precycle and Austin’s (now-closed) In.gredients-may be well-designed, airy, and Instagram-worthy, but their novelty belies an important truth. While there’s no doubt that it’s time to reduce the quantity of plastic and other packaging waste that comes home with us from the grocery stores, shoppers don’t need to seek out stores made only of bins and jars to reduce their impact.

Michael Britt: I think that’s an education issue, something to address actively. What we’ve learned is that you have to actively say here’s why you want to do this, and here’s how to do it. Otherwise, people just have this kind of vague idea of what they want. And they don’t even know that was an option. Oh, I could shop like that I could get rid of plastic. And, you know the first conversation we’re having is why you want to get rid of plastic, and then how you do it in daily life. And I think that if as a co-op, you really work on education program

Maris Masellis: I saw that on the website that was part of it, that there’s a part of it that is educational for people to learn. Right?

Ellery Richardson: Right. So there’s a whole side that’s going to be food education. Part of that is packaging and how food gets you and local food, the benefits of local food. Most co-ops have an educational arm and you know, their own community kitchen where people can come in and use it. But an interesting thing about co-ops is that they’re owned by the people who shop there. They’re owned by the members and if the members decide we want no packaging, and you know, majority of the members makes that the mission and petitions the board then that’s what the club’s gonna do because the members control the company.

Blog – Nashville Food Co-op

Cooperatives stand for community. All community. One of the main tenets of a cooperative is voluntary and open membership. It’s never been a secret that there are massive inequities in this country, even if some of us didn’t pay attention to them before the past few weeks.

Michael Britt: Right? That’s great. It’s nice that you can have a voice. I go into a grocery store and actually I go into very few because I walk in and there’s nothing I can eat. I’m not going to eat 99% of what’s in the grocery store. And it just makes me anxious that there’s 500 kinds of sugar coated corn cereals, I just, I just can’t even believe it and they’re all wrapped in plastic and cardboard and branded and advertised and that just drives me nuts. So have you looked at, this just came into my head. There’s an online grocery store called Move. Have you seen them?

Ellery Richardson: No, I’ve seen several but not any by that name

Michael Britt: I think it was move, I’ll search for it and put the link in the transcript (Move). The thing I liked about them it was, you know I don’t necessarily want my groceries shipped from across the country this is why I’m interested in a food co-op. I’d rather have local foods and support local farmers than things driven across the country. I can do that because I have the privilege and the means to do it and go out and search it out where a lot of us want to run a store and get something quick. What I do isn’t sustainable I don’t eat sustainably because everybody can’t do it the way I do it. I buy my vegetables from a CSA, I shop at Turnip Truck and I pay extra for anything else and I can do farmers markets, but everybody doesn’t pick and choose like that. But I do have to say I don’t want to get off topic too much but the reason I started shopping differently is in California, Ralph’s grocery store went on strike. And I lived literally, it wasn’t even a half a block away from my house, I could put something on the skillet and run over and get an ingredient and come back. They went on strike and my wife’s an actress, and she’s in the union and I had a union job at Safeway in when I was in high school in the 80s in Texas. And so I’m like, I’m not going to cross the picket line, I’m not going and I started shopping at Trader Joe’s and farmers markets, and I just never went back. Once I got into those habits. I never went back to grocery stores, typical grocery stores. But back to the Move thing, what I thought was interesting with their data driven approach is they went in and analyzed all the data and realized that there were really only 500 things that people buy from grocery stores and that they made the list of those 500 things then sought out like Trader Joe’s does to you know make deals with farmers to and producers to produce just for them the one branded thing. And I thought that’s pretty interesting because grocery stores carry what is like 60,000 or more items. And you really only need 500 that tells you the branding weirdness there.

Supermarket Product Choices – Consumer Reports Magazine

Products might confuse shoppers further by touting health benefits with labels that sometimes don’t have a clear meaning. When evaluating eggs, the choices are no longer just brown or white, and medium, large, extra large, or jumbo. We faced cage-free, free-range, with omega-3, pasteurized, all-natural, vegetarian, and organic.

Ellery Richardson: Yeah that’s really interesting.

Michael Britt: Didn’t mean to take all your time talking about what I know. We’re here to find out what you know.

Maris Masellis: Yeah, personally, we’ve struggled. We’ve talked a lot about this Ellery about our struggle with plastic and our struggle with being zero waste and sustainability in general in the grocery stores and how, because there’s so many choices and because we don’t have a lot of options. Being convenience is a huge factor. And we’re used to convenience. People aren’t going to avoid packaged products or ask for anything different because they can just go into these stores and have everything given to them right and then all these different brands are, I guess, good. And in our eyes, we’re thinking, Oh, we have so many choices in that way. But really, how many do we need? It’s like, we only need 500 or less probably. And so this co-op idea I saw on the website that you guys were raising money from and that you also got a seed grant from the food co-op initiative. And is that just Tennessee that that has the food co-op initiative? Is that just Nashville or?

Ellery Richardson: No. So the Food Cooperative Initiative is the association I mentioned earlier. It is funded through the USDA, because the USDA, at least a part of it does recognize the need to support local food and local economy. And so it is a group of folks that have worked in food cooperatives and their whole mission is to help small startup food cooperatives like the National Food cooperatives startup all across the country. So you apply for a seed grant, and that is, you know, $10,000. But then it comes with free consulting, pretty much as much as you need it until the USDA money runs out, which nowadays might not last as long as we thought it used to, right. But it’s been a tremendous resource. And I mean, anyone who’s interested in food co-ops could just call them up or get on their website and mean that’s their job is to help promote food cooperatives. And so that’s where a lot of my knowledge base has come from meeting with them and meeting with other startup co-ops that are also working with them.

Maris Masellis: Would it be better to fund this just one and really put all the money and effort into one or better for multiple co-ops around the city?

Ellery Richardson: Well, my grand vision would be for multiple comps across the city. Yeah. But you really need to start with one. Okay, I know we can’t really get anywhere until we have one store that’s up and running and people can see Oh yeah, that’s what it is because like I said before Nashville doesn’t know what co-ops are. They’ve never people who grew up here have never really experienced one. I think there was a small one in Hillsboro village in the 70s. But only a small community of people even heard of that one. It’s like Nashville at large needs to see one functioning and working and saying, Oh, hey, this is great. That’s actually how I became so in love with the idea. My tiny town of 2000 people in Vermont had a small food co-op. And the first year I just drove 20 minutes to the grocery store. Not really thinking anything of it. But you know, as I got more ingrained into the community, I would just pop into the market. And then I started learning what they were about. And one thing that really sort of hit home for me, is that I would just be shopping for tomatoes, they would have two baskets. One basket would say conventional Mexico like your roma tomato Then the next basket would say Luna blue farms, South Royalton, Vermont, which is the town I was in, sorry. It’s like maybe 15-20 cents more. So one day I just bought the more expensive one like, Oh, hey, that’s right around the right around the corner supporting our town. Yeah. And as part of the educational factor, it was labeled, you know, these are biodynamically raised, I had to Google what that meant, but it was all label. And it just tasted so much better. So that was the beginning of my food education, just walking into the co-op and seeing the difference right in front of my eyes and tasting the difference.

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Michael Britt: so that’s one of the things that’s one of the things I think people don’t realize about co-ops is it is local food. So your your your focus is on making deals with farms and supporting community farmers. But you also would probably be you know, there are national groups where you joined together to get brand name items or things shipped from other countries and all of that, right? That’s so both.

Ellery Richardson: It is both. So our mission and the mission of most co-ops is to supply local as much as possible. But at the end of the day, people need toilet paper. People need paper towels, they want their frosted mini wheats are their Cheerios, that no grass or even natural organic cotton. Yes, I know that’s not really being made in that town. So there are trade associations. I’ve had a lot of restaurants get their food from Cisco. co-ops have their own that’s the forgetting the initials but it’s the co-op Association. And so you petition to join and it’s also a cooperative. So everyone who joins you know, has a financial stake in the success of that group and it supplies like equal exchange coffees, pretty much every co-op you walk into does equal exchange coffee, plus some local roasters as well of course because it’s a co-op.

Michael Britt: But you know they have deals with equal exchange you know Fairtrade chocolates paper towel seventh generation metal they provide that so that’s the difference like people it’s not a farmers market because that’s but that’s set up as farmers markets where things are only local and seasonal. This has everything like a grocery store.

Ellery Richardson: Yes that’s pretty even the most of the new ones that are in a town bigger than the 2000 person town are full size grocery stores. That market was small but you know, it had amazing breakfast sandwiches every morning I had a little hot bar it had lunch, love that had everything you needed.

Michael Britt: Nice and so how is the reception been so far here people like it hasn’t been hard to educate people are there a lot of a pent up need and want in the in the

Ellery Richardson: education is the biggest challenge right now though. It’s been interesting. So I’ve been doing this for a few years now that you know, we have a lot of transplants coming in and a lot of people reach out to us because they came from a city with a co-op and so they really recognize the benefit of it and they want it. So we sort of have two things like the nashvillians. Once I explained it to them, they liked the idea but they’ve just never seen it in action. So there is a big education barrier there. And then you know, some people you know, get it immediately Some people go well, I want to go like see one first because it sounds a little different. Then you have all these people moving in that came from places with co-ops and Google the co-op like Alright, well where’s the co-op in Nashville? I gotta go get my groceries and then are shocked to find that there isn’t one.

Michael Britt: Well and where are you thinking about putting one what area is there? Is there a range of areas or

Ellery Richardson: is not a specific neighborhood yet. This we have taken the advice of the food cooperative initiative. They told us not to commit to a specific neighborhood Nashville is not big enough to be able to do that. At this stage, just because we want to be open and honest with our members, we don’t know exactly where we’re gonna end up. It depends on what’s available. that’s big enough you need you know, truck access. It’s you can’t just pick any building in town with the for sale sign on it. You have to afford it to, I don’t know how much money we’ll have once we’re ready to sign a lease on which neighborhoods we can afford that much square footage because grocery stores are big and they’re expensive. You have refrigeration, you have trucking. So we’re not sure yet but we have committed to being somewhere centrally located. It’s easily accessible, whether it’s near interstate or on a bus line. So we don’t know exactly where that will be yet, but somewhere easy to get to as much as possible with national traffic. Makes sense.

Maris Masellis: Then news, what are the next steps? on your website? Again, it said that you guys had raised some money, raised some money and got the funds from the grant. And you’re still Are you still waiting from our members to join in order to do that to do the next step? Which is location or?

Ellery Richardson: Yes. So the way it works is there sort of different stages of starting a food co-op. And there are other ways to do this, but right now, we’re just following the FCI model that they have seen be the most successful. Of course, there are other ways. Like I said, if a space opens up immediately and money comes in, there’s an investor and we can do it, then yeah, that’s great. Let’s break ground tomorrow. But generally speaking, you know, like I said, grocery stores are expensive, you have to raise awareness, build the community, and then you have to get alone Of course, and there are specific cooperative banks that understand the co-op structure and are willing to loan to cooperatives but the way they dress edge, of course, the standard financials and business plan, but they also look at how many members you have. And you may compare that to the demographics of your city. Because the thing about co-ops is they’re different. And people are committed to them, like we’ve seen when people moving in like, Alright, well, where’s the co-op? And you need that community behind the co-op for it to be successful? Yeah. So the way the co-op banks judge whether to give money is all right, well, what are their ownership numbers in relation to their city? Is the community ready for co-op? And they do that by based on the initial owners who join before we have a location?

Michael Britt: Gotcha. Is would there be a way to like, open small or like have a small store that gets people to understand what it’s about?

Ellery Richardson: Yeah, we are actually exploring that we’re talking about that. We did do an initial market study back couple years ago, just to make sure it would be worth it. Putting all this effort into we didn’t want to do it if the market survey said no, Nashville is not ready for a co-op, but it did come back very positive. Like you could put it pretty much anywhere in the city and it would be successful. It was great news. But it did recommend a large store. It’s like you know, Nashville is big people want the convenience. So you should have Valley. Yeah, so we have considered also opening smaller, we would of course needle it would take a little less capital A little more membership initially. So we’re open to different possibilities, but for now we’re just raising awareness and getting as many members as possible.

Michael Britt: I’d vote for the Piggly Wiggly on Gallatin.

Ellery Richardson: Everyone has an idea. You need to cut it

Michael Britt: near me that’s near us and it’s empty and it’s a nice size. Actually, you know what I would like to see from from something like this is somebody who I’ve talked about this with Megan from the goodwill Do you know the good folks? Yes, yeah. You know, There’s also someone that maybe should could be part of a co-op and have, you know, her her thing going on in there. But one of the things I’d love to see is somebody go in and buy all of the closed down Dollar stores, it wasn’t the Dollar Generals, it’s the other one, the Family Dollar. They were all those empty family dollars to see, like somebody take that and just make it a chain of co-ops. Or at everything.

Family Dollar will close nearly 400 stores

Family Dollar will close 390 stores this year – one of many big changes the discount retailer hopes will help reverse its fortunes.

Ellery Richardson: Yeah, it’d be a perfect size size for a co-op.

Michael Britt: Yeah. And they have like, I’m sure they had trucking in and out and all the rest of that because of the way they did business before for all their 99 cent doodads

Maris Masellis: right? Yes.

Michael Britt: That’s it. Let’s get our checkbooks out and make this happen.

Maris Masellis: I know. Right. So how do we support the movement? How do we spread this awareness? And I know, you know, just by talking about it and putting it out and as a podcast will hopefully get more people aware that way.

Ellery Richardson: Yeah, thank you so much. Yes. So that’s what we’re really focusing on right now spreading awareness if you are willing to commit become a member, you can sign up on our website, it is $250 per household. It is a member fee, but you’re essentially buying a share. So you only pay that once. It’s not an annual. Once you pay that you have a vote. We have an annual meeting, generally March or February every year where we check in with our owners. And of course, you can check in with us anytime. We have board meetings and you know, constant things going on. So it’s $250 a share, but that is per household. And we also have a payment plan. So $50 a month, we’ll get you set up. And then we’re also taking volunteers. I mean, we’re completely volunteer board right now. So even if you can’t commit to paying right now, but you believe in the mission, or if you want to, if you can pay and you still believe in the mission so much you want to help. There. We have committees and volunteer efforts as well just to spread the word

Michael Britt: Nice. That’s a, I think it would be a valuable thing to do. And I think paying paying it off in monthly installments. You know, if it wasn’t for the fact that nobody’s working right now, $50 a month wouldn’t be wouldn’t really bankrupt most people.

Ellery Richardson: If people have specific situations, I mean, we can work with you, of course.

Michael Britt: Now, that reminds me of some questions I had had was thinking about and how this would work. Is there any mechanism for a sliding scale for different income levels? Like if you were, you know, if you were at a lower income levels or different membership level, you could join and maybe a pricing structure when you buy Is there any support built in for anything like that?

Ellery Richardson: Yeah. So we have been talking about that. We haven’t quite figured out exactly how to do that without someone donating essentially the match, because that’s a lot of co-ops do that, but they have people donate the match. And the reason that’s an issue is that it’s Essentially a membership stake. And so everyone needs to be equal, right? So we want to make sure that everyone has the exact same amount of interest. And that can happen with donations. So we don’t have it set up in our website at the at this stage, but that’s something a lot of other co-ops offer and we’ve been wanting to offer, we just need to figure out exactly how that can work. So if you want to donate to other people’s memberships reach out to us and we can make that happen.

Michael Britt: That sounds great. Oh, gleaning groups. Janine hunter works with a was at the Society of St. Andrew. Yeah. So you know, I bring her up every now and then because I really dig what they’re doing. And it’s it’s becoming more important with food rotting in the fields and no one to pick it and none of this middlemen like Cargill and all these food packagers are packaging stuff for restaurants and institutions now. So is there a mechanism or have you thought of a mechanism to work with groups That could bring in a whole bunch of crops or

Ellery Richardson: Yeah, so I don’t know of any particular example of co-ops working with gleaning groups but I don’t see why it couldn’t happen. So we definitely support their mission I’ve known about The Society of St Andrew for a long time so anyway, we can work with them, Michael can

Michael Britt: connect you and we are last we just published today, an episode with compost company. And one of the things that fascinated me when I went out and visited with them was that if the top layer of produce freezes, dries does something weird and one of those tractor trucks, they just dump the whole truck of produce when the windy percent of it is still perfectly good. It’s a write off they now they drive it up to compost company, leave everything, take the trailer and go because the trailers you know, need to be working and making money and they’re just very specific like if something goes wrong with the temperature by like, degree sometimes when they ship, they dump the whole load. Oh wow. And so he was thinking of trying to work with Janine and Jeannie, I’m sorry and hunter and the food Gleaners to try to figure out how to get all that in a timely manner somewhere. That’s what I was thinking this is the thought process so that there’s a co-op that could take that and resell it or even help package it up and donate it or something. That would be awesome. Yeah, I’m just thinking out loud as we go.

Ellery Richardson: Yeah, one I have is to have a food hub attached to the co-ops only Of course, some warehouse space but I would like to have even larger warehouse space for things such as that. I’ve had a lot of folks come to me with ideas that the club can help with that you would just need that you know, warehouse space in the back. And that’s something I would love to see the co-op be able to help with.

Michael Britt: Specifically large coolers. I think the key is produce from rotting. That’s, that’s one of the big issues is those big coolers.

Ellery Richardson: Yes, definitely. We’d love to help with that.

Michael Britt: That seems like there’s a ton of potential to have this where it’s not this adversarial, corporate grocery store, you know, throwing out a third of all of their foods so that they can make sure to entice everybody in their store. And that whole business model needs to be rethought and that not keeping things in stock not buying locally. The distribution and I appreciate the people like you’re out there trying to solve these issues. I think it’s like us want to eat like that.

Ellery Richardson: I think the past couple months, especially if you weren’t already aware that there are major issues with our food system you are now and I’d like to think that of course the food co-op can’t solve all those problems, but I’d like to think it would be a step in the right direction.

Michael Britt: Yeah, I mean, it’s like Are any of the zero waste off that we talked about and the changes and the ethics of how you deal with life it? It’s a rabbit hole. Once you go down it then you start saying, well, we can do this also we can do that and it does exist. band and I think it grows and it and people are enlightened with what can happen to learn. That’s right.

Maris Masellis: Always Always.

Michael Britt: Well cool,

Maris Masellis: was great to learn about that and the mission it says on your website just to recap the mission of the Nashville food co-op is to provide the city of Nashville delicious local food options, by way of a year round full service member owned cooperative grocery store. And some of the goals is keeping capital in the community, offering educational programs about food systems, labeling items in the store so we know what we’re buying. And then hosting in store cooking classes that highlight local eating like that. Like that. And then their vision when you’re around locally owned store will provide local seasonal and consciously sourced products as season allows. Love that

Michael Britt: consciously sourced, that’s perfect because that there’s there’s so many choices that we make on a daily basis unless you dig into the research you don’t know that the people picking your tomatoes were practically locked in trailers and treated like slaves in Florida. You know, you know, you know I don’t want to buy those tomatoes. I don’t want any tomatoes at grocery stores. And now you’re finding out avocados are you know that the drug cartels are taking over avocado farms and so what I liked, I would like to shop from somewhere that you know, just like we’re talking about mega with a good feel some people who make those inquiries and figure that out so that I can go in and buy my groceries and not have to feel like you know, I’ve made the world a worse place by my choices. I can feel like I’ve helped make the world a better place even if it cost a little more to do. I’m willing to do that

Maris Masellis: and it starts right here in our community. right here at home.

Ellery Richardson: Yes, there are definitely people willing to do it. If we can get a store open to source it.

Maris Masellis: We will have a store open Ellery, we’re gonna push for you. Well, thank you. Thank you so much for being on our show. And Spending time with us to explain your dream and we are going to support you, however you need it. Great.

Ellery Richardson: Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate it. Well, good luck.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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Episode 7: The Insanity of Plastic Recycling

Episode 7: The Insanity of Plastic Recycling

If plastic recycling is broken, why do we do it?  It makes no sense financially or by any measure of success when it’s a 90% failure rate.  Even if it worked better, plastic can’t be recycled more than 2-3 times before it falls apart so all we are doing is delaying the inevitable.

Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results

Maris Masellis: This is Maris from Zero Waste Trash Talk and today we’re talking to Alex Truelove, the director of US PIRG’s organizational efforts to reduce waste in order to improve public health, protect the environment and conserve resources. Their work includes campaigns to eliminate the most harmful and least recyclable single use plastics and to promote producer responsibility. Amazing. Follow him on twitter @alexctruelove.

Maris Masellis: Alex Truelove is someone that Michael you found his article on The Hill.

The insanity of plastic recycling

It has been said that insanity can be defined as “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Yet here we are, after decades of failures and broken promises, convinced that we’ll recycle our way out of the plastic pollution crisis.

Michael Britt: Yeah, the article that he wrote, “The insanity of plastic recycling” and it seems spot on for the what we’ve been talking about internally and on the podcast that plastic recycling is broken. And so I reached out to Alex, because I thought, Hey, if we want to talk about this, let’s bring somebody on that’s got some street cred, some writer credibility. Not just us talking about it here in our east Nashville neighborhoods. So Alex, thanks for writing that article. And do you want to tell us a little bit about what you do and what led to writing this article and these this conclusion?

Alex Truelove: Yeah, absolutely. So my official title is The Zero Waste Director with a national nonprofit called the US Public Interest Research Group that is often shortened to USPIRG because that’s easier and it’s stuck with those who know of the PIRG’s. And I’ve been in this position for almost three years, the organization largely has been working on Zero Waste issues for a long time.

Alex Truelove: We were pretty active in a lot of like the early bottle bills and container deposit laws like Massachusetts and Oregon back in the 80s. And so it’s always been a part of the organizational DNA. But it was really only about three years ago when I joined the organization that everybody sort of collectively decided to launch a national program focused on zero waste. I think part of it was just the emergence of a lot of related issues of plastic pollution in the ocean and sort of discovery of how much of it had accumulated there and kind of a lot of other things at the same time. So it’s been really fun to kind of work in this space as it’s gotten so much attention and momentum. Even if, you know, I think some of the solutions are, you know, a little misguided. I work a lot with our state groups. So we have a pretty utilitarian named naming system where we have USPIRG, Massachusetts we have MassPIRG and Pennsylvania we have PennPIRG and CalPIRG in California. And so I suppose that’s what makes us different in some ways from other kinds of environmentally, or public health focused nonprofits because we do so much work at the state level, and kind of as a network, as opposed to just sort in DC or something. Although we do a lot of work at the federal level as well and that’s why I was following the hearing that the Senate was holding, which I mentioned in my article a couple weeks ago now. And I kind of knew what was coming because the hearing itself was being organized by Republicans because they control the Senate right now. And the framing of the hearing, I forget exactly what it was titled, but it was all about recycling. And so I was kind of afraid that the same conversation was going to happen in this hearing as it has been for the last, I don’t know 40-50 years, which is basically how can we recycle our way out of this problem. How can we deal with plastic pollution, and fix it through recycling. I think you guys know as well as anybody that we failed to do that for a long time now. And I think the most frustrating part was that there are so many other more interesting and creative solutions, I think moving forward in terms of kind of designing our world and the products we use and all that kind of stuff. And there is no mention of reusability there is no mention of, maybe a little bit of composability in terms of compostable plastics, but really was just so focused on this old idea, and one that has consistently failed and I thought this is insane. And so hence, the insanity of plastic recycling, and I sort of wrote it in the heat of the moment as I was watching this hearing and then kind of had to you know, dial it back.

Michael Britt: I always have to dial back. Maris and Jess are always like Michael dial that back take the curse words out quit being so angry!

Alex Truelove: Yeah, exactly. I think the passion kind of helped me find a thesis at least.

FRONTLINE | Plastic Wars | Season 2020 | Episode 8

FRONTLINE and NPR investigate the fight over the future of plastics.

Michael Britt: I like how you started with the quote about what insanity is: “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. And I think it was clear when we saw, and I think Alex, you and I talked about this on the on the phone the other day, the PBS Frontline Plastic Wars documentary. They go back and they traced the beginnings of the plastic recycling business and interviewed people that were involved. And they basically were like, yeah, we didn’t think it was going to work, it’s just a way for us to keep making plastic. And so it’s pretty clear. I’m a cynical person and I kind of thought that anyway, but then to hear them say that and have them dig up all the paperwork and letters and then later emails and all of that corroborated that this is a big smokescreen. It just It’s infuriating and I don’t blame you for being irritated and knowing what was coming on the the Senate hearing because dark money from the fossil fuel industry flows into all the pockets of these people that are making laws that they want to protect their industry. And it’s, it’s, anyway, I hear you. I agree.

Fossil fuel industry continues to dwarf environmental interests in election-related spending

Following a global climate strike over the weekend, climate activists in Washington, D.C., raged on and flooded the district Monday as the United Nations Climate Action Summit took place in New York. Participating groups issued several demands, including the passage of the Green New Deal, the halt of deforestation by 2030 and an end to fossil fuel extraction.

Alex Truelove: Yeah, I think that realization to that plastics really is an extension to the fossil fuel industry. It’s not new to anyone who understands the plastics are made primarily from natural gas byproducts. But to see especially more recently, people sort of make that connection like, oh, all of those, you know, the Chevron’s the Exxon’s are the same ones that knew about climate change and buried that evidence, they’re also the ones who are supplying a lot of this. In many ways, my understanding is the fossil fuel industry sort of sees declines in gas and oil powering the electricity grid and our automobiles, the petrochemical growth is kind of where they’re turning their attention, which I think for me makes it feel even more important to be doing this work.

Maris Masellis: Did you watch the Front Line video? Wow, I thought that was so incredible. One thing that I thought was really interesting was the marketing and the advertising. Immediately after they printed the first productions of plastic and how it went from convenience, convenience, convenience, you don’t have to worry about anything anymore, you can literally just throw it away. Then eventually it transformed into the Indian with the tear. Everyone remembers that and it was a pivotal moment when they transferred all of the responsibility to us, as the consumer when we had absolutely no control over it whatsoever. It tells the story so well. Was that in the 80s?

Keep America Beautiful: The Crying Indian (1970)

Iron Eyes Cody (born Espera Oscar de Corti, April 3, 1904 – January 4, 1999) was an Italian-American actor. He portrayed Native Americans in Hollywood films,…

Alex Truelove: Yeah, yeah, I think so.

Michael Britt: Oh, no, no, the Indian in the America the Beautiful recycling program was in the 70s. I remember seeing it on TV. I’m older than you guys. It really affected everybody at the time.

Maris Masellis: It’s been happening for that long, like, we have been convinced that it’s our fault for that long. And that’s why it’s so hard to change people’s minds about it because this has been a way of life for a long time.

Alex Truelove: And you still hear that too, like, I won’t name names, but in the same Senate hearing, there was a lot of industry representatives that were witnesses and representing, you know, consumer packaging associations and that kind of stuff. And you hear them saying the same thing. You know, we want to be good actors, but consumers have to, you know, it starts with them. It’s the same sort of transferring of guilt and responsibility. It’s kind of incredible.

Michael Britt: I’d like to see some witnesses on the other side of that, like 10 years or so from now, when they’re all going to jail for corrupting the environment and killing millions of people.

Maris Masellis: This has been a very eye opening for myself. I have not known a lot of these things until this last year when we started this group. Truly and honestly it really made me feel bad at first. I thought, well, we’re all doomed, there is no turning back now. And I think a lot of people feel that way. They think, well, why should I care then? If this is just a downhill thing? Why should we bother ourselves trying to change when we’re such small pieces in this? And I think creating the the alternative idea is what we’re trying to do, and help people see that no, this is going to change. It has to change and it will change. I’m interested hearing you talking about the newer solutions or these creative solutions. What are some of those? What are some of the creative solutions that you’re talking about earlier?

I kind of knew what was coming because the hearing itself was being organized by Republicans because they control the Senate right now… I was kind of afraid that the same conversation was going to happen in this hearing as it has been for the last 40-50 years, which is basically how can we recycle our way out of this problem

Alex Truelove: I think I kind of looked at it as a multi step process. And I think there are a few promising things that I see going on that could represent a better future versus just the efforts around trying to get rid of like the most common most hazardous single use plastics. I’m not gonna sit here and suggest that banning plastic shopping bags or styrofoam containers is gonna change the entire market. But I think those conversations in places where they’ve asked for those policies. I think that’s really gotten people’s attention in terms of both, you know, this is a problem that we need to fix, but also sort of realizing, hey, like, we actually don’t need a lot of these things and some of the most most common and most hazardous single use plastics out there are also in some ways the most replaceable. And so I think that’s been a great place to start in terms of kind of winning hearts and minds. So I think there’s kind of that, you know, getting rid of the worst stuff. But then at a certain point, obviously, you have to figure out a different system in terms of what we’re moving towards. And I think that’s where I get really excited about what what at this point is mostly pretty local small scale solutions, but it really focused on reusability almost kind of bringing back the milkman model in some places. And there’s a number of different versions. There’s an organization called loop that has been partnering with some kind of big consumer brand companies about basically providing a lot every day things that you need. Toothpaste, shampoo, that kind of stuff in reusable containers that you can return which you know, I’d like to see that system being offered to smaller companies and things like that, but I think it’s a start. I think it shows that at least people’s heads are in the right place in terms of understanding that could be something we can move towards. I think a lot of other similar programs like that, so like restaurant takeout programs, there are six I think happening and more in Europe to my understanding, but it could be wrong. There are towns where they have like a almost like if you can imagine like a Nashville branded reusable takeout containers. Then at any restaurant you might go to…

Maris Masellis: Michael’s laughing because we have to tell you something.

Michael Britt: That’s what we were working on and we actually pitched our idea to the Nashville Entrepreneur Center and were given a scholarship to take our reusable takeout container program through their whole system of starting a business. We were ready to launch some tests here in East Nashville and then the tornado came right through our neighborhood. We decided to regroup, and maybe focus on big industrial cafeterias and collegiate cafeterias and institutional type cafeterias instead of takeout. And then COVID shut everything down. So we were on that track and actually we started this podcast as a way to connect and bypass the whole social media algorithms and really connect with our group here in Nashville, and to promote that idea. Then we were just sitting here after what two weeks of being stuck at home going why don’t we just buy the recording stuff because we can’t use the studio anymore and make podcasting our business right now. So that’s where we’re at. We feel like our job now is podcasting. Instead of this reusable takeout program.

Maris Masellis: The reusable to go container program. That was our baby. We were avidly studying the logistics of it and trying to make sense of how we were going to do this using East Nashville as our main market or test market, if you will. And we were branding, we had everything in line and just one thing after the next kind of shut us down. But it didn’t stifle us and it’s really inspiring to hear you talk about reuse, because even with the pandemic, there are barriers to entry but reuse isn’t dead. We have to figure something else out otherwise the linear economy is going to drive us all into the ground sooner than later. I think that the reuse idea that you’re seeing in Europe if if they can do it somewhere else, then we can do it too.

Michael Britt: Yeah, just takes political will.

Alex Truelove: Well, I’m sorry to see man, a tornado and a pandemic.

Michael Britt: Yeah, the tornado hit like March what was it sixth March 4, something like that. Then then we locked down for the pandemic on the 15th. So it was literally back to back.

Maris Masellis: It was a pretty dark. There were some pretty dark days here.

Michael Britt: Here we were out of toilet paper, hand hand sanitizer and paper towels because we’d all been buying it to donate to people who lost their houses. S so we’d cleaned all the stores out before COVID even hit so there’s really some shortages down here.

Alex Truelove: Wow, I mean there’s interesting recycling story with toilet paper too.

Michael Britt: That’s actually gonna be an upcoming episode of ours. Bidets. I posted a question on our Nashville Facebook group and ask if they want to talk about their bidets and the conversation blew up. It was like, wow, everybody wants to talk about their bidets. I ordered one and have been using it and we’re gonna kind build our episode around talking about that and toilet paper. I mean, there’s a lot of interesting solutions. I mean, even here in Nashville, you’re talking about the reuse stuff we have refill stores. The first one in our neighborhood was The Good Fill where we have our place that we can buy shampoo bars, and refill soaps. She (Megan the owner) researches the origins of everything and makes sure that they’re made ethically and produced environmentally friendly. And we’re pretty lucky to have that in our neighborhood. Do you have anything like that, where you live in your neighborhood?

Alex Truelove: Yeah, probably a half mile northwest of where I live there’s a great place called, I think it’s called refill ( Joy fill)

Maris Masellis: Yeah. The package free stores are so exciting to me. I see pictures on online all the time. They’re like, would you want something like this and it’s just fruit and vegetables all over the place. We actually just had Ellery Richardson (recorded but not published yet) on about coops, food coops. I had not really known anything about that beforehand. I think that whole idea of local food, package free sustainability at its finest. That would be a great solution. But in order to get those things off the ground, there’s got to be money and that’s the hardest part.

Alex Truelove: I have enormous respect for these entrepreneurs for coming up with the zero waste shops and stuff and thankfully the one in my neighborhood is back open again. It was you know, closed down for a while and they figured out a way to negotiate around the pandemic but not only in, I mean, I love having access to all these kind of bulk things, these giant vats of like laundry detergent, I can just refill you know that you guys I’m sure have very similar across the country. But I’ve also discovered products that are not only Zero Waste but in some ways actually better versions of what I have before like for washing dishes now I have basically a loofa like the actual gourd, which I’m embarrassed to say until a few years ago I didn’t even realize was actually a thing as opposed to the plastic version that you can get. And it’s incredibly effective. Mine has been lasting for months, but eventually when your finished with it, it’s composted afterwards. Brilliant.

How to Grow Your Own Loofah Sponge

ryanthejones and VictorUA/Getty You’ve probably had or used a loofah sponge in your life, whether in the bath or for cleaning around the house. But did you know it was made from a vegetable?

Michael Britt: There’s a lot of those changes that I don’t think people realize how easy they are. Some of them seem more expensive at the time but in the long run they aren’t. They save you money, like switching to a safety razor, the old fashioned type of razor with razor blades. The analogy that I use all the time is that you pay what $15 for three, Gillette or Schick, triple or quadruple blade, plastic disposal heads for your razors at the store (correction, probably closer to $10). Yeah, where I get the finest Platinum razor blades in bulk it’s like literally the finest cutting edge you can make and if you buy them in bulk you know for nine cents each like can use both sides. Yeah, it’s probably about two cents of shave if that.

Alex Truelove: Yeah, the proprietary ones are so expensive. Yeah, it’s crazy.

Maris Masellis: Also toothpaste tablets.

Michael Britt: Oh man, we love us some toothpaste tablets

Alex Truelove: Okay, yeah, that’s my next thing.

Michael Britt: It took a little bit to get used to. It takes at least two or three times before you realize the change but for me it was easy because the foaming in my mouth kind of made me gag anyway. I didn’t like the regular toothpaste very much. I used so little all the time and now the toothpaste tablets are a great thing with no packaging. I don’t know if I told you Maris, I wanted to fill up on tooth tablets from The Good Fill. I usually like to fill a little mason jar only I got kind of carried away and dumped it into a big bag. It was $70 of toothpaste tablets!

Maris Masellis: So you’re the reason why I couldn’t get them! It’s OK, I usually just go over to Michaels and get them from him anyway.

Michael Britt: It might be. I didn’t mean to hog them. I just I just wanted a jar full. I don’t want to mess around with little packets. Oh well. I’d recommend trying those Alex.

Alex Truelove: It’s easier to borrow from a friend.

The chart shows that by 2015, the world had produced 7.8 billion tonnes of plastic — more than one tonne of plastic for every person alive today – Link to article

Michael Britt: So back to the plastics issue. Something that keeps coming back to me over and over again is that as a society we’ve produced 359 million metric tons of plastic since plastic was invented and went into use in late 40s early 50s. That seems like this enormous figure, but also keep in mind that plastic is lightweight. So the mass and the bulk of that has got to be huge. 10% of that’s been recycled and I actually think that’s generous, the 10% number. That’s a pretty small amount of the overall plastic in the world. And so you think about the volume then you also think about how plastic can only be recycled 2 sometimes maybe 3 times, and then it just buried in the landfill. So we’re really only slowing down the process of sending it to the landfill. The best case scenario is we’re just slowing this down. I mean, I don’t think we should be recycling plastic at all. I think if we took that recycling mentality away from everybody in curbside pickup. Here in Nashville, we do curbside and they keep shrinking the numbers and types of plastics that they can accept, because they don’t have a market for them. I kind of feel like if we just said no plastic that it would get rid of a lot of the contamination with diapers and weird stuff being put in there. And we wouldn’t be spending good money after bad and it would make people have to come to the realization that plastic isn’t really recyclable, and it’s not the best thing to be doing. Is that is that off base? I keep saying this and everybody looks at me like you’re crazy. You should be recycling if you can.

Alex Truelove: And that’s it. Yeah, I think that’s a really thought provoking question because even if there are some plastics now that have a decent recycling rate, and those I mean, we’re talking about a pretty narrow like, numbers one and two. And they, you know, have to be typically clear and they don’t have any shrink wrap labeling, so you know, that’s a pretty small sliver of the plastic pie. Is it worth sort of perpetuating this whole thing that we can recycle our plastics just because there are a few plastics that are recyclable? I don’t know, I don’t have a good answer. But I think it’s a really thought provoking question. Are we doing kind of more harm?

Consider, for example, an unrecyclable laminate pouch containing tuna that ends up in a landfill. Its environmental effects across the board are far lower than those of a highly recyclable steel tuna can made of significant amounts of recycled steel. The pouch requires less energy to manufacture, and its light weight makes it more efficient to transport.

https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2019-4-july-august/feature/stop-obsessing-about-recycling

Maris Masellis: Right? I wonder if that awareness for people in general, because there’s already people that will have stopped recycling? And I don’t think that it was with that thought in mind, Michael, I don’t think people are thinking what you were thinking. They thought, we’re not recycling with China anymore so there’s obviously no recycling being done. And so I’m not going to do this anymore. And that was kind of like a loss of hope. Whereas I feel like your idea, Michael is kind of, Hey, we understand the system. It’s stuck. It’s not working. There’s not a future in this. So we’re just not going to recycle it. Or we’re also going to try to not buy it, because we know we can’t recycle it. But it’s impossible to do that. Plastic is on everything.

Michael Britt: Yeah, you’re right. Our choices are limited at the store. When they say that you should make better choices, like when they say you shouldn’t fly. Not flying means you can’t participate in modern society because you want to be green. If we talk about that 10% number and realize that means that 90% of the of the business model of recycling plastic for cities is a failure. What else do we do that can fail 90% and we keep supporting it? I mean, there just really isn’t that many other things like that in society that we’re willing to just throw money away at? We saw with the National Sword when they announced the ban on clamshell containers, plastic containers, everybody got all worked up. Some people said, “We’re gonna recycle them anyway”. It made them deal with the fact that their favorite restaurants to-go containers and their produce containers were no longer recyclable. People were angry about it. I just wonder if we said no plastic at all if it makes everybody really angry and then they start focusing that anger at the plastics manufacturering?

Nashville Metro Plastic To Go Container Ban

Nashville Metro has recently banned plastic to go containers from curbside recycling and we are all confused. We are holding a meeting on Oct 2 to get more i…

Alex Truelove: Yeah, this doesn’t necessarily answer your question, Michael. But I do think moving forward for a couple reasons, we might have more of an opportunity to really hold producers responsible for their claims. I think there’s a liability. Part of it is that we’re finding out more, unfortunately there’s no national clearing house with info about exactly what gets recycled. Is it collected? Then is it actually sorted by the local facility? And then is there actually a market you know, so each one of those, it’s less and less material that actually makes it through? Which is why I agree with you, Michael, that I think 10 percent is probably a pretty inflated number because I think often that really refers to the collection rate and not what actually gets turned into new products.

Maris Masellis: I think the others statistic is 2% of that is actually recycled. 2% of that 10%.

Alex Truelove: You guys might be interested in a report that came out like six months ago, I think over the winter that Greenpeace put out. I know some of the folks who did the the survey and the aim of the study was to survey as many recyclers across the country and actually find out, and it’s kind of crazy that nobody has really done this before. I mean, the EPA collects the data every couple of years, but it’s pretty vague. The (Greenpeace study) aim was to find out all the different things that you actually collect and don’t collect? And then how much of that stuff actually goes to sorting facility and gets sorted and has a market and how much of that stuff is actually sold and then turned into something else. So there are numbers behind all those things and what’s interesting is that the Federal Trade Commission actually has definitions and standards for what can actually be called recyclable. Basically it has to meet a threshold and only number ones and twos in very specific situations, met that threshold and everything else didn’t. What is interesting about that is that now that we have more information, I think Companies can be held more legally liable. There was actually a suit last year, I think a woman in California, sued Keurig, because she found out that those k cups weren’t actually recyclable. They were making claims that they were but in her community they weren’t. And so I think obviously, you guys know, there’s this disconnect between what people say, like the plastic bag Association, or I forget what it’s called but there’s there’s a group out there and one of their claims is plastic bags are recyclable. There’s this theoretical term of recyclable and then there’s this actual, you know, what’s happening where less than 1% or even less than that of any plastic bags are really recycled if any?

Lawsuit over Keurig coffee pod recyclability moving forward

A federal judge in California recently ruled that a class action lawsuit against Keurig Green Mountain Inc. – one with interesting implications for recyclability claims about new product streams -can move forward.

Michael Britt: Wait, what? That’s one of our questions. When you go back to the grocery store and take your plastic bags for recycling, which is a small amount statistically, it’s just who bothers to bring their bags back to the grocery store. Our question is, do they really recycle those bags?

Alex Truelove: My understanding is that has been part of a massive failed experiment. And I can’t remember the name of the organization that collected that information or was participating in it. But that was kind of part of a greater effort by I think a lot of industry groups, not just plastic bag returns, but a lot of like those bubble mailers that you’ll get like the ones from Amazon, which you can return at a lot of big box stores. They collected I don’t know how many tons, thousands of tons of these bags and different kinds of film and stuff and then they ended up I think just landfilling it, or incinerating all of it because there wasn’t actually a market. And I will, I promise after this conversation, I’ll point you in the direction of that information – link. But I think that is just another example of it’s collected but that doesn’t mean it actually gets recycled.

Trying to Recycle That Plastic Bag? The Odds Are Nine to One It’s Not Happening | Ecology Center

It can feel impossible to get away from using plastic. In our consumer world, plastic is everywhere and deciding what to do with it, can be confusing. More than 4.83 million tons of plastic film has been generated to date and only about 9.1% of that plastic is recycled.

Michael Britt: We do a transcription of the episodes now. When you send it to me, I’ll put the link in there so people can go read the article.

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Michael Britt: So there’s two things that come to mind here. First of all, the plastic film is easily recyclable, correct? From what understand plastic films like plastic bags and stuff is that they can be made into other plastic bags. So like a one to one thing, right? Am I wrong about that?

Alex Truelove: Not to my knowledge, but…

Michael Britt: Well, maybe that’s what I get for reading the plastic film manufacturers website. Maybe I need to get my information from somewhere else.

Alex Truelove: My understanding is that film is tough for a couple of reasons. I mean, anytime you have layered film, it’s really hard to take apart those layers and they’re easily contaminated. There’s also just not a whole lot of material per weight. So I think even if it was theoretically possible, the cost of doing so is way more expensive than just extruding a new virgin plastic. So I think there’s kind of financial barriers and then technically, most plastic recycling right now is what’s called mechanical recycling. So there’s actual instruments that chop up different kinds of plastic into tiny pieces, and then it can be kind of re-moulded or turned into different things. And there are just a lot of limitations in terms of what can be recycled or as you guys know, down cycled. I think a lot of those kind of containers that you find for strawberries and those clear clamshells are usually like second phase of like, number one plastics. You know, so there are some kind of dependable markets but I think the new frontier when it comes to recycling film and a lot of other really hard to recycle plastics, numbers 3 through 7, film, all that kind of stuff is something called chemical recycling. Where instead of mechanically breaking plastic down and turning it into something else, they’re actually in some cases melted down into its original Polymer. I’m not like a chemist or a chemical engineer. But there are different technologies called hydro pyrolysis and pyrolysis and gasification. But they’re all kind of different versions of the same thing where they take a plastic products and then usually turn it into either some sort of base polymer or feedstock, or in many cases like another fossil fuel, melted into diesel fuel or something. And that is, it sounds maybe good at first, but I think it’s a technology that really kind of scares me because I think it’s just perpetuating the same thing that I think is a fundamental problem with plastic and I wrote about my article, which is that it doesn’t maintain value over time. Like you look at metals and glass and stuff like that, you know, you there is a certain ability to infinitely recycle. So if we started building facilities all over the country to chemically recycle all of these Mix plastics and turn it into a diesel fuel, just like a whole nother, you know, should we keep burning fossil fuels. And you know, you kind of create this situation that we’ve created with a lot of incinerators over time, that’s where you have to feed the beast, you have to feed the beast with more single use plastic waste, and we know that a certain percentage of that is going to escape into the environment or, you know, be too contaminated or, or whatever. And so I think that’s, I think it’s really kind of a trap more than anything I there may be and I don’t know, I think you know, the only acceptable version of the technology in my mind is if there is a way to preserve the quality of the polymer if you can actually melt something down and then turn it into a product of equal or better value. And there may be a way to do that with plastic bags. I keep hearing promises, although I have yet to see people deliver on those promises. And my understanding is this. All those technologies are also pretty expensive and would require taxpayer subsidization and stuff like that. So you know, There may be opportunities like that to, to actually keep those, you know, polymers alive and not have to keep producing new plastics but we were forefront we’re far from that. Well, that was wonky.

Inside Eastman’s moonshot goal for endlessly circular plastics | Greenbiz

At first glance, the sprawling industrial site, covering roughly 900 acres in Kingsport, Tennessee, appears to be just another chemical manufacturing facility. There are hundreds of buildings and countless miles of pipes, conveyors, distillers, cooling towers, valves, pumps, compressors and controls. It doesn’t exactly look or feel particularly noteworthy.

Michael Britt: It’s interesting that you bring that up because one of the places on my radar here in Tennessee, the Eastman Chemical Company, it actually used to be part of Eastman Kodak and in the 40s, they were created because there was a shortage of fossil fuels because of the war efforts. And they were created to continue to develop technologies to let Eastman Kodak make film stock even if they couldn’t get fossil fuels. And so they have been spun off into their own company and I saw an article recently on Earth 911 or one of those, talking about that facility and that they’re doing chemical plastic recycling. And so that was the other part I was going to mention earlier is just because you can, should you and is it the best use. You probably know about this study I saw one it’s from Oregon and I can’t remember the organization that did it. They did a lifecycle analysis from every single step along the way from digging things out of the ground and making it and the energy and delivery costs to ship things to the stores, using the item and then putting it in landfill or recycling. What they came up was that a lot of times it was better for the environment just to put things in the landfill. Make them lightweight and put in the landfill. This wasn’t as clear cut as I thought it would be and was actually kind of confusing to even wrap your head around. One of the examples they gave was a tuna can, having more impact overall than one of those mixed material plastic aluminum, tuna packets and I was a little surprised that they’re saying that if you just bury that packet in the in the earth, in the landfill, you’re done the environment a favor because of the energy used to recycle it even though it’s tin/metal and can be made over and over again into another can. That article started me thinking that sometimes maybe you shouldn’t be recycling just because you can. But I don’t know where that leaves us.

Consider, for example, an unrecyclable laminate pouch containing tuna that ends up in a landfill. Its environmental effects across the board are far lower than those of a highly recyclable steel tuna can made of significant amounts of recycled steel. The pouch requires less energy to manufacture, and its light weight makes it more efficient to transport. Similarly, an unrecyclable Amazon mailing pouch requires fewer resources and less energy than a highly recyclable cardboard box, even if the mailer ends up in a landfill. The same is true of wine packaged in difficult-to-recycle aseptic cartons versus glass bottles.

https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2019-4-july-august/feature/stop-obsessing-about-recycling

Maris Masellis: You (Alex) said by continuing to reduce our disposable plastic and build innovative systems to collect and reuse instead, we can avoid having to order from the same old recycling menu. We need to convince our leaders to reclaim their sanity and do the same. And I want to transition into that. How do we convince our leaders to reclaim their sanity and do the same, how do we make this federally? A law? How do we get the truth out and change the system from that level? Because that’s where the magic is gonna happen. And it just seems really far fetched for people like myself and Michael, like, how do we, how do we do that?

Alex Truelove: Man, it’s such a great question. I do think in some ways people underestimate their ability to change the system like as a voter, as a constituent of our various levels of government. I think it’s great that people, including myself in this, try to be better as consumers and try to make small changes in our lifestyle. But I think there are just limits to how far we can take that. There’s actually a town in Japan, a colleague of mine was writing a blog and I’ll forward it to you. I think it’s gonna be published next week that basically tried to go zero waste. This was like, maybe starting 15-20 years ago

Maris Masellis: I saw a video on YouTube about this

Japan’s incredible waste-free town where everything is recycled | Ways to Change the World

In this town in Japan almost everything gets reused of recycled. The waste-free strategy was adopted by the village of Kamikatsu 20 years ago and involves di…

Alex Truelove: They made incredible progress, but like, to a certain extent you just can’t avoid it because our system surrounds us with these choices, or I guess, lack of choices. And so I really think there is a lot of potential over the next few years for systemic change, especially through policy. I mean, I’m a policy person, I’ll say that. So I tend to view things through the lens of policy, but I believe in the power of good policy. And I think things like limiting our use of plastic bags and styrofoam containers is a great start. And there is stuff happening right now. I think we just have to make sure to voice that to our elected leaders who are pretty easily convinced by some of these arguments around chemical recycling. The industry’s always been really effective in terms of that kind of messaging that improves their own bottom line. But I also think there are alternatives that are being proposed at the same time. And I think we just need to get more of our elected leaders on board with those ideas. So there actually is a federal bill right now that I and many other people have spent a lot of time working on. It’s called the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act. There’s a number of ordinances within the bill itself, including bans on certain single use plastics and requirements of recycled content for certain things to ensure that the number 1’s and 2 containers that are recycled are actually bought and used by companies in new products, which is a whole another thing. With cheap oil prices, companies will immediately just go back to virgin. There’s even a moratorium on new plastic facilities, basically saying stop all of this refinement. We need to figure out what we’re actually putting into the air and water as a part of these manufacturing processes, which another really interesting conversation upstream and about the local in places where we’re doing a lot of that stuff like the Gulf Coast, Ohio River Valley and Appalachia. I think the core of that bill, or maybe the thing that I’m most excited about in terms of systemic change is something called producer responsibility. So right now, if your Coca Cola (not to pick on Coca Cola) you make a plastic bottle and there’s really no incentive for you to make a bottle that’s more recyclable. You don’t have to pay a dime for the cost of collecting that bottle or sorting that bottle or whatever happens to it. Whether it’s recycled, or landfilled or incinerated, that’s all on us as taxpayers paying for the collection paying for the trucks paying for the optical sorting and the manual sorting in these facilities. There’s really kind of an old idea which is that the polluter pays. You know, some of our most fundamental environmental causes policies are based on that idea of polluters should pay for the cost of the pollution and the things that you create. And so without getting kind of too wonky and detailed, I think that has a lot of promise because I think as soon as companies have to pay for the cost of their products on the environment, the cost in terms of collection and all that kind of stuff, they’re going to be incentivized to make more reusable products and make more products that actually might be recycled.

If your Coca Cola you make a plastic bottle and there’s really no incentive for you to make a bottle that’s more recyclable. You don’t have to pay a dime for the cost of collecting that bottle or sorting that bottle or whatever happens to it. Whether it’s recycled, or landfilled or incinerated, that’s all on us as taxpayers paying for the collection paying for the trucks paying for the optical sorting and the manual sorting in these facilities.

Alex Truelove

Maris Masellis: Yes. Have you heard of the citizens climate lobby, CCL? I just got involved with them. And I was involved in some meetings. They just had a conference a few probably a few weeks ago, and I learned about the bipartisan climate solution, the energy innovation and carbon dividend act or all those things, basically along the same lines. They want to basically have these companies, the fossil fuel companies be responsible for what they’re doing. With fees, carbon fees, carbon dividends, things like that.

Alex Truelove: Yeah, I think in many ways it is very similar. It’s forcing companies who were doing bad things to cover the cost of correcting those things. And yeah, you could call it fees in the plastic packaging space they’re often called eco modulated fees. How you actually structured these fees ends up being pretty important because if you prioritize products that are lightweight, you might actually be incentivizing people making more plastic like Michael, you were saying plastic is pretty lightweight. So I think how you actually set up these systems to prioritize things and hopefully disincentivize things that are wasteful is a big part of it. We’ve actually seen these systems work really well. The whole idea is actually not very new. There’s a lot of specialty and hazardous products that have been part of producer responsibility policies for a long time. So things like paint, and car batteries, and in some places, carpets and mattresses, things that are really hard to recycle, or in some cases, hazardous. Yeah, I think tires as well. Often people don’t even know that they might be paying a little bit extra for these items. But that money goes towards a system where they can safely collect and recycle. These products are breaking down as best as best they can. And at the same time, because of that added price, the idea is that those companies are going to be, you know, a little bit more incentivized to make a more recyclable product. I think that’ll be especially true with packaging.

Michael Britt: I think that’s some of the writing on the wall because like you’re talking about the history of this like from our Superfund sites here in America. If you polluted a site that’s designated as Superfund cleanup, your company is responsible for 75% of that cleanup. And my theory is that Coca Cola and Pepsi when they broke away from the plastic Manufacturing Association, they see the writing on the wall for some of that coming. Because there is historical precedence for it as well as legal precedents. I also think there’s probably a switch that flips somewhere where they are suddenly like, you know, we’re in the sugar water soda business, not the plastic bottle business. Why do we need to go down with the plastic and the fossil fuel companies? So regardless to me of their motives they’re making some moves that I appreciate. Some people yell greenwashing at the big companies all the time, but I like to point out that if Coca Cola who sells like, I’ve said this statistic before, I don’t remember it’s been over a billion bottled drinks a day (correction the world buys over 1.3 billion plastic bottled drinks per day but Coca Cola is responsible for 1.8 billion per year). If they even cut 1% out, it’s more than most of us can achieve in our lifetimes of working as activists. So I’m glad to see them do that. There’s also precedent for that in the German packaging bills, that you know, we’ve talked about that on our podcast before from as far back as 91 they (Germany) makes the producers responsible and that works there. So how do we support and find out more about the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Bill because I keep hearing that come up, but I haven’t gone and looked up the actual bill before. So is there somewhere that we can go to look at it, not just the legalese, but the synopsis of what’s going on so that we can easily understand it?

Coke and Pepsi abandon the plastics lobby

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, two major sellers of plastic bottles, have made sweeping sustainability commitments. Now they are stepping away from a plastics lobbying group.

Alex Truelove: So there’s actually a Senate bill and in the House, there’s companion bills. The sponsor in the Senate is Senator Tom Udall, from New Mexico who has been a big champion on this issue. And in the House side representative Alan Lowenthal, and I believe both of their websites have kind of a more condensed, reader friendly version of the bill. In fact, I think I’m looking at the one from Utah right now. They have an outline of some of the components of the legislation. And they also have a bunch of quotes from all kinds of leaders and environmentalists on why they think it’s such a great thing. I’m in there somewhere. Also, yeah, so I think if for the listeners out there, if you Google, Tom Udall or Senator Udall break free from plastic pollution act, probably that might be even the first hit on your search engine. You should see the outline which is I think, much more friendly than reading the actual bill on Congress’s website, which you can do if you really want to but…

Udall, Lowenthal, Merkley, Clark Unveil Landmark Legislation to Break Free From Plastic Pollution | U.S. Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), along with U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and U.S. Representative Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), will unveil the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020, legislation that would phase out unnecessary single-use plastic products, hold corporations accountable for wasteful products, reduce wasteful packaging, and reform our broken waste and recycling collection system.

Maris Masellis: I have friends that do that.

Alex Truelove: Yeah. I’m one of those people, but…

Michael Britt: I’ll read it sometimes to get into the nitty gritty. Read the manual, read the fine print.

Maris Masellis: Alex you are now my translator

Michael Britt: Okay, we’ll just call you for translation. So are those bills going up with in the current cycle? Or will that be pushed down the line? Do we need to immediately call our our representatives and say vote for this or is it not up yet?

Alex Truelove: For vote? It is. I mean, it’s a live bill. And there are we’re gathering co sponsors, trying to get other senators and Congress people to support the bill. So now is definitely a great time to reach out to your representative and tell them that they should support the bill and why you think they should. It has been assigned to committee but it hasn’t been actually heard yet. So there’s still time even for more congressional leadership to jump on in official support the bill. So now’s a great time to do it, look up who your Congress people are, and give them a call or write them an email. I really do think those actions make more of a difference than people think. And I think plastic free July, I don’t know if you guys have been finding that it’s now kind of like a theme. So I know a lot of organizations are working on this issue and are putting together some organized efforts to get calls and emails into Congress people this month. Actually, I don’t know, to your question, because of the pandemic, so much of congressional action has been focused on relief and you know, that kind of stuff. So I don’t know exactly how things are going to move forward, but it’s definitely not too late. I still think the idea is revolutionary enough that I would be shocked if it really got all the way through the process in a serious way this year. But I still think it’s an incredibly important statement. I think there are a lot of things in the bill to be proud of and what’s kind of cool and interesting and different than any other real life experiences that usually these ideas kind of start at the local level and state level and then eventually kind of the federal level. And it actually has happened a little bit backwards where no state yet has put together a package of all these ideas in one bill. It almost skipped ahead. And in this case, Senator Udall, and Representative Loewenthal said, You know what, let’s just put it all together and do this. And make it the sort of thing that we can all aspire to. So I actually think what will happen over the next year or so is that we will see, state governments kind of take this bill or a lot of similar elements and try to move it through at the state level. I think there will be tons of opportunities as advocates and constituents for us to also reach out to state leadership because I think what’s more likely to happen if history is any indication, is that we’ll see these ideas of producer responsibility and all of the elements that are in this bill, we’ll see those actually passed at the state level before they pass it the federal level.

Maris Masellis: Yeah.

Michael Britt: So we’re gonna work on that even at the local city level because we need to be involved with local politics and find out who’s on team climate, who’s on team planet.

Maris Masellis: I think the next step for you and I Michael, is to just really get into that bill and and figure out all the key points to it and how to communicate that with our listeners. It really is that easy to look up your representatives. I’ve done it quite a few times these last few months and I’ve never I done that before. We can link that in our website in the transcription – Link here

Tell your U.S. senators: It’s time to move beyond plastic

Congress is considering two very different bills right now — one would help our country break free from plastic pollution, the other would bankroll the plastics industry. Tell your senators to support the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act today.

Michael Britt: this is like one of the things we were talking about with styrofoam recycling and answering questions on the forums about if it’s recyclable and where can I take it? My answer is that your time would be better spent for the environment and you’ll help more if you stopped and emailed the manufacturer and your representatives your displeasure about these products than it would be driving 20 minutes to take your styrofoam to recycle. And I think that I think you’re right that a lot of us do have more power and Maris, you know, I do this all the time. Every package, everything I buy, I look at it and like right now I’m going through coffee packaging I just ordered from a sustainable company that actually has compostable bags for their coffee. And I’ve been trying to find that and I email every Coffee Company, all the local ones here in Nashville and I get on their social media and ask them why their bags aren’t compostable? And I think if they hear that enough they will no longer say, no one’s asking for it.

The Truth About Compostable Coffee Bags

Can you compost your coffee bag? As someone with a coffee-drinking habit, leftover bags regularly pile up in my kitchen. I was thinking about this when a bag of beans from Ashland, Oregon’s Noble Coffee Roasting showed up, thanks to my MistoBox subscription. I noticed a small label at the bottom: “This bag is biodegradable and compostable.

Maris Masellis: Lets talk about coffee for one more second. Coffee is a great ingredient for compost. You can compost your coffee grinds, and why wouldn’t we have a bag that can also go in there too? Why not? Exactly. Anyway, anywho Alex Truelove. Thank you so much for taking time out of your Sunday to speak with us. And we will be looking for you is are there any things coming up that we can support you in? Or basically we can keep in touch?

Alex Truelove: Yeah, let’s keep in touch. I think supporting this stuff that’s happening is important. We talked about the federal Bill and I mean, a lot of stuff in the in the policy space, like I said, is focused on pandemic relief and that kind of stuff. So I think it might be a little bit until our elected leaders are focused on all of the other problems that are still happening during this time like plastic pollution? They haven’t disappeared at all. It’s tough because there’s only so much oxygen in terms of, you know, public attention, but yeah, I think there’s plenty of opportunities to work on stuff. I’ll do my best to keep you all updated. In the meantime call your representatives about this…

Michael Britt: Yeah. I’d like to give one quick idea real quick. Because it’s about getting people to call and it always baffles me that big organizations or even small, powerful organizations, don’t do this. I would like to see organizations like what’s your acronym again?

Alex Truelove: UsPIRG

Michael Britt: I think your social media people should be active on every single city’s Zero Waste Facebook page. I mean, I know that I go on Sundays and drink coffee and I find other groups and other cities and I connect with them and I get involved in those conversations. As you’re trying to help pass this this law it seems like the target audience would be zero waste Facebook groups. I don’t see a lot of organizations do this. We even had to invite the Nashville Metro solid waste people to post. We were like, look, we approved your membership on our site so you should post and put information there to share it. It baffles me that we don’t see a lot of that happening. So I’m just gonna put that out there and get some big organizations to start surfing the web for zero waste groups. We’re out there.

Alex Truelove: All right, I hear you. And I will, if it helps, I will send a link through USPIRG if people want to write their congressperson where you basically put in your name, zip code, there’s like a message already there that you can tweak if you want to. You guys can share that too. Link Here

Maris Masellis: Well, this is another successful episode of Zero Waste Trash Talk with our special guest Alex Truelove. My name is Maris and that’s Michael Britt. Thank you guys. Appreciate it was great meeting you, Alex. Thanks. Keep up the good work.

Alex Truelove: Yeah. It’s great to have these channels where we can have these conversations.

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Episode 8: What’s a Food Co-op and How Do You Start One?

Episode 8: What’s a Food Co-op and How Do You Start One?

Interview with Ellery Richardson from Nashville Food Co-op

Episode 8: What’s a Food Co-op and How Do You Start One

Who wouldn’t want a grocery store where they are part owners and can vote on the items being sold, where they come from and how they are packaged. Learn what a grocery co-op is and how to start one in our conversation with Ellery Richardson from Nashville Food Co-op.

Maris Masellis: Welcome to the show. This is Zero Waste Trash Talk. My name is Maris Masellis and that’s Michael Britt and today we are going to talk about the Nashville food Co-op with Ellery Richardson. Yay, welcome Ellery.

Ellery Richardson: Thanks for having me.

Maris Masellis: I don’t know too much about co-ops or food co-ops, but I’m really excited to learn. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself Ellery? We were just chatting about how you kind of grew up between here and Chattanooga.

Ellery Richardson: Yes, yes. So my dad grew up in East Nashville, back before it was cool. But when we were young, he got transferred to Chattanooga with his job. So I actually grew up in Chattanooga, but then in high school, He moved us back. So they live in Brentwood right now, but I’ve claimed sort of both cities as my own. Went to Vanderbilt then decided I wanted to do environmental issues. And so I went up to Vermont for to go to law school at Vermont Law School because they are known as an environmental for their environmental policy law program. Nice. And that’s actually where I discovered food color co-ops, and then I came back here and was shocked that Nashville didn’t have one.

Maris Masellis: Well, I am originally from New Jersey and I have a lot of family from the northeast. So but in Vermont is a special place. It’s definitely its own place. How long were you in Vermont?

Ellery Richardson: So just three years, but I remember my first year the governor allowed the first McDonald’s to come into the state. And it was like super controversial because Vermont you know, very pro local, no chains. The only way they were allowed to come in is because they promised to use Vermont maple syrup on their breakfasts. I just remember that because it was a big deal.

Maris Masellis: What part of Vermont was your law school in?

Ellery Richardson: So my law school is in a tiny town called South Royalton. It’s about 2000 people. It is maybe 20 minutes from the New Hampshire border where Hanover is. Woodstock is more of a touristy town nearby that people may have heard of, but sort of Central Vermont and I was in complete culture shock living in Tennessee my whole life to move up there with all the snow and the land of Bernie Sanders.

Maris Masellis: Yeah,

Michael Britt: I bet. Coming from East Nashville, even though it wasn’t cool it’s still not a backwoods. Chattanooga is becoming what Nashville is now or five years ago, right? Do you keep missing the waves of where the cities get cool?

Ellery Richardson: I think so.

Michael Britt: Yeah, I keep looking at Chattanooga thinking that’s a neat place. I’d like to spend more time there.

Ellery Richardson: I’ve going back, it’s a great spot. It’s just small and very outdoorsy.

Michael Britt: So you’re trying to start up a co-op, and like Maris was saying, why don’t you give us a definition of what a co-op is for people who don’t quite understand it?

Ellery Richardson: Okay, so the cooperative is a business structure just like a nonprofit or an LLC, or a corporation. But what makes it unique is that it’s owned by the people who benefit from it. So I guess the best way to explain it to people who haven’t heard of it is the owners, the members are the shareholders, but no one can have any more shares than anyone else. So it’s very democratically owned, and that’s sort of the basis of it. No one can buy extra interest. We’re all in this together. One person, one vote. And you join because you care about the mission and want to be involved in what is happening. There are a lot different types of co-ops credit unions are cooperatives. A lot of people are familiar with those. A lot of electric co-ops and farmers co-ops in Davidson County farmers co-op is a farmer facing co-op, then their consumer co-ops and grocery co-ops are consumer cooperatives.

Michael Britt: Oh, but I’m glad you explained it like that because I in my head I was confused a little bit as far as like I know Publix is an employee owned grocery store. But people can have more shares and the board can have more shares and and so that’s where a co-op is going to be a little more equal.

Maris Masellis: Everyone is equal. Yeah, like that.

Ellery Richardson: Yes, Whole Foods is no longer a co-op, but they actually started off as a small co-op. I think it was Austin maybe somewhere in Texas.

Michael Britt: Austin was the first one. I think Dallas was a second one. I live near the second Whole foods, I used to get oat pizza crusts fresh from the bakery, they would make oat pizza crusts on Tuesdays. I still miss that. $10 for two pizza crust fresh made in the bakery back in the 80s. It was nice. So the word co-op, a lot of us think, Oh, cool. Food co-op, food is going to be healthier, locally sourced, you know, and it’s gonna be a nice neighborhood, maybe a little hippie vibe kind of thing. But there’s so many people that have a negative, I don’t know what it is, feeling towards the word co-op. I read this article about how in the farm country, they don’t really have grocery stores. They’re feeding us and the grocery store chains bought everything up and then close the under performing ones. And people in these farming communities are having to go to 99 cent stores to get their food, which is ridiculous. And so there was a movement to start co-ops, but everyone thinks co-ops are socialism. That’s not anything we want to be part of. So there’s this whole article in The New York Times about how they had to call it, they couldn’t call them co-ops. They’ve had to call them something else. I forgot what they were saying. They changed the name, but it just a matter of semantics. And sometimes in the south and the Midwest, you have to play these kind of semantic games. Have you run into that? Hearing people say, Oh, we don’t want to be part of a communist co-op or anything like that.

Farm Country Feeds America. But Just Try Buying Groceries There.

An exodus of grocery stores is turning rural towns into food deserts. But some are fighting back by opening their own local markets. Great Scott! Community Market sits in an old shoe store in Winchester, Ill. Credit… Daniel Acker for The New York Times WINCHESTER, Ill. – John Paul Coonrod had a banana problem.

Ellery Richardson: Actually, no, because most people have never really heard of co-ops in Nashville. The response I get is, well, what’s a grocery co-op? But it is really interesting that a lot of the ones I’m part of as a group I mean, it’s a loose association of clubs that are starting across the country and a lot of them don’t call themselves the x city food co-op, they call themselves, you know, x market or x store. And they don’t really broadcast that they’re a co-op, even though once you get on their web page, that’s obviously what they are. There’s one food co-op in Tennessee, it’s in Knoxville. It’s the Three Rivers Market, and it’s an amazing co-op. And if you’re ever up there, I encourage you to stop by.

Inside The Store

Welcome to Three Rivers Market, Tennessee’s first and only food cooperative. We are open from 10 AM to 7 PM everyday but Christmas Day, with limited hours on Thanksgiving Day (10 AM – 3 PM) and New Year’s Day (12 noon – 9 PM). Our Patio and Dining Room are currently closed.

Maris Masellis: So is it like open all the time? Is it like it is a daily thing?

Ellery Richardson: Yes, it’s a full service grocery store open seven days a week. It actually recently expanded

Maris Masellis: I see pictures online sometimes the package free stores is it kind of like that is everything package free?

Ellery Richardson: I think a lot of the co-ops from the 70s which is getting back to what Michael was talking about were like that, you know, the bulk buys, because there was a big resurgence of co-ops in the 70s which is why there is a negative connotation because people think of those as weird hippie stuff. But a lot of the newer modern ones definitely have bulk sections, but they don’t really look like refill stores. They look like grocery stores.

Maris Masellis: I feel like the refill idea is probably going to be a little different now that COVID has changed the world as well.

Ellery Richardson: Yeah, I hope that will come back. But when we’ve been talking to our consultants, they have said, you know, everyone likes bulk, everyone asks for bulk, but when you put it up there, not enough people buy from the bulk aisle. So that’s why even co-ops don’t have huge bulk sections. They have more than other grocery stores. But people like the convenience of packaging, which is obviously something we’re gonna have to work on, right, as we all know, the problems with that.

US Supermarkets Are Doing Bulk Food All Wrong | Civil Eats

The recent wave of zero-waste stores-think Brooklyn’s Precycle and Austin’s (now-closed) In.gredients-may be well-designed, airy, and Instagram-worthy, but their novelty belies an important truth. While there’s no doubt that it’s time to reduce the quantity of plastic and other packaging waste that comes home with us from the grocery stores, shoppers don’t need to seek out stores made only of bins and jars to reduce their impact.

Michael Britt: I think that’s an education issue, something to address actively. What we’ve learned is that you have to actively say here’s why you want to do this, and here’s how to do it. Otherwise, people just have this kind of vague idea of what they want. And they don’t even know that was an option. Oh, I could shop like that I could get rid of plastic. And, you know the first conversation we’re having is why you want to get rid of plastic, and then how you do it in daily life. And I think that if as a co-op, you really work on education program

Maris Masellis: I saw that on the website that was part of it, that there’s a part of it that is educational for people to learn. Right?

Ellery Richardson: Right. So there’s a whole side that’s going to be food education. Part of that is packaging and how food gets you and local food, the benefits of local food. Most co-ops have an educational arm and you know, their own community kitchen where people can come in and use it. But an interesting thing about co-ops is that they’re owned by the people who shop there. They’re owned by the members and if the members decide we want no packaging, and you know, majority of the members makes that the mission and petitions the board then that’s what the club’s gonna do because the members control the company.

Blog – Nashville Food Co-op

Cooperatives stand for community. All community. One of the main tenets of a cooperative is voluntary and open membership. It’s never been a secret that there are massive inequities in this country, even if some of us didn’t pay attention to them before the past few weeks.

Michael Britt: Right? That’s great. It’s nice that you can have a voice. I go into a grocery store and actually I go into very few because I walk in and there’s nothing I can eat. I’m not going to eat 99% of what’s in the grocery store. And it just makes me anxious that there’s 500 kinds of sugar coated corn cereals, I just, I just can’t even believe it and they’re all wrapped in plastic and cardboard and branded and advertised and that just drives me nuts. So have you looked at, this just came into my head. There’s an online grocery store called Move. Have you seen them?

Ellery Richardson: No, I’ve seen several but not any by that name

Michael Britt: I think it was move, I’ll search for it and put the link in the transcript (Move). The thing I liked about them it was, you know I don’t necessarily want my groceries shipped from across the country this is why I’m interested in a food co-op. I’d rather have local foods and support local farmers than things driven across the country. I can do that because I have the privilege and the means to do it and go out and search it out where a lot of us want to run a store and get something quick. What I do isn’t sustainable I don’t eat sustainably because everybody can’t do it the way I do it. I buy my vegetables from a CSA, I shop at Turnip Truck and I pay extra for anything else and I can do farmers markets, but everybody doesn’t pick and choose like that. But I do have to say I don’t want to get off topic too much but the reason I started shopping differently is in California, Ralph’s grocery store went on strike. And I lived literally, it wasn’t even a half a block away from my house, I could put something on the skillet and run over and get an ingredient and come back. They went on strike and my wife’s an actress, and she’s in the union and I had a union job at Safeway in when I was in high school in the 80s in Texas. And so I’m like, I’m not going to cross the picket line, I’m not going and I started shopping at Trader Joe’s and farmers markets, and I just never went back. Once I got into those habits. I never went back to grocery stores, typical grocery stores. But back to the Move thing, what I thought was interesting with their data driven approach is they went in and analyzed all the data and realized that there were really only 500 things that people buy from grocery stores and that they made the list of those 500 things then sought out like Trader Joe’s does to you know make deals with farmers to and producers to produce just for them the one branded thing. And I thought that’s pretty interesting because grocery stores carry what is like 60,000 or more items. And you really only need 500 that tells you the branding weirdness there.

Supermarket Product Choices – Consumer Reports Magazine

Products might confuse shoppers further by touting health benefits with labels that sometimes don’t have a clear meaning. When evaluating eggs, the choices are no longer just brown or white, and medium, large, extra large, or jumbo. We faced cage-free, free-range, with omega-3, pasteurized, all-natural, vegetarian, and organic.

Ellery Richardson: Yeah that’s really interesting.

Michael Britt: Didn’t mean to take all your time talking about what I know. We’re here to find out what you know.

Maris Masellis: Yeah, personally, we’ve struggled. We’ve talked a lot about this Ellery about our struggle with plastic and our struggle with being zero waste and sustainability in general in the grocery stores and how, because there’s so many choices and because we don’t have a lot of options. Being convenience is a huge factor. And we’re used to convenience. People aren’t going to avoid packaged products or ask for anything different because they can just go into these stores and have everything given to them right and then all these different brands are, I guess, good. And in our eyes, we’re thinking, Oh, we have so many choices in that way. But really, how many do we need? It’s like, we only need 500 or less probably. And so this co-op idea I saw on the website that you guys were raising money from and that you also got a seed grant from the food co-op initiative. And is that just Tennessee that that has the food co-op initiative? Is that just Nashville or?

Ellery Richardson: No. So the Food Cooperative Initiative is the association I mentioned earlier. It is funded through the USDA, because the USDA, at least a part of it does recognize the need to support local food and local economy. And so it is a group of folks that have worked in food cooperatives and their whole mission is to help small startup food cooperatives like the National Food cooperatives startup all across the country. So you apply for a seed grant, and that is, you know, $10,000. But then it comes with free consulting, pretty much as much as you need it until the USDA money runs out, which nowadays might not last as long as we thought it used to, right. But it’s been a tremendous resource. And I mean, anyone who’s interested in food co-ops could just call them up or get on their website and mean that’s their job is to help promote food cooperatives. And so that’s where a lot of my knowledge base has come from meeting with them and meeting with other startup co-ops that are also working with them.

Maris Masellis: Would it be better to fund this just one and really put all the money and effort into one or better for multiple co-ops around the city?

Ellery Richardson: Well, my grand vision would be for multiple comps across the city. Yeah. But you really need to start with one. Okay, I know we can’t really get anywhere until we have one store that’s up and running and people can see Oh yeah, that’s what it is because like I said before Nashville doesn’t know what co-ops are. They’ve never people who grew up here have never really experienced one. I think there was a small one in Hillsboro village in the 70s. But only a small community of people even heard of that one. It’s like Nashville at large needs to see one functioning and working and saying, Oh, hey, this is great. That’s actually how I became so in love with the idea. My tiny town of 2000 people in Vermont had a small food co-op. And the first year I just drove 20 minutes to the grocery store. Not really thinking anything of it. But you know, as I got more ingrained into the community, I would just pop into the market. And then I started learning what they were about. And one thing that really sort of hit home for me, is that I would just be shopping for tomatoes, they would have two baskets. One basket would say conventional Mexico like your roma tomato Then the next basket would say Luna blue farms, South Royalton, Vermont, which is the town I was in, sorry. It’s like maybe 15-20 cents more. So one day I just bought the more expensive one like, Oh, hey, that’s right around the right around the corner supporting our town. Yeah. And as part of the educational factor, it was labeled, you know, these are biodynamically raised, I had to Google what that meant, but it was all label. And it just tasted so much better. So that was the beginning of my food education, just walking into the co-op and seeing the difference right in front of my eyes and tasting the difference.

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Michael Britt: so that’s one of the things that’s one of the things I think people don’t realize about co-ops is it is local food. So your your your focus is on making deals with farms and supporting community farmers. But you also would probably be you know, there are national groups where you joined together to get brand name items or things shipped from other countries and all of that, right? That’s so both.

Ellery Richardson: It is both. So our mission and the mission of most co-ops is to supply local as much as possible. But at the end of the day, people need toilet paper. People need paper towels, they want their frosted mini wheats are their Cheerios, that no grass or even natural organic cotton. Yes, I know that’s not really being made in that town. So there are trade associations. I’ve had a lot of restaurants get their food from Cisco. co-ops have their own that’s the forgetting the initials but it’s the co-op Association. And so you petition to join and it’s also a cooperative. So everyone who joins you know, has a financial stake in the success of that group and it supplies like equal exchange coffees, pretty much every co-op you walk into does equal exchange coffee, plus some local roasters as well of course because it’s a co-op.

Michael Britt: But you know they have deals with equal exchange you know Fairtrade chocolates paper towel seventh generation metal they provide that so that’s the difference like people it’s not a farmers market because that’s but that’s set up as farmers markets where things are only local and seasonal. This has everything like a grocery store.

Ellery Richardson: Yes that’s pretty even the most of the new ones that are in a town bigger than the 2000 person town are full size grocery stores. That market was small but you know, it had amazing breakfast sandwiches every morning I had a little hot bar it had lunch, love that had everything you needed.

Michael Britt: Nice and so how is the reception been so far here people like it hasn’t been hard to educate people are there a lot of a pent up need and want in the in the

Ellery Richardson: education is the biggest challenge right now though. It’s been interesting. So I’ve been doing this for a few years now that you know, we have a lot of transplants coming in and a lot of people reach out to us because they came from a city with a co-op and so they really recognize the benefit of it and they want it. So we sort of have two things like the nashvillians. Once I explained it to them, they liked the idea but they’ve just never seen it in action. So there is a big education barrier there. And then you know, some people you know, get it immediately Some people go well, I want to go like see one first because it sounds a little different. Then you have all these people moving in that came from places with co-ops and Google the co-op like Alright, well where’s the co-op in Nashville? I gotta go get my groceries and then are shocked to find that there isn’t one.

Michael Britt: Well and where are you thinking about putting one what area is there? Is there a range of areas or

Ellery Richardson: is not a specific neighborhood yet. This we have taken the advice of the food cooperative initiative. They told us not to commit to a specific neighborhood Nashville is not big enough to be able to do that. At this stage, just because we want to be open and honest with our members, we don’t know exactly where we’re gonna end up. It depends on what’s available. that’s big enough you need you know, truck access. It’s you can’t just pick any building in town with the for sale sign on it. You have to afford it to, I don’t know how much money we’ll have once we’re ready to sign a lease on which neighborhoods we can afford that much square footage because grocery stores are big and they’re expensive. You have refrigeration, you have trucking. So we’re not sure yet but we have committed to being somewhere centrally located. It’s easily accessible, whether it’s near interstate or on a bus line. So we don’t know exactly where that will be yet, but somewhere easy to get to as much as possible with national traffic. Makes sense.

Maris Masellis: Then news, what are the next steps? on your website? Again, it said that you guys had raised some money, raised some money and got the funds from the grant. And you’re still Are you still waiting from our members to join in order to do that to do the next step? Which is location or?

Ellery Richardson: Yes. So the way it works is there sort of different stages of starting a food co-op. And there are other ways to do this, but right now, we’re just following the FCI model that they have seen be the most successful. Of course, there are other ways. Like I said, if a space opens up immediately and money comes in, there’s an investor and we can do it, then yeah, that’s great. Let’s break ground tomorrow. But generally speaking, you know, like I said, grocery stores are expensive, you have to raise awareness, build the community, and then you have to get alone Of course, and there are specific cooperative banks that understand the co-op structure and are willing to loan to cooperatives but the way they dress edge, of course, the standard financials and business plan, but they also look at how many members you have. And you may compare that to the demographics of your city. Because the thing about co-ops is they’re different. And people are committed to them, like we’ve seen when people moving in like, Alright, well, where’s the co-op? And you need that community behind the co-op for it to be successful? Yeah. So the way the co-op banks judge whether to give money is all right, well, what are their ownership numbers in relation to their city? Is the community ready for co-op? And they do that by based on the initial owners who join before we have a location?

Michael Britt: Gotcha. Is would there be a way to like, open small or like have a small store that gets people to understand what it’s about?

Ellery Richardson: Yeah, we are actually exploring that we’re talking about that. We did do an initial market study back couple years ago, just to make sure it would be worth it. Putting all this effort into we didn’t want to do it if the market survey said no, Nashville is not ready for a co-op, but it did come back very positive. Like you could put it pretty much anywhere in the city and it would be successful. It was great news. But it did recommend a large store. It’s like you know, Nashville is big people want the convenience. So you should have Valley. Yeah, so we have considered also opening smaller, we would of course needle it would take a little less capital A little more membership initially. So we’re open to different possibilities, but for now we’re just raising awareness and getting as many members as possible.

Michael Britt: I’d vote for the Piggly Wiggly on Gallatin.

Ellery Richardson: Everyone has an idea. You need to cut it

Michael Britt: near me that’s near us and it’s empty and it’s a nice size. Actually, you know what I would like to see from from something like this is somebody who I’ve talked about this with Megan from the goodwill Do you know the good folks? Yes, yeah. You know, There’s also someone that maybe should could be part of a co-op and have, you know, her her thing going on in there. But one of the things I’d love to see is somebody go in and buy all of the closed down Dollar stores, it wasn’t the Dollar Generals, it’s the other one, the Family Dollar. They were all those empty family dollars to see, like somebody take that and just make it a chain of co-ops. Or at everything.

Family Dollar will close nearly 400 stores

Family Dollar will close 390 stores this year – one of many big changes the discount retailer hopes will help reverse its fortunes.

Ellery Richardson: Yeah, it’d be a perfect size size for a co-op.

Michael Britt: Yeah. And they have like, I’m sure they had trucking in and out and all the rest of that because of the way they did business before for all their 99 cent doodads

Maris Masellis: right? Yes.

Michael Britt: That’s it. Let’s get our checkbooks out and make this happen.

Maris Masellis: I know. Right. So how do we support the movement? How do we spread this awareness? And I know, you know, just by talking about it and putting it out and as a podcast will hopefully get more people aware that way.

Ellery Richardson: Yeah, thank you so much. Yes. So that’s what we’re really focusing on right now spreading awareness if you are willing to commit become a member, you can sign up on our website, it is $250 per household. It is a member fee, but you’re essentially buying a share. So you only pay that once. It’s not an annual. Once you pay that you have a vote. We have an annual meeting, generally March or February every year where we check in with our owners. And of course, you can check in with us anytime. We have board meetings and you know, constant things going on. So it’s $250 a share, but that is per household. And we also have a payment plan. So $50 a month, we’ll get you set up. And then we’re also taking volunteers. I mean, we’re completely volunteer board right now. So even if you can’t commit to paying right now, but you believe in the mission, or if you want to, if you can pay and you still believe in the mission so much you want to help. There. We have committees and volunteer efforts as well just to spread the word

Michael Britt: Nice. That’s a, I think it would be a valuable thing to do. And I think paying paying it off in monthly installments. You know, if it wasn’t for the fact that nobody’s working right now, $50 a month wouldn’t be wouldn’t really bankrupt most people.

Ellery Richardson: If people have specific situations, I mean, we can work with you, of course.

Michael Britt: Now, that reminds me of some questions I had had was thinking about and how this would work. Is there any mechanism for a sliding scale for different income levels? Like if you were, you know, if you were at a lower income levels or different membership level, you could join and maybe a pricing structure when you buy Is there any support built in for anything like that?

Ellery Richardson: Yeah. So we have been talking about that. We haven’t quite figured out exactly how to do that without someone donating essentially the match, because that’s a lot of co-ops do that, but they have people donate the match. And the reason that’s an issue is that it’s Essentially a membership stake. And so everyone needs to be equal, right? So we want to make sure that everyone has the exact same amount of interest. And that can happen with donations. So we don’t have it set up in our website at the at this stage, but that’s something a lot of other co-ops offer and we’ve been wanting to offer, we just need to figure out exactly how that can work. So if you want to donate to other people’s memberships reach out to us and we can make that happen.

Michael Britt: That sounds great. Oh, gleaning groups. Janine hunter works with a was at the Society of St. Andrew. Yeah. So you know, I bring her up every now and then because I really dig what they’re doing. And it’s it’s becoming more important with food rotting in the fields and no one to pick it and none of this middlemen like Cargill and all these food packagers are packaging stuff for restaurants and institutions now. So is there a mechanism or have you thought of a mechanism to work with groups That could bring in a whole bunch of crops or

Ellery Richardson: Yeah, so I don’t know of any particular example of co-ops working with gleaning groups but I don’t see why it couldn’t happen. So we definitely support their mission I’ve known about The Society of St Andrew for a long time so anyway, we can work with them, Michael can

Michael Britt: connect you and we are last we just published today, an episode with compost company. And one of the things that fascinated me when I went out and visited with them was that if the top layer of produce freezes, dries does something weird and one of those tractor trucks, they just dump the whole truck of produce when the windy percent of it is still perfectly good. It’s a write off they now they drive it up to compost company, leave everything, take the trailer and go because the trailers you know, need to be working and making money and they’re just very specific like if something goes wrong with the temperature by like, degree sometimes when they ship, they dump the whole load. Oh wow. And so he was thinking of trying to work with Janine and Jeannie, I’m sorry and hunter and the food Gleaners to try to figure out how to get all that in a timely manner somewhere. That’s what I was thinking this is the thought process so that there’s a co-op that could take that and resell it or even help package it up and donate it or something. That would be awesome. Yeah, I’m just thinking out loud as we go.

Ellery Richardson: Yeah, one I have is to have a food hub attached to the co-ops only Of course, some warehouse space but I would like to have even larger warehouse space for things such as that. I’ve had a lot of folks come to me with ideas that the club can help with that you would just need that you know, warehouse space in the back. And that’s something I would love to see the co-op be able to help with.

Michael Britt: Specifically large coolers. I think the key is produce from rotting. That’s, that’s one of the big issues is those big coolers.

Ellery Richardson: Yes, definitely. We’d love to help with that.

Michael Britt: That seems like there’s a ton of potential to have this where it’s not this adversarial, corporate grocery store, you know, throwing out a third of all of their foods so that they can make sure to entice everybody in their store. And that whole business model needs to be rethought and that not keeping things in stock not buying locally. The distribution and I appreciate the people like you’re out there trying to solve these issues. I think it’s like us want to eat like that.

Ellery Richardson: I think the past couple months, especially if you weren’t already aware that there are major issues with our food system you are now and I’d like to think that of course the food co-op can’t solve all those problems, but I’d like to think it would be a step in the right direction.

Michael Britt: Yeah, I mean, it’s like Are any of the zero waste off that we talked about and the changes and the ethics of how you deal with life it? It’s a rabbit hole. Once you go down it then you start saying, well, we can do this also we can do that and it does exist. band and I think it grows and it and people are enlightened with what can happen to learn. That’s right.

Maris Masellis: Always Always.

Michael Britt: Well cool,

Maris Masellis: was great to learn about that and the mission it says on your website just to recap the mission of the Nashville food co-op is to provide the city of Nashville delicious local food options, by way of a year round full service member owned cooperative grocery store. And some of the goals is keeping capital in the community, offering educational programs about food systems, labeling items in the store so we know what we’re buying. And then hosting in store cooking classes that highlight local eating like that. Like that. And then their vision when you’re around locally owned store will provide local seasonal and consciously sourced products as season allows. Love that

Michael Britt: consciously sourced, that’s perfect because that there’s there’s so many choices that we make on a daily basis unless you dig into the research you don’t know that the people picking your tomatoes were practically locked in trailers and treated like slaves in Florida. You know, you know, you know I don’t want to buy those tomatoes. I don’t want any tomatoes at grocery stores. And now you’re finding out avocados are you know that the drug cartels are taking over avocado farms and so what I liked, I would like to shop from somewhere that you know, just like we’re talking about mega with a good feel some people who make those inquiries and figure that out so that I can go in and buy my groceries and not have to feel like you know, I’ve made the world a worse place by my choices. I can feel like I’ve helped make the world a better place even if it cost a little more to do. I’m willing to do that

Maris Masellis: and it starts right here in our community. right here at home.

Ellery Richardson: Yes, there are definitely people willing to do it. If we can get a store open to source it.

Maris Masellis: We will have a store open Ellery, we’re gonna push for you. Well, thank you. Thank you so much for being on our show. And Spending time with us to explain your dream and we are going to support you, however you need it. Great.

Ellery Richardson: Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate it. Well, good luck.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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Episode 7: The Insanity of Plastic Recycling

Episode 7: The Insanity of Plastic Recycling

If plastic recycling is broken, why do we do it?  It makes no sense financially or by any measure of success when it’s a 90% failure rate.  Even if it worked better, plastic can’t be recycled more than 2-3 times before it falls apart so all we are doing is delaying the inevitable.

Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results

Maris Masellis: This is Maris from Zero Waste Trash Talk and today we’re talking to Alex Truelove, the director of US PIRG’s organizational efforts to reduce waste in order to improve public health, protect the environment and conserve resources. Their work includes campaigns to eliminate the most harmful and least recyclable single use plastics and to promote producer responsibility. Amazing. Follow him on twitter @alexctruelove.

Maris Masellis: Alex Truelove is someone that Michael you found his article on The Hill.

The insanity of plastic recycling

It has been said that insanity can be defined as “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Yet here we are, after decades of failures and broken promises, convinced that we’ll recycle our way out of the plastic pollution crisis.

Michael Britt: Yeah, the article that he wrote, “The insanity of plastic recycling” and it seems spot on for the what we’ve been talking about internally and on the podcast that plastic recycling is broken. And so I reached out to Alex, because I thought, Hey, if we want to talk about this, let’s bring somebody on that’s got some street cred, some writer credibility. Not just us talking about it here in our east Nashville neighborhoods. So Alex, thanks for writing that article. And do you want to tell us a little bit about what you do and what led to writing this article and these this conclusion?

Alex Truelove: Yeah, absolutely. So my official title is The Zero Waste Director with a national nonprofit called the US Public Interest Research Group that is often shortened to USPIRG because that’s easier and it’s stuck with those who know of the PIRG’s. And I’ve been in this position for almost three years, the organization largely has been working on Zero Waste issues for a long time.

Alex Truelove: We were pretty active in a lot of like the early bottle bills and container deposit laws like Massachusetts and Oregon back in the 80s. And so it’s always been a part of the organizational DNA. But it was really only about three years ago when I joined the organization that everybody sort of collectively decided to launch a national program focused on zero waste. I think part of it was just the emergence of a lot of related issues of plastic pollution in the ocean and sort of discovery of how much of it had accumulated there and kind of a lot of other things at the same time. So it’s been really fun to kind of work in this space as it’s gotten so much attention and momentum. Even if, you know, I think some of the solutions are, you know, a little misguided. I work a lot with our state groups. So we have a pretty utilitarian named naming system where we have USPIRG, Massachusetts we have MassPIRG and Pennsylvania we have PennPIRG and CalPIRG in California. And so I suppose that’s what makes us different in some ways from other kinds of environmentally, or public health focused nonprofits because we do so much work at the state level, and kind of as a network, as opposed to just sort in DC or something. Although we do a lot of work at the federal level as well and that’s why I was following the hearing that the Senate was holding, which I mentioned in my article a couple weeks ago now. And I kind of knew what was coming because the hearing itself was being organized by Republicans because they control the Senate right now. And the framing of the hearing, I forget exactly what it was titled, but it was all about recycling. And so I was kind of afraid that the same conversation was going to happen in this hearing as it has been for the last, I don’t know 40-50 years, which is basically how can we recycle our way out of this problem. How can we deal with plastic pollution, and fix it through recycling. I think you guys know as well as anybody that we failed to do that for a long time now. And I think the most frustrating part was that there are so many other more interesting and creative solutions, I think moving forward in terms of kind of designing our world and the products we use and all that kind of stuff. And there is no mention of reusability there is no mention of, maybe a little bit of composability in terms of compostable plastics, but really was just so focused on this old idea, and one that has consistently failed and I thought this is insane. And so hence, the insanity of plastic recycling, and I sort of wrote it in the heat of the moment as I was watching this hearing and then kind of had to you know, dial it back.

Michael Britt: I always have to dial back. Maris and Jess are always like Michael dial that back take the curse words out quit being so angry!

Alex Truelove: Yeah, exactly. I think the passion kind of helped me find a thesis at least.

FRONTLINE | Plastic Wars | Season 2020 | Episode 8

FRONTLINE and NPR investigate the fight over the future of plastics.

Michael Britt: I like how you started with the quote about what insanity is: “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. And I think it was clear when we saw, and I think Alex, you and I talked about this on the on the phone the other day, the PBS Frontline Plastic Wars documentary. They go back and they traced the beginnings of the plastic recycling business and interviewed people that were involved. And they basically were like, yeah, we didn’t think it was going to work, it’s just a way for us to keep making plastic. And so it’s pretty clear. I’m a cynical person and I kind of thought that anyway, but then to hear them say that and have them dig up all the paperwork and letters and then later emails and all of that corroborated that this is a big smokescreen. It just It’s infuriating and I don’t blame you for being irritated and knowing what was coming on the the Senate hearing because dark money from the fossil fuel industry flows into all the pockets of these people that are making laws that they want to protect their industry. And it’s, it’s, anyway, I hear you. I agree.

Fossil fuel industry continues to dwarf environmental interests in election-related spending

Following a global climate strike over the weekend, climate activists in Washington, D.C., raged on and flooded the district Monday as the United Nations Climate Action Summit took place in New York. Participating groups issued several demands, including the passage of the Green New Deal, the halt of deforestation by 2030 and an end to fossil fuel extraction.

Alex Truelove: Yeah, I think that realization to that plastics really is an extension to the fossil fuel industry. It’s not new to anyone who understands the plastics are made primarily from natural gas byproducts. But to see especially more recently, people sort of make that connection like, oh, all of those, you know, the Chevron’s the Exxon’s are the same ones that knew about climate change and buried that evidence, they’re also the ones who are supplying a lot of this. In many ways, my understanding is the fossil fuel industry sort of sees declines in gas and oil powering the electricity grid and our automobiles, the petrochemical growth is kind of where they’re turning their attention, which I think for me makes it feel even more important to be doing this work.

Maris Masellis: Did you watch the Front Line video? Wow, I thought that was so incredible. One thing that I thought was really interesting was the marketing and the advertising. Immediately after they printed the first productions of plastic and how it went from convenience, convenience, convenience, you don’t have to worry about anything anymore, you can literally just throw it away. Then eventually it transformed into the Indian with the tear. Everyone remembers that and it was a pivotal moment when they transferred all of the responsibility to us, as the consumer when we had absolutely no control over it whatsoever. It tells the story so well. Was that in the 80s?

Keep America Beautiful: The Crying Indian (1970)

Iron Eyes Cody (born Espera Oscar de Corti, April 3, 1904 – January 4, 1999) was an Italian-American actor. He portrayed Native Americans in Hollywood films,…

Alex Truelove: Yeah, yeah, I think so.

Michael Britt: Oh, no, no, the Indian in the America the Beautiful recycling program was in the 70s. I remember seeing it on TV. I’m older than you guys. It really affected everybody at the time.

Maris Masellis: It’s been happening for that long, like, we have been convinced that it’s our fault for that long. And that’s why it’s so hard to change people’s minds about it because this has been a way of life for a long time.

Alex Truelove: And you still hear that too, like, I won’t name names, but in the same Senate hearing, there was a lot of industry representatives that were witnesses and representing, you know, consumer packaging associations and that kind of stuff. And you hear them saying the same thing. You know, we want to be good actors, but consumers have to, you know, it starts with them. It’s the same sort of transferring of guilt and responsibility. It’s kind of incredible.

Michael Britt: I’d like to see some witnesses on the other side of that, like 10 years or so from now, when they’re all going to jail for corrupting the environment and killing millions of people.

Maris Masellis: This has been a very eye opening for myself. I have not known a lot of these things until this last year when we started this group. Truly and honestly it really made me feel bad at first. I thought, well, we’re all doomed, there is no turning back now. And I think a lot of people feel that way. They think, well, why should I care then? If this is just a downhill thing? Why should we bother ourselves trying to change when we’re such small pieces in this? And I think creating the the alternative idea is what we’re trying to do, and help people see that no, this is going to change. It has to change and it will change. I’m interested hearing you talking about the newer solutions or these creative solutions. What are some of those? What are some of the creative solutions that you’re talking about earlier?

I kind of knew what was coming because the hearing itself was being organized by Republicans because they control the Senate right now… I was kind of afraid that the same conversation was going to happen in this hearing as it has been for the last 40-50 years, which is basically how can we recycle our way out of this problem

Alex Truelove: I think I kind of looked at it as a multi step process. And I think there are a few promising things that I see going on that could represent a better future versus just the efforts around trying to get rid of like the most common most hazardous single use plastics. I’m not gonna sit here and suggest that banning plastic shopping bags or styrofoam containers is gonna change the entire market. But I think those conversations in places where they’ve asked for those policies. I think that’s really gotten people’s attention in terms of both, you know, this is a problem that we need to fix, but also sort of realizing, hey, like, we actually don’t need a lot of these things and some of the most most common and most hazardous single use plastics out there are also in some ways the most replaceable. And so I think that’s been a great place to start in terms of kind of winning hearts and minds. So I think there’s kind of that, you know, getting rid of the worst stuff. But then at a certain point, obviously, you have to figure out a different system in terms of what we’re moving towards. And I think that’s where I get really excited about what what at this point is mostly pretty local small scale solutions, but it really focused on reusability almost kind of bringing back the milkman model in some places. And there’s a number of different versions. There’s an organization called loop that has been partnering with some kind of big consumer brand companies about basically providing a lot every day things that you need. Toothpaste, shampoo, that kind of stuff in reusable containers that you can return which you know, I’d like to see that system being offered to smaller companies and things like that, but I think it’s a start. I think it shows that at least people’s heads are in the right place in terms of understanding that could be something we can move towards. I think a lot of other similar programs like that, so like restaurant takeout programs, there are six I think happening and more in Europe to my understanding, but it could be wrong. There are towns where they have like a almost like if you can imagine like a Nashville branded reusable takeout containers. Then at any restaurant you might go to…

Maris Masellis: Michael’s laughing because we have to tell you something.

Michael Britt: That’s what we were working on and we actually pitched our idea to the Nashville Entrepreneur Center and were given a scholarship to take our reusable takeout container program through their whole system of starting a business. We were ready to launch some tests here in East Nashville and then the tornado came right through our neighborhood. We decided to regroup, and maybe focus on big industrial cafeterias and collegiate cafeterias and institutional type cafeterias instead of takeout. And then COVID shut everything down. So we were on that track and actually we started this podcast as a way to connect and bypass the whole social media algorithms and really connect with our group here in Nashville, and to promote that idea. Then we were just sitting here after what two weeks of being stuck at home going why don’t we just buy the recording stuff because we can’t use the studio anymore and make podcasting our business right now. So that’s where we’re at. We feel like our job now is podcasting. Instead of this reusable takeout program.

Maris Masellis: The reusable to go container program. That was our baby. We were avidly studying the logistics of it and trying to make sense of how we were going to do this using East Nashville as our main market or test market, if you will. And we were branding, we had everything in line and just one thing after the next kind of shut us down. But it didn’t stifle us and it’s really inspiring to hear you talk about reuse, because even with the pandemic, there are barriers to entry but reuse isn’t dead. We have to figure something else out otherwise the linear economy is going to drive us all into the ground sooner than later. I think that the reuse idea that you’re seeing in Europe if if they can do it somewhere else, then we can do it too.

Michael Britt: Yeah, just takes political will.

Alex Truelove: Well, I’m sorry to see man, a tornado and a pandemic.

Michael Britt: Yeah, the tornado hit like March what was it sixth March 4, something like that. Then then we locked down for the pandemic on the 15th. So it was literally back to back.

Maris Masellis: It was a pretty dark. There were some pretty dark days here.

Michael Britt: Here we were out of toilet paper, hand hand sanitizer and paper towels because we’d all been buying it to donate to people who lost their houses. S so we’d cleaned all the stores out before COVID even hit so there’s really some shortages down here.

Alex Truelove: Wow, I mean there’s interesting recycling story with toilet paper too.

Michael Britt: That’s actually gonna be an upcoming episode of ours. Bidets. I posted a question on our Nashville Facebook group and ask if they want to talk about their bidets and the conversation blew up. It was like, wow, everybody wants to talk about their bidets. I ordered one and have been using it and we’re gonna kind build our episode around talking about that and toilet paper. I mean, there’s a lot of interesting solutions. I mean, even here in Nashville, you’re talking about the reuse stuff we have refill stores. The first one in our neighborhood was The Good Fill where we have our place that we can buy shampoo bars, and refill soaps. She (Megan the owner) researches the origins of everything and makes sure that they’re made ethically and produced environmentally friendly. And we’re pretty lucky to have that in our neighborhood. Do you have anything like that, where you live in your neighborhood?

Alex Truelove: Yeah, probably a half mile northwest of where I live there’s a great place called, I think it’s called refill ( Joy fill)

Maris Masellis: Yeah. The package free stores are so exciting to me. I see pictures on online all the time. They’re like, would you want something like this and it’s just fruit and vegetables all over the place. We actually just had Ellery Richardson (recorded but not published yet) on about coops, food coops. I had not really known anything about that beforehand. I think that whole idea of local food, package free sustainability at its finest. That would be a great solution. But in order to get those things off the ground, there’s got to be money and that’s the hardest part.

Alex Truelove: I have enormous respect for these entrepreneurs for coming up with the zero waste shops and stuff and thankfully the one in my neighborhood is back open again. It was you know, closed down for a while and they figured out a way to negotiate around the pandemic but not only in, I mean, I love having access to all these kind of bulk things, these giant vats of like laundry detergent, I can just refill you know that you guys I’m sure have very similar across the country. But I’ve also discovered products that are not only Zero Waste but in some ways actually better versions of what I have before like for washing dishes now I have basically a loofa like the actual gourd, which I’m embarrassed to say until a few years ago I didn’t even realize was actually a thing as opposed to the plastic version that you can get. And it’s incredibly effective. Mine has been lasting for months, but eventually when your finished with it, it’s composted afterwards. Brilliant.

How to Grow Your Own Loofah Sponge

ryanthejones and VictorUA/Getty You’ve probably had or used a loofah sponge in your life, whether in the bath or for cleaning around the house. But did you know it was made from a vegetable?

Michael Britt: There’s a lot of those changes that I don’t think people realize how easy they are. Some of them seem more expensive at the time but in the long run they aren’t. They save you money, like switching to a safety razor, the old fashioned type of razor with razor blades. The analogy that I use all the time is that you pay what $15 for three, Gillette or Schick, triple or quadruple blade, plastic disposal heads for your razors at the store (correction, probably closer to $10). Yeah, where I get the finest Platinum razor blades in bulk it’s like literally the finest cutting edge you can make and if you buy them in bulk you know for nine cents each like can use both sides. Yeah, it’s probably about two cents of shave if that.

Alex Truelove: Yeah, the proprietary ones are so expensive. Yeah, it’s crazy.

Maris Masellis: Also toothpaste tablets.

Michael Britt: Oh man, we love us some toothpaste tablets

Alex Truelove: Okay, yeah, that’s my next thing.

Michael Britt: It took a little bit to get used to. It takes at least two or three times before you realize the change but for me it was easy because the foaming in my mouth kind of made me gag anyway. I didn’t like the regular toothpaste very much. I used so little all the time and now the toothpaste tablets are a great thing with no packaging. I don’t know if I told you Maris, I wanted to fill up on tooth tablets from The Good Fill. I usually like to fill a little mason jar only I got kind of carried away and dumped it into a big bag. It was $70 of toothpaste tablets!

Maris Masellis: So you’re the reason why I couldn’t get them! It’s OK, I usually just go over to Michaels and get them from him anyway.

Michael Britt: It might be. I didn’t mean to hog them. I just I just wanted a jar full. I don’t want to mess around with little packets. Oh well. I’d recommend trying those Alex.

Alex Truelove: It’s easier to borrow from a friend.

The chart shows that by 2015, the world had produced 7.8 billion tonnes of plastic — more than one tonne of plastic for every person alive today – Link to article

Michael Britt: So back to the plastics issue. Something that keeps coming back to me over and over again is that as a society we’ve produced 359 million metric tons of plastic since plastic was invented and went into use in late 40s early 50s. That seems like this enormous figure, but also keep in mind that plastic is lightweight. So the mass and the bulk of that has got to be huge. 10% of that’s been recycled and I actually think that’s generous, the 10% number. That’s a pretty small amount of the overall plastic in the world. And so you think about the volume then you also think about how plastic can only be recycled 2 sometimes maybe 3 times, and then it just buried in the landfill. So we’re really only slowing down the process of sending it to the landfill. The best case scenario is we’re just slowing this down. I mean, I don’t think we should be recycling plastic at all. I think if we took that recycling mentality away from everybody in curbside pickup. Here in Nashville, we do curbside and they keep shrinking the numbers and types of plastics that they can accept, because they don’t have a market for them. I kind of feel like if we just said no plastic that it would get rid of a lot of the contamination with diapers and weird stuff being put in there. And we wouldn’t be spending good money after bad and it would make people have to come to the realization that plastic isn’t really recyclable, and it’s not the best thing to be doing. Is that is that off base? I keep saying this and everybody looks at me like you’re crazy. You should be recycling if you can.

Alex Truelove: And that’s it. Yeah, I think that’s a really thought provoking question because even if there are some plastics now that have a decent recycling rate, and those I mean, we’re talking about a pretty narrow like, numbers one and two. And they, you know, have to be typically clear and they don’t have any shrink wrap labeling, so you know, that’s a pretty small sliver of the plastic pie. Is it worth sort of perpetuating this whole thing that we can recycle our plastics just because there are a few plastics that are recyclable? I don’t know, I don’t have a good answer. But I think it’s a really thought provoking question. Are we doing kind of more harm?

Consider, for example, an unrecyclable laminate pouch containing tuna that ends up in a landfill. Its environmental effects across the board are far lower than those of a highly recyclable steel tuna can made of significant amounts of recycled steel. The pouch requires less energy to manufacture, and its light weight makes it more efficient to transport.

https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2019-4-july-august/feature/stop-obsessing-about-recycling

Maris Masellis: Right? I wonder if that awareness for people in general, because there’s already people that will have stopped recycling? And I don’t think that it was with that thought in mind, Michael, I don’t think people are thinking what you were thinking. They thought, we’re not recycling with China anymore so there’s obviously no recycling being done. And so I’m not going to do this anymore. And that was kind of like a loss of hope. Whereas I feel like your idea, Michael is kind of, Hey, we understand the system. It’s stuck. It’s not working. There’s not a future in this. So we’re just not going to recycle it. Or we’re also going to try to not buy it, because we know we can’t recycle it. But it’s impossible to do that. Plastic is on everything.

Michael Britt: Yeah, you’re right. Our choices are limited at the store. When they say that you should make better choices, like when they say you shouldn’t fly. Not flying means you can’t participate in modern society because you want to be green. If we talk about that 10% number and realize that means that 90% of the of the business model of recycling plastic for cities is a failure. What else do we do that can fail 90% and we keep supporting it? I mean, there just really isn’t that many other things like that in society that we’re willing to just throw money away at? We saw with the National Sword when they announced the ban on clamshell containers, plastic containers, everybody got all worked up. Some people said, “We’re gonna recycle them anyway”. It made them deal with the fact that their favorite restaurants to-go containers and their produce containers were no longer recyclable. People were angry about it. I just wonder if we said no plastic at all if it makes everybody really angry and then they start focusing that anger at the plastics manufacturering?

Nashville Metro Plastic To Go Container Ban

Nashville Metro has recently banned plastic to go containers from curbside recycling and we are all confused. We are holding a meeting on Oct 2 to get more i…

Alex Truelove: Yeah, this doesn’t necessarily answer your question, Michael. But I do think moving forward for a couple reasons, we might have more of an opportunity to really hold producers responsible for their claims. I think there’s a liability. Part of it is that we’re finding out more, unfortunately there’s no national clearing house with info about exactly what gets recycled. Is it collected? Then is it actually sorted by the local facility? And then is there actually a market you know, so each one of those, it’s less and less material that actually makes it through? Which is why I agree with you, Michael, that I think 10 percent is probably a pretty inflated number because I think often that really refers to the collection rate and not what actually gets turned into new products.

Maris Masellis: I think the others statistic is 2% of that is actually recycled. 2% of that 10%.

Alex Truelove: You guys might be interested in a report that came out like six months ago, I think over the winter that Greenpeace put out. I know some of the folks who did the the survey and the aim of the study was to survey as many recyclers across the country and actually find out, and it’s kind of crazy that nobody has really done this before. I mean, the EPA collects the data every couple of years, but it’s pretty vague. The (Greenpeace study) aim was to find out all the different things that you actually collect and don’t collect? And then how much of that stuff actually goes to sorting facility and gets sorted and has a market and how much of that stuff is actually sold and then turned into something else. So there are numbers behind all those things and what’s interesting is that the Federal Trade Commission actually has definitions and standards for what can actually be called recyclable. Basically it has to meet a threshold and only number ones and twos in very specific situations, met that threshold and everything else didn’t. What is interesting about that is that now that we have more information, I think Companies can be held more legally liable. There was actually a suit last year, I think a woman in California, sued Keurig, because she found out that those k cups weren’t actually recyclable. They were making claims that they were but in her community they weren’t. And so I think obviously, you guys know, there’s this disconnect between what people say, like the plastic bag Association, or I forget what it’s called but there’s there’s a group out there and one of their claims is plastic bags are recyclable. There’s this theoretical term of recyclable and then there’s this actual, you know, what’s happening where less than 1% or even less than that of any plastic bags are really recycled if any?

Lawsuit over Keurig coffee pod recyclability moving forward

A federal judge in California recently ruled that a class action lawsuit against Keurig Green Mountain Inc. – one with interesting implications for recyclability claims about new product streams -can move forward.

Michael Britt: Wait, what? That’s one of our questions. When you go back to the grocery store and take your plastic bags for recycling, which is a small amount statistically, it’s just who bothers to bring their bags back to the grocery store. Our question is, do they really recycle those bags?

Alex Truelove: My understanding is that has been part of a massive failed experiment. And I can’t remember the name of the organization that collected that information or was participating in it. But that was kind of part of a greater effort by I think a lot of industry groups, not just plastic bag returns, but a lot of like those bubble mailers that you’ll get like the ones from Amazon, which you can return at a lot of big box stores. They collected I don’t know how many tons, thousands of tons of these bags and different kinds of film and stuff and then they ended up I think just landfilling it, or incinerating all of it because there wasn’t actually a market. And I will, I promise after this conversation, I’ll point you in the direction of that information – link. But I think that is just another example of it’s collected but that doesn’t mean it actually gets recycled.

Trying to Recycle That Plastic Bag? The Odds Are Nine to One It’s Not Happening | Ecology Center

It can feel impossible to get away from using plastic. In our consumer world, plastic is everywhere and deciding what to do with it, can be confusing. More than 4.83 million tons of plastic film has been generated to date and only about 9.1% of that plastic is recycled.

Michael Britt: We do a transcription of the episodes now. When you send it to me, I’ll put the link in there so people can go read the article.

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Michael Britt: So there’s two things that come to mind here. First of all, the plastic film is easily recyclable, correct? From what understand plastic films like plastic bags and stuff is that they can be made into other plastic bags. So like a one to one thing, right? Am I wrong about that?

Alex Truelove: Not to my knowledge, but…

Michael Britt: Well, maybe that’s what I get for reading the plastic film manufacturers website. Maybe I need to get my information from somewhere else.

Alex Truelove: My understanding is that film is tough for a couple of reasons. I mean, anytime you have layered film, it’s really hard to take apart those layers and they’re easily contaminated. There’s also just not a whole lot of material per weight. So I think even if it was theoretically possible, the cost of doing so is way more expensive than just extruding a new virgin plastic. So I think there’s kind of financial barriers and then technically, most plastic recycling right now is what’s called mechanical recycling. So there’s actual instruments that chop up different kinds of plastic into tiny pieces, and then it can be kind of re-moulded or turned into different things. And there are just a lot of limitations in terms of what can be recycled or as you guys know, down cycled. I think a lot of those kind of containers that you find for strawberries and those clear clamshells are usually like second phase of like, number one plastics. You know, so there are some kind of dependable markets but I think the new frontier when it comes to recycling film and a lot of other really hard to recycle plastics, numbers 3 through 7, film, all that kind of stuff is something called chemical recycling. Where instead of mechanically breaking plastic down and turning it into something else, they’re actually in some cases melted down into its original Polymer. I’m not like a chemist or a chemical engineer. But there are different technologies called hydro pyrolysis and pyrolysis and gasification. But they’re all kind of different versions of the same thing where they take a plastic products and then usually turn it into either some sort of base polymer or feedstock, or in many cases like another fossil fuel, melted into diesel fuel or something. And that is, it sounds maybe good at first, but I think it’s a technology that really kind of scares me because I think it’s just perpetuating the same thing that I think is a fundamental problem with plastic and I wrote about my article, which is that it doesn’t maintain value over time. Like you look at metals and glass and stuff like that, you know, you there is a certain ability to infinitely recycle. So if we started building facilities all over the country to chemically recycle all of these Mix plastics and turn it into a diesel fuel, just like a whole nother, you know, should we keep burning fossil fuels. And you know, you kind of create this situation that we’ve created with a lot of incinerators over time, that’s where you have to feed the beast, you have to feed the beast with more single use plastic waste, and we know that a certain percentage of that is going to escape into the environment or, you know, be too contaminated or, or whatever. And so I think that’s, I think it’s really kind of a trap more than anything I there may be and I don’t know, I think you know, the only acceptable version of the technology in my mind is if there is a way to preserve the quality of the polymer if you can actually melt something down and then turn it into a product of equal or better value. And there may be a way to do that with plastic bags. I keep hearing promises, although I have yet to see people deliver on those promises. And my understanding is this. All those technologies are also pretty expensive and would require taxpayer subsidization and stuff like that. So you know, There may be opportunities like that to, to actually keep those, you know, polymers alive and not have to keep producing new plastics but we were forefront we’re far from that. Well, that was wonky.

Inside Eastman’s moonshot goal for endlessly circular plastics | Greenbiz

At first glance, the sprawling industrial site, covering roughly 900 acres in Kingsport, Tennessee, appears to be just another chemical manufacturing facility. There are hundreds of buildings and countless miles of pipes, conveyors, distillers, cooling towers, valves, pumps, compressors and controls. It doesn’t exactly look or feel particularly noteworthy.

Michael Britt: It’s interesting that you bring that up because one of the places on my radar here in Tennessee, the Eastman Chemical Company, it actually used to be part of Eastman Kodak and in the 40s, they were created because there was a shortage of fossil fuels because of the war efforts. And they were created to continue to develop technologies to let Eastman Kodak make film stock even if they couldn’t get fossil fuels. And so they have been spun off into their own company and I saw an article recently on Earth 911 or one of those, talking about that facility and that they’re doing chemical plastic recycling. And so that was the other part I was going to mention earlier is just because you can, should you and is it the best use. You probably know about this study I saw one it’s from Oregon and I can’t remember the organization that did it. They did a lifecycle analysis from every single step along the way from digging things out of the ground and making it and the energy and delivery costs to ship things to the stores, using the item and then putting it in landfill or recycling. What they came up was that a lot of times it was better for the environment just to put things in the landfill. Make them lightweight and put in the landfill. This wasn’t as clear cut as I thought it would be and was actually kind of confusing to even wrap your head around. One of the examples they gave was a tuna can, having more impact overall than one of those mixed material plastic aluminum, tuna packets and I was a little surprised that they’re saying that if you just bury that packet in the in the earth, in the landfill, you’re done the environment a favor because of the energy used to recycle it even though it’s tin/metal and can be made over and over again into another can. That article started me thinking that sometimes maybe you shouldn’t be recycling just because you can. But I don’t know where that leaves us.

Consider, for example, an unrecyclable laminate pouch containing tuna that ends up in a landfill. Its environmental effects across the board are far lower than those of a highly recyclable steel tuna can made of significant amounts of recycled steel. The pouch requires less energy to manufacture, and its light weight makes it more efficient to transport. Similarly, an unrecyclable Amazon mailing pouch requires fewer resources and less energy than a highly recyclable cardboard box, even if the mailer ends up in a landfill. The same is true of wine packaged in difficult-to-recycle aseptic cartons versus glass bottles.

https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2019-4-july-august/feature/stop-obsessing-about-recycling

Maris Masellis: You (Alex) said by continuing to reduce our disposable plastic and build innovative systems to collect and reuse instead, we can avoid having to order from the same old recycling menu. We need to convince our leaders to reclaim their sanity and do the same. And I want to transition into that. How do we convince our leaders to reclaim their sanity and do the same, how do we make this federally? A law? How do we get the truth out and change the system from that level? Because that’s where the magic is gonna happen. And it just seems really far fetched for people like myself and Michael, like, how do we, how do we do that?

Alex Truelove: Man, it’s such a great question. I do think in some ways people underestimate their ability to change the system like as a voter, as a constituent of our various levels of government. I think it’s great that people, including myself in this, try to be better as consumers and try to make small changes in our lifestyle. But I think there are just limits to how far we can take that. There’s actually a town in Japan, a colleague of mine was writing a blog and I’ll forward it to you. I think it’s gonna be published next week that basically tried to go zero waste. This was like, maybe starting 15-20 years ago

Maris Masellis: I saw a video on YouTube about this

Japan’s incredible waste-free town where everything is recycled | Ways to Change the World

In this town in Japan almost everything gets reused of recycled. The waste-free strategy was adopted by the village of Kamikatsu 20 years ago and involves di…

Alex Truelove: They made incredible progress, but like, to a certain extent you just can’t avoid it because our system surrounds us with these choices, or I guess, lack of choices. And so I really think there is a lot of potential over the next few years for systemic change, especially through policy. I mean, I’m a policy person, I’ll say that. So I tend to view things through the lens of policy, but I believe in the power of good policy. And I think things like limiting our use of plastic bags and styrofoam containers is a great start. And there is stuff happening right now. I think we just have to make sure to voice that to our elected leaders who are pretty easily convinced by some of these arguments around chemical recycling. The industry’s always been really effective in terms of that kind of messaging that improves their own bottom line. But I also think there are alternatives that are being proposed at the same time. And I think we just need to get more of our elected leaders on board with those ideas. So there actually is a federal bill right now that I and many other people have spent a lot of time working on. It’s called the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act. There’s a number of ordinances within the bill itself, including bans on certain single use plastics and requirements of recycled content for certain things to ensure that the number 1’s and 2 containers that are recycled are actually bought and used by companies in new products, which is a whole another thing. With cheap oil prices, companies will immediately just go back to virgin. There’s even a moratorium on new plastic facilities, basically saying stop all of this refinement. We need to figure out what we’re actually putting into the air and water as a part of these manufacturing processes, which another really interesting conversation upstream and about the local in places where we’re doing a lot of that stuff like the Gulf Coast, Ohio River Valley and Appalachia. I think the core of that bill, or maybe the thing that I’m most excited about in terms of systemic change is something called producer responsibility. So right now, if your Coca Cola (not to pick on Coca Cola) you make a plastic bottle and there’s really no incentive for you to make a bottle that’s more recyclable. You don’t have to pay a dime for the cost of collecting that bottle or sorting that bottle or whatever happens to it. Whether it’s recycled, or landfilled or incinerated, that’s all on us as taxpayers paying for the collection paying for the trucks paying for the optical sorting and the manual sorting in these facilities. There’s really kind of an old idea which is that the polluter pays. You know, some of our most fundamental environmental causes policies are based on that idea of polluters should pay for the cost of the pollution and the things that you create. And so without getting kind of too wonky and detailed, I think that has a lot of promise because I think as soon as companies have to pay for the cost of their products on the environment, the cost in terms of collection and all that kind of stuff, they’re going to be incentivized to make more reusable products and make more products that actually might be recycled.

If your Coca Cola you make a plastic bottle and there’s really no incentive for you to make a bottle that’s more recyclable. You don’t have to pay a dime for the cost of collecting that bottle or sorting that bottle or whatever happens to it. Whether it’s recycled, or landfilled or incinerated, that’s all on us as taxpayers paying for the collection paying for the trucks paying for the optical sorting and the manual sorting in these facilities.

Alex Truelove

Maris Masellis: Yes. Have you heard of the citizens climate lobby, CCL? I just got involved with them. And I was involved in some meetings. They just had a conference a few probably a few weeks ago, and I learned about the bipartisan climate solution, the energy innovation and carbon dividend act or all those things, basically along the same lines. They want to basically have these companies, the fossil fuel companies be responsible for what they’re doing. With fees, carbon fees, carbon dividends, things like that.

Alex Truelove: Yeah, I think in many ways it is very similar. It’s forcing companies who were doing bad things to cover the cost of correcting those things. And yeah, you could call it fees in the plastic packaging space they’re often called eco modulated fees. How you actually structured these fees ends up being pretty important because if you prioritize products that are lightweight, you might actually be incentivizing people making more plastic like Michael, you were saying plastic is pretty lightweight. So I think how you actually set up these systems to prioritize things and hopefully disincentivize things that are wasteful is a big part of it. We’ve actually seen these systems work really well. The whole idea is actually not very new. There’s a lot of specialty and hazardous products that have been part of producer responsibility policies for a long time. So things like paint, and car batteries, and in some places, carpets and mattresses, things that are really hard to recycle, or in some cases, hazardous. Yeah, I think tires as well. Often people don’t even know that they might be paying a little bit extra for these items. But that money goes towards a system where they can safely collect and recycle. These products are breaking down as best as best they can. And at the same time, because of that added price, the idea is that those companies are going to be, you know, a little bit more incentivized to make a more recyclable product. I think that’ll be especially true with packaging.

Michael Britt: I think that’s some of the writing on the wall because like you’re talking about the history of this like from our Superfund sites here in America. If you polluted a site that’s designated as Superfund cleanup, your company is responsible for 75% of that cleanup. And my theory is that Coca Cola and Pepsi when they broke away from the plastic Manufacturing Association, they see the writing on the wall for some of that coming. Because there is historical precedence for it as well as legal precedents. I also think there’s probably a switch that flips somewhere where they are suddenly like, you know, we’re in the sugar water soda business, not the plastic bottle business. Why do we need to go down with the plastic and the fossil fuel companies? So regardless to me of their motives they’re making some moves that I appreciate. Some people yell greenwashing at the big companies all the time, but I like to point out that if Coca Cola who sells like, I’ve said this statistic before, I don’t remember it’s been over a billion bottled drinks a day (correction the world buys over 1.3 billion plastic bottled drinks per day but Coca Cola is responsible for 1.8 billion per year). If they even cut 1% out, it’s more than most of us can achieve in our lifetimes of working as activists. So I’m glad to see them do that. There’s also precedent for that in the German packaging bills, that you know, we’ve talked about that on our podcast before from as far back as 91 they (Germany) makes the producers responsible and that works there. So how do we support and find out more about the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Bill because I keep hearing that come up, but I haven’t gone and looked up the actual bill before. So is there somewhere that we can go to look at it, not just the legalese, but the synopsis of what’s going on so that we can easily understand it?

Coke and Pepsi abandon the plastics lobby

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, two major sellers of plastic bottles, have made sweeping sustainability commitments. Now they are stepping away from a plastics lobbying group.

Alex Truelove: So there’s actually a Senate bill and in the House, there’s companion bills. The sponsor in the Senate is Senator Tom Udall, from New Mexico who has been a big champion on this issue. And in the House side representative Alan Lowenthal, and I believe both of their websites have kind of a more condensed, reader friendly version of the bill. In fact, I think I’m looking at the one from Utah right now. They have an outline of some of the components of the legislation. And they also have a bunch of quotes from all kinds of leaders and environmentalists on why they think it’s such a great thing. I’m in there somewhere. Also, yeah, so I think if for the listeners out there, if you Google, Tom Udall or Senator Udall break free from plastic pollution act, probably that might be even the first hit on your search engine. You should see the outline which is I think, much more friendly than reading the actual bill on Congress’s website, which you can do if you really want to but…

Udall, Lowenthal, Merkley, Clark Unveil Landmark Legislation to Break Free From Plastic Pollution | U.S. Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), along with U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and U.S. Representative Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), will unveil the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020, legislation that would phase out unnecessary single-use plastic products, hold corporations accountable for wasteful products, reduce wasteful packaging, and reform our broken waste and recycling collection system.

Maris Masellis: I have friends that do that.

Alex Truelove: Yeah. I’m one of those people, but…

Michael Britt: I’ll read it sometimes to get into the nitty gritty. Read the manual, read the fine print.

Maris Masellis: Alex you are now my translator

Michael Britt: Okay, we’ll just call you for translation. So are those bills going up with in the current cycle? Or will that be pushed down the line? Do we need to immediately call our our representatives and say vote for this or is it not up yet?

Alex Truelove: For vote? It is. I mean, it’s a live bill. And there are we’re gathering co sponsors, trying to get other senators and Congress people to support the bill. So now is definitely a great time to reach out to your representative and tell them that they should support the bill and why you think they should. It has been assigned to committee but it hasn’t been actually heard yet. So there’s still time even for more congressional leadership to jump on in official support the bill. So now’s a great time to do it, look up who your Congress people are, and give them a call or write them an email. I really do think those actions make more of a difference than people think. And I think plastic free July, I don’t know if you guys have been finding that it’s now kind of like a theme. So I know a lot of organizations are working on this issue and are putting together some organized efforts to get calls and emails into Congress people this month. Actually, I don’t know, to your question, because of the pandemic, so much of congressional action has been focused on relief and you know, that kind of stuff. So I don’t know exactly how things are going to move forward, but it’s definitely not too late. I still think the idea is revolutionary enough that I would be shocked if it really got all the way through the process in a serious way this year. But I still think it’s an incredibly important statement. I think there are a lot of things in the bill to be proud of and what’s kind of cool and interesting and different than any other real life experiences that usually these ideas kind of start at the local level and state level and then eventually kind of the federal level. And it actually has happened a little bit backwards where no state yet has put together a package of all these ideas in one bill. It almost skipped ahead. And in this case, Senator Udall, and Representative Loewenthal said, You know what, let’s just put it all together and do this. And make it the sort of thing that we can all aspire to. So I actually think what will happen over the next year or so is that we will see, state governments kind of take this bill or a lot of similar elements and try to move it through at the state level. I think there will be tons of opportunities as advocates and constituents for us to also reach out to state leadership because I think what’s more likely to happen if history is any indication, is that we’ll see these ideas of producer responsibility and all of the elements that are in this bill, we’ll see those actually passed at the state level before they pass it the federal level.

Maris Masellis: Yeah.

Michael Britt: So we’re gonna work on that even at the local city level because we need to be involved with local politics and find out who’s on team climate, who’s on team planet.

Maris Masellis: I think the next step for you and I Michael, is to just really get into that bill and and figure out all the key points to it and how to communicate that with our listeners. It really is that easy to look up your representatives. I’ve done it quite a few times these last few months and I’ve never I done that before. We can link that in our website in the transcription – Link here

Tell your U.S. senators: It’s time to move beyond plastic

Congress is considering two very different bills right now — one would help our country break free from plastic pollution, the other would bankroll the plastics industry. Tell your senators to support the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act today.

Michael Britt: this is like one of the things we were talking about with styrofoam recycling and answering questions on the forums about if it’s recyclable and where can I take it? My answer is that your time would be better spent for the environment and you’ll help more if you stopped and emailed the manufacturer and your representatives your displeasure about these products than it would be driving 20 minutes to take your styrofoam to recycle. And I think that I think you’re right that a lot of us do have more power and Maris, you know, I do this all the time. Every package, everything I buy, I look at it and like right now I’m going through coffee packaging I just ordered from a sustainable company that actually has compostable bags for their coffee. And I’ve been trying to find that and I email every Coffee Company, all the local ones here in Nashville and I get on their social media and ask them why their bags aren’t compostable? And I think if they hear that enough they will no longer say, no one’s asking for it.

The Truth About Compostable Coffee Bags

Can you compost your coffee bag? As someone with a coffee-drinking habit, leftover bags regularly pile up in my kitchen. I was thinking about this when a bag of beans from Ashland, Oregon’s Noble Coffee Roasting showed up, thanks to my MistoBox subscription. I noticed a small label at the bottom: “This bag is biodegradable and compostable.

Maris Masellis: Lets talk about coffee for one more second. Coffee is a great ingredient for compost. You can compost your coffee grinds, and why wouldn’t we have a bag that can also go in there too? Why not? Exactly. Anyway, anywho Alex Truelove. Thank you so much for taking time out of your Sunday to speak with us. And we will be looking for you is are there any things coming up that we can support you in? Or basically we can keep in touch?

Alex Truelove: Yeah, let’s keep in touch. I think supporting this stuff that’s happening is important. We talked about the federal Bill and I mean, a lot of stuff in the in the policy space, like I said, is focused on pandemic relief and that kind of stuff. So I think it might be a little bit until our elected leaders are focused on all of the other problems that are still happening during this time like plastic pollution? They haven’t disappeared at all. It’s tough because there’s only so much oxygen in terms of, you know, public attention, but yeah, I think there’s plenty of opportunities to work on stuff. I’ll do my best to keep you all updated. In the meantime call your representatives about this…

Michael Britt: Yeah. I’d like to give one quick idea real quick. Because it’s about getting people to call and it always baffles me that big organizations or even small, powerful organizations, don’t do this. I would like to see organizations like what’s your acronym again?

Alex Truelove: UsPIRG

Michael Britt: I think your social media people should be active on every single city’s Zero Waste Facebook page. I mean, I know that I go on Sundays and drink coffee and I find other groups and other cities and I connect with them and I get involved in those conversations. As you’re trying to help pass this this law it seems like the target audience would be zero waste Facebook groups. I don’t see a lot of organizations do this. We even had to invite the Nashville Metro solid waste people to post. We were like, look, we approved your membership on our site so you should post and put information there to share it. It baffles me that we don’t see a lot of that happening. So I’m just gonna put that out there and get some big organizations to start surfing the web for zero waste groups. We’re out there.

Alex Truelove: All right, I hear you. And I will, if it helps, I will send a link through USPIRG if people want to write their congressperson where you basically put in your name, zip code, there’s like a message already there that you can tweak if you want to. You guys can share that too. Link Here

Maris Masellis: Well, this is another successful episode of Zero Waste Trash Talk with our special guest Alex Truelove. My name is Maris and that’s Michael Britt. Thank you guys. Appreciate it was great meeting you, Alex. Thanks. Keep up the good work.

Alex Truelove: Yeah. It’s great to have these channels where we can have these conversations.

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