Nikki Rodoni's Latest Monterey County Sustainable Working Group Meeting Unites Industry Leaders For Recycling Cause
- by Jessica Donnel
SALINAS, CA - In a year that has been rife with challenges to the United States’ commitment to sustainability, including China closing its doors to much of our recyclable materials, California’s industries, including ag, are feeling the strain. To address that issue, nearly 100 representatives from across the fresh produce supply chain gathered in Salinas, California, where they discussed how the industry can prepare for the future of recycling. Dubbed the Monterey County Sustainable Working Group (MCSWG) meeting, attendees joined together with organizer Nikki Rodoni on September 27 to take on one of our industry’s most pressing issues.
“Regardless of the enormity and complexity of the issue, the Monterey County Sustainable Working Group is driving efforts to urgently address the problem,” said Nikki, Founder and CEO of Measure to Improve, LLC. “With this meeting, we begin working across the supply chain to find solutions and reframe the future of recycling for the agriculture and recycling industries in Monterey County.”
As the recycling industry continues with its struggle to cope with the ramifications of China’s move, the Monterey County agriculture sector too is feeling the difficulties. According to a press release, the Monterey County’s ag community will be without a recycling solution for a large percentage of its waste if the current pace continues. Growers, processors, and shippers alike will all be facing significant costs to dispose of materials that have traditionally been recycled—and this was a key issue addressed at the meeting.
"California often leads the way for the rest of the country on sustainability. It was inspiring to see so many heavy hitters in attendance at the Monterey County Sustainability Working Group,” said Robin Foster, Quality Standards Associate Coordinator of Agricultural Program for Whole Foods Market. “Together, I’m hopeful that we can find viable solutions to some of the most pressing sustainability challenges in the produce industry—a key priority for Whole Foods Market.”
In total, there were nine presenters at the meeting, each from a different sector of the industry with a different perspective on how to evolve our sustainability practices together. Speakers included:
- Teresa Bui, Special Advisor to the Director of CalRecycle
- Tim Brownell, Director of Operations for MRWMD
- Louis Vasquez, Director of Corporate Development, Revolution Plastics
- Marcy Rustad, Chief Operating Officer, Think Beyond Plastic
- Robert Donnelly, CEO, California Almond Growers Association
- Tod Rinkenberger, Director of Business Development, Netafim
- Joe Ross, Founder and Co-CEO, rplanet earth
- Lucky Westwood, Operations Manager, California Giant Berry Farms
- Frank Toves, IDC Irrigation and Construction
"It was a great event! It's always valuable to get out of the office and receive input on the issues we're facing as an industry,” said Tim York, President of Markon Cooperative. “I think the plastic straws example used as a tipping point was a good indicator that we need to look at plastics in general, which of course is what that workshop was intended for. From agriculture consumer packaging to what we are doing at the field level to contribute to plastic in landfills, it was a great example of how we can stop being a part of the problem and start being a part of the solution."
Johnna Hepner, Director of Food Safety and Technology at Produce Marketing Association, echoed many of the same sentiments, noting the importance of events like this one to keep the conversation going and keeping solutions in reach.
“The agriculture industry is currently facing a challenging task of supporting sustainability and recycling issues, and it is important that stakeholders from throughout the entire supply chain to come together to work towards solutions for protecting our environment and having a positive impact,” Johnna said.
Lucky Westwood, one of the event’s speakers and Operations Manager at California Giant Berry Farms, noted that no matter where you land in the produce industry, the meeting was full of both value and inspiration.
“The conference was a mix of information about the recycling of produce materials and challenging questions on where we go from here. Everyone, no matter their place in the supply chain, came away having learned something new and energized about what they might do next.”
This MCSWG meeting is only the start of our conversation to find new solutions that address the recycling crisis for the Ag industry, Rodoni said, so be sure to stay tuned to more events and more opportunities to join the effort take a proactive approach for sustainability within the produce industry.