‘Single-serving’ retail waste management practices

Published on
June 20, 2019
Waste Management
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Scott Mackey
Scott Mackey
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This is the first article of a two-part series examining a future in which retailers can better maximize profits while eliminating waste streams. Today, we talk about the possibilities for an optimized waste management future through the lens of Smarter Sorting’s “Dynamic Routing” system.

This may sound like the start of a joke, but it’s not: A regulated waste hauler pulls into a mall parking lot lined with multiple retail stores.

Stay with me now.

On this trip, the hauler picks up waste from only a fraction of these retail stores because the hauler views each retailer as a single, unconnected entity. For example, even though “Store A” sits next door to “Store B”—and both businesses currently have similar waste volumes and hauling needs—the hauler only visits “Store A” (despite the fact a same-day visit to “Store B” would have spared the expense of a second journey later that week.) This siloed, single-serving approach to waste management is both expensive and inefficient for the retailers and the waste hauler. And currently, it’s all too common.

The punchline: this is no laughing matter.

Now imagine a different scenario, one in which that same hauler pulls into the parking lot and visits all of the retailers in a single day, eliminating the need for another visit anytime soon. Moreover, each retailer has already pre-scanned and labeled their waste for the hauler, recording this real-time data on a cloud platform that both the hauler and store can access. This technology allows retailers and waste companies to partner in the most efficient ways to limit waste, reduce costs and function in an environmentally conscious manner. Furthermore, through collaboration between the hauler and the pool of mall retailers, hauler expenses may now be shared between multiple stores (instead of just one or a few)—reducing costs for all. So is this a pie in the sky?

Not for Smarter Sorting.

A Clear and Profitable Vision for the Future of Waste Management

The Smarter Sorting platform was built to provide retailers and their waste haulers with shared access to data regarding regulated waste management. The result: a combined technology program that enables seamless in-store management in which retailers can cut their regulated waste costs by an estimated 50-90 percent and waste haulers can realize gains in operational efficiency and disposal accountability.

With Smarter Sorting providing comprehensive regulated waste traceability for both waste haulers and retailers in real time, all stakeholders can be on the same page with the same shared goals: to realize cost savings, minimize waste, reduce environmental impacts, and create an environment of safer, better-trained employees. This process starts by improving how waste is currently hauled.

No More Retail Waste ‘Single-Servings’

Smarter Sorting technology is positioned to eliminate the siloed approach often used by waste haulers when picking up loads because the technology helps haulers see retail clients as part of an ecosystem, connected by location, time and shared regulated waste needs.

Leading the charge against these ‘single-serving pickups’ would be Smarter Sorting’s “Dynamic Routing” system, which would provide haulers with visibility into retailer waste volumes. This information would help ensure efficient, timely pickups coupled with real-time monitoring of waste compliance windows. In its current state, this routing system is estimated to reduce hauler stops by roughly 20 percent. Bottom line: limited stops mean limited expenses.

In other words, this future may not be funny—but it could be sustainable.

Join us for our next article in this two-part series detailing how an optimized retail waste management future will feature a marriage of big data technology and reliable, old-fashioned business relationships between retailers and waste haulers.

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The Latest in CPG Regulations: June 2023

Let’s face it – CPG regulations can be convoluted. They are often (necessarily) filled with complexity and nuance that don’t make it easy to decipher how exactly they may affect you and the products you sell. These recent updates cover four main areas: DOT PHMSA International Harmonization (HM-215Q), Vermont HB 67, and Washington SB 5144, and MOCRA. So, let's dive in.

Let’s face it – CPG regulations can be convoluted. They are often (necessarily) filled with complexity and nuance that don’t make it easy to decipher how exactly they may affect you and the products you sell. 

We know how important it is for you to stay up-to-date with anything that could impact your business. That's why we're here to fill you in on some interesting updates that we're keeping a close eye on. These recent updates cover four main areas: DOT PHMSA International Harmonization (HM-215Q), Vermont HB 67, and Washington SB 5144, and MOCRA. So, let's dive in.

DOT PHMSA International Harmonization (HM-215Q)

Get ready for some positive changes: The Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has proposed a rule (HM-215Q) that will make your life easier. The new rule was proposed in May, and is likely to be finalized by EOY. Here's what you need to know:

  • Button cell batteries: Good news. You'll still need to test button cell batteries installed in equipment, but you won't have to worry about sharing the Test Summary (TS) report anymore. It's a small change, but it means less paperwork and more streamlined compliance for you.
  • Lithium battery markings: Say goodbye to the phone number requirement on the lithium battery mark. This simplification will make labeling lithium batteries easier and removes confusion from the supply chain. 
  • PSN and ID8000 updates: There are a few minor updates to the Proper Shipping Name (PSN) and ID8000. These updates will help you properly identify and ship hazardous materials. It's essential to stay informed about these changes to ensure you're on the right track when it comes to shipping regulations.
Vermont HB 67

Vermont has some interesting legislation in the works, and it's something you'll want to pay attention to. The legislation was delivered on May 12th and comes with 2025 implementation dates. Here's the lowdown:

  • Funding the HHW program: The new law would require manufacturers and brands to step up and fund the Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) program in Vermont.
  • Increased responsibility on the consumer for haz-waste vs. non haz-waste: This change could mean that the distinction between Haz-waste and Non-haz-waste would be as important to consumers, waste management entities, recyclers, and brands as it is to Retailers.
  • Waste handling fees and brand responsibility: The legislation allows for waste handling fees, which will be redistributed to brands, and is typically based on their market share. Orphaned products (products without a brand owner) would be collectively covered by participating brands. 
  • Exemptions and special considerations: The law includes exemptions for certain products like pesticides, cosmetics, drugs, certain paints, and already covered electronics and batteries. Make sure you're aware of these exemptions to avoid any compliance headaches. 
Washington SB 5144

Washington has also got some new regulations coming your way. The legislation was signed on May 11th by the governor, with 2027 implementation dates. Here's the scoop:

  • Battery stewardship plan: If you are a “producer”of covered batteries or products containing them, you'll need to participate in a state-approved battery stewardship plan. It's all about responsible management and ensuring proper recycling and disposal.
  • Who's a producer? The law broadly defines a producer as battery manufacturers, retail brands, third-party brands, licensees of a brand, importers, or anyone selling the product in the state. It's an inclusive, hierarchical definition to ensure accountability throughout the battery supply chain.
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FDA's Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act of 2022

Although published at the end of 2022, there’s significant regulatory change coming that impacts the cosmetics industry:

  • FDA regulations for fragrance allergen rules: The FDA is mandated to promulgate regulations for allergen rules within 18 months of December 29, 2023. Keep an eye out for these regulations to ensure your products comply with the new requirements.
  • Fragrance allergen ingredient disclosure: Once the list of fragrance allergens is finalized, brands and manufacturers must disclose these allergens on the cosmetic product label . This means you may see changes in product labeling and information provided to customers.
  • Does label disclosure equal FDA disclosure? While label disclosure is an important part of complying with FDA regulations, producers of cosmetic products must also register with the FDA and submit a Cosmetic Product Listing, which includes “...a list of ingredients in the cosmetic product, including any fragrances, flavors, or colors, with each ingredient identified by the name, as required under section 701.3 of title 21, Code of Federal Regulations (or any successor regulations), or by the common or usual name of the ingredient”.  Will this disclosure of information to the FDA be the same information required on the product label? The answer will impact the logistics of information transparency in the supply chain.

Staying informed about regulatory updates doesn't have to be overwhelming. These updates are here to make your life easier. So stay in the loop, adapt your processes as needed, and reach out to our team of experts with questions at any time, and check back next month for more updates. 

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100,000 data-driven retail pickups

Explore how US Ecology has efficiently and sustainably streamlined 100,000 retail waste pickups with Smarter Sorting's Back of Store System (BOSS).

Waste is a byproduct of retail. It can be minimized but it’s impossible to avoid. When handled correctly and sustainably by recycling, donating, and directing to the correct waste streams, retailers can achieve their critical ESG goals.But how can retailers achieve this efficiently and at scale? Data and technology are the key to handling waste responsibly and ensuring sustainability is front and centerRecently, US Ecology Technician Bryan Thompson wrapped up his weekly route with a waste pickup at a major retailer in Lake Nona, Florida. Unbeknownst to him, the twelve minutes spent on-site would achieve a significant milestone.Bryan’s stop was the 100,000th service performed by US Ecology using Smarter Sorting's Back of Store System, which syncs with hardware in US Ecology trucks. Launched in July of 2020, this data driven software solution streamlines hazardous waste pickups while ensuring safety and compliance throughout the process. When paired with Smarter Sorting’s Back of Store System for Retailers, data shared between the two systems generates significant time savings for waste diversion as well as the safe and accurate disposal or recycling of consumer goods—resulting in savings passed on to retailers and consumer goods brands.US Ecology CEO Jeff Feeler praised the Smarter Sorting solution during a recent earnings call. “Our investment in AI software has generated a 30% increase in stops per day in our retail program with the installation of this technology in our fleet. We believe further efficiencies will be realized as retail customers adopt these technologies, including a new sorting process in the back of the retail stores.”Bryan Thompson added: “The system is both simple and efficient, and provides access to a dedicated support team if needed. It reduces the time it takes to complete a pickup, and ensures more products are sustainably recycled or donated, rather than disposed of, than ever before,”Smarter Sorting would like to congratulate Bryan for this historic milestone. We look forward to helping all members of the US Ecology fleet know more and do better for the next 100,000 stops—and beyond.

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Sunflowers and car batteries

What happens to unused car batteries? Smarter Sorting explores the negative effects of e-waste in landfills and how to stop it at its source.

This is a story that begins and ends with electronic waste. Somewhere in between, we incorporate landfills, soil remediation and sunflowers into the mix. I promise it will all make sense, just follow closely.

Have you ever wondered what happens to electric car batteries when they run out of juice? Strange question, sure. But really think about it. The Nickel Cadmium battery is replaced with a brand spankin’ new Lithium Ion battery…but where does our beloved old “Nicad” battery go?

Let’s expand on that idea. What about old headphones, wires and computer monitors that are relinquished to a dumpster, never to spark electronic joy in a household ever again?

For many consumers and businesses, the thought abruptly stops there. Out of sight, out of mind, right? But with electronic waste – popularly known as “e-waste” – accumulating at an alarming rate, these are questions worth asking.

Follow us down the garbage chute…

The E-waste Conundrum

E-waste encompasses any unusable or otherwise unwanted electrical or electronic equipment. Car batteries, cell phones, TV screens and those pesky fax machines are a few examples, but anything that plugs into an outlet or contains a battery is fair game.                                    

With the rising popularity of cord-free products, the number of batteries piling up in landfills is on the rise. Nicad batteries contribute to this waste stream in a particularly interesting way (and trust me this’ll all make sense soon).

Nicads were at one time widely used in a variety of products, most notably in electric vehicles up until the 1990’s. Due to toxicity concerns and alternative battery types entering the market, their use has steadily declined. Nicads currently account for roughly 6% of all batteries in global circulation.

As a result, many of these Nicads are finding their way to the landfill. This is, perhaps, not surprising; the EPA estimates that only 12.5% of e-waste is actually recycled.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was signed into law in 1976 to address growing volumes of waste, and is our nation’s primary law governing solid and hazardous waste disposal. Plenty of new mandates have been added in the years since the law’s creation. One mandate in particular calls for waste minimization – the “use of source reduction and/or environmentally sound recycling methods prior to treating or disposing of hazardous wastes”.

Per this mandate, waste that could be considered hazardous should undergo environmentally sound recycling methods prior to disposal. The data indicates that this practice is not exactly being followed to a tee.

Repeat after me, electronics have no place in landfills.

A common misconception is that landfilled waste poses little risk to the surrounding environment because it is fully contained in the landfill. This couldn’t be further from the truth though. Discarded items are constantly shifting, changing, and finding their way out of the landfill. Heavy rainfall often mixes with landfill waste to form a chemical effluent called leachate. This solid waste byproduct can then find its way into surface waters like rivers and lakes.

Every properly engineered landfill is “contained” by a composite liner system that sits directly underneath the site.

The liner acts as a barrier to slow the migration of leachate from the landfill. However, these liners aren’t perfect. They wear down over time, and can succumb to natural wear and tear. In these cases, small quantities of leachate may percolate into the soil and nearby groundwater supply, spreading to all connected waterways. Not only is this ecologically devastating for aquatic organisms, but it’s detrimental to land-based organisms that draw water from these sources (think plants, trees, and ….humans).

By the same processes, heavy metals from our Nicad batteries may inevitably leach into the water supply. To get a sense of the magnitude of this issue, consider an EPEAT estimate that approximately 40% of heavy metals in U.S. landfills originate from discarded electronics. When this occurs, a series of processes chemically fix the metals into surrounding soils.

When heavy metals become fixed in soil, a host of issues arise. Organisms that depend on the soil become exposed to the heavy metals and their toxic effects. Plants will uptake metals from the soil. Large grazing animals will consume the plant matter. Humans will consume both plant matter and grazing animals, ingesting a double whammy of heavy metals.

Heavy metal pollutants have been known to have carcinogenic effects on the body, resulting in tumorous growth and directly impacting cellular life cycles. Cadmium specifically has been known to cause a slew of health issues. Namely kidney disease, fragile bones, lung damage, and many others.

So, our soil is contaminated with Nickel and Cadmium, great! What in the world do we do next?

Sunflower Phytoremediation

Modern methods of soil remediation – the process of removing contaminants from soil – are highly cost and time intensive. These methods can be more difficult to deploy and monitor when lower concentrations of contaminants are spread out over large areas.

Phytoremediation, the process of using hyperaccumulator plants for soil remediation, may offer a more effective alternative than traditional methods of soil remediation. Hyperaccumulators are capable of growing in high concentrations of heavy metals, in both solid and aqueous environments. These plants are able to extract metals from the soil through their root systems and other uptake channels.

By leveraging the root networks of plants that naturally absorb metals fixed in the soil, larger, undefined areas of contamination can be treated. Scattered metals are concentrated in more centralized locations of plants and root networks, making them easier to identify, collect, and eventually treat.

One of the most effective hyperaccumulators, the common sunflower, is able to effectively uptake both Cadmium and Nickel through its root system network.

Sunflowers were used to reduce concentrations of Chromium and Nickel in two locations in Greece: the Asopos River and Messapia. These two regions provide a significant portion of crop yield and are afflicted by high concentrations of heavy metal in their irrigation aquifers. The results showed that the sunflowers planted in areas with high concentrations of heavy metals successfully reduced the concentrations of metals in the soil and groundwater.

Hyperaccumulation in the plants allowed for easier harvesting. From there, the metal content in the plants could be extracted, or the entire plant could be properly treated and disposed of.

The Root of the Issue

While sunflowers may provide a viable method of soil remediation in certain scenarios, the root of the issue still remains: e-waste and its toxic heavy metals are still reaching landfills in alarmingly high quantities.

The issues stem from a combination of things: a lack of education, recycling malpractice, and a lack of visibility into waste and recycling operations.

Consumers by and large are unaware of the e-waste disposal options available to them. Commercial businesses and manufacturers may be knowingly and unknowingly engaging in sham recycling. Millions of consumers and businesses are trashing electronics every day, making it nearly impossible for government agencies to identify all the infractions and enforce RCRA protocols.

Even when attempting to properly recycle, many businesses are unaware of the laws and nuances governing specific items. For example, cathode ray tubes (CRTs) are considered hazardous waste, and must be safely and compliantly recycled according to RCRA stipulations. There are, however, conditional exclusions for used, broken CRTs that may apply. Batteries, on the other hand, are considered a universal waste, and are subject to less stringent regulations (with a few exceptions, of course).

With the variety and complexity of electronic items becoming e-waste every day, keeping up with regulations can be a daunting task. Manually deciphering complex regulations is a time consuming and outdated mission. Humans make mistakes – it happens. But honest mistakes can snowball into non-compliance events and enormous fines for businesses.

Smarter E-waste

Smarter Sorting leverages machine learning and product intelligence to automate the correct RCRA waste codes and decision making for consumer products. Real time data is updated continuously, and available instantly. Most importantly, electronic items that are eligible for recycling are identified so they can be sent to safe, reputable e-waste recyclers.

Together, with the help of some brave and committed sunflowers, we can keep heavy metals out of landfills, water, and soil – for good.

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