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Boulder County launches pilot program for sustainability packaging

Funded by a grant from the EPA, the pilot program addresses sustainable packaging in food and beverage manufacturing.
Boulder County's pilot program will help businesses transition into more sustainable and ecologically friendly packaging.

Applications are live for a unique grant opportunity from Boulder County and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA.

Boulder County’s Office of Sustainability, Climate Action and Resilience, or OSCAR, is launching a pilot program to decrease the environmental impact that comes from packaging in the food and beverage industry. The Food & Beverage Pollution-Reduced Packaging Pilot applications opened Monday and can be submitted through August 13.

OSCAR is one of eleven organizations around the country to receive one of the $105,000 EPA Source Reduction Assistance grants. The pilot program is facilitated by OSCAR and Resource Recycling Systems, or RRS, a sustainability consulting firm with locations in Boulder and Ann Arbor, MI.

“We’re super excited to be working with RRS. They’re experts in sustainable packaging design and resource recovery,” said OSCAR Sustainability Specialist Dede Croissant.

According to OSCAR Senior Sustainability Strategist Tim Broderick, there are 623 manufacturing firms in Boulder County. Food and beverage manufacturers make up 46% of that total. The program is looking for ways to increase sustainability for how those manufacturers package their goods.

“We have an opportunity to incentivize innovation within the packaging industry,” Broderick said. “One of the reasons we thought this could be successful is the combination of organizations and companies that are already progressive in this space within the county already. We realized a lot of these companies need just a little bit of help getting them going in the right direction.”

Participating companies in the pilot program will get financial support for use in sustainable packaging related expenses, as well as technical consulting, environmental and cost analysis and collaborative workshops with other pilot businesses.

“A hundred percent of why we thought this was successful is that there are so many businesses that are already shining stars in this arena within Boulder County,” Broderick said. “We really are a mecca for natural foods, sustainable foods and regenerative foods across the county. We just want to help accelerate the great work that’s already happening here.”

Croissant worked with Broderick to apply for the EPA grant on behalf of the county. According to Croissant, the grant funds programs that use technical assistance to implement pollution prevention with manufacturers.

“We started to think it could really mesh with our ideas of tackling recycling issues upstream, and so we put together an application to work with food and beverage manufacturers to help them transition their packaging to be pollution-reduced,” Croissant said.

Under EPA guidelines for the grant, the pilot program will evaluate the efficacy of the participating businesses, perform case studies and investigate potential long-term benefits from the program even if the business isn’t successful. The results to be measured are reduction in carbon dioxide production, reduction of hazard or toxic materials, reduction of water use and cost savings. 

“We’re really excited. This is the first time we’re stepping into the manufacturing side and looking at Scope 3 emissions,” Croissant said.

According to the EPA, Scope 3 emissions are indirect emissions from companies. They include products and packaging before and after production and sale of goods, in addition to things like operational waste and transportation issues for employees and materials.

In order to be eligible for the pilot program, businesses must be food or beverage manufacturers headquartered or with locations within Boulder County. The businesses can package their products directly or have a co-packager, the product packaging does not need to be within the county. The pilot program will only take two or three businesses to start, but OSCAR encourages all food and beverage manufacturers to apply.

“We recognize that in Boulder County we have a wide array, from multinational corporations to small businesses, and we’d really like to see that diverse representation in the pilot,” Croissant said. 

Applicants will be weighed on potential impact for pollution prevention and conservation, as well as feasibility for implementing sustainable packaging changes, how the company intends to use the financial incentive from the program and the company’s sustainability values before entering the program.

“Because it’s a pilot, I’d really like to capture the gamut from small to large businesses, from those who already have sustainability values at their core,” Broderick said. “And maybe on the other end of the spectrum, a business that maybe had no clue about sustainability or the grant program but is ready to start the conversation. We really want to get a full spectrum of the types of companies going into it.”

Applications are available at the RRS website. Any questions about the pilot program or applications can be directed to Brad Krzynowski at RRS.