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Episode 123: Unboxing Kimberly Clark’s RightCycle Program (Transcript)

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[00:00:00] Liz Bothwell: Hi everyone, welcome to Waste360's NothingWasted! Podcast. On every episode, we invite the most interesting people in waste recycling and organics to sit down with us and chat candidly about their thoughts, their work, this unique industry and so much more. Thanks for listening and enjoy this episode.

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[00:00:28] Liz: Hi everyone. This is Liz Bothwell from Waste360. I'm with Mayur Valanju from Kimberly-Clark. Welcome and thanks for being on the show today.

[00:00:38] Mayur Valanju: Thanks, Liz. Thank you so much for your time.

[00:00:40] Liz: We usually set the stage and I'd love to hear a little bit about your background and how you found your way to Kimberly-Clark.

[00:00:48] Mayur: Again, my name is Mayur Valanju. I'm Vice President of Innovation at Kimberly-Clark Professional. Kimberly-Clark Professional is a business-to-business arm of Kimberly-Clark. I've been here for about a year. One of the reasons that I came to Kimberly-Clark is that their values are actually very similar to mine. I fundamentally believe that we have to leave the world in great shape for our kids and our kids' kids.

The vision of Kimberly-Clark is to lead the world in essentials for a better life. We, at Kimberly-Clark, have really established some aggressive 2030 goals and that is really to advance the wellbeing of a billion people reducing our plastic footprint by 50%. Reducing our national forest fiber by 50%, reducing water footprint and water stress areas by 50%. As I reflect again on these goals that we have, it really aligns to my personal beliefs and personal values system.

[00:01:46] Liz: I love that you're doing that. It does align with your personal beliefs. With that, I'd love to hear more about the RightCycle Program.

[00:01:53] Mayur: The RightCycle Program is a great program. What it is, is a program where we sell PPE, which is Personal Protective Equipment that's inclusive of protective clothing, nitrile gloves, masks, and safety IOR. That PPE helps protect employees that are working in manufacturing environments and other environments at their jobs. One of the things that we thought about, and actually started about 10 years ago as a pilot, is, at the time, that equipment was going in landfills.

At Kimberly-Clark, we're saying, "Well, what can we do about that?" We started with the pilot and what we did is, in 2011, we started with 4,000 pounds that we recycled. We found a partner and we figured out the transportation of how to get it back to a recycling site. Now, over the last 10 years, we've expanded that program across Europe and North America to 800 customers. We've recycled over 670,000 pounds of PPE in 2020.

Additionally, as we've continued to refine the model, what we found is that when we're working with the customers, they have to sort it and put it into pellets to send back. But we were able to actually to also employ people with disabilities to help further sort, remove zippers, and other parts that can't be easily recycled. Really provide jobs to people in need there, also take that in and then recycle the material with our partners. The pellets are then converted into products that are sold in the consumer markets as shelving, totes, and garden furniture.

[00:03:52] Liz: That's amazing. I love how you all thought about it from start to finish, even having people help with disabilities. You really thought of it in a circular way. I can't believe it was 10 years ago. Did it expand due to COVID and our increased use of PPE?

[00:04:10] Mayur: It's expanded over time, I think, driven by a couple of factors. The need for PPE has expanded tremendously over the last year and a half with COVID. The overall demand for our products has grown, which also then increases the amount that we get to recycle. But also, is being driven by us, as well as our customer's goals. We partner with customers to let them know about this program, let them know how this helps the environment.

Then a lot of our customers we're seeing also have environmental sustainability on their priority list. It helps them achieve their goals, so really is a win-win across the board. It keeps products out of the landfill, we still provide great products that protect employees over customers, and it helps the customers achieve their environmental goals.

[00:05:07] Liz: Fantastic. Can you talk a little bit about the process of the program? A lot of our listeners are waste haulers, recyclers, and MRF operators so I'd love to hear from the collection side of things, all the way to the pellets and beyond.

[00:05:22] Mayur: The thing that we ask for our customers to do is they have to set up within their workflow separate bins that collect just the PPE that we provide them, and so they do that. We have them palletize it, and then they pay for shipping back to our contact point where it's our sorting center that has the people I mentioned about, the disability, that help actually further sort, remove the zippers, et cetera.

Then we have recycling partners that we have set up in North America and in Europe that we work with to provide the sorted PPE. They take it and they work it through their processes and convert it into the plastic pellets that are then sold into the consumer goods market.

[00:05:30] Liz: Got it. That makes sense. With a decade behind this program, what other types of statistics are you tracking? I know you had an impressive pounds of PPE in 2020. Are you following it from a whole historical viewpoint, data-wise?

[00:05:48] Mayur: Yes. Again, I don't have the exact data points, but it's gone from 4,000 in 2011 to 670,000 pounds. We started about just several customers in a pellet and we're now up to 800 customers. As we look forward in the program, right now we have it in North American and the EU and we're looking at expanding it into, potentially, other regions as well as we're continuing to look and add customers within North America and EU.

We're also evaluating what other products can we look at incorporating in the right cycle. Is there a way that we can look at towels that are being thrown away? Is there whether we can look at even outside textiles or different things that we could take and keep out of landfills? It's grown greatly over the last 10 years. I think that, hopefully, 10 years from now, we're also talking about the same amount or more growth as we continue to expand into different adjacencies and geography.

[00:07:54] Liz: That would be great. I love to hear that you have kept Amazon on the radar. That's great. Because we see it from the landfill side of things what an issue that is. Anything we can do to divert that, or even AI to help sort that, would be amazing, eventually.

[00:08:11] Mayur: Yes.

[00:08:12] Liz: What are the biggest challenges that you have had at Kimberly-Clark rolling out a program like this?

[00:08:22] Mayur: The biggest challenge is that it does take change in behavior. From a customer perspective, they have to go in and change their workflow. Also, people are used to just throwing stuff into one bin. You have to train the employees to put stuff in certain bins so it can be sent back to recycling. We do notice when we first get the product from customers, oftentimes, inner sorting center, you notice that it has impurities.

We'll work together with the customers in order to make sure that we get it as pure as we can coming back, just the PPE. Because this is the way that it gets recycled and as a recycling process, it really needs to be a fairly pure workstream or a fairly pure stream of goods. If we think about circularity in general, I think that the biggest challenge I see across the board is how do you presort as best you can beforehand. Then it's the reverse logistics and setting that up in an economical way.

[00:09:30] Liz: Sure, that makes sense. I feel like that's always the case to make these succeed, right?

[00:09:35] Mayur: Yes.

[00:09:37] Liz. Is this a bigger piece of Kimberly-Clark's largest sustainability goals? What do those look like?

[00:09:46] Mayur: The largest sustainability goals, this is a piece of it.  We have a variety of goals, one of them is to reduce our plastic footprint by 50%, reduce our national forest fiber by 50%, and reducing water footprint by 50%. We have a variety of different initiatives that we're doing to reach the goal. For example, for KCP, a hundred percent of our North American grid electricity is offset with wind farms in Oklahoma and Texas. We're looking at recycled fiber content.

We already use-- 67% of our fiber is recycled and we're continuing to look at other ways to increase that. We have programs and initiatives beyond RightCycle looking at how do we use more bio-based plastics versus oil-based plastics. Looking at different types of inputs, where we can still provide great products to our end users that allow their lives to be better on a daily basis, but doing it in a way that we continue to have environmental sustainability at the forefront of our thought.

[00:10:56] Liz: That makes sense. Those are lofty but sound like achievable goals.

[00:11:02] Mayur: Yes. We actually, the management team, next week is getting together for multiple days -CEO- down and we were talking about sustainability and environmental impact, what type of initiatives, what type of resources to get there because the great thing from the leadership of the company, is not a, "We have to grow our business, versus we have to be sustainable and." It's like, "We need to grow our business and we have to do it in a very sustainable way that leaves the world in a better place", and that is the mentality of the leadership team, which I think is fantastic.

[00:11:42] Liz: That is, because it has to come from there in order for it to go down. I think that's fabulous Now, do you think a program like this one could move to consumer side of things, or is it just more sustainable on the B2B side, because it's a captive audience, and they'll know how to ship back and all of that? What are your thoughts on that?

[00:12:04] Mayur: I think there's potential to move to the consumer side. I think that it'll take steps. We're talking with other large retailers that they get returns of different products. The consumer returns things to a center, is there a way that that can be a collection point to then feed back into the reverse logistics?

I think that the biggest challenge with the consumer side is, how do you set up those collection points on the reverse logistics to be efficient and also to have as pure of a stream? It'll take an amount of change from a consumer perspective, but I look at stuff where I know there's retailers that collect batteries, or light bulbs. Reverse logistics, they're starting to get set up for separate industries.

Over time, I think this is something that, I often talk to the team about circularity, and I think it will be unlock for circularity over time as these reverse logistics get set up, but it will take time and effort, and change the behavior from a consumer perspective.

[00:13:22] Liz: Definitely. It's always the case. I know we talk about recycling a lot on this show and in our articles, and it's one of those things without the accountability of the consumer, us, and also, not just wanting it, but actually doing it, right?

[00:13:40] Mayur: Yes.

[00:13:41] Liz: Bringing all the stakeholders together is important. That's awesome. What's next for Kimberly-Clark around this program, and your sustainability goals?

[00:13:53] Mayur: What's next that is, I think with RightCycle specifically, we are looking to expanding the customer base in North America and Europe, and we're looking at what other geographies we should be setting this up in. Secondarily, we're also looking at the products. Right now, we're set up to do PPE, in terms of the clothing, nitrile gloves, masks, and safety eyewear.

We're looking at piloting towels, and how will we set that up? We're looking at that in Europe. We actually have, in Latin America, we call it the dispenser hospital where it would take the dispensers that have come off the wall, and we look at how do we refurbish it and get them back in the market, versus throwing away and creating a new one. We have a variety of different programs that we have underneath this RightCycle umbrella, and I think, again, it'll continue to expand as we continue to do pellets in different product categories.

One other thing that I forgot to mention is we are looking at the textiles. As you said, textiles is a big problem, textiles go into landfills. We've started to work looking at textiles, and how we can look at taking that and put that into our products. It is complicated back on the-- We talk about the reverse logistics specifically on sorting out the different types of textiles, all the different colors are coming in, then you have buttons, and zippers, and a variety of different things. Figuring out those reverse logistics will be key.

I think there might be a couple of streams of the textile waste that we can work with sooner, but we're spending a good amount of resources on that, as well as then looking at alternative fibers, and how do we think about other fibers that could be put into our products.

[00:16:01] Liz: That's exciting. There's a lot on the horizon.

[00:16:05] Mayur: Yes. It's very exciting.

[00:16:08] Liz: I love the way that you view things. It sounds like also personally, this is a big passion of yours. What does circularity mean to you, really? What would be an ideal scenario for us to get to, even in an ideal world?

[00:16:25] Mayur: Yes, it's true. Circularity means we're able to take less out from the earth, and more we can use, and then we can replace the stuff that we use. Actually, earlier in my career I've worked on a variety of sustainable initiatives. In college, I started out my passion for sustainability was looking at creating a hybrid electric vehicle as part of the future car team in Michigan.

I worked at a company called TetraVitae Biosciences, which is about creating a bio-based butanol, it really has been on the forefront of my thinking for most of my career. For me, it's, again, how do we not extract it from the ground? How do we take stuff that can be replaced, and then make it as circular, so we put it into a product, and then we take that product back, and then we create from that product at different products? How do we have that loop continuing to go on from a closed-loop process?

[00:17:37] Liz: Yes, that sounds perfect to me. I couldn't have said it any better [laughs]. How can listeners get involved with RightCycle Program or learn more about the process?

[00:17:49] Mayur: To learn more about it. Our website, Kimberly-Clark Professional, if you go to it, you can look at the RightCycle, there's a way to put your name in, and if you're interested actually in signing up from a customer perspective, we'd love to talk to you. We'd love to tell you more about the program, if any detail that you would like. Going on the website and putting the contact information, and then we'll have you talk to a salesperson, and get the process started.

[00:18:27] Liz: That's great. Are you finding that your program is inspiring others? Do you get calls to share your knowledge about this?

[00:18:36] Mayur: There's a variety of customers, and the customers will talk to other customers. Oftentimes, word of mouth is great here. We do business with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, University of Cincinnati, Bell Resorts, Dallas Zoo. A lot of high-profile companies that are using this program, and they're looking at it. They talk to other companies that are in the similar space of how they're meeting the environmental goals. They can talk about the program, that referrals always help.

[00:19:19] Liz: That's great. Because again, I can't believe it's been around for 10 years, and I see these box programs. I just love how it's integrated into your business process. I think that's a fabulous way to do it. Any advice for folks on the line who want to get started with their own type of program?

[00:19:39] Mayur: Yes. I think the biggest thing, what we've learned is, it's hard to think through all the stuff you don't know as we go into it. I think that, whether is joining the RightCycle, or if you want to start your own program or something else is, how do you pilot it? Just start digging in right away, and testing and learning to pilot it, and then continue to refine.

I feel like sometimes, and over my career, I've been in times where I overthink things, and try to draw it out fully and to end where it's almost impossible to do that right away. I think that that test and learn mentality, trying, and then taking that learnings and improving is a great way to go.

[00:20:27] Liz: Definitely. That's such good advice. Anything else you want to share before I let you go about your busy day?

[00:20:34] Mayur: No. It's been great talking to you, Liz. Thank you so much for your time. I love everything that you're doing, and everything that you're bringing to light in the marketplace across a variety of industries. I listened to several podcasts this weekend, and I think you're just doing great work that is so impactful.

Thanks again for having me. At Kimberly-Clark we're really here to make the world a better place, and so excited for the future that we're doing. We've set up some really big goals that I have a full belief that with the leadership team, and the support of our employees, as well as most importantly, the support of our customers and consumers, we will get there, and we really believe what started out within my mind, leave the world in great shape for our kids, as well as our kids' kids.

[00:21:27] Liz: That's fantastic. I love that. You're working your way toward that. Thank you for doing that.

[00:21:33] Mayur: Have a great day, thanks.

[00:21:35] Liz: Okay, you too. Bye. Thank you for listening. It would mean the world if you would take a moment to rate or review this podcast, and if you share it with us on one of our social networks, we are giving out some fun, Nothing Wasted Podcast swag. Just tag us, and see what you get. Thanks so much. 

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TAGS: Recycling
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