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Closed Loop Recycling Systems are Key to Sustainable Concessions for the Portland Blazers

One of the big changes occurring in the food service packaging industry is the use of biobased food containers at sports events. Stadiums are “closed loop” systems, meaning that all of the waste materials can be collected and sent to a composting site where it can be more efficiently put through a biodegradable process. One benefit of this is that it allows the facility to control the flow of waste, cutting down on the amount of contamination, such as a mixture of non-biodegradable and biodegradable material, in a waste stream. As the amount of contamination increases in the composting stream, it is increasingly difficult to separate the materials, and this increases the cost of composting. In the case of restaurants, though customers can be asked to put their biodegradable materials in one bin and plastic in another bin, they may or may not comply.

There are several challenges associated with compostable foodservice packaging.  First, a composter that is equipped to handle the waste stream must be available.  Another challenge is the contamination that occurs when the composter receives non-compostable foodservice packaging along with food waste.  At major sporting events, people may not read the disposal bin signs, and throw all of their waste materials into the same bin.  This creates a problem because composters want food waste and recyclers do not want food waste.  This problem could be solved by working with end users and convincing them that they should only buy compostable foodservice packaging.  When a foodservice operator commits to buying only compostable packaging, the composters can accept and process both the packaging and the food.

Asean Corporation’s StalkMarket, the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Moda Center

StalkMarket®, an Asean Corporation brand, is a leading supplier of 100% compostable, plant-based coffee cups, lids, tableware, cutlery, and food packaging.  All of the Company’s products are certified by BPI to be compostable, and they are made from all-natural and sustainable resources.  Asean’s StalkMarket brand of Ingeo-based foodservice ware has been growing steadily in the last few years, and the StalkMarket logo is easy to find on a walk through any of Portland’s many coffee shops and restaurants.  An interview with Buzz Chandler, President of Asean Corporation, showed how this biobased product brand came to be accepted in the local community.

Mr. Chandler remarked that the Company fell into the biobased product industry in 2003 by accident.  He noted that the Company was involved in exporting frozen seafood to Asia at the time, and their partner in Hong Kong mentioned that they might be interested in sugar cane products such as burger boxes and plates.  As a result, the Company began contacting vendors to gage their interest in biobased products.  Mr. Chandler reported that one of the retailers they had contacted was a natural food chain in Portland, and they responded very positively to the idea.  That chain of events in 2003 led to millions of dollars in sales and growth of the Company’s brand.

Not long after StalkMarket began marketing their products made with Ingeo, Mr. Chandler met with the front office team at the Moda Center.  Mr. Chandler recalled that the team was drinking coffee from StalkMarket’s Plant+ cup.  Two weeks after the meeting, StalkMarket was a full sponsor partner for all solid waste and compostable products in the Moda Center.  Mr. Chandler noted that StalkMarket is a long-term partner, and it is diverting over 5,000 pounds of waste per month from landfills, which includes the diversion of a lot of packaging.

According to NatureWorks, (the manufacturer of Ingeo materials used by StalkMarket), some of the key stakeholders in this success story were:

  • Portland Trail Blazers – set out to reinforce their brand; set the goal of diverting 100% of the waste from the landfill; sought to win additional public support
  • Ovations Food Service – made procurement switch to compostable products and achieved price parity; engaged staff effectively
  • The Moda Center – operations sought to enhance the experiences of fans and guests; enabled infrastructure and capital investments to make the initiative possible, including critical recycling stations as guest engagement and waste stream separation mechanisms
  • StalkMarket Products – supplied BPI-certified, compostable, Ingeo-based drink cups and food service packaging to Ovations’ concessions centers[1]

In addition, the Trail Blazers are working with a company that hauls waste to a composting site.  To close the loop, the stadium’s landscaping company buys the composted food waste and uses it to fertilize the plants and lawn on the site.

Through this effort, the Trail Blazers were able to show that being conscious of their environmental footprint has positive results on the bottom line.  It has saved the Trail Blazers over a million dollars through reduced haulage and reduced landfill costs, which has directly affected their bottom line.

Several important elements led to the success of this effort.  First, the design of the waste receptacles in the Moda Center was important to ensure that compostable waste was collected properly.  The new “GreenDrop” recycling stations and sorting signage ensured that food and packaging waste streams could be combined into a single compostable waste stream to avoid ending up in a landfill.  These stations were custom designed through the efforts of the Portland Trail Blazers’ Head Office to reduce their environmental footprint while minimizing expenses and being fiscally responsible through sustainable operations.  The partnerships between concessions and StalkMarket’s Ingeo-based BPI-certified foodservice ware and other compostable offerings were vitally important to the success of the project.

Many other sports and entertainment venues are starting to take notice.  In fact, the Green Sports Alliance is bringing on more teams from the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and Major League Soccer.  Other teams, including the Minnesota Twins, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Minnesota Wild, and universities, including Purdue University and Pennsylvania State University, are also interested.  The 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis utilized this same composting waste stream approach, using Eco-Products’ serviceware.  Sports fans across the country may find themselves drinking from compostable cups and using compostable cutlery at the next sporting event they attend.

[1] “Portland Trailblazers & the MODA Center Introduce Compostable Serviceware,” NatureWorks website, accessed July 2018.