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Episode 99: The Future of the Plastics Value Chain (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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[00:00:26] Liz: Hi everyone. This is Liz Bothwell from Waste360 with Erin Simon, Head of Plastic Waste and Business at World Wildlife Fund. We'll refer to it as WWF. Hi, Erin, thanks for being on the show today.

[00:00:40] Erin Simon: Yes, no problem. Thank you so much for having me.

[00:00:42] Liz: We normally start at the beginning, could you just tell us about your background and how you ended up at WWF?

[00:00:52] Erin: Absolutely. Actually, I don't think I ever had intended to end up at WWF or an NGO, it really hadn't been in my vision, but it's interesting how our different life choices get us where we are, and pop us down in, I think, what turned out to be a really perfect place for me.

I started out at Michigan State University in the School of Packaging, I got my engineering degree in packaging and material science, and was hired right out of school into Hewlett Packard in Boise, Idaho to help develop and design packaging for large format printers. Those are the printers that would be in a copy room in a business, in an office building if we still went to those. 

Five years into that, transferred to Richmond, Virginia to-- Let's be clear, I didn't transfer for work. I followed a boy, which I don't like to advocate for, but it happened, so those are the things. I continued working with HP, but in supplies, in photo paper, and inkjet.

It was interesting, as I got more into my career and I learned more, I realized that as a material scientist, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could use these materials to improve the consumer experience to make our lives easier, to make things more convenient, but I didn't spend as much time really focusing on the impact, or the cost of those materials when I sourced them to the planet, communities, or the impact of what happened when they were not really efficiently managed at end of life.

I happen to be in conversations with an organization called World Wildlife Fund around another topic, which happened to be pulp and paper. HP was exploring the opportunity to become a member of the Global Forest & Trade Network, which is a program that WWF posts to help companies to understand where the forest safe products come from, how they're managed, and ensuring the sustainable future of those well-managed for their products.

I sat on the other side of the table as one of the key partners at HP helping to pull all this data and figure out how we could build more transparency into our pulp and paper sourcing, and how we could meet an ambition that WWF set for GFTN members, but also become a member of that group by having the right commitments and level of engagement.

I got to know a lot of the folks at WWF, and had conversations with them about the broader material lens, saying, "It's really important that you're looking at these things for all materials, not just pulp and paper", and was introduced to a man named Jason Clay, who at that time let up all of our markets work. Like, "We just need you to come here, and create a program for how we engage with companies more broadly and packaging material science".

In the whirlwind of having a baby, moving to Washington D.C., and starting a new job about 10 years ago, I joined WWF to lead the work, to engage with companies, and think differently about how they were forcing, using, designing, and then recovering materials. I've now been there, I'm going to have my 10th anniversary this summer as a Panda. The work has grown and expanded.

As of late, especially since the 2015 Jim Beck study, really has the level of ambition, and therefore, the higher impact of the work that we are driving through engaging with companies to help them be more effective in delivering on their ambitious commitments in a really meaningful, measurable way. It's been a wild ride, but it's been good. I'm excited to be here.

[00:05:04] Liz: That's great. I love your story, it's great to hear that you really are a material scientist, you came here with that in mind, and that's the work you're doing.

[00:05:15] Erin: Yes. It helps having those conversations when you came from that side, and knew what it was like. Also, have the technical experience with the conservation lens.

[00:05:24] Liz: Absolutely. I've read a somewhat recent hub that you all launched called World Wildlife Funds Resource: Plastic, can you tell me about that? That sounds fascinating.

[00:05:40] Erin: Yes. [unintelligible 00:05:42] in 2015, in that time came up the [unintelligible 00:05:45] and said that it really helps us to all come together around the fact that we were not addressing all of the issues as broken system. Historically, when we were trying to address plastic weights, we were asking companies to make it more recyclable and use more recycle content, but we weren't really honing in on the other key stakeholders in the full scope of work that needed to be done to fix that broken system.

As that science immersion has deep ambitious commitments started to get made by those companies and governments, these companies would come to us and say, "Hey, Erin, am I getting this right? I'm doing these things, is that what I need to do?" It was this moment where I was like, "Well, I'd love to be able to give you that information, but I need to understand better what your impact is, where your footprint is, to be able to say that the things you're doing are leading to reducing the impact that you have on the plastic race problem".

We saw a gap in all of the activities that were happening in that, companies had really raised the level of ambition of what they wanted to do. There was no clear roadmap for how they were going to get there. WWF lodged Resource: Plastic as the implementation hub to move from that ambition to meaningful change that we could measure, and could move to scale a lot quicker.

The key fundamentals of that are by helping companies to measure what their footprint is through the plastic Footprint Tracker that we established. It's a tool that helps them to look at what they're sourcing, what is it made of? Is it recycled content? Is it the same towards bio-waste? Is it virgin? What is it being made into, format polymer type? Where does it go in the world?

Then, we built out a fate model to say what happens to what is it. Reused, recycled, composted? Therefore, we're getting those resources back, or is it landfilled? Is it incinerated? Or is it mismanaged? Meaning there's a likelihood that they could end up in nature where we don't want them to be. From there, you can really help a company to develop a strategic plan for how they're going to really reduce their impact, really manage their plastic waste impact.

By doing that in the same way as their peers and others in the plastic value chain, they can not only see their role in it, but they can see their part of the whole because as was identified early on, the plastic waste system is broken. It requires systems change, it almost requires that every single stakeholder that has a role to play to do their part, and do it in a coordinated way. That's hard to do if you don't have a full visual picture of what's happening in the system. Resource: Plastic really creates that clear data-driven path for companies to engage in that.

We launched that in 2019. Sorry, time is hard these days, I can't remember where I am and what I'm doing anymore. Then, in 2020 we launched the first inaugural report. This was the first five companies that participated in it, which were Coke, P&G, Starbucks, McDonald's, Dr. Pepper. Those five companies agreed to pilot this reporting tool with us, which is a big deal because you really pulled back the curtain on what's happening in their plastic waste footprints, and made that public in the first report, but it allowed us to showcase for the first time ever shared calendars, shared opportunities, and also provide a baseline so that year over year, we can report on progress.

Ultimately, our hope is that by 2030 those five companies, plus 95 of their closest friends, will be showcasing an improvement over 50 million metric tons of reduced mismanaged waste. We really want to be well to tie the actions that they're taking into actually, direct on the ground impacts of less waste. It's been really great. That program is really a part of a larger suite of activities we're doing to coordinate all of the actions that are happening in the global waste crisis, to make sure that the companies are engaging with the policymakers on the good policies that are needed to change the systems, they're engaging with consumers, and they're inactivating work on the ground, so that there's this cohesive set of interventions that are driving us towards the progress we all want to see.

[00:10:40] Liz: That's great. That it's so action-oriented, and the data is there to back it up. Did you have any challenges like standardizing the data for each company or the language that was being used? Can you talk a little bit about that?

[00:10:53] Erin: I absolutely can, and I almost just laughed when you said, "Do you have any challenges?" I'm like, "Oh my gosh, so many." There's two main buckets of challenges. One was that first thing you highlighted, which is standardizing data for companies to put in. You have to have apples to apples in the tool. To get that, you have to pull it from their existing systems, whether that's like an SAP or an Oracle.

Even within these large multinational companies, the way they fill out their bill of materials is not the same from country to country. Having a discussion with them around how to input the data into the tool in the first place and get that standardized, it's a big lift for the companies to do that. It's just a lot of data management. Second of all, we really didn't want to do this in a vacuum. We wanted to do this in partnership with other organizations that were driving progress in a similar way, but just didn't have this methodology for accounting set up.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation had come out of the gate early on with this global commitment program that really required companies to set ambitious targets, but it didn't have the required methodology for how the accounting for what they reported year over year. We really partnered up with them to make sure we were matching on terms and definitions, and that's been a real consistent effort. Not just with Ellen MacArthur and WWF, but UNEP, Greenpeace, the pacts, World Economic Forum, all these other institutions that are talking in the same way, or talking around metrics and reporting, but really been pushing just standardized language of how we talk about these things, but that we're all speaking the same language in a way to be more effective in directing change.

Getting alignment on that takes a lot of coordination and stakeholder management, but then also getting companies to find the capacity internally to do that reporting was an additional challenge. We continue to work on that, and I honestly think the rigor of data reporting that we are doing in ReSource is going to continue to challenge that we have moved to a web-based tool now. Last year's report was based off of a lovely set of Excel spreadsheets and some very manual analysis, but we have now moved to a more automated system in a web platform, which I think will also help with some of that.

The second challenge on data was around fate modeling. As you are probably well aware, the way countries report on fate, if they report at all, is vastly different. What I mean by fate is what happens to waste in their country, how are they reporting on landfilling, how are they reporting on recycling. Recycling rates may mean how much was collected in one country, and it may mean how much was actually processed in another. That can be really challenging for navigating what's actually happening on the ground in a way to effectively intervene, whether that's through it design, material change, a new business model, or whether that's through policy or investment in infrastructure.

We worked with an organization called Anthesis to help us to develop a model that looked at the best available data we have right now on what was happening globally, and then to essentially extrapolate based on what we could about what was happening where we didn't have information, and then to rate that data for representativeness, "Is this a really good data or is it not?" That can all be pulled together. If you look at the final [unintelligible 00:14:52] understanding, what does that tell us? We want to directionally start moving companies towards reduced impacts. The representativeness of that data is really important.

We are continuing to study different reports on fate, management rates globally that are being put out by different scientific institutions, and looking at which ones have the best available information or the most representative to replace the data within our model web. Then, we're continuing to push a policy perspective, both nationally and globally through the global treaty for more real-time reporting of actual information versus models, so that countries are reporting on what's happening to their waste and companies are reporting on what products they're putting into the waste stream, in order for us to have a much clearer picture.

It's multifaceted in trying to address the data quality challenges that we all face these days. Overall, we haven't let that barrier slow us down because we don't have time to wait for the data to be perfect for us to start taking action.

[00:16:05] Liz: Absolutely. Like you said, you're improving as you go. A year or so in, you're already automating the data part that you're working on. Progress is good, that's what matters. You referenced this slightly, but you have so much going on, and another big part of what you're working on is the Plastics Pact. This one I'd love to hear more about, this one makes me optimistic because this is one that I feel can definitely work and get the traction it needs. Please, can you unpack that a little bit?

[00:16:42] Erin: Absolutely. What was one of the interesting results coming out of the transparent report last year in the midst of WWF already agreeing with Ella MacArthur Foundation and The Recycling Partnership that a US plastic tech makes sense, was that these five companies that reported out, found that a big part of their footprint was actually in the US, and a large part of that was because they're multinational companies that are headquartered in the US, the US is one of the largest consumer bases in the world, and 75% of our plastic waste is ending up landfilled. It's just they've got a lot going in there, and it's not getting recovered in the form of reuse, recycling, or compost.

It almost was perfect timing for companies to realize they needed to do some full-on collective action in the US that would require an overhaul of municipal solid waste system, and they knew that they can do it on their own, but they were going to depend on it a lot for actually being able to meet their goals. We launched the US Plastic Pact, as I said, in partnership with TRP and EMS in August. At that time, I think we had 60 members, 70 members, and now we're up to almost 90.

The purpose of that is to set out to look at how all of the plastic, all of the stakeholders in the plastic value chain, NGOs, cities, companies alike can come together to collectively align on the goals for what we want that system to look like and play their role in getting there to make those system changes. This is the action on the ground, like you said about, this is where it gets really exciting. What was really powerful and exciting about it, or still is, is that these companies came to the table with a demand and ambition. At the forefront of that, they want a policy and policy for form in the US to be a big piece of this.

You are obviously working in this space well aware of that, historically, companies in the US have not been super excited about a lot of policy around extended producer responsibility to positive return systems because, historically, those did not roll out really well in the US, pretty fragmented, and so they are often lobbied against them. But the realization that they needed really solid and consistent policy that not only funded the infrastructure, but helped to modulate what goes into it, the quality levels, investment in infrastructure, technology, collection, access, and consumer behavior engagement, that's really powerful.

We're developing the roadmap right now for how this group of 90 members can deliver on their amazing targets by 2025, which are around figuring out what's not going to work in the collective system, what are we going to say is problematic. That means that you either stop making it, or you figure out a new business model for it, or you figure out a closed system to recover it. It also pushes that we have design requirements for what technical recyclability, compost ability reviews standards those products need to meet if they're going to be in the system so that we can get to 100% reusable, compostable, and recyclable.

Obviously, that provides the right inputs into the system, so we need the system to raise up. The goal is by 2025 to get to a 50% recycling rate. Very ambitious. Requires the policy, requires the modulation, the design standards and the funding mechanisms to get us there. On the back end of that is that there's a commitment to move to the 30% recycled or sustainable biowaste content as the source.

Those are really ambitious targets and each company on their own would not be able to achieve them. They feel a lot more security in the fact that we're going to win and lose together on this one. We all want, ultimately, those targets to come to fruition and for us to, honestly, surpass them as possible. The commitment in the pact is to take the actions as an individual stakeholder to do that. WWF is really supporting and pushing on the policy side of that. Also, obviously on the reporting, we are going to be using the ReSource Footprint Tracker as a mechanism to report on the progress of the pact year over year and make sure that we are delivering on those commitments in an effective way.

Yes, it's really exciting. I'm looking forward to seeing what this group can collectively do together. I'm going to be honest, it's going to be hard work, though, because agreeing with each other is always the first step on how you do that when you get to the nitty-gritty. 

[00:22:04] Liz: Absolutely. It gives me hope because it seems to be the most complete pact that we've seen so far. The fact that the commitments are there, the goals and targets are there as well. I do have a question about that, is there an organization that's overseeing the design standards at the beginning of life of these products? How are you measuring that?

[00:22:26] Erin: Yes. Within the pack, there is a number of workstreams that are helping to develop the roadmap, which will be launched April or May. That roadmap has the details of how we're going to, essentially, deliver on each of those four targets in the multifaceted approach, one of the key areas that is designed for recyclability and designed for reuse. The design for recyclability piece is a multi-stakeholder group of select members within the Pact. We're helping to create those guidelines and references.

They're doing that in concert with a group that's looking at the list of problematic items, the group that's looking at the policy, and the group that's looking at scoping data, metrics, and measurement. World Economic Forum is working on a set of guidelines with another multi-stakeholder group on reuse in general. Design guidelines, safety guidelines in a city playbook. The pacts are looking to adapt those guidelines to help with the establishment of the reuse systems, because as we know, the same way we have to really make sure the full system, collection, processing, and then secondary markets for recycling are available, we need to have that same thing for reuse systems and being able to actually reuse these really resource-intensive materials in a way that brings the impact down to the level we're looking for.

It's a combination of pulling in existing expertise from other multi-stakeholder platforms and advocating for it or establishing a clear map of what exists in the landscape around recycling design guidelines already and what we need in order to get the system where we want it to be. A clear roadmap for that will launch this spring, though, to help give everybody a good idea of what the next steps are.

[00:24:22] Liz: That's great. I will watch for that for sure. I knew you mentioned EPR in addressing the issue of plastic waste. I know the US struggles with that a bit, and we look to Europe, Asia, and even Canada for good examples of this. How important do you think this is now?

[00:24:46] Erin: I think there is quite the strong alignment from, I would say, the most progressive groups to even some of the more conservative ones, but that EPR in some form will be a key element of a national legislative system in the US to interrupt the systems change that we need. I think what's really exciting is where EPR traditionally talks about just the funding mechanism. What is being discussed these days in that larger set of first stakeholders is not just the funding mechanism, but how does policy enable the ultimate system that we're looking to see.

We want a system where no matter where you are in the US, you have a blue bin. It's really easy for you to put things in that blue bin because there's no Dakota ring required. It either goes in the blue bin or it doesn't. Everybody's blue bins has the same things that go in it. Then you have these facilities that these blue bins are collected and sent to you that all have the right sorting and processing technologies to be able to manage those materials that go in the blue bin. Therefore, on the backend of that, you have these really high-quality secondary markets to be sourced from.

To do that, you need to have policies that enable all of those points, whether it's around the design considerations, the access and consumer engagement, the infrastructure and funding for that, or even the enabling of the secondary markets. We want to have a much more complete and holistic policy plan that's out there. That's where the discussion is, where EPR is a key piece of that, but it's beyond of just EPR, if that makes sense.

[00:26:44] Liz: It definitely does. It seems you look at everything with a holistic approach. I know that you recently wrote something, I think it was January, about the idea of plastic crediting to kind of help this piece of the broken value chain around the waste management side of it. Can you talk a little bit about that?

[00:27:06] Erin: Yes. You always see a lot of innovation and ideas emerge as different organizations are trying to help be a part of finding solutions to these global crises. As we've seen in other areas, the idea of credits came out as something that would be explored. WWF has long been a part of the debate and dialogue around credits in the carbon space. We wanted to look at what are the same risks that we could be seeing when we're thinking about the plastic waste credit system.

What's been interesting, though, is that, typically, I'm just currently cautious about plastic crediting because there's really not sufficient standards and safeguards for the process. There's potential to enable companies to make claims about actions without actually making any substantial changes to their businesses and causing potential green loss, and therefore environmental and social risk.

We came out and said, "We see plastic crediting as a potential additional approach to plastic reduction strategies if there could be strong and credible standards that we could govern enough. If there could be strong, social, and environmental safeguards upheld." This is always a challenge and then, of course, the claims and the way we're telling the story is supported by the Transparent Footprint Reporting. Meaning, in addition to the work you're already doing to clean up your own house.

What we wanted to do is make sure that we came out and started to position the concerns and risks associated so that any further development standards that were in progress would be thinking about safeguarding against these risks, making sure that they are considering those challenges as they're developing their standards so that they don't get out and put out a standard that misses that.

Another piece of that was we wanted to draw a line in the sand around this idea of plastic neutrality. We don't support the use of terms like plastic neutral or plastic neutrality because they don't really clearly convey the environmental impact. We also wanted to say that we don't think that net-zero is a great concept in this space. It's assistance concept, but it's not a term that should be applied to individual products or materials. Especially when there's no current strong consensus on the definition of it.

We don't want people to be misled. There's already enough complexity and confusion in the space, so we want to make sure that it's easy for folks to understand what's happening. Really, I think the plastic credit space it's got a lot of growth. We will continue to try to keep that lens for making sure that the net impact that we're looking to see with those credits is actually happening versus something that is murking the waters further, if that makes sense.

[00:30:20] Liz: It definitely does. You know this better than anyone, the world is paying closer attention to plastics these days from the emotional images we've all seen with wildlife and nature. Do you think this additional exposure has helped brands come to you and other groups to help with this challenge?

[00:30:41] Erin: Yes, it's been the momentum and the speed at which companies and governments are raising their ambition, is really fascinating. For conservation organizations like ours, it's been really a perfect storm to allow us to push for the level of change we need to see as quickly as we do. Because there's such an urgency to this one. Especially if you think about the latest statistics around the Pew report around what would happen with business as usual.

Two times the plastic production, meaning three times the leakage into the ocean, and therefore four times of what's there today persisting there. Those images, what's been -and I hate to even use this term- so fantastic about an image of a turtle with a straw in its nose or a gut-wrenching image of an animal that has been directly impacted by plastic through entanglement or ingestion is that, universally, we have all had the same reaction. 

We look at that and we say, "That is not how it should be. Why is that there? It does not belong there".

When you're trying to get engagement from all these stakeholders, when you're trying to make a case for their involvement, one part of it is them understanding that they have a role to play in solving it. But another is providing them with the opportunity to be empowered because they have a role to play. Where the climate crisis is harder to tangibly figure out what your role is, for the first time ever, the general public has stopped using a straw and be a part of the solution right away. Even though that was less impactful, the straw movement was just the tip of the iceberg, but it allowed them to feel really engaged and a part of the solutions and so hungry for more.

I think you see that not just with individuals, but you see that with governments who are being held accountable by those individuals. And companies, there's a lot of pressure on them to help be a part of solving this problem. All of that public pressure has definitely accelerated things along with just the cohesive way that its science has advanced to give us those key statistics to say like, "Here's what's going to happen if we don't do this. It's a hot mess, folks."

I think that that's been really powerful. You get that tipping point of a certain number of companies leading out with that ambition. At some point, if you're not with them, then what are you doing? Yes, we've been, I think incredibly lucky to have that momentum in the plastic crisis because it has definitely allowed our strategy to evolve at a pace that is closer to what we need it to be to actually get out ahead of this problem before it causes irreparable damage to species, ecosystems, and of course, community.

[00:34:09] Liz: Definitely. How has the pandemic affected your work and the work of WWF?

[00:34:16] Erin: I have been thinking about this a lot because we get the question a lot, but also because it's such an immersive experience. Whether we wanted it or not, for one, there's a lot of work that my team is doing to advance the science, the credibility of our work, and get more companies involved. That has been moving forward. It's had a lot of impact, but a lot of what we do is stakeholder engagement, getting together with people and building consensus.

We've had to do all of that in this virtual space. I would argue that we're, as a larger community, getting much better at that. I don't know that we totally know what the impact of the loss of that is, but I think what you're still seeing is progress on the topics and progress of ambition. Early on, as the pandemic took hold and we saw a lot more medical waste out in nature and in communities, there was this fear that the problem was just getting so much worse and, therefore, it was going to really stall out on our ability to make progress.

What that really helped to build more transparency into was the fact that what we see happening is a new source of waste entering an already broken system. That they're just helping to highlight the urgency of getting to fixing it, whether that's through policy or through company engagement and action, and of course, consumer engagement empowered by all of that.

Another challenge that hit that I was a little bit concerned about was the oil price. It's cost-prohibitive right now for recycled content or sustainably sourced bio against Virgin. The price of oil going down only exacerbates that issue. It's so cheap to make virgin plastic, so I was worried that companies were going to want to back off of their recycled content targets or the role they were playing. That actually did not happen.

Now, that hasn't happened yet, I'm not going to be able to predict the future and I don't have control of these companies, so we continue to look at cost parity and how cost parity with virgin is a limiting piece of the system change.  It has to be addressed whether through policy or other mechanisms. That's something that we're keeping an eye on.

Reuse itself was something that people shied away from. When we look at the strategy, we know that reuse has got to be new business models in general, like delivering things in a different way that are not single-use. It's something that is an area that needs to grow and that system needs to be developed in order for the innovation and the solutions falling into it. What I mean by system, is like I mentioned earlier, the fact that we have to have a way to actually reuse those things.

We have to have consumer engagement and incentive to get them back. We have to be able to meet safety and design protocols in order to do all that. There needs to be policy, so we have to build that as we innovate in that space. Honestly, the pandemic gave us some time when there wasn't a proliferation of solutions being piloted to really step back with that group at World Economic Forum and build those guidelines out. Start to put some of those safeguards in place ahead of that to raise awareness around what designers, companies, cities, and others need to be thinking about as they're putting those things into place.

I'm not going to say the pandemic has been good by any means, but we are pretty agile and continue to drive the mission forward because we know that those barriers, those challenges, are going to continue to arise in the future. We just have to be really resilient in the way we think about working to continue to make progress in the meantime.

[00:38:41] Liz: Absolutely. I love that you talked about the cost parity and how that needs to be addressed in breeding and markets, because that will fix the recycling system as well and push it along.

[00:38:54] Erin: Yes.

[00:38:55] Liz: As you know, a lot of our listeners are waste and recycling folks, and they're tasked with handling this massive amount of plastic in the system at its end of life. Do you have any advice for them?

[00:39:08] Erin: I think they have this really powerful role to play because they provide an opportunity for a next life of those materials. I think they have a huge opportunity to influence the discussions that are being had right now around design standards, even what do they want in their system. Helping to think about and work with entrepreneurs or technology companies on technologies that they could utilize that would increase efficiency in materials, what we get out of that.

Recycling system, quality and quantity, to be a part of thinking about how we can engage in communities better, to get the public excited about this, encouraged and aware of the role that they can play. They do not need to be just somebody who the materials are thrown over a wall to without communication. They have power to be a part of that dialogue and think collectively of how they can do it.

One thing I want to encourage is for them to also look similarly to the way that you see users of plastic from changing their view, which is that we can't allow just economics to be the only driving factor. Right now, tipping fees into landfills are pretty inexpensive, but there is an environmental cost that's not being accounted for. How can they help push that?

I'm not saying that I need them to go out of business in the process. I know they need to keep their doors open and their staff paid, but how can they help us figure out the right levers or the right standards that need to be set? Or the right policies to be put in place to help enable them to be conscious of both the environmental and economic costs of waste so that we can keep it in the system and use it again and again? Yes, they belong in the table with a very powerful voice, like everyone else.

[00:41:28] Liz:  Definitely. It's great to hear that there is a seat at the table. I think that has been their complaint over the years with recycling labels that haven't worked and things like that. Just to get them at the table before the product is produced will save everybody time, energy, money and get the end result what we all hope for.

[00:41:51] Erin: Yes, exactly.

[00:41:53] Liz: What else are you paying attention to? Not that you're not busy enough, Erin, but what else are you working on?

[laughter] 

[00:42:00] Erin: A couple of things this year on top of all that. One is, as we think about this national policy way, and really how the US system has a huge opportunity but also looking at the global stage. How can we think about and support member states bringing to the UN general assembly next year a global treaty to address plastic waste? What that does as it creates consistency for companies hoping to invest globally, and consistency in the way we're measuring each country's waste and material flows?

Commitments by these countries to address their plastic waste problem, to invest in infrastructure, to put policies in place to help enable the recovery of those materials and to regulate that. The WWF is really supporting this larger dialogue in partnership, actually, with Greenpeace and Ocean Plastic Leadership Network around how we can bring together all the key-value chain players around support and establishment of the right elements of what a global treaty for plastic waste would look like over the next year.

Ocean Plastic Leadership Network is going to be hosting some dialogues this year to help create some clarity in the different institutions and parts of the value chain's priorities, and what's going to be really an enabling function and then rolling out to the national level discussion. These things are going to be a feedback loop to one another. While the global treaty would take a while to get into place in the meantime that the more national legislation and infrastructure development will be in progress.

I think it's really important that you're influencing those in a really cohesive way so that metrics and measurements are using the same standard terms and definitions, for example. That the policy and reforms pushed out at a global level will work for the diverse set of countries and communities that it needs to enable and support. A lot of exciting work. I'm thinking about that. The US could be really, really powerful in those discussions, and has a real great opportunity to just look at its own board on how we fix our own system, as I've mentioned before.

The other issue we're really focusing on is connecting the plastic waste footprinting into environmental impact. I talked earlier about how we're looking at plastic waste footprints for companies, and what is that is measuring is lots of opportunities. Lots of resources. It's not measuring the environmental impact because of the loss. The climate discussion is going to be a priority for this administration, and connecting the interventions in the decisions we make around solutions to address the plastic waste problems to their climate impact or climate benefit is really important.

We're going to be continuing to push on really thinking about how we advance the science on that and being able to understand that better so we can empower companies with that knowledge to be able to utilize that in making better decisions. We do some work on that and continuing to be a voice around the bioplastic discussion. Bioplastics came up, emerged back in the early 2010-2011 on the heels of some of the missteps we took with biofuels.

WWF launched a program called the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance back in 2013, I think. I should know this because I actually was the one to launched it. It really set up to help companies think about what they need to consider. What are the risks associated with sourcing biobased materials for making into plastics. What of the land use. The food security concerns. How do they think about biodiversity, water, and chemical use when they hadn't been thinking about that before when sourcing from oil and natural gas.

We've been doing that work for a long time, but it's rising back up in interest. Therefore, the debate of its value as a part of systems change, helping to get clarify the conflation of biobased, and biodegradable, and compostables and how that impacts recycling. That discussion and debate is going to continue this year again and ramp up again. We'll be really helping to talk about how biobased can be a part of it in a sustainable way and what we need to consider as a part of the infrastructure policy and consumer engagement in order for that to work. I think those are a few of the things we're focusing on. There's others, but I think those are the big buckets.

[00:47:19] Liz: It's a busy year ahead and beyond for you.

[laughter] 

[00:47:24] Erin: Yes. Thank goodness I have an amazing team. They're all smarter than me, which is really helpful. They are really passionate about this work. We have an organization who supports this, not just in the US, but globally. I think we're set up to deliver on everything we want to achieve, so that's great.

[00:47:49] Liz: I love that. I appreciate the passion. It really comes through in how you're describing the work you're doing and the goals. Thank you for that. Thanks so much for the important work you're doing around building these complete programs that you've told us about, working on the Pact and the treaty. Really appreciate the fact that you really want to bring all these stakeholders together in the system. It feels like the momentum bearing it's really pushing forward and concrete solutions are coming. It just makes me feel hopeful, so thank you.

[00:48:23] Erin: No problem. Yes, we're super excited about it and super excited about the landscape of really great institutions all working together on this. It's been really powerful.

[00:48:35] Liz: Good for you, keep up the great work. I can't wait to keep following you and your team, and watch what else you're doing. Thank you.

[00:48:43] Erin: No problem. Thank you so much for the opportunity to share our story.

[00:48:48] Liz: It's a great one. Thank you again. I will let you get back to your busy day.

[00:48:55] Erin:  All right. Sounds good. Thanks.

[music] 

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