Nicole Sullivan (00:00:04):
Hi, y’all. Welcome to today’s session, From Awareness to Action: How Brands Can Meet Consumer Demand for Plastic Reduction. I’m really excited to be here today with Candace from rePurpose Global, and I’m Nicole from CarbonBetter.
Before we jump in with introductions and the content, I just wanted to call your attention to a few of the webinar features. So, we do have a polls button in the bottom right, where you will be able to respond to polls throughout the session. And then, we also have a questions button in the bottom right, where you can ask any of your questions. We do have time for Q&A scheduled at the end. And then, there’s also a chat function, so feel free to engage with each other and our moderators of the chat during the session.
So with that, Candace, could you introduce?
Candice Lawton (00:00:51):
Yeah, absolutely. Hi, everyone. Candace here. I’m a Senior Business Partnerships Manager at rePurpose Global. So my job is really to talk to brands, retailers, manufacturers, anyone in between, and explore how we can help them make immediate impact on plastic pollution globally.
Prior to that, I spent some time working at TerraCycle and Loop, working on food insecurity and food waste. So really spent most of my career in the circular economy space. So super excited to be joining you all today and hope you walk away with some actionable next steps on how to make impact on plastic pollution.
Nicole Sullivan (00:01:29):
Awesome. Thanks, Candace.
Hi, y’all. I’m Nicole Sullivan with CarbonBetter. I’m our Director of Climate Services, where we help brands at every stage of their sustainability journey, from quantifying their environmental impacts, so carbon, water, waste, through to disclosing those impacts through reporting and storytelling. And then ultimately, taking action. So once you know the math of your baseline, looking at ways to decarbonize and reduce your environmental impacts both directly and through participation in the voluntary carbon market. And in partnership with rePurpose Global, actually looking at ways to offset plastic as well, which we will dig in more today.
All right, before we dive in with our content, we wanted to do a quick poll. And we wanted to just ask you how many items containing plastic do you currently have at your desk. Something I think that’s always illuminating is just how much plastic surrounds us in our day-to-day. And I just want to clarify too, this question is not meant to shame anyone. I have a cup on my desk with a plastic lid. My headphones have plastic. My computer and technology in front of me has plastic. So I just want us to really level set with the awareness, that it really is all around us, and some of it in today’s world is unavoidable. So how do we deal with it? And that’s something we’ll be digging into today. And you can use the poll function to respond.
So to level set on a buzzword that I think is becoming progressively more prominent in the sustainability space, and I hear it thrown around a lot, sometimes not correctly, is the concept of the circular economy. So before we dive into the waste problem and how we address it, I want to just really level set on what the circular economy means, how it relates to the linear economy.
So Candace, is that something you could dive into first?
Candice Lawton (00:03:33):
Of, course. Yeah, absolutely.
So I think before I go into circular economy, I wanted to just take a moment to think about how we got to where we are today when it comes to plastic. So I think most of us feel like the poll indicated, plastic is pretty pervasive in our everyday lives. As Nicole mentioned, whether it’s computers, phones, packaging on the products that we’re using every day, it seems like plastic is just about everywhere, but it hasn’t always been that way.
Though the recent era and the 20th and 21st centuries have been dubbed the plastic age, really, plastics came into being, at least synthetic plastics anyway, back in the 1950s. And as you can see here, on the right-hand side of the slide, it was a celebratory moment. This is actually a real advertisement that ran in Life Magazine back in the ’50s, that was celebrating how disposable items, the use and implementation of plastic was cutting down on household chores. You could just eat out of these plastic based items and throw it all away and not have to do the dishes, et cetera, et cetera.
But it still is a relatively new phenomenon that plastic is so pervasive in our society today. And the kicker is we design plastic really well. Plastic does its job exceptionally well. It’s durable, it’s inexpensive, less costly to transport, et cetera, et cetera. But some of those same properties that make plastic so useful are also what make it so tricky to deal with and solve for. And I think as we all know, plastic can take years and years, thousands of years to break down if we are just sending it to landfills or if it is leaking into nature.
So with that in mind, when we talk about circular economy, thinking about how plastic plays into that. Right now, we’re on track to make four times more plastic waste than we ever have since plastic came into existence. And as we know, like I mentioned, plastic takes forever to break down. It has so many cascading negative consequences when it’s ending up in places it shouldn’t be.
And one of the things to think about when we think about linear economy versus circular economy is what is the most effective way to tackle plastic. And most experts will argue, and a lot of science and research shows it’s going to be a lot cheaper for us to implement a circular economy than it would be for us to stay in this business as usual sort of status quo.
If you think about it, talking about circular economy, right now we’re in what we would call a linear economy. So we are mining and extracting petroleum and other resources from the earth. We’re refining that into polymers and resins that can be molded and made into different packaging formats, into products, into all kinds of things that we use plastic in today. We use those items and then we dispose of them. And most of the time when we’re disposing of them, it’s not going to the most sustainable end destination.
In the words of French president, Emmanuel Macron, at the recent global plastics treaty, which we’ll talk about in just a moment, “This is absurdity.” We are literally drilling for oil. We’re refining it. We’re making all of this plastic items. And then a few months later, we are literally burying, burning it. It’s ending up in our oceans. And not is that just an environmental and social absurdity, it’s from an economic and dollars and cents standpoint, just doesn’t make sense.
And so, really, I think we all know where we want to go, where we need to go, urgently, as soon as we possibly can, is to this more circular economy model, where we’re thinking about what happens to something at its end of life, at that beginning design stage, from the moment we’re extracting raw materials and we’re figuring out how to make that into a usable item. And so, that’s just a bit more background on this concept of circular economy.
Nicole Sullivan (00:08:02):
Awesome. Thank you, Candace.
Before we dig into the state of plastic waste, so something that I think we often do is we think about the plastic waste crisis, and really the waste crisis in general, we’re focused on plastic waste today, but we do have a waste crisis and we also have the climate crisis, and I think something that we don’t always consider is how closely intertwined those two things are.
So we’re going to talk next about where our trash goes, what happens to waste. And something that I’d urge our listeners to consider is just the fact that there are carbon emissions associated with producing these things that ultimately end up as waste, but then there’s also carbon emissions associated with the transport of our trash at the end of life, as we ship it all around the world.
So I’m hoping you can shed some light on just the state of plastic waste and where our waste is going from the US
Candice Lawton (00:09:07):
So I think something that is really sobering to think about when it comes to plastic waste today and waste in general is that the US generates more plastic waste than any other country in the world. So that means per person, each of us as we move through our lives generates more plastic than any single other individual in any other country anywhere.
And so, noting that and noting that the US is also a huge contributor to marine plastic pollution, the third-largest contributor globally actually, I think something that’s important to keep in mind is what does that look like when it comes to taking action on plastic pollution. If we’re one of the biggest polluters, both in usage and then in plastic ending up in oceans and waterways, et cetera, how does that responsibility play out when it comes to solving this plastic waste crisis?
And it’s not just generating waste and land filling it here locally in the US I think another thing to think about and to be aware of is that the US still exports a lot of our waste to other countries. And in many cases, countries that don’t always have infrastructure to appropriately deal with these materials.
So back a couple years ago, in 2020, while we were in the midst of the pandemic, there was some work done by global leading groups, the United Nations Basel Convention, and almost 200 other nations globally to try to curb exportation of waste, as it’s been a phenomenon that’s happened over the last few decades, where more developed nations, the global minority countries essentially ship their waste oftentimes to global minority regions, places in the Global South, versus dealing with it right there locally.
And though there has been work done to put in place international laws and legislation to prevent that type of waste exportation, and there has been some progress on this front, it’s still a huge issue. So data that we looked into related to this in 2021 shows that exportation of American plastic waste hasn’t really changed that much, despite the fact that there’s been some regulation put in place on that front. And so, today, the US is exporting plastic waste and materials to places like Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong, India, just to name a few.
Nicole Sullivan (00:12:06):
And none of this, again, is meant to shame our US attendees. It’s more just really trying to level set on where we’re at today with the waste crisis and some motivation for action. So I appreciate you highlighting those statistics.
Candice Lawton (00:12:26):
Yeah, absolutely. And I think of course this entire time that we’re spending together today is coming from a solutionist mindset. It’s making sure that we have the facts and figures and we’re equipped with that information to inform our strategies when it comes to sustainability, when it comes to addressing waste, and to figure out how do we move forward together to solve this truly.
And in that same spirit, just to talk a little bit more about the impacts of plastic waste, really just since we’ve been talking, and together on this webinar today, almost 12 million pounds of plastic waste has been generated. And I think we know, and we’ll talk more about the environmental consequences of that, but it leads to plastic leaking into nature, there are emissions associated even with the appropriate end of life solutions like recycling, et cetera, that we need to be mindful of. There’s habitat degradation, there’s microplastics. I think we’ve all heard a lot about that recently in the news, of how those are being ingested and corresponding health effects that are manifesting.
But I think what doesn’t get talked about as much is the humanitarian crisis that is resulting from mismanaged waste and plastic pollution. So there are some pretty dire human consequences as far as mortality, negative health effects when people are living in regions like in the Global South, where there isn’t infrastructure to reuse, recycle, up-cycle or otherwise process these materials in a more sustainable way as we continue to try to design into more circular products and packaging.
And so, really, I think when we’re looking at how to solve for plastic pollution, we should be thinking not just about the environmental consequences, but the social ones as well, and designing platforms that can address both in parallel.
Nicole Sullivan (00:14:33):
Awesome. Thank you.
So with some of that context, we have our next poll here. Can y’all guess how much of the world’s plastic is recycled globally? If you could use the pole function to dig in there.
And I want to just touch on the fact that recyclability and recycling infrastructure is a challenge that’s a huge part of solutioning for plastic, that’s also something that we’re not digging into as deeply here today. But I just wanted to address that part of a holistic strategy is really actually having the infrastructure for recycling, as well as the education and labeling to know what is recyclable and making sure the material recovery process aligns with that. So we didn’t forget about it, it’s just this problem is so complex and there’s a lot of depth here. So we’re going to dig in where we can.
Candace, if you could take us through these next steps, that would be great.
Candice Lawton (00:15:36):
Of course. Yeah. So with that poll, where we had asked how much waste or plastic is being recycled today globally, what are the stats there, so less than 9% of plastic waste is recycled globally.
And even though we’re sharing that stat with you, and maybe this is the first time you’re hearing that information, maybe it’s not the first time, that doesn’t mean stop recycling. So we still need people to keep recycling. And that demand, so to speak, for recycling infrastructure is certainly tied to participation rates. And we can continue to help move that forward by keeping recycling.
But I think why we call this out is because we need a portfolio of solutions. We can’t just recycle our way out of this situation. We need to be thinking about what kinds of strategies we can be running in parallel to tackle this global plastic pollution and kind of meet the expectations of consumers when it comes to making change on that front in all of the different ways that this problem manifests, because we have to be thinking about not just the pollution on land, but also where is plastic ending up in marine environments. Which we now know that there are going to be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050, and almost 80% of all marine debris has some kind of plastic in it these days.
But simultaneously, if we look at how we try to prioritize this problem and where we can really tackle it at its worst, we also know that there are 10 rivers in the Global South. So in regions like India, Indonesia, Kenya, Columbia, Ghana, that make up the most of ocean plastic pollution. So 90% of all the plastic that’s entering our oceans is coming from these 10 hotspots.
So again, that can help us construct a way to create immediate tangible action, is by working at those focal points and epicenters of where the problem is really manifesting. And again, these are some of the more environmental sides of what happens when it comes to plastic waste, but can’t forget that social piece as well, because we know it’s inextricably linked. If people don’t have another option besides burying or burning or dumping their waste somewhere because formalized infrastructure doesn’t exist, that’s going to tie right back into plastic leaking into our environment. So there are still more than 3 billion people today that don’t have access to trash pickup at their house, or recycling at their house, or even drop off locations.
And on top of that, there are 18 million people that are trapped in dangerous informal recycling markets. So when there isn’t a formalized infrastructure that’s in place, there are people that are still picking up materials that have some value, taking that to a middleman or woman, and selling that to achieve a livelihood. But the working conditions they’re in are obviously far from ideal, and hazardous from a health standpoint, and certainly not in line with what we know are basic human rights.
And then all the while, while we have these environmental and social consequences of global plastic pollution happening, consumers, as we all know, and we feel their pressure on an ongoing basis, really care about this, and are demanding that brands take action and prioritizing brands where they see sustainability initiatives taking place specifically on this topic of plastic.
Nicole Sullivan (00:19:28):
And before we dig in on the consumer side, can you give us a little insight into the global plastics treaty that you touched on at the beginning?
Candice Lawton (00:19:38):
Yeah, absolutely. So if you haven’t heard about it, it’s still relatively nascent as far as what’s happening with the global plastics treaty. But definitely, I think being on a brand team, working at a company that has any kind of plastic in its portfolio, or frankly, just working at organizations in this day and age, I think it is good to be aware of what’s happening with the global plastics treaty.
So currently, over the last year or so, the United Nations Environmental Program, as well as several other groups, have officially called and are working on a global plastics treaty. And so, this treaty is going to be almost an equivalent to the Paris Agreement as far as creating global standards, as far as how do we need to measure plastic usage and its corresponding environmental and social footprint. What does action on plastic look like, and creating commitments that globally we’re all going to align on as far as how to tackle plastic waste. And most importantly, looking at the plastic pollution problem from an interconnected global standpoint versus how do we solve this in the US, how do we solve this in the UK, how do we solve this in China. Really looking at the fact that global plastic pollution isn’t going to stay situated into those sociopolitical boundaries, and it is a global issue.
And so, most recently with the global plastics treaty, there was a session in Paris where leaders across the sustainability ecosystem convened to really continue hashing out, “Well, what is this treaty going to look like? How are we going to align on those principles as far as disclosures and accountability and action on plastic waste?”
And so, one of the things that rePurpose Global really observed when we had gone to the last session in Iroquois earlier this year, prior to the most recent Paris convening, was there was a lack of representation and perspective from both people that are on the ground in these global hotspots of plastic pollution, that have lived experience of trying to solve the problem, but also the consequences of mismanaged waste.
And there is also a pretty big gap as far as having the right perspectives and voices at the table from solutionists and companies like a rePurpose Global, or refill and reuse models, or specialty take-back programs. Those voices weren’t being represented, of companies who are working from a bottom-up approach to how to implement solutions on this front.
And so, rePurpose Global created the Innovation Alliance for a global plastics treaty. I think it was a situation where we came up with this idea, we rolled it out, and within two weeks we had more than 60 organizations from across the world that had joined our alliance, to be able to really raise those voices and perspectives at these treaty negotiations to ensure that that lived experience, but also the experience of solutionists is being taken into account when we’re building out this treaty.
Nicole Sullivan (00:23:06):
That’s awesome. And it’s so important, the work you’re doing, and being able to make sure that anything that comes out is actually actionable. Because talking about it and saying you’re going to do it is different than actually doing it, and it takes a lot of work. And so, I really appreciate the insight that y’all bring to the table on that.
So we’ve obviously talked about a lot of environmental drivers for taking action, both to reduce carbon and plastic footprints. We’re seeing brands get increasing pressure from investors, from emerging regulatory drivers, from stakeholders, including even employees that want to work for brands that are doing better and taking action.
But something that we’re seeing more of, and I think especially in the waste and plastic space, is demand from consumers for brands to be better. And obviously, we’re going to dig in on some of the challenges brands face. You have to meet your bottom line, you have to meet your quality standards, all while also selling your product and keeping the lights on. So none of this is easy, but as consumer pressures rise and as they ask for specific things, can you walk us through some of the recent research y’all have done on what consumers are saying?
Candice Lawton (00:24:33):
Yeah, for sure. The good news is from the time when I really started working in the circular economy space and on trying to tackle waste globally, there has been such a monumental shift and awareness from consumers as far as understanding these issues and prioritizing brands and products where consumers can see that brands are trying to take action on these really complex, pressing problems.
So almost 80% of consumers from our research are saying that a sustainable lifestyle is important to them and that they are more likely to purchase products with sustainability credentials.
And then, in parallel, we still have the fact that consumer packaged good industry, so brands where we’re able to buy all different types of products, food beverage, personal care, you name it, anything you’re using in your everyday life, are still sending almost 500 billion plastic items into nature every year. And so, I think when we think about that, really what that means is it’s an incredible opportunity from a business standpoint to really tune in and capitalize on that consciousness from consumers, and you will be rewarded for it from a business standpoint.
So here on this slide, these are some snippets from recent consumer research that rePurpose Global has conducted, that shows that you’re going to have a tangible return on investment when you invest in tactics to measure, disclose, understand what your carbon or plastic footprint looks like, and implement initiatives to reduce that usage on the carbon and plastic side, or even take action on helping to recover and intercept ongoing plastic leaking into nature. You’re going to be able to acquire more consumers, you’re going to deepen your brand loyalty with consumers, you’re going to have more fruitful negotiations and conversations with retailers as far as securing shelf space or getting those incremental end caps or side caps, and you’re going to stand out compared to your competitors.
Well, I think we know that sustainability is no longer a differentiator. If we’re able to really hone in on the right kinds of claims, that are highly substantiated and transparent and verifiable when it comes to the impact that you’re making on the front of carbon and plastic pollution, you’re going to see that translate from a business side.
Nicole Sullivan (00:27:29):
Awesome. Thanks, Candace.
And you segued nicely here, because we want to dig into corporate sustainability commitments and goals next. So something that we see broadly in the sustainability space is people making public commitments, setting targets for things like reaching net-zero by 2030, or being carbon-neutral by 2050, and they’re making those claims publicly. We’re also seeing claims around using 100% renewable energy. And then emerging, we’re seeing more claims around nature positivity and really targeting around biodiversity.
But something that I’d like to explore is what are some brands that are really first movers in making plastic neutral commitments, or plastic negative commitments even? What are some of the more common claims you’re seeing right now in the plastic space?
Candice Lawton (00:28:30):
So when it comes to messaging around sustainability, we all know that there’s immense pressure when it comes to getting it right. And there’s been a lot more scrutiny in recent years and months around claims that brands are making relative to their impact or sustainability initiatives that they’ve got in place.
And so, I think first and foremost, my recommendation is, you have strategic partners available to you, rePurpose Global, CarbonBetter are two examples of them, but definitely where possible, there are so many organizations that exist in the sustainability space to help exactly on that point of how do we talk about this in a way that accurately represents the impact that we’re having, the work that we may still have to do, that doesn’t volunteer negative information about some of those areas of improvement from a sustainability standpoint, but then also captures the interest and commitment and loyalty of consumers that are prioritizing brands that are making impact on things like carbon and plastic.
And so, as you can see here on this slide, there are all different types of organizations that are implementing these initiatives and making claims about their impact on plastic and carbon. Whether it is the Fortune 500, Fortune 100 companies like a Johnson & Johnson or a Colgate-Palmolive, all the way to companies that are maybe just getting started and entering the market and figuring out how to build sustainability in from the get-go, or some major, for example…
Really, there are so many brands that are talking about this, and it could be in a way of work with someone like a CarbonBetter or a rePurpose Global, measure your footprint, recover equivalent amounts of plastic from nature, or carbon from nature, and then claim a carbon or plastic neutrality, that’s one path. And we do see that claim really starting to become prevalent, and consumers are starting to understand what that claim looks like, and prioritize a brand on the shelf where they see that claim versus another claim.
But there are lots of different ways to do it as well. So if it’s a bespoke communication, if it’s tying impact to every time you sell a product, there’s lots of different ways to bring it to life. But bottom line, making claims and getting certifications about the impact that you as a brand are having on carbon or plastic is becoming increasingly popular in the industry.
Nicole Sullivan (00:31:24):
And it’s so important the way in which we talk about action. It’s important to get started and it’s important to make progress, and telling people what you’re doing is a way to drive progress and highlight your successes. But it’s important to do that really traceably and transparently, and make sure you’re backing it up with math and backing it up with really verifiable claims, so that you do protect yourself against risk in those spaces.
There are a lot of vague claims, so we always encourage people to tell what you’re doing, but make sure what you’re doing is really traceable, and you’re highlighting exactly what it is that you are doing.
So something that we always like to highlight too is that sustainability can have a positive impact on your bottom line. We firmly believe that what’s good for the planet is good for business as well. And we wanted to touch on a few ways that sustainability can lead to a return on investment.
So obviously Candice highlighted the consumer perceptions and drivers around sustainability. Another bucket of stakeholders that are really looking at sustainability as part of their decision making is investors. We’re seeing it as part of the cost of capital in fundraising and things like that.
But there’s also the opportunity to directly reduce your costs by taking sustainability action. If you’re reducing your energy consumption or you’re reducing your waste output that you’re sending to off-takers, those are ways to ultimately also reduce costs by being better for the planet.
By sharing your sustainability, you can highlight that you’re a front mover in your industry sector and you can drive innovation, you can push your competition to be better all while really leading the charge and ultimately building brand value.
So we definitely encourage, if you haven’t done an environmental baseline, really assessing where you’re at today with your carbon footprint, your water consumption and discharge, your waste, including but not limited to plastic, and really quantifying those impacts in a traceable way, and actually putting them out there through reporting and storytelling, and really sharing with people where you’re at, as well as the progress you’re making.
Candice Lawton (00:33:56):
Yeah. Couldn’t agree more, Nicole, that there’s several different steps to… And every sustainability journey looks different and there’s different steps that you can take to get there, but measurement is certainly a great place to start.
And again, you’ve got friends and partners across the industry that can help you understand what your footprint looks like and talk about that in a way that is going to be positive and driving commercial value for your brand. Versus again, volunteering information that we think would be detrimental to that consumer brand relationship is… Again, as Nicole has talked about, we’re really in this perfect storm moment. And know that folks like myself and Nicole are consistently putting ourselves in the shoes of brand teams, marketers, sustainability professionals, everybody who’s charged with all of these competing priorities of how to answer consumer demands, how to meet your quality standards and requirements.
A lot of times, I think brands, we’re not choosing plastic, because it is this problematic material and we all wish that we could easily have some other packaging solution that maybe doesn’t have all of the externalities that plastic comes with. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to maintain the quality of our product, we’ve got to have a certain shelf life, we’ve got to meet the expectations of retailers, as far as if they want to put our product on their shelves, all the while, while also hopefully having a more sustainable packaging format.
And then we have all this regulation coming down the pike. Globally, we have the global plastics treaty that’s coming. That, again, is going to be a paradigm shifting agreement like the Paris Agreement, where we’re agreeing on what’s the equivalent of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming for plastic accountability. We’ve got here in the States extended producer responsibility. That’s coming on a state by state basis. And all of those EPR schemes are not one-to-one with each other. So you’ve got the added complexity of how do we make sure as a brand that operates nationally or internationally, that we’re compliant with these differing state by state regulations, these European protocols, as well as this forthcoming global precedent when it comes to plastic action.
And then for some companies, you also have that employee sense of moral responsibility, and employees demands as far as they want to work for a company that has a why that aligns with their why, and a greater purpose beyond just putting products out into the world, and expectations as far as how sustainable the company they’re working at is going to be.
And so, I think the message here is we know where you’re coming from and that you have so many competing priorities and it’s putting a lot of pressure on you, and you’re not necessarily as a brand designed to solve for all of this, especially on your own. And that is why there is some strategic partnership needed to really move forward on this front and try to address all of those parallel priorities.
Nicole Sullivan (00:37:13):
Yeah, definitely. It’s definitely a multi-stakeholder problem that requires a whole lot of stakeholders to solve. If there was an easy button, it would’ve been hit already.
So in the sustainability space, and we specifically think about this a lot with carbon accounting, there’s this really common phrase, “What gets measured gets managed.” So before you set out to decarbonize or offset your emissions and carbon, you have to know what your carbon footprint is.
But when we think about plastic, obviously we need to know where we’re at today to be able to really take quantifiable action, or at least know our progress towards the action.
But I think something that’s really important to highlight is we don’t need to just manage the situation. We also need to really push to change. And the solutions we have today in the packaging space aren’t necessarily going to be the solutions we have five years from now. Hopefully, there is a lot of innovation coming, as well as cost factors. So it is complicated, but I think we should really think about this not just in a manage the day-to-day, but how can we be proactive and really drive systemic change, versus just, “Here’s our numbers and we’re going to manage them.”
So with that, can you maybe talk us through your kind of holistic approach around plastic management?
Candice Lawton (00:38:47):
Yeah, absolutely. So here at rePurpose Global, we have a suite of solutions, that when deployed altogether, try to be a comprehensive, holistic path to making immediate tangible impact on plastic waste. So a lot of times, many of our partners, many brands start with that measurement step. Just as you’re saying, Nicole, of maybe all different brands are in all different places as far as their journey of understanding what their carbon footprint, their water footprint, their energy footprint and plastic footprint look like.
So we have a team of in-house experts that can sit down with you and really help you build out a comprehensive kind of measurement and a footprinting analysis to look at what does your plastic usage look like, not just in your products and packaging, but throughout your entire value chain. And then once we have that understanding of what your footprint looks like, we then also can work with you on how to identify low hanging fruit, but also mid to long-term reduction strategies as far as where we can design away from plastic altogether, where we can at least reduce the use of virgin plastic, and also support you on exploring some of those alternatives and transition opportunities.
As I think we all know, there are other types of packaging formats and materials that we can use in place of plastic, that also always come with their own set of pros and cons when it comes to the environmental and social impacts of using those materials.
So really, we can work with you to help measure, we can support you on building out what that short, medium, long-term reduction strategy looks like, including understanding transition opportunities. But then what we usually recommend doing in parallel, noting all of that takes time. It’s going to take time to dig through the data, make sure the right data is talking to each other, if you have third party partners and vendors, there’s going to be an extra step of working with them to download and solicit all of that information, and then actually analyze it to understand what the trends are, noting that all takes time. And then, if you get to a reduction strategy where you do want to design into more circular products and packaging, that also is going to take time and thoughtful implementation. All the while, as we saw, plastic waste is tripling in the next 20 or so years. We’re having plastic leaking into this nature this very minute. 12 million pounds already has been produced just in the last 10 minutes alone.
So in parallel with doing all of that, rePurpose helps brands then set up what we kind of call impact portfolios, where you’re actually recovering, intercepting and creating infrastructure to capture plastic, remediate environments with legacy pollution. And to do that on an ongoing basis, where all of that measurement and reduction work is taking place.
On the fourth part of our platforms, when it comes to telling the story about that and communicating around what you’re doing on plastic, you have a holistic narrative. You are talking about how you know what your footprint is, you know the hotspots, you’re implementing these reduction tactics, but noting it’s going to take time. You also are actively preventing plastic from leaking into nature and working on scaling infrastructure to deal with it in a more sustainable way. And you’re also addressing all of the social externalities that come from mismanaged waste.
Nicole Sullivan (00:42:45):
Definitely. And we overlap a lot at CarbonBetter in that holistic approach of investing in carbon removals, and carbon offsetting is a really important tool while you actually come up with those mid and longer-term strategies, because it takes planning and budget and progress to be able to reduce energy, to reduce plastic, and to ultimately mitigate your impacts directly. So it’s really neat that carbon credits and plastic credits are available as a tool to support that shift in transition.
Candice Lawton (00:43:22):
Yeah. Exactly right. Because I think what we’re both saying, Nicole, is whether you’re talking about carbon or plastic, we need a systems change approach. We need to be parallel pathing things. We can’t just do one thing after another because of the urgency that is here for addressing this issue.
Nicole Sullivan (00:43:41):
So with that, I do want us to dig in a little further on plastic credits, because I think people are generally familiar with carbon credits and offsetting being a tool for carbon footprint, but plastic credits are more of an emerging tool for a sustainability toolkit. And so, while offsetting is a resource, I think we’ve both hit home on the fact that it should be a supporting resource and not your only strategy. You do want to look at ways to directly impact.
And in the carbon market, so the voluntary carbon market has been around a bit longer than the plastics market, but something we do at CarbonBetter is we’re always looking to help our clients source high quality carbon credit. So while there are a number of carbon credits out there that are representative of one metric ton of carbon dioxide removed, reduced, sequestered, not every carbon credit is really created equal. There are varying degrees of quality. And some important considerations are additionality, permanence, and third party verification. And some of the registries that generate carbon credits also now generate plastic credits.
So I’d love for you to dig in a little further on the plastic credits that rePurpose Global has helped develop and some of the quality criteria that you consider.
Candice Lawton (00:45:14):
Yeah, absolutely. So couldn’t agree with you more, Nicole, that not all credits are created equal. And if you’re going to look at exploring carbon credits or plastic credits as part of your portfolio of solutions for how to make immediate impact on plastic pollution, you do have to do a little bit of homework.
And what I will say is rePurpose Global offers a number of ways to immediately impact plastic waste. And plastic crediting is one of the many vehicles that we help brands explore to see if that can be a fit for your unique strategy.
And to talk about plastic credit, so rePurpose Global actually created the world’s first ever plastic credit. We absolutely were looking at the carbon energy emission space and what had been done on the carbon crediting side of things, and really saw a gap as far as there not being a similar vehicle as far as how to bridge financing from producers of plastic and users of plastic into these regions that lack critical financing to implement infrastructure, scale infrastructure and prevent plastic from leaking into environments.
And so, we designed the plastic credit, and how we define a plastic credit is one rePurpose Global verified plastic credit equals one additional kilogram of plastic waste that’s recovered, recycled or avoided.
So to dig into that, when we talk about additional, this concept of additionality is also something that we borrowed and built upon from the carbon space. Which by the way, we’ve been able to observe all of the evolutions and changes in learning from the carbon space and really bring all of that into how we develop plastic crediting. So we could kind of build on those learnings, so to speak, when rolling these out.
But additionality for rePurpose Global is going into a region where we want to address plastic pollution in some way, doing the right kinds of baseline assessments and pre-search, so to speak, to understand what is the status quo today, what would’ve happened if rePurpose and our coalition of partners that are buying these plastic credits didn’t come in here and take action on plastic and the social implications of pollution.
And so, once we have that baseline, we then design each and every one of our projects based on what the specific needs of that region are, and to ensure that every single piece of plastic that we recover or every single social benefit that we enable is something that would not have happened had we not been there.
So that is a very, I think, important component as far as a quality plastic credit goes, is are there those additionality tests and those guarantees around it being the right impact, in the right place, at the right point of time.
But then, you also want to look holistically at is there full accountability of this impact, are there transparency measures in place, verification measures in place, are you getting regular reporting on the impact that’s happening that’s verifiable, what are the end destinations of this material.
So similar to carbon credit, where we have to think about is planning a tree and sequestering carbon and that end result macro-wise really what’s best to solve from an emission standpoint, we have to do that same check when it comes to what’s happening to the plastic once we recover it, or if we intercept it from nature. And so, making sure those destinations are the most sustainable and are transparently communicated to you as a function of what’s happening with that plastic credit is super important.
And other things I would talk about is, or think about when you’re evaluating a plastic credit, is what kinds of standards are in place to ensure there are environmental and social safeguards across the value chain when it comes to what’s happening to generate that plastic credit.
RePurpose Global, for example, we’ve got standards as far as how a plastic credit can be generated. We have impact equivalency. So if we’re working with a partner and they have a flexible plastic packaging form of material that they want to look at offsetting with plastic credits, we want to ensure that the plastic that’s being recovered on the ground has an equal measure of damage, so to speak, that’s being done in the environment, and not just recover PET when we’re trying to solve for a multi-laminate packaging format.
We also have rigorous standards on the social side when it comes to the conditions that people are working in at our impact projects on the ground, whether it’s wages, access to healthcare, personal protective equipment, sanitation facilities, child labor, you name it. We’ve got an entire impact code that we’ll share with anybody and everybody who’s available on our website, so you can see what our practices are on the ground.
And then lastly, we also have very rigorous standards when it comes to how you can communicate around that impact and what kinds of things you can say from a claims perspective relative to what your plastic credits are enabling.
Nicole Sullivan (00:50:42):
For sure. That traceability piece is so paramount on the carbon and the plastic side, ensuring that it’s third party verified, that it is real, that it was a real impactful thing that wouldn’t have happened, business as usual, and the transparency element of public protocols and public ledgers and registries of those credits really helps instill confidence in that accuracy and verifiability.
So before we close out, we just want to talk about and highlight a few of your plastics projects at rePurpose Global.
Candice Lawton (00:51:20):
Yeah. Thanks, Nicole. So as I mentioned, rePurpose Global, our philosophy when it comes to tackling this demand for change on plastic is looking at where are the epicenters of plastic pollution globally.
So going back to that slide where we talked about there being 10 rivers in the Global South that contribute 90% of all of the plastic that’s ending up in our oceans, when it comes to how to address this problem with urgency and immediacy, we really look at it as, “Okay, we need to go to those regions. We need to look globally, where is the most plastic pollution happening both on land and from a marine standpoint, and that’s where we need to set up infrastructure, scale existing infrastructure, and really amplify the efforts to curb plastic leaking into nature.”
So as you can see here, sampling of where we’re working across the world in these epicenters of plastic pollution. And really, our methodology, again, and going back to how do you know if a plastic credit is a good quality credit, when we’re working on the ground in these places, we do deliver that complete accountability. And we’re always looking at how do we not just maximize the return on investment you’re getting for taking this action and being able to leverage that to respond to the consumer demand around plastic reduction, but how do we also maximize your return on impact and make sure every single dollar that you put into a plastic credit is making the best impact for that place, time and situation.
We also need to think about and do this on the ground with our partners, the intersectionality of this issue, and putting people with lived experience and marginalized peoples at the center of solving this. Because oftentimes, they already have solutions for how to unmake them an epicenter of plastic pollution, they just lack critical funding to scale and implement those ideas.
And then, again, making sure we have that most sustainable end destination no matter where we’re working, is always our utmost priority.
And so, this is kind of an example of how rePurpose Global would come into a region and sort of change the status quo. So one of our projects in Kerala, India, which is a coastal city in India that is a hotspot for ocean bound plastic, when we kind of arrived in that region and started doing our baseline assessments to see if we could set up a project to generate plastic credits from, that you as a brand could purchase to compliment your reduction strategy, the status quo was people were dumping and burning their plastic and waste because they had nothing else to do with it. There wasn’t any sort of formal processing or sorting infrastructure, and a lot of this material was leaking into the environment.
And so, we kind of go in and look and see, “Okay, what’s missing in this value chain? Is there a collection infrastructure? Okay, cool, we’ll build on that. If there’s not collection infrastructure, maybe that’s what we need to implement. Is there processing infrastructure or are we more so missing the best end destination?”
And so, now in Kerala, India, thanks to rePurpose’s Project and our coalition of partners, we help build out the door-to-door collection, which is what was missing in this particular geography for half a million people. So there was more material that could maximize the efficacy of the processing infrastructure. And then, we verify and audit and make sure it’s continuously maintained, the best end destination for the material in that region.
And again, we have this universal methodology no matter where we’re working, but every project looks different. So this is a project that we’re running in coastal Columbia, where we are recovering and intercepting plastic and building in formalized infrastructure in communities in the surrounding area that border humpback whale birthing and mating areas. So humpback whales have been migrating to these coastal regions for thousands of years to mate and have their babies, and their literal migration patterns that have been consistent for thousands, thousands of years have been affected by the marine pollution that’s happening in this region. So here, we’re going in, we’re doing a lot of legacy plastic recovery, and then we’re building out value chains with local community members, where we’re transporting this material using boats to the best end destination, to prevent that material from leaking into the humpback whale habitat. And so, those local communities have infrastructure, and are not dumping and burning their waste there.
Nicole Sullivan (00:56:04):
Definitely. Thank you for digging into those projects, and it’s something that brands looking to invest in plastics removals, there’s the opportunity to choose from projects that best align with your values, or geography, or perhaps even if you’re operating in a part of the world where there is a plastics credit project that’s available, there’s ways to really choose projects that maximize impact as well as maybe even brand value as it relates to specific brands.
Just one quick closing thought. So something that’s really neat about our collaboration between CarbonBetter and rePurpose Global is that even before coming into this, we actually share a client. So we support BeatBox Beverages in quantifying their environmental impacts. We helped them release their first sustainability report for their 2021 impacts. But then also, they’re actually plastic neutral, and that’s something they ongoing maintain with rePurpose. So I really think in collaboration we can basically service y’all’s sustainability needs end to end, whether it’s carbon, water, storytelling, as well as plastic reductions, offsetting, and reaching plastic neutral through rePurpose’s certification. So just something that’s really cool, and the fact that we already had synergies coming into this collaboration was really exciting.
We’d like to offer up the opportunity for office hours with each of us. So I know we went through things fast and furious today, and every brands’ needs are different. So you can use these QR codes, or the links are in the chat, to book time with us, and we can schedule a 30-minute session and go from there.
So lastly, I know we left unfortunately no time for Q&A, but we can definitely stay on for a few more minutes and try to tackle some questions.
As you can see, we barely scratched the surface and we had so much to cover in an hour. It is a really complex space and solution sets vary, but I think something that I hope was highlighted is just the depth of experience and availability to meet people where they are here today.
So with that, we will turn it over to questions. I know we had a few pop through in the chat.
Candace, I don’t know if you want to take this one on the stance of materials such as molded fiber versus plastic to replace, instead of recycle or reuse plastic.
Candice Lawton (00:58:39):
Yeah, absolutely. So thanks, Philip, for asking this question. I think what I’ll say, just noting where the time is, it’s super important to evaluate these materials on all different fronts of sustainability. So when we zoom out and look at the lifecycle analysis of something like a molded fiber, what does the creation process look like from an environmental impact standpoint compared to traditional plastics. Then from there, does it meet those quality standards and requirements when it comes to shelf life, preserving ingredients, consumer expectations, retailer expectations. And then, also look at the end of life opportunity. So what solutions exist for those molded fibers. Do people actually have access to that infrastructure or is it a really nascent thing. So it’s trading something that might be locally recyclable for something that we don’t have a place to drop that material off yet. And then also, assuming if it’s not disposed of properly and it does leak into nature, what are the effects of that molded fiber compared to a traditional plastic.
So I know not answering that question directly, but I would just highly recommend considering the bigger picture of transitioning to a material like that if that’s part of your strategy.
Nicole Sullivan (01:00:02):
And that big picture is so important, Candace, there’s really trade-offs with any material. The thing that is better for recyclability or waste might be worse for climate and carbon. And so, really considering it holistically when you’re exploring switching materials is something that I think is really important to evaluate upfront.
And then, I’m going to go back. There’s a slide that has a statistic, I think around 83 million, and I guess we just missed what the bullet was. So let’s just jump back to that really quickly.
Candice Lawton (01:00:42):
Yeah, absolutely. So I think here we were talking about… It’s important to keep in mind there are environmental impacts from plastics waste, but there are also social impacts from plastic waste. And one of the big things that’s happening, especially in the Global South, that is also where these plastic hotspots and high leakage areas are globally, is that when there’s not formalized infrastructure, when there’s not door-to-door recycling, trash and compost pickup, if materials have value, if I can pick up a PET water bottle or an aluminum can and take that to somebody and sell it, people are going to do that in an informal capacity when formal infrastructure isn’t there.
And when there’s not a formal infrastructure, oftentimes those informal recycling markets can be exploitative. People are working without access to fair wages. They don’t have any negotiating power when it comes to what they’re able to trade those materials for. They don’t have personal protective equipment. There’s not consistency and stability with their job from a security standpoint.
And so, when we think about taking action on plastic, I think everyone thinks about the turtle, straw in the nose moment, but I think we can… What I want to draw attention to is there are so many other social co-benefits that can be created when we go in and we take the systems change approach of building infrastructure or formalizing infrastructure in places that are also these high risk of leakage areas.
Nicole Sullivan (01:02:15):
Definitely. Thank you so much, Candace for indulging the questions.
And we know you might have other questions arise as you digest, or this session was recorded and that will be circulated. So our contact information is shared. Don’t hesitate to reach out.
And with that, we’ll just close out with a quick poll on your feedback. We really appreciate everyone’s time and attending.
And Candace, I so enjoyed this dialogue and look forward to further discussions on all things plastic, as well as carbon.
So cheers, everyone, we really appreciate it.
Candice Lawton (01:02:52):
Nicole Sullivan (01:02:55):
All right. Bye, y’all.
In addition to the full replay above, here is a quick summary of the key points made in the webinar. Click any section below to go directly to the summary for that section.
Candice provided a comparative analysis of the “circular economy” and the prevailing “linear economy”. She explained that the linear economy, our current model, follows a “take-make-waste” approach: resources are extracted, transformed into products, used, and then discarded. This model, she argued, is unsustainable, particularly in light of the escalating production and waste of plastic.
Conversely, the circular economy model is designed to eliminate waste and pollution, extend the lifespan of products and materials, and rejuvenate natural systems. This model encourages consideration of a product’s end life right from the design stage, aiming to transition from the wasteful linear economy to a more sustainable model where waste is minimized and resources are maximally reused or recycled.
Candice emphasized that transitioning to a circular economy is not just an environmental and social necessity but also an economic one. It would be more cost-effective in the long run than continuing with the current linear model.
The United States is the world’s largest generator of plastic waste, with each individual producing more plastic waste than any other person in any other country. This has led to the United States (US) being the third-largest contributor to marine plastic pollution worldwide.
Despite international laws aimed at reducing the exportation of waste, the US continues to ship significant amounts of plastic waste to countries such as Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong, and India. These countries often lack the necessary infrastructure to manage these materials sustainably, leading to environmental and social consequences.
In just the time spent on the webinar, almost 12 million pounds of plastic waste was generated. This highlights the urgent need for solutions that address both the environmental and social consequences of plastic pollution. The goal is to design platforms that can address both aspects in parallel, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive approach to the plastic waste crisis.
In this section of the webinar, Candice Lawton discusses stats that highlight the current state of plastic waste and recycling. She shares that less than 9% of plastic waste is recycled globally, emphasizing that while this statistic is alarming, it does not mean we should stop recycling. Instead, it highlights the need for a portfolio of solutions to tackle the global plastic pollution problem.
Lawton also highlights the environmental consequences of plastic waste, noting that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050, and almost 80% of all marine debris has some kind of plastic in it. She points out that 90% of all the plastic entering our oceans comes from just 10 hotspots, mainly rivers in the Global South, in regions like India, Indonesia, Kenya, Columbia, and Ghana.
The social implications of plastic waste are also discussed. Lawton mentions that more than 3 billion people today don’t have access to trash pickup or recycling at their houses, or even drop-off locations. Additionally, there are 18 million people trapped in dangerous informal recycling markets due to a lack of formalized infrastructure.
Brands are facing increasing pressure from stakeholders, including investors, regulators, and employees, to reduce their carbon and plastic footprints. However, the most significant driver is the rising demand from consumers for more sustainable practices. Research by rePurpose Global shows that nearly 80% of consumers prioritize a sustainable lifestyle and are more likely to purchase products with sustainability credentials.
Despite this, the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry is still a significant contributor to plastic waste, with almost 500 billion plastic items ending up in nature every year. Brands that invest in sustainability measures and take action to prevent plastic leakage into nature can expect tangible returns on investment. These returns can come in the form of acquiring more consumers, deepening brand loyalty, securing better retail shelf space, and standing out against competitors.
However, brands face numerous challenges in implementing sustainability initiatives, including meeting consumer demands, quality standards, and regulatory compliance. The forthcoming global plastics treaty and state-by-state extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes in the US are cited as examples of regulatory pressures.
Despite these challenges, the importance of strategic partnerships in addressing these complex issues is emphasized. The section concludes by highlighting the need for a multi-stakeholder approach to solving the problem of sustainability.
rePurpose Global offers a comprehensive approach to managing plastic waste. Their suite of solutions includes measuring a company’s plastic footprint throughout its entire value chain, identifying reduction strategies, and exploring alternatives to plastic. They also help brands set up impact portfolios to recover and intercept plastic waste, remediate environments with legacy pollution, and address the social externalities that come from mismanaged waste.
Their approach is not just about managing the current situation but also about driving systemic change. They acknowledge that the solutions we have today may not be the solutions we have five years from now, and that innovation and cost factors play a significant role in this.
The company has so far recovered 16,970,050 kilograms (kg) of nature-bound plastic. They work with over 260 global brands and offer a range of services including Plastic Footprint Accounting, Verified Plastic Removal, Plastic Reduction Advisory, and Communication & Engagement. They also provide certifications for brands to communicate their action on the plastic crisis and build their brand.
Their work is based on high environmental standards, chain-of-custody impact validation, and industry-defining leadership. They have developed the Verified Plastic Removal Protocol, Social Impact Code, Certification Standards, and work with Verra to move the industry forward towards greater inclusivity and impact.
CarbonBetter offers a suite of services to help businesses align their environmental and financial goals, supporting them in their transition to a net-zero emissions future. They assist companies in measuring, reducing, reporting, and offsetting their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in a transparent manner. Their services include measuring Scope 1, 2, and 3 GHG emissions, setting goals, crafting a playbook, taking action, sourcing carbon credits, and measuring and reporting on efforts. We also certify clean energy and carbon offset projects, maximizing ROI through effective carbon credit marketing. We believe that carbon reduction is a tangible goal for all and is committed to supporting businesses in their sustainability journey.
Plastic credits are an emerging tool in the sustainability toolkit, similar to carbon credits used for offsetting carbon footprints. However, offsetting should be a supporting resource and not the only strategy, and direct impact should be sought. The voluntary carbon market, which has been around longer than the plastics market, offers a range of carbon credits, each representing one metric ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) removed, reduced, or sequestered. However, not all carbon credits are created equal, and their quality varies. Important considerations when sourcing carbon credits include additionality, permanence, and third-party verification. Some registries that generate carbon credits now also generate plastic credits.
rePurpose Global has developed a comprehensive approach to plastic management, which includes the creation of the world’s first plastic credit. Their process begins with a thorough measurement and footprinting analysis of a brand’s plastic usage throughout its entire value chain. This analysis helps identify areas for potential reduction and design alternatives to plastic.
Once the footprint is understood, rePurpose Global works with brands to identify short, medium, and long-term reduction strategies. This includes exploring alternatives and transition opportunities to other types of packaging formats and materials.
Recognizing that this process takes time, rePurpose Global also helps brands set up impact portfolios to recover, intercept, and create infrastructure to capture plastic and remediate environments with legacy pollution. This is done in parallel with the measurement and reduction work.
The plastic credits developed by rePurpose Global are defined as one additional kg of plastic waste that’s recovered, recycled, or avoided. The concept of additionality is central to their approach, ensuring that the impact made would not have happened without their intervention. They also have rigorous standards in place for environmental and social safeguards across the value chain, and for how brands can communicate about their impact.
rePurpose Global is an organization that focuses on tackling the global plastic waste crisis by setting up and scaling infrastructure in regions that are epicenters of plastic pollution. They have a universal methodology for their projects, but each project is unique and tailored to the specific needs of the region.
One of their projects is in Kerala, India, a coastal city that is a hotspot for ocean-bound plastic. Before rePurpose Global’s intervention, people were dumping and burning their plastic waste due to a lack of formal processing or sorting infrastructure. rePurpose Global helped build out door-to-door collection for half a million people, maximizing the efficacy of the processing infrastructure and ensuring the best end destination for the material.
Another project is in coastal Columbia, where they are recovering and intercepting plastic and building infrastructure in communities bordering humpback whale birthing and mating areas. Marine pollution in the region has affected the migration patterns of these whales. rePurpose Global works with local communities to remove plastic waste, protect the ocean, and create the building blocks for a thriving circular economy.
In all their projects, rePurpose Global emphasizes complete accountability, maximum return on impact, and the intersectionality of the issue, putting marginalized peoples at the center of solving the problem. They also ensure that the end destination of the recovered plastic is the most sustainable and transparently communicated.
The closing discussion emphasized the importance of a holistic approach to sustainability. Brands are encouraged to invest in plastic removal projects that align with their values, such as BeatBox Beverages, which achieved plastic neutrality. The conversation also highlighted the need to evaluate potential materials for their environmental impact, quality standards, and end-of-life opportunities. The social implications of plastic waste, especially in the Global South, were discussed, underscoring the benefits of formalizing waste management infrastructure in these areas. The session ended with an open invitation for further inquiries and feedback.
Navigating the complexities of plastic reduction and sustainability can be challenging—but we can help. Whether you’re just starting your sustainability journey, looking to understand and offset your plastic footprint, or aiming to leverage plastic credits effectively, we are here to guide you. Our expertise in sustainability strategies, along with our understanding of the plastic problem, can help your brand make a tangible impact. Contact us today to get started.