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Episode 98: Let’s Talk Plastics with APR (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.

[music]

[00:00:26] Liz: Hi everyone. This is Liz Bothwell from Waste360 with Steve Alexander, President of the Association of Plastic Recyclers. Hi, Steve, and thanks for being on the show today.

[00:00:37] Steve Alexander: Good afternoon or good morning, Liz. Thank you for having us. We're excited to be part of your show.

[00:00:42] Liz: Me too. We normally start at the beginning, Steve. Could you tell us a little bit about your background and how you ended up in the waste and recycling industry?

[00:00:51] Steve: Well, I don't want to tell anybody how really long I've been in this industry, but it's been a while. I remember the Mowbray barge going up and down the east coast out of New York in 1988, and if that gives anybody an indication. By and large, I've been involved in environmental issues since around that time. Heavily involved in the plastics arena, and then took over APR as a fledgling organization about almost 16 years ago, and have tried to grow the organization ever since. I've been involved for a fairly long time Liz, why don't we just leave it at that.

[laughter]

[00:01:43] Liz: That sounds good. I understand it, seems people find this industry and stay with it and it's a testament to how good it is, right?

[00:01:52] Steve: Well, the people who are in it are very committed and they're passionate about it. I like to say this about certainly the people that worked for us with APR is that we don't pay them well at all, but they're committed and they're passionate about what they're trying to do here, because I think all of us in the plastics recycling industry look at this as we're creating the sustainability solution to an issue that's out there, and we're all trying to make the world a better place for future generations.

There's a cause involved in this as well as we try and deal with the infrastructure issues and the other issues that we have today, and try and bring realistic solutions to plastics packaging.

[00:02:42] Liz: Definitely. Can you talk a little bit about that, Steve? Tell me more about what APR does, the mission, and who you work with?

[00:02:50] Steve: For lack of any federal oversight APR is-- The staff hates it when I say this, APR is the technical soul of plastics recycling. We're the guys who recycle the plastics, we have a design guide for plastics, recyclability that is really one of the world's foremost and authoritative guides or a package innovator, a consumer brand company, whatever. They design their packaging so it's compatible with the recycling stream. Because one of the biggest issues we all face through the stream is a material that contaminates the stream.

We have testing protocols that companies can go through, and they can provide an innovation, a new package, a new label, or closure. They go through our testing protocol to determine the compatibility, they can go through our design guide to determine what the design of their package is compatible with recycling. We conduct those training programs, we literally go in and conduct customized training programs for a container manufacturer or a brand company to look at their basket of packaging, and help them understand what needs to be done in order to make those packaging recyclable.

Also, tell them what they need to think about in designing the packaging. By and large, Liz, we don't believe that anybody intentionally puts out a package it's non-recyclable, but I have to be frank and have to say that the concept of recyclability is not always top of mind for people who are developing a new package or new innovation, they may have no idea on the implications of that going forward. We really are the arbiter at the end of the day of what's, "Recyclable", and that's an ever-evolving activity.

When there's a new problem in the marketplace, we're the place that the place where we have to deal with it, and create solutions, be an ink that could cause problem, a label, a full-wrap shrink label, a closure, an additive, or a barrier layer. Those are the types of things that we work on to try and solve those issues and provide solutions to the industry. One of the examples I like to use is about eight years ago, you started to see a preponderance of what we call full-wrap shrink labels in the marketplace, and that's where a label covers say the entire bottle of material.

Great idea from a brand company perspective because it made the product pop and its sales skyrocketed. Unfortunately, with a full-wrap shrink label, the infrared sortation technology could not read the resin underneath. As a result, it ended up going into the long stream and contaminating the strain of material. We worked with stable manufacturers to develop the solution, it's called a floatable label, as well as the equipment manufacturers to develop a piece of equipment called the [unintelligible 00:06:14]. By and large today, seven or eight years later, it's not really the problem that it was at that point, it was a breach in critical mass.

Those are the types of things that we do from a technical side. We develop new testing protocols, but we're a full-service trade association. We have a full communications vehicle, as I mentioned to you, we have our own podcast, Recycled Content. We have committees that range with everything from our technical data to our market development committees, our communications committees. Of course, we have a policy apparatus as well. We're heavily at the policy. By and large, APR does not believe that what we've been doing is solving the problem and that we need a policy driver as a component of our solution.

If you're always the first trade association back in 2006, come out, supporting the mandated recycled content and certain packaging, because we believe that when you have a demand market, that monetizes the entire system, otherwise, if you don't have a demand market, all we're doing is collecting, sorting, and processing trash, and who the heck wants to get into that business?

Those are the types of things that we do. We have an international footprint as well. The design guide that I've mentioned to you has been translated into Spanish, it's made currently being translated into Chinese. China is using our design standards as well as our design guide, and we harmonize our testing protocols across the Earth and other continets. We really have a pretty strong footprint in terms of what is recyclable and what needs to be done in order to make your packages recyclable across the globe.

[00:08:16] Liz: You really are a full-service organization. I didn't even realize how many things that you touched. That's amazing.

[00:08:21] Steve: We try. I think that the thing that we have that separates us a little bit is-- Remember, plastics recycling is all we do, each and every day. A lot of it is basic blocking and tackling, but there are a lot of great organizations out there that have recycling and plastics recycling as a component of their organization. For us, it's not a component, that's our focus each and every day. We have to touch all those basis if we really truly want to have an impact on the industry.

[00:09:00] Liz: So true. You've been doing this a while as obviously, with APR. What do you think about the world paying closer attention to plastics these days?

[00:09:11] Steve: It's a catch 22. Because for so long, no one listened to us and now everybody's paying attention and they're coming up with a bunch of wacky ideas out there. I mean, I think that the challenge is to try and drive that discussion towards solutions that actually will impact the material, and the decisions are made with some databases and some rationality behind them.

I'll give you an example. We see a lot of policy drivers now calling out. We want all packaging to have a fifty percent recycling rate by 2025 and 70% recycled content by 2030 or something along those lines. What we do is we provide the data, for instance, in California last year, there was a recycled content bill for beverage containers, and they had a 25% content requirement by 2025. Then they had 35%, a couple of years after that 50%, a couple of [unintelligible 00:10:21]. We did the analysis and we told them, "Look, the industry may be able to get you to 25% by 2025, but after that, you're just wishful thinking", and they were like, "Well, industry will respond. They always respond".
I said, "No, you don't understand. There's nothing for industry to respond with. You don't have the infrastructure. You're not collecting enough material right now in order for us to do, and to be able to process anything more than 25%, and you try and educate people in terms of the system itself." One of the analogies I like to use, asking the waste management industry to deal with today's packaging is like asking the 1978 Chevy Chevette to meet current California emission standards. You do know this better than I, the packaging stream has evolved and changed dramatically over the last-- even just the last eight to 10 years. How do we get our packages for Christmas and gifts for Christmas, what have you?
There's a lot there that the system needs help with and we can't continue to do the same thing. People talk about recycling like it's its own thing, but recycling is a component of a system that includes; are we putting the right things in the bin? Number one. Is it labeled properly? There's a lot of mislabeling out there in terms of what's recyclable and what's not. Is it being sorted properly? Does the MRF have the ability to identify packaging and sorted properly? And then by dent after that, is it being sort of properly for the recycling?

Recycling per se, the processing is only one step in the entire system and people just want to go to, "Well, it needs to be recycled at a certain rate." You're going to change the entire system in order for us to do that. That's a longer-term issue, and unfortunately in this environment, people are just like, "Ah, yes. We'll just ban it." I like to say, you never got to ban your way out of plastics packaging. You need to create sustainability solutions for it.
I think that's really where the dialogue needs to go right now. Because there's a lot of policy out there as well-intentioned as it may be, what you don't want to have happened is for this attention from a policy perspective after 30 years of no attention to they enact something, and then they move on to the next big issue, but it doesn't solve the problem, you want to make sure it solves the problem. We can't keep doing what we've been doing and expect a different result. Those are the big things that we look at and try and solve that. Not everybody agrees. Again, that's something that you certainly know.

You've seen a lot of legislative proposals that would require participation. Either from the virgin resin manufacturers who are at the start of the chain here, or the end of the chain with consumer brand companies, having some shared responsibility or stewardship for the packaging they put in the marketplace. That always creates a conflict, but it certainly seems that the trend line is moving that way from a policy perspective. I think that's a recognition that we have to do something different than what we've done in the past.

[00:13:51] Liz: Absolutely. To your point, it is a whole system, recycling shift a piece of it and there's always debate about whether recycling in the US is broken as if fixing it or fixing the infrastructural, it will fix everything within the full system itself, that's obviously just not reality. It's good to hear your thoughts on-

[00:14:12] Steve: What's interesting is that that's one of the things that we’re frankly pushed back out when they say recycling is broken. Recycling, as you've just said, is a component of a system that needs updating. When people say recycling is broken, somehow they think that the recycling component-- "We just got to fix that." No, unfortunately, that's not the issue. I can tell you from a recycler perspective, we have capacity to process more material, but a lot of what we get, and a lot of what is collecting and stream are contaminants.

You see all these claims with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the U.S. Plastics Pact, which we're big players in, and we're very grateful for that for these programs. But you have commitments that have been made to by brand companies and others that they're going to meet the certain content requirements, or recycling rates by certain dates. You can't continue to contaminate the very stream of material on which you then expect good material to be produced in order to provide you the opportunity to meet those commitments. It's a symbiotic relationship.

If you talk about circularity, in graduate school, we talk about garbage in, garbage out of a software system. It's sort of the same thing here. You've got to put good recyclable material that can be sorted properly into the system that it's going to be labeled properly. It's going to be designed properly and it's going to be able to be sorted in order for it to be recycled, so the recycler can then provide you the recycling for you to use in the second time.

People, they just want to focus on one component and that's very unfortunate. We need to think about this because what you're seeing now is everybody wants a short-term a quick solution, "Well, we just need to collect more." I'm not sure everybody in your industry would say, "Yes, that's just what we need. A lot more material that's contamination coming through our system that we have to deal with." I'm not sure that's- we've got to collect more good material, more properly labeled material, more properly designed material, and then we need to make sure that there is a market at the end of this system that monetizes the system.

Otherwise, if you think about it, if there's not a market to monetize the system, the components of the system, the towns, the waste management companies, the MRFs community, the recyclers, we're bearing the cost of providing a product that's created by another entity that then expects us to take that product and transform it in a way that then they can reuse it again. There's got to be some participation there across the board, because otherwise if there's no monetization, the system-- we're bearing all the costs, the burden of that cost, and the burden of implementing the technology in order to deal with every new innovation in the marketplace.

Let's be honest, a lot of new innovations, not the most recyclable friendly material that you've ever had up there. Now you're getting tuna fish in a multi-layer, multi-laminate pouch versus getting it into the steel can, which was a normally recyclable container, and now you've got a container that's impossible to recycle. It's a broader issue when, unfortunately, it's a complex issue and that doesn't necessarily lend itself to public discourse or legislative fiat if you catch my drift.

[00:18:22] Liz: Yes, absolutely. You're right at the end of the day, if there isn't an end market and there is this business model is not fixed, the whole system will never be fixed. I toward the end game, right?

[00:18:38] Steve: Absolutely. I think the thing that we need to think about here- well, we can talk about some specific programs that we have because we're all over creating demand. Ali Briggs-Ungerer from APR runs our Demand Champions Program that she can chat about. I think what people seem to forget is that, by and large, if you really think about it, plastics recycling is still an industry at the embryonic stages.

The infrastructure to collect certain resins, PET in high density were basically the result of some legislative imposition in the 1980s and the 1990s. The positive legislation really created the infrastructure for PET recycling in the late '70s and early '80s. Then, California passed the RPPC law in 95, which really set the infrastructure up for high-density polyethylene. I think, APR started a Rigid Plastics Recycling Program back in 2012, to focus on a resin that could be captured and process beyond PET in high density, and polypropylene was clearly head and shoulders above other material out there.

We started a major campaign to get more communities to collect polypropylene to get the waste industry to recognize that there was a market for that material, and that the APR members had markets for that material. We had done a survey of consumer brands and ask them how much recycled polypropylene would they use in their packaging if, in fact, it was available? We survey 22 brand companies, 12 of them responded and said they would use over a billion pounds of material a year. We had known through our economic models that you really need 350 to 400 million pounds of good demand to support a nationwide infrastructure. This was back in about 2012.
The reality is that we knew that if we could code get the material, it could be separated. If we could process it, we would have a market for it. That's really, what's helped the polypropylene market. Unfortunately, the polypropylene market, in the last year, has seen some efforts by communities to drop it from the programs, whatever, which is extremely unfortunate because there's great demand for that material, and the consumer brand space and recyclers would love to get their hands on it.

My point in all that is that, people are thinking about this from a regulatory perspective that we can just snap our fingers, and then we can create an infrastructure for all this and that somehow plastics recycling has failed in its development. From a consumer standpoint, again, plastics recycling is still in its infancy perspective. It's been about 30 years, and the fact of the matter is we're talking about generational changes here that are going to change the way we deal with packaging across the board. Not just plastics, and yet people seem to want us to do it in the next, not by-- Today's Tuesday, they want us to do it by Friday.

It's going to take some time. It's a systematic change that we have to focus on and it's also a consumer behavior. Ultimately, it'll happen. We'll solve this issue. We have to solve the issue because as I indicated to you earlier, we're not going to be able to ban your way out of the plastics packaging sustainability issue. You're going to have to make it sustainable, how do you do that? Recycling has to be at the base of any sustainability solutions for plastics packaging.
[00:22:54] Liz: Absolutely. I know, Steve, you mentioned the Demand Champion Program, I know the APR has had some really great programs and I'd love to hear more about that, if we could bring in your colleague Ali, to tell us more about that, we'd love to hear it.

[00:23:09] Steve: Certainly. Ali Briggs-Ungerer has been with APR for several years. She's also been extremely active in the association of Oregon recyclers, creating market demand has been a huge impact for APR, a huge program for APR in a long time in two regards. Ali's going to talk about, we have both Demand Champions Program and then APR also certifies post-consumer recycled content. I'll let her speak about that. Ali, good morning.

[00:23:45] Ali Briggs-Ungerer: Good morning. Hello. Thank you both. Yes, I'm happy to start by talking a little bit about the APR Recycling Demand Champions Program. I'm just going to lay a little bit of background context about what the plastics recycling industry was looking like at the time that led to the idea for the program, because I think that'll help better understand why the program was created.

I think we all remember how a few years back we had China's National Sword policy, which limited the amount of material that could be exported. This included about almost all of the bulky, rigid materials that were being recycled curbside or at depots, and about 65% of the polypropylene that was being recycled curbside. At the same time, as we lost these overseas markets for these materials, we saw a bunch of virgin resin hit the marketplace.

Virgin resin meaning non-recycled content. At the time, there was an estimated eight billion pound increase. Something to the tune of 260 rail cars per month of new wide spec virgin resin hitting the marketplace and that material competed directly with recycled resin. Then, a third aspect of what was happening in the industry was that there weren't long-term contracts with the recyclers. We had one of our members, a major US plastic recycler, tell us that last week they had a standing order for 20 trailer loads of post-consumer resin a month canceled just because the converter switched to that wide spec virgin resin that was being made available and at a much better price.

We had these three big issues. We had the China's National Sword where we couldn't export materials, we had this cheap virgin resin, and we had a lack of contracts. For all these reasons, we started thinking about residential plastics recycling, the kind of recycling that we do at home. If that's going to be sustainable, there has to be sustainable markets. We talked a little bit about this earlier, about the importance of markets. It's demand that creates value and that value is what drives recycle. The idea of the APR Recycling Demand Champions, we implemented that program in 2018. It follows this basic concept.

The idea is that companies commit to plastic recycling and they use their purchasing power to pull those curbside recyclables through the marketplace. Those companies do that by purchasing products that contain post-consumer resin, which then creates demand for more PCR. That demand funnels money to the plastics reclaimers, who then increased their investment in sorting technology, which ultimately fuels more recycling and recycling is the kind of thing, again, that you and I are participating in at home.

The more products that are incorporating PCR, the stronger that demand will be. In a nutshell, the Demand Champions Program was created for private sector businesses to state that they are committed to helping the plastics recycling industry by purchasing more items that contain PCR. What they do is maybe they do a tour of their warehouses and they say, "All right, which products in here can we purchase that can have post-consumer recycled content in them?" There are a slew of products that are in every warehouse that can easily contain PCR.

We're talking crates, [unintelligible 00:27:33] and pallets. All of these items that are in every single warehouse. The private sector companies can look at making a commitment to plastics recycling and to improving demand by seeking out those kinds of products that contain post-consumer recycled content.

Or if they're a company that's manufacturing products, they could look at incorporating more recycled content into their products. Either their packaging or the product itself.

I would say that in the few years since we've started the program, we started off year one, 10 companies said, "Hey, we're going to commit to using more post-consumer recycled content, either in our products or in the products that we're purchasing." Then, when we got to the second year of the program, that number doubled. We had 20 participants. By the third year, we ended up with 32 participants. The growth was enormous. We saw-- I don't have the number in front of me. I can get that in just a moment.

What these companies did is by simply committing to purchase more products that contained post-consumer recycled content, or by increasing the post-consumer recycled content in the products they were manufacturing, they completely changed the narrative for the plastics recycling by supporting demand. I think that the work that they're doing is just very, very important. We don't share individual data for those companies, so participation is very easy. It's not like a company has to worry that what they're doing is going to be published in the news or anything like that. We just aggregate the data and we say, "These are the companies that participated. They are Demand Champions, and here is the total aggregate impact".

Through this program, they're increasing domestic demand for those residential mixed plastics that you and I are recycling. We're mitigating our reliance on export markets. The companies are making a very public commitment to plastics recycling because we do a fair amount of promotion about this program. They're helping boost a circular economy for plastics packaging. Again, this is a low-barrier program. It's voluntary participation. There's no fee involved, but the return for the companies is pretty nice because, like I said, we do a fair amount of promotion of their commitment.

[00:30:18] Steve: Let me add, Liz. I think one of the things about this program, that is, first of all, it wasn't a big program. We did it in-house. We thought about it sitting around at a staff meeting one day, reached out to some companies. The big thing was we wanted to make people aware that there were other options to use recycled content. We wanted to expand the paradigm upon which companies felt and thought about using PCR in the marketplace.

Originally, we introduced this program and we were thinking from a manufacturing perspective. Things like pallets, roll carts, [unintelligible 00:30:53] sheets, and things like that. That showed how narrow-minded we were. The companies that have utilized this have come up with ideas. It's universal, the potential application for this. Everyone from-- Jim Fisher, Waste Management announcing last year that 10% of Waste Management roll carts is going to use recycled content going forward. That's a huge pump for the program, obviously.

To a single-family-owned laundromat in Atlanta, Georgia. Somehow they got wind of the program. They said, "Hey, we're replacing all our machines and our laundry carts and some component. Can we use recycled content and be a Demand Champion in our laundromat?" Whatever it was, ended up being 200,000 pounds of PCR demand in the marketplace. Again, this program it's internal marketing. We talk about it and it's grown dramatically so the 2020, even in 2019, right, Ali? The last year we reported was 2019, or is it '20?

[00:32:04] Ali: 2020.

[00:32:06] Steve: You had almost 180 million pounds of new demand with a blip so if we can continue to grow this, you're creating market demand, which again, as we talked about earlier, Liz, monetizes the system. The other program that is incredibly important and that we've done is we've introduced a certification program for PCR in the marketplace which allows companies that are using recycled material to be able, with absolute certainty, to understand that that material they're using is at least 95% post-consumer material. Ali, why don't you talk about that one a little bit?

[00:32:48] Ali: Sure. That program, the PCR Certification program, has a good background story as well. APR started receiving calls. We were getting calls from both brands and from plastics recyclers, but they were calling about the same thing. We had these brands saying, "Hey, I'm in the market for some post-consumer recycled content. We were seeking bids and let's say we got six bids." One of them was drastically lower than the rest and they were really skeptical.
Of course, that set off alarm bells, but there was no way for them to get clarity on that discrepancy. For example, they didn't know if that low bid they were getting was actually post-industrial recycled content, not post-consumer, not the kind of stuff that's coming out of our bins at home. On the flip side, we had these reclaimers, the recyclers that were calling us and saying, "Hey, I'm selling legitimate, post-consumer recycled content here, but I know one of my competitors is selling material at a lower price that isn't PCR, but they're calling it PCR".

When we looked at both of those issues, they're really addressing the same thing, that there was no way to certify that claims of post-consumer recycled content were actually post-consumer. The PCR Certification program exists to certify that the flake or the pallet that the reclaimers are producing it's from consumers. Again, the PCR Certification program is just about certifying. No resin. We have a theory. We have four auditors who we've endorsed in orders to perform the certification for us, so APR set out the guidelines for ourselves. Like, "This is how we want the program to run. This is what we consider integrity and determining whether material is PCR or not".

Then, we had these four auditors who applied and we endorse them to conduct the certifications themselves. Then the auditors conducted the audit but then APR goes and promotes the list of certified PCR that's available in a directory on our website. This program is about a year in now and we have-- I think there are nine companies listed on our website who are providing the certified PCR. I think the program is working pretty well.

[00:35:37] Steve: I think there is something I want to add. I think the reality is, one of the things that's very, very important to us, Liz, is that APR is very concerned about other certification programs out there that will allow a brand company put a label on a container claiming it's manufactured with recycled content, when in fact that container line may contain no recycled content at all through what they call mass balance.
Frankly, we think that is wrong. We think the FTC will look [unintelligible 00:36:11] on that because the FTC is chartered to ensure that consumers are not misled by labeling. The APR program, it certifies the use of PCR and if a brand company wants to use the APR logo on a label, those containers must contain the PCR. It can't be through some sort of corporate average or something along those lines. If they want to have a statement that says, "Generally speaking as a company, we try and use X percent PCR in our packaging." That's one thing, but to put a label on a package when the package doesn't have any post-consumer in it, we think that's potentially misleading for the consumer.
We're concerned about that because that doesn't do anything ultimately to enhance the plastic recycling industry. That's really what we're talking about doing here. We're talking about programs that can affect the industry that you, I, and American consumers participate in by taking the package that they've used and placing in their recycling program. We need to get better material in that bin, and we need to get more properly labeled material in that bin. We'll need to get more designed for recycling material in that bin.

[00:37:30] Liz: Definitely. Two great programs. I'm really glad to hear how well the Champions Program is growing and the interest in the labeling program as well. Are you guys seeing an increase in demand from these brands to want to prove that they're doing this well and want to be part of the solution? The way that all eyes are on plastics. Every report is talking about sustainability and ESG, and it's becoming a wall street darling. What are you seeing on your end in terms of an uptick?

[00:38:09] Steve: I think that brands are under a lot of pressure to meet the commitments that they've publicly stated. I think that that's potentially what's given rise to these other potential programs that frankly, would allow them to claim they meet the standard in a way that really doesn't require them to change anything in their packaging composition.

To use post-consumer material, material that is in the stream, and what most consumers consider when they say something's made with recycled content, they believe it's from a package or container that they've used and put in their recycling program. That requires manufacturing process, so you have to change how you manufacture your product in order to ensure it's designed for recyclability. Some of these other programs really don't require-- for instance, they could change either through a program like Mass Balance, which is chemical recycling, which is still in its infancy, and what have you.

I think that there's a lot of pressure on brands to meet the commitments that they've made. The concern that we have that potentially may drive design potential, and design changes away from containers that actually can be recycled in the consumer recycling stream ultimately, to we able them to say they use recycled content. This whole issue of what is, "Recycle content", is something that we're going to be seeing here in the short term.

[00:40:01] Liz: That's a great response, we'll keep watching for that. Now, it sounds like you've all been very busy. Tell me how the pandemic has affected your work at APR.

[00:40:12] Steve: We've been very fortunate. APR has always been virtual. We have an office in Washington, but that's really just for me. Everybody works from their home. The big thing has been the transition to a virtual platform for our meetings. Actually, I hate to say it, but there's been some really good positive benefits about meeting virtually. There's no overlap in terms of committee meetings. People that are participating in all our committees, they don't have to necessarily choose.

Obviously, the big loss is the networking opportunity because when you come to an APR meeting two or three times a year, representatives from the entire chain are basically in one space for three or four days. It's not just the recyclers, it's the bank companies, the converters, the equipment manufacturers, the label manufacturers, the consultants. Everybody is there and there's a lot of business that's conducted obviously in the hallways and the receptions and things like that.
We do have some platforms that can be online that seem to work pretty well, but people need to adjust a little bit. In terms of the work that APR is doing, we transitioned our design guy training program to a virtual platform. That's actually worked out extremely well. We're making our design guide more interactive, an interactive platform. That's going very well. We've been able to continue the testing that we've encountered.

Knock on wood, as unfortunate as the pandemic is, and it's terrible, we've been able to maintain the ongoing work that we've been doing even in a virtual space. Obviously, we're already willing and desiring to get back out and to meet each other and continue, but the work really hasn't stopped. I think the fact that, even in 2020, you saw such a tremendous increase in the participation in the Demand Champions Program, that's the type of thing where it continues to grow.
Our webinar program continues to grow. Our policy work actually has expanded tremendously because rather than having to go all these places, we can sit in our office and testify on Zoom and have all these meetings on Zoom. It's really allowed APR to spread its resources a little further. It's been an interesting year, one that we wouldn't want to repeat. Hopefully, we're on the verge of moving beyond this, but we've been very fortunate as an organization.

[00:43:05] Liz: That's great to hear. We always have to find the silver linings. I know, Steve, you mentioned policy. What do you think lies ahead? We briefly talked about the last six-pack and a global commitment to that, but considering a lot of it is more localized here. What do you think lies ahead and what are you working on?

[00:43:28] Steve: Well, Liz, we feel strongly about recycled content requirements. Frankly, what we've been doing in the past with voluntary programs and voluntary participation, et cetera, it hasn't solved the issue. If we continue to do the same going forward, it's almost the definition of insanity, "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." We strongly believe that there needs to be a policy driver, so we support recycled content requirements. Different requirements with different timeframes for different residents.

We think that's critical because, clearly, not all residents are at the same level of infrastructure. I think there needs to be a real realization of that. That's something that we feel strongly about. I also think that just monitoring what's going on at the state level, some sort of producer responsibility just seems inevitable. It's been going on in Europe for years and going on in Canada for a while. I do believe that you'll have some modification of-- in Europe they call it echo modulation piece or something.

I don't know how it's going to turn out. Some EPR programs are for producer responsibility organizations, whatever, but I think there needs to be some sort of shared responsibility and some sort of commitment in terms of the brand companies as stewards of their program participating, and frankly in the solution. I do think that's going to come.

There's some really wild ideas out there, banning certain residents, et cetera. I don't know about that, but I also think you're going to see a push toward consistency of programs in terms of what programs accept. We know there's 20,000 communities in this country, 15,000 recycling programs and 9,000 take different things. Clearly, that confusion has got to cease somewhere one way or the other.

I recognize that's a difficult path because they're going to be winners and losers if you're not on, and there's going to be some pain. It's frankly easy for me to say, "Yes, we just want this list", but it has to be done in a very thoughtful and rational way. I would point to, I think, what Oregon has put together. Seems to be a very rational approach. I know California got a commission in place. We're monitoring that, but I do think that the US Plastic Pack is probably the pathway, the "circularity for plastic packaging", because the brands have made voluntary commitments. They have to be pumped, transparent, and accountable for them by the end of 2025 so it's a very short timeframe.

I'm not sure how that will merge with policy but I do believe that the Plastics Pact probably has the greatest potential to impact and change the plastics recycling marketplace of any program that's come before. I would keep an eye on that and the developments on that in terms of how that's going forward.

[00:47:09] Liz: That's great. I'd love to hear your insights on that. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for the work that you're doing at APR to really bring the manufacturers, the recyclers, and the industry together to really solve for this and create an industry that is going to thrive and be more sustainable in the future. That's great.

[00:47:32] Steve: Well, we hope so. We're partners here. It's not either-or, and I think that, for instance, we have a MRF committee and I've always said to say, "The MRF guy is a reality." They're the reality check, because you get in these meetings and people talk about all these grandiose ideas and I always like to call on the MRF representatives and say, "Okay, now tell me what the reality is." Because they're at the ground floor. They're like the first leg. They've got to deal with all this and they've got to try and sort it.

In many ways, the infrastructure of the material recovery facilities and the haulers, the pressure on them to handle the increased volume, the complexity, and the evolving ton is really an almost untenable situation. Yet, somehow, they're supposed to create these marketable products out of it in terms of bales of material. The system that the MRF have, we're like the MRFs one step down, because we have to take material in, we have the contamination we have to deal with, we have to sort it, then we have to process it and to make a product hopefully that there's a demand for in the marketplace.

I quote Bob Cappadona from Casella all the time. It's his quote and I pay him a dime every time I say it, "Without a market demand, what we're doing is we're collecting, sorting, and processing trash." I think we have to all be in this together. It just can't be the components of collecting, sorting, and processing the material. We can't be the only ones responsible for solving this issue.

[00:49:23] Liz: No, we can't. We definitely can't. It's going to take everyone. I'm optimistic to see everyone working together, and the residents and the consumers being more aware because I think real change is happening and will continue, although it's not easy, for sure.

[00:49:41] Steve:  Yes, absolutely. Glad to work with you guys.

[00:49:44] Liz: Yes, me too. This has been great [inaudible 00:49:46] for hopping on. You were so insightful about your great program, so thank you both.

[00:49:52] Ali: Thank you.

[00:49:53] Liz: Okay, we'll chat soon.

[00:49:54] Ali: Take care, guys.

[00:49:54] Steve: Have a great day. Take care, guys.

[00:49:56] Liz: You too.
[music]  

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