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NYC Issues Compostable School Food Tray Solicitation

New York City has issued a request for bids for compostable plates used to serve over 150 million meals per year in New York City public school cafeterias. [i]

The resulting contract will be available for use by school districts that are members of the Urban School Food Alliance, including: Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Orange County and Miami-Dade County school districts. Combined, these school districts serve ~2.6 million meals daily and procure more than $530 million in food and food supplies annually.[ii] The bid is for a five year contract.

Key aspects of the specification include[iii]:

  • 5 compartments able to hold 5 meal components
  • Center compartment able to hold a ½ pint milk carton or bottle.
  • Round or oval shapes for compartments are acceptable
  • Prefer no pre-consumer materials used and where possible made entirely from one primary material such as sugarcane, post- consumer paper, wheat, etc.
  • Must be food safe for all type and varieties of food and have FDA GRAS certification for food contact.
  • Must not have a wax or plastic coating (polypropylene)[iv]
  • Must be sturdy and durable, able to endure hot and cold food without seepage. Water proof and minor oil proof.
  • All components of the product must be 100% certified compostable.
  • Tested by a Biodegradable Products Institute certified lab and shown to be compliant with ASTM D6868.

The solicitation notes that the NYC Department of Education Food Program includes frozen foods, fresh produce, snack, grocery and non-food related cafeteria items, dairy, and baked goods. It also suggests that vendor familiarize themselves with food items served in the National School Food Lunch Program to better meet the needs of the districts.

Opportunity for Recyclable and Compostable Trays

While the solicitation specifies compostable trays, there is an opportunity to create trays that are both compostable and recyclable to provide greater choice regarding waste management options for each district. Cafeteria Culture an organization which has been instrumental in creating the shift toward zero waste school cafeterias in New York City has implemented the flip, tap, stack method of sorting which results in a clean, sorted stream of trays. Separating the trays in this way produces a stream of trays that can then be sent to a recycling or composting facility depending on the local infrastructure and the suitability of the design of the tray for recycling.

Please watch Cafeteria Culture’s video to see how it works:

How to Apply

Bids are due Nov. 19th at 4:00pm. A pre-bid conference will be held on Nov. 4th at 2:30pm.

The solicitation and requirements can be downloaded from the vendor portal here:

[i] Combined breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners.

[ii] Urban School Food Alliance Celebrates One Year. July 15, 2013. Food Management.

[iii] Please download the solicitation for detailed specifications including dimension, thickness, etc.

[iv] Polypropylene is the only plastic coating explicitly specified in the specification included in the solicitation.


Partnering for Impact

While the world is changing at a rapid pace, partnerships are here to stay. According to a recent survey of companies who are members of the UN’s Global Compact, 78% of companies that are taking action to advance sustainability goals are doing so through partnerships – more so than any other method.[i]

Similarly, multi-sector partnerships and citizen-led grass roots organizations are believed to be best poised to lead efforts to address sustainable development challenges.[ii]

While the continued need for partnerships is clear, many companies have significantly increased their internal capabilities related to sustainability over the past ten to fifteen years. Thus, the types and structure of partnerships needed are evolving.

Given this, it is not surprising that companies are evaluating their partnerships and seeking to identify how they can maximize business value and societal impact through partnerships.

For organizations seeking to optimize partnership strategy, here are some considerations:

A Defined Strategy and Goals is the Key to Identifying the Right Partners

Often what is underlying questions about partnerships is the need for a more clearly defined sustainability strategy and goals. Once goals and strategy are defined and are integrated into the business, identifying the right partners becomes a much simpler evaluation. The company or employee will be in a better position to define which partnerships are valuable to the business and provide meaningful benefit to society, or shared value.[iii]

Both Large and Small NGOs Drive Change and Can Be Important Partners

It is estimated that over one billion organizations are working on issues related to ecological sustainability and social justice.[iv] The size, scope and organic nature of this movement is unlike any the world has ever seen. [v] It is an eco-system of organizations that are driving change rather than two to three large organizations or thought leaders. There are significant partnerships and exchange of ideas amongst small and large organizations. Small NGOs and grass-roots organizations play an important role in innovation and advocacy. Given this, smaller NGO’s and grass roots organizations may be important partners for a company for specific issues or regions.

Partnerships as a Source of Competitive Advantage

Partnerships facilitate issue identification, research, entering new markets, new product development, and greater understanding of the needs of customers and communities.

The rapid pace of change and the organic nature and size of the environmental and social justice movement means that strategic partnerships only will grow in importance.

Given their value, a company’s ability to successfully execute and internalize the benefits of partnerships is a source of considerable competitive advantage.

Resource Strategies can guide your organization in defining its sustainability strategy and goals, identifying business areas where partners are needed, and in developing partnering strategies to help your business realize this competitive advantage.

[i] United Nations Global Compact. 2013. Global Corporate Sustainability Report 2013.

[ii] Multi-sector partners and citizen-led grass roots organizations are best poised to affect change with respect to sustainable development, according to a Sustainability and Globe Scan’s 2012 analysis of its survey of 1,6oo sustainability experts from around world. The survey is based on ratings of the sector performance on sustainable development since 1992 and leadership potential. Sustainability and Globe Scan. June 15, 2012. Global Expert Perspectives on the State of Sustainable Development. A Report of the Regeneration Roadmap Project.

[iii] Porter, M, and Kramer, M. Strategy and Society: The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility. Dec. 2006. Harvard Business Review Magazine.

[iv] Hawken, Paul. Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming. New York: Penguin Publishing Group, 2007. Print.

[v] Hawken, Paul. Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming. New York: Penguin Publishing Group, 2007. Print.

The Sustainable Procurement Opportunity

With $10.1 trillion per year of goods & services procured by institutions, sustainable procurement is poised to be the next green wave. And, the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council is the group to join to realize the benefits of this business and sustainability opportunity. [i]

The Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council, is a new organization which plans to develop a ‘shared platform for guiding, measuring, and recognizing, leadership in sustainable purchasing just as the U.S. Green Building Council has for green building’.[ii] There are thirty founding members including: Office Depot, Domtar, Dell, FedEx, USDA, US EPA, State of California Dept. of General Services, and the city of Washington, DC. [iii]

Reminiscent of the founding meeting of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition ten years ago, the founding summit of the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council last August, which I was honored to attend, had the same energy, enthusiasm, and, most importantly, the right players in the room to ensure the ambitious goals of the new organization are realized. Just as the Sustainable Packaging Coalition was catalytic in packaging, so too will this organization be for purchasing.

Given the magnitude of the opportunity, government agencies, private corporations, higher education institutions, NGOs, certifiers, standards developers, consultancies and procurement tool providers will want to closely follow the work of this group and consider joining as a general member when this option becomes available later this fall. For more information on the organization, work stream, and membership opportunities, please visit:

[i] Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council Launch Event Webcast. July 23, 2013.

[ii] Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council website. Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.

[iii] Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council website. Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.

Impact of Transportation on Overall Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Food Waste Recovery Systems

Q: How many additional miles can a ton of food waste that will ultimately be composted travel before there is no longer a net greenhouse gas emissions reduction compared to the existing MSW disposal option?

A: 571 miles is approximately the additional one way transit (collection and long haul) before waste to energy and composting are of equal value from a greenhouse gas emissions perspective.

Municipalities considering implementing organics recovery programs often ask about the greenhouse gas emissions of composting, waste to energy, and landfill and generally how to think about trade-offs in transportation distances between the options.

To help with understanding the relative magnitude of the emissions, here’s a back of the envelope calculation along with some additional variables to keep in mind should your municipality or business be wrestling with the same questions.

Based on national averages, U.S. EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery have developed the following greenhouse gas emissions factors for food waste and incorporated them into its Waste Reduction Model:

Net Emissions for Organics under Each Materials Management Option (MTCO2E/Short Ton)[1]

Compost Combustion Landfill with Methane Capture Landfill Nat’l Average
Food Waste -0.2 -0.12 0.34 0.69
Notes Aerobic composting only. Does not include anaerobic digestion. Based on mass burn waste to energy facilities.
Note: The negative values means there is carbon storage or an overall greenhouse gas emissions reduction.

Transportation Emissions

ICLEI’s Solid Waste Emission Activities and Sources Protocol proposes an emissions factor of 0.00014 mtCO2e/wet short ton/mile for use of diesel trucks for long haul transport. [2]

 Putting It All Together

According to the table above, there is a 0.08 mtCO2e/short of food waste benefit for composting compared to waste to energy (-0.2- -0.12= -0.08).

0.08/0.00014 = 571 miles. Therefore, 571 miles is approximately the additional one way transit (collection and long haul) before waste to energy and composting are of equal value from a greenhouse gas emissions perspective.

Additional Considerations

  • From an economic and environmental perspective, recovering food waste locally generally makes sense. It was estimated in 2012 that the cost of long haul transport of commercial food waste from New York City was approximately $4/ton/mile. [3]
  • The fuel efficiency of in-city collection is likely lower than long haul transport. Check with your local sanitation or public works department regarding fuel efficiency of waste collection and incorporate these numbers for a more accurate projection. Similarly, this assumes MSW, recycling, and food waste truck routes are optimized and all trucks are at capacity.
  • The greenhouse gas emissions reduction from anaerobic digestion would be even greater than aerobic composting. Toronto uses biogas generated from its anaerobic digester to fuel its trucks. To learn more, check out Harvest Power’s blog on how food  waste can fuel its own collection plus produce energy.
  • There are other reasons to compost and reduce truck trip besides reducing greenhouse emissions and additional technologies that have not been presented. Please contact Resource Strategies or stay tuned for future blogs to learn more.

[1] U.S. EPA Waste Reduction Model. Updated June 2013.

[2] ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability USA. Oct. 2012. U.S. Community Protocol for Accounting and Reporting of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Appendix E: Solid Waste Emission Activities and Sources, Version 1.0.

[3] De la Houssaye, M. and A. White. 2012. Economics of New York City Commercial MSW Collection & Disposal and Source-Separated Food Waste Collection & Composting: Opportunities to Reduce Costs of Food Waste Collection & Recovery. A Global Green USA Coalition for Resource Recovery Discussion Document.