Companies for Zero Waste held a virtual conference this week focusing on best practices and policies in the circular economy environment. This interactive session featured expert speakers from the industry giving their insights into what they believe would move the ideas into the mainstream. After an introduction to the conference by Founder and CEO of Companies for Zero Waste, Scott Donachie, he commented that the zero waste movement has gone more mainstream over the last two years. However, the problem remains that there is still a lot of confusion out there. Not every type of material can be green, sustainable or circular, and there is a changing supply chain. He pointed out that the goal of these conferences was to bring people together into a deep dive into solutions that are out there.

Mathy Stanislaus of the Global Battery Alliance (GBA) kicked off the discussion by covering the 10 GBA principles for a sustainable battery value chain, including establishing a circular battery value chain, driving convergence of transportation and power, the current manufacturing of batteries, reducing greenhouse gas by 50%, 35% increase battery demand. He discussed that transforming the economy in the value chain creates jobs and economic value. GBA’s Battery Passport is a global solution for securely sharing information and data to prove responsibility and sustainability to customers with a “quality seal”. The first iteration of Demonstration Product for it will be unveiled in late 2020 and will focus on the circular economy, human rights and low carbon economy. Major bottlenecks in accelerating battery adoption and creating a new circular ecosystem are fleet operators, consumers, ESS companies, OEMs, battery suppliers, Energy players and infrastructure providers, investors and public sectors.

Next, Douglas Johnson-Poensgen, of Circulor, focused on the battery supply chain and how to achieve circularity. He pointed out that there is potential for a second life for a battery once it leaves an electric vehicle. Connecting to a future user requires data and extended producer responsibility. In Europe, they are facing the prospect of plastic taxes and carbon border adjustment taxes to encourage industry and to understand the level of carbon that crosses borders.  He discussed where the plastic waste coming from and pointed out that we need to ensure that plastic is being responsibly collected. We also need to collect the right data and track the material, not the transaction. He talked about the concept of creating a digital twin (identity/origin) to trace material through industrial processes (refining, shipping, manufacturing, logistics, final assembly) and enabling materials and products to be tracked through recycling and re-use. Interoperability is a key driver to come up with ways in which platforms can interoperate with each other, combining to create digital threads through the supply chain; it is essential to handle traffic. Managing risk, digitization of the business process between organizations has the potential to reduce supply chain fraud and increase inefficiency.

Kelly Sarber, Strategic Management Group, covered a discussion on solar panel and lithium-ion battery recycling, including sorting and disassembling and recycling, re-use, refurbishment. She pointed out that when many solar panels and batteries come out of their first use, they can go into the secondary market. For example, solar panels that have been damaged by natural events are removed from their original use and refurbished to use in another capacity. With the massive amount of materials, how do you attract investments and grow these industries? Sarber discussed that the compound growth of lithium-ion batteries Is 19% and that we need a national regulatory business, establishing a baseline for the investment community and creating corporate sustainability or a matrix around how the material should be managed. She pointed out that not all of the products coming into the recycling facilities are recyclables, so it doesn’t make sense to send them to a centralized facility because you would have to chip and grind and separate them. Rather, for both solar panel and lithium-ion batteries, consider the secondary markets.

Marcus Krembs, Head of Sustainability and Community Relations at Enel discussed energy transition and installation and how the company is now looking at hybridization and battery storage circularity. He covered the evaluation criteria for partner and OEM selection for battery and storage systems for renewable inputs, social responsibility and end of life management and re-use. For wind turbine blade end of life, Enel has committed to a no landfill blade end of life solution. By 2050, there will be 2 million metric tons of wind turbine blades – this is an emerging and real challenge. However, Enel is looking at circular alternatives, including re-using the wind blades as power infrastructures, using them in low-income housing, or even grinding them up for mechanical engineering, molding.

Magali Depras, COO of TC Transcontinental, then discussed how packaging plays an essential role in sustainability especially in the supply chain, food waste. While it is really a persistent challenge, flexible packaging can help provide barrier protection and extend food shelf life. For example, it extends the shelf life of cheese and fruit by 63 to 90 days.  Other benefits of flexible packaging include less energy, fewer resources, smaller footprint. He pointed out that the most preferred method for waste management is source reduction and reuse, where plastic never becomes waste, rather innovate, collaborate and promote.

Martin Wolf, Director of Sustainability and Authenticity for Seventh Generation covered lifecycle impacts of rHPDE rigid containers versus 25% biobased LDPE pouches, including energy and global warming impacts of the refill pouch and HDPE bottles and how the use of PCR saves resources.

Jeff Wooster, Global Sustainability Director for Dow, talked about how the company is keeping plastics out of the environment and putting them back into the circular economy to be reused.  They are focusing on making sure products are designed and manufactured so that they can get recycled after they are used and put back into the circular economy for reuse. He pointed out that the most important aspect of this is what role you play in connecting to the rest of the supply chain. We need to make sure we are all connected so we can make it into a reality. Think holistically about sustainability and putting all these things together to get the best possible outcome. We have to recognize that sustainability has to be part of their business plan, how does it make sense, compare it with the right regulatory environment and work together.

Christina Raab, Strategy and Development for Cradle to Cradle Products explained that currently, the world is about 8.6% circular. The transition to renewable energy will address only 55% of the world’s GHG emission and the remaining 45% must be done by transforming the way we make products—80% of material is determined in the design stage. Products need to be designed in the way they can be added into the biological cycle or the technological cycle. Cradle to Cradle’s certification process is the world’s most advanced, science-based standard for safe, circular, and responsibly made materials and products. She said key points are to start with safe materials, design waste out, measure performance and innovation holistically, and change behaviors. Look at purchasing decisions and purchasing behaviors and make an informed decision. Extend your thinking to a broader perspective and involve consumers on the circularity journey.

Geoffrey Cottrell of Microsoft discussed the company’s electronic recycling and equipment reuse program, where they figured out strategy and various ways of start selling equipment as refurbished, working through various companies. He covered key focus areas for a circular economy, what things should you look at when you are working with a supplier and the four top trends in the circular economy area, including internal reuse, remarketing, responsible recycling, and minimal to no landfill. When evaluating a supplier, make sure the facility is clean, there is low turnover, the proper training, and look at theft/fraud, certifications, and safety records. Evaluate processes like quality, change, inventory, testing (controls/monitoring), problem-solving, as well as tools, such as warehouse, reporting, testing, data/destroy (lockdown process), and safety (PPE).

Geraldine Barnuevo from General Motors discussed their zero waste goals and how the company was working on the next generation of sustainability goals. How do we make sure that products end of life can be recycled or reused, and that EV batteries are being remanufactured at the end of life. General Motors has a commitment to incorporate 50% of sustainable materials in their products as well as reducing their manufacturing footprint and working on a landfill-free opportunity. Their Zero Waste Program’s objective is to move upward towards higher levels in the waste hierarchy and create a culture of zero waste. They have a milestone goal of 90% zero waste categories by 2025; they are currently at 81% of waste diversion to landfills and incineration including WTE.

Tony Schifano,CEO of Antos Environmental, pointed out that minimizing waste is really about behavior. Waste reduction is challenging no matter where you are in the world. He pointed out that President Xi has a goal of China being carbon net neutral by 2060. He stressed that you must have people become dedicated to this and that they have to understand the impact waste has on everything.

John Shegerian, Executive Chairman at ERI, agreed. It is possible to be zero waste in the electronic waste space. We can create commodities out of steel, aluminum, copper, glass, etc. and can be zero waste, zero landfill. One of the great lessons is that if you make sustainability inconvenient or extra work for the end users, it is going to have less appeal. You have to make sure your client and consumers understand that it is not just about saving the earth, but also people as well.

Daniel Figola, Directory of Sustainability and Product Development for Advanced Drainage Systems (ADS) discussed that the company has worked on the understanding and processing of more reusable materials into their products – last year 500 million pounds of reusable materials went into their products. However, there are two big issues – on the tail end of acceptance of products for infrastructure and construction, and on the front end – quality and contamination of the product that is coming in to meet requirements. For the plastics industry, it is a challenge right now. While there is negative sentiment towards plastics, the positive is that they are single-use during COVID. There is a lack of infrastructure for the collection of quality material and repurposing to get this material to a spot where they can be reused. The biggest drivers are environmental awareness, supporting recycled plastic and PR issues. It will be more of a cultural shift than a business shift.

Chris Ripley, CEO, Smarter Sorting, focused on the big data side and chemistry side. There is a fundamental piece of the supply chain that is missing. This concept that we are going to enable more supply is great but there is not a data point out that there that tells you what this bottle is and we want to make these products transparent so we know what is inside of them but there is no data point that describes what we should do. The circular economy data blind spot is that the supply chain lacks item-level data. Shifts from dangerous data gaps to complete data can help power the circular economy.

Deborah Dull, Principal, Manufacturing Product Management for Circular Nomad, talked about what the circular supply chain looks like. There are seven steps: 1) identify fugitive value, 2) Intensify the item or value of the material, 3) Narrowing the loop – using less, 4) Predict, 5) Slow the Loop, 6) Closing the loop, taking something that has a high value and make it have an even higher value, and 7) Capturing and recovering materials around the world (including mining landfills).

Richard Donaldson, Founder and Marketing for Requis, said that circularity is profit first and sustainability second. Digital platform adoption will increase circularity/sustainability through transparency and measurability, and digital twins are keys to all efforts (tracking cradle to grave). Technology should focus on digitalization of the assets themselves. Blockchain, machine learning and AI, none of them will work until plugged into a digital platform and tracked.

Carey Kelley of Green H2O (sustainable water) tackled water lifecycle management as a sustainability service approach, focusing on real-time data metrics and strategies to consume water more efficiently, and source much larger volumes of water.  They focus on clients that have a large source of water like universities, where they can recapture water and save money

Anwar Khan, Founder of CycleTech, is making a proven recycling solution more efficient. A Florida based company, it was created in a dorm room in freshman year at the University of Miami. They are incentivizing using RVMs and mitigating plastic waste. They pair their software with reverse recycling machines. Their App locates the RVMs nearest to a person, looks at rewards in their activity page, connects with friends’ recycling habits, selects items to recycle, allows consumers to earn points, etc. Creating that true circular economy will have established these recovery rates at 50 – 75 percent in the next 10 years. He pointed out that you have to have the supply chain and infrastructure and incentives to get involved in the circular economy.

Christine Wolf, Government Relations Management for Recology, spoke about the plastics recycling and AB793, which mandates 50% post-consumer recycled content and beverage plastic containers. The bill is the most aggressive in the nation and she is excited to see outcome-driven infrastructure and how it will help build the market. While single product bans can be successful, it only serves one part of the problem, not the whole solution. AB has tried to do a big picture of the problem by 2030. While it is a controversial bill, one of the lessons learned is that a framework needed to be developed recyclers needed to work with consumers, etc. However, with pushback from the plastics industry, the bill did not go forward. Recology is now working on a statewide ballot initiative in California, mandating source reduction of single-use products and extending the ban on service foamware. There should be a fee on each piece of single-use packaging that would go towards product remediation and infrastructure development.

Heidi Sanborn, Director of National Stewardship Recycling Council, spoke about materials management and circularity. They are working together to work on consensus for the legislature. The commission is very committed, it is all voluntary, and they are eager to get recommendations to legislature by January 1. Whatever they recommend could change things for companies, so she encouraged people to go to the Calrecycle website at sign up for the listserve, so they can get updates on what the organization is working on and can also submit comments. She stressed the need for action and that the Commission is eager to partner with other companies on what they would like to do. Companies are looking at the potential for the commission to label material trash only, compostable and recyclable. We need to work together; if companies don’t lead, then government feels they have to regulate things and they end up clashing with each other. We want to learn from this. The Commission wants to take legislatures to facilities to learn how things work and get their level of education up. The Commission can find those paths and build on them for the entire nation.

Finally, Celeste McMickle at USGBC talked about the LEED certification program in buildings, which focuses on total resource use and efficiency. TRUE is a zero-waste certification program that aims to transform the way businesses manage resources. The goal is to divert all solid waste from landfill, incineration and the environment. The TRUE works is in the waste hierarchy,  rethinking how to view every material as a resource, focus on upstream policies and practices that reduce and reuse to avoid creating waste in the first place, implement rating systems credits as strategies that drive operational process improvements to achieve at least 90% diversion.

Overall, it was a great conference by a fantastic panel of experts. Attendees were able to interact throughout each speaker’s presentation, asking questions and making comments on the discussion. The next meeting will focus on networking, where attendees will share projects, investment opportunities and ideas. This virtual event will take place on November 12, from 11 to 12PM EST.

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