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Episode 70: Driving Innovation through Sustainability & Packaging

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In our latest episode of NothingWasted!, we chat with Jeff Wooster, global sustainability director at Dow. Dow is a materials science leader, committed to delivering innovative and sustainable solutions for customers in packaging, infrastructure and consumer care.

We spoke with Wooster about package design, its role in reducing food waste, how sustainability is good for business, and more.

Here’s a sneak peek into the discussion:

Waste360: What are you working on now that you’re especially excited about?

Wooster: We have a whole range of projects designed to make the system that we operate in more efficient. It’s relatively straightforward for an individual company to work on a small sustainability project that only impacts their organization. It’s more challenging to work on a project that affects several organizations. And it’s even more complex to work on a project that affects the whole system. But we’re really seeing companies and NGOs and governments starting to think more holistically. So we’re trying to determine what the system requires in order to be more successful, and then put in place programs that help drive in that direction.

For Dow, we have several commitments on sustainability that we’ve recently announced—one of which is to reduce the amount of plastic packaging that ends up in the environment, which is outside of our immediate control but within our influence. We think it’s important that, as a leader in the industry, we work toward this goal—so we have lots of active projects in this space. And we’re also working to make all our packaging recyclable. Of course we have to do a good job of collecting and reusing them.

Waste360: Can you tell us about your “spherical economy” concept?

Wooster: Yes, I like to talk about the spherical economy as the next-generation circular economy; maybe “circular economy 2.0.” Because it’s not just a simple loop. For instance, it’s not just a matter of taking old PET bottles and turning them into new PET bottles. Rather, when we collect PET bottles, that material should be available to make whatever new product is the best use of the material. This is what happens in nature. So it’s important for us to recognize that if we want to have an optimized system for technical nutrients (things like plastics), we have to be willing to think about all of the interconnected loops. That gives us a much better opportunity to create a resilient system that provides better sustainability benefits to the planet. We need to think bigger picture.

Waste360: What do you think the role of the waste and recycling industry would be in the spherical economy?

Wooster: These companies are really, really critical because we have to get the materials back and put them back in the system. For some materials, that’s relatively easy to do, and for others, it requires specific legislation to drive the collection. Car batteries, for instance, are recycled at a very high rate because states have fees on old batteries, which helps pay for the collection and shipment of those materials to be recycled. That’s an example of how we’ve created a system to get the recyclable materials back—and also keep the hazardous materials inside the battery from escaping into the environment.

For everyday packaging—chip bags, candy wrappers, cheese pouches—these are not as easy to collect via a reverse-logistics system like with the batteries. There are a lot of them, and they’re very lightweight—so in order to effectively collect these types of items, you need to aggregate.

Waste360: Can you tell us about the Waste Collector Support Fund Dow helped create during this time of COVID-19?

Wooster: We recognized early on that recycling systems across the world that rely on the informal sector were largely shut down during the onset of COVID, and there was a need to support those workers. So we worked with several partner organizations around the world to help create this fund and mechanisms by which we could collect and distribute funds; we’re working with local groups on the ground and making progress.

#NothingWastedPodcast

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