Thursday, January 6, 2022

January 2022 Letter From the Editor

I don't often publish my editorial letters on my blog, as their contents are usually quite specific to each issue of MBC Today that I work on, and catered toward the readers of the publication--fellow shipping store owners and managers, industry professionals, suppliers, and those interested in the retail mail and business center industry. However, this month I felt that my letter may have some value outside of the industry, so I wanted to share it here.

The following is my "Letter From the Editor" published in MBC Today Volume 24 Issue 1 on January 4, 2022:

Don't expect the unexpected. Let the unexpected expect you." - Kiara Maharaj

Dear Readers,

Life is full of surprises.

On December 21st, four days before Christmas and just 10 days before the new year, a client brought us some packing material to reuse and asked, "Hey, are you still going to be taking this stuff after the peanut ban goes into affect in January?"

I was in my office when this happened, so my coworker poked his head in and said, "Hey, do you know what this client was just talking about? He said there's a ban on packing peanuts in New York State staring on January 1st."

"That can't be right," I said, "why don't you google it to see what they're talking about. Surely someone would have let us know if that were the case."

Long story short, it was true. New York State was banning all expanded polystyrene (EPS) loose fill as of January 1, 2022.

I knew a couple of years ago that New York City was planning to ban single-use EPS, and I had disseminated that information in the AMBC certified packing classes I lead. I figured that if the city was banning it, eventually other municipalities or areas may be affected—including, I surmised, possibly New York State as a whole. But, I figured it would be a long time before that happened, and surely we'd have advance notice. Nevertheless, I wanted people to be aware of the possibility, as well as prepare for that eventuality at my own New York State business.

My team and I have always kept sustainability as a focus. It's written right into our mission statement at Uncle Marty's Shipping Office, and we're known in our community as the place to bring clean, dry, previously used packing material so it can be reused. After all, reuse is the best form of recycling.

For a few years now, we've even taken chunk pieces of what traditionally has been single-use EPS (coolers, electronics packaging, etc.) and have broken them down using a machine one of my coworkers made that has a hot wire grid to cut through and cube those big single-use chunks into smaller, reusable, roughly one inch cube pieces. The final product acts like loose fill, but is made from repurposed material, so we've dubbed it "ReFill"...and it's been a huge hit in our green-minded community! Such a hit, in fact, that my two-car garage is half full (seriously) of donated single-use EPS that we've been working on breaking down into ReFill, and every now and then I or one of my coworkers will spend an afternoon in my garage working on it.

We have made ReFill largely due to the knowledge that New York State may eventually ban single-use EPS material, and we assumed that by repurposing some of those bigger single-use pieces into smaller, reusable pieces, it would be making a difference. However, we had no idea that the ban would come so swiftly and without warning, nor that it would be on all EPS loose fill, whether new or repurposed, instead of on the larger single-use EPS pieces that we had been working so hard to convert into reusable ReFill.

Because I needed clarification and to state my case, I contacted the New York State department administering this ban. Their response is shared in part in the "Industry News" section of this issue of MBC Today. Indeed, they would prefer us to dispose of all of our existing EPS loose fill, including all peanuts, new or used, and also the ReFill that we make. There was no middle ground and no consideration for repurposed materials or recycling / reuse programs like the one my business has been so successful with in our community.

We're disappointed, as we have diligently been trying to make a green impact with the programs we've run, and our community has truly rallied behind them. Our ReFill program has been shared on local reuse listservs to the point where we've had to reduce our intake to "small household quantities" after trucks started showing up at our office full of EPS coolers that they wanted us to break down into ReFill. It's to the point where some colleagues and I have been starting the process to form an LLC, with hopes to manufacture economical hot wire grid foam cubing machines so more businesses could start ReFill programs in their communities. But now, instead of continuing with a program that we truly feel made a difference and was helping the root problem of reducing single-use EPS, we must cease from producing ReFill and dispose of any that we have in our possession after January 1st.

I refuse to throw the stockpile of EPS that I have out. I won't just put it in the landfill after working so hard to prevent that. And the "recycling centers" that New York State asks us to bring leftover EPS loose fill to after the ban takes effect are no where near where I am, and with so much ReFill stock in my garage the "mail in" option that they then suggest is laughably impractical. So, I'm now working with stores in neighboring states to have them come and get materials I have, in hopes that it can still be used by someone and not just thrown away. And we're not giving up on that LLC yet. Perhaps it could find a good home in another state where ReFill programs may still be possible and effective in reducing single-use EPS. 

To be clear, I do believe that, as a result of all of this, my business will be an even more sustainability-focused operation. That is a big part of our mission, after all. All of the last-minute mishigas aside, the end result and practices going forward will be better. I just wish we had warning and time to prepare. While we support the ban's good intentions, we scratch our heads at its hasty execution, absence of communication, and choice to permit large single-use EPS pieces while banning reusable loose fill. But, no one asked us.

So, why do I share all of this with you and take up two full pages of prime MBC Today real estate with a "Letter From the Editor" that traditionally should be short and sweet? (Though, all of you long-time readers know me all too well to ever think I would keep something short and sweet.) I share this story because I want you to know that sometimes life throws you a curve ball...and that's just life. As a survivor and someone who has overcome a number of other obstacles over the years, I once again want to show that a challenge isn't something to bring you down, but rather something to prove your resilience—an opportunity to pivot, grow, and come out again on top.

Please enjoy this issue of MBC Today, as it's once again full of great advice, inspiring stories, fresh ideas, and #MembersHelpingMembers guidance.

Pay close attention to what Crysta talks about in "Do You Know?" and how her story of adding more retail to her businesses has made a huge difference, and consider what it is that you could do differently or add to your business to make an impact.

Read about the two outstanding new AMBC Members that we're featuring in this issue, Kim Maxson and Jimmy and Michelle Costanzo, and be inspired by their business models, fresh insight, and unlimited potential.

Check out the AMBC Trusted Suppliers we share in ads and features. All of our vendors have been vetted and, as we are a non-profit, are shared and permitted to advertise because we believe in them, trust them, and know they'll make a difference to our fellow AMBC Members.

Please join me in congratulating Norman and Crysta on becoming our new Board Chair and Board Vice Chair, as well as welcoming our two new board members, David and Tom. Please also once again thank Fahim for his outstanding service as former Board Chair these past few years, and his willingness to stay on in an advisory ex officio position. We are so grateful for all of those who are taking on new positions, and especially those who remain tried and true in current roles like Barry, Steve, Mary, Kim, and Brad. We have the best team at AMBC, and it's my honor and privilege to be a part of it.

With care, 

Marty Johnson
Editor, MBC Today
Director of Communication & Advisor to the Board, AMBC
Owner, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office
Co-Founder & Facilitator, Collegetown Small Business Alliance | #AskUncleMarty



Published in MBC Today Volume 24 Issue 1 on January 4, 2022.