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Peek Inside an Innovative & Environmentally Responsible Paper Mill (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 Lisa Berghaus from Monadnock Paper Mills. Please tell me about your background and how you found your love for sustainability and the company you're at now.

[00:00:41] Lisa Berghaus: I can tell you a little bit about myself. I just reached my 20th anniversary at Monadnock Paper Mills. I've always been fascinated with manufacturing. Making things it's very important to me, but also making them in a responsible way. I don't know if you've ever been or seen Monadnock Paper Mills, but it's unique in the paper manufacturing world.

One, because we don't manufacture pulp here. You don't get that odor that you smell when you think of paper mills.

That's the pulping process. We purchase pulp on the open market. When I started at Monadnock and got to know our environmental manager [inaudible 00:01:23] that sparked this fascination and interest in sustainability across the board. Being a responsible manufacturer, she had incredible passion.

She knew this company inside and out, and was incredibly involved in [unintelligible 00:01:43] from legislation that impacted all the companies in New Hampshire to involvement with New Hampshire businesses for social responsibility, to running our wastewater treatment plant, and our hydroelectric facilities. I took the opportunity to learn as much as I could from her. She is not here at Monadnock any longer, but I try to keep the spirit and keep the progress going.

[00:02:13] Liz: That's great. Your company is more than 200 years old and has quite a cool story. What changes and innovations have you seen that the company has ushered in?

[00:02:24] Lisa: I've only been here 20 of that 200 years. It really started when the current family purchased the mill in the '40s, but there was a lot of improvement that had to occur. The owners, the Verney family actually lives on the property and takes incredible pride in the facilities, and very respectful of our community and our neighbors here at the paper mill. It's like the low-hanging fruit grows back, whereas people were looking at efficiency.

In my tenure here, light bulbs have changed three times. You went from incandescent, now we're CFLs, and then we have light sensors that go off when nobody's in the room. I'm sure they will continue to be evolutions like that. Electricity world, efficiencies in our hydro generation with new technology. We actually recycle 100% of our manufacturing by-product, which is called short paper fiber. Before my time, that short paper fiber was accumulated in sent to landfill.

Today, it's 100% beneficially reused with bedding, compost, and soil amendments. Because Monadnock is really careful about what comes in the front door, the by-product from our manufacturing is safe for land application. It's tested frequently to ensure that we can continue to supply that nutrient-rich material to the communities that need it. That's a really cool story.

Two reasons, innovations-- In my tenure here was, they used to accumulate this fiber in containers that required load levelers to go back and forth, otherwise, you ended up with something that looked like Mount Fuji up to the ceiling. Those low-levelers are something that had to run 24 hours a day as we were manufacturing to even out that fiber into the container, as well as being hauled out in these particular size containers.

Today, we let it just go into a holding tank and we live loaded into trucks that come in so we can, first of all, get rid of the load levelers, still 100% beneficially reuse the material, but they can go out in much larger trucks. Not only are we saving energy, we're lowering emissions for the amount of trucking activity. That's one cool innovation with that waste. Then we collaborated with a competitor because they figured out a way to dredge their wastewater treatment ponds.

Typically, you'd have to have these ponds dredged every 10 or so years, and that material would go to a landfill. But that's that same beneficially, rich material that could be put back into our treatment plant and send off with the short paper fiber. That's just one really incredibly cool, innovative, evolving waste story that we have here at Monadnock.

[00:05:44] Liz: Definitely. It's amazing how that really affects everything that you're doing. I love that.

[00:05:50] Lisa: That material is actually a material that we had to purchase. On the front end, we have objectives to try and make sure that the amount of material fiber, raw material, gets to the treatment plan is lowered until there are continual efficiencies to make that happen as well. Because that saves us money, it saves us time and is less taxing on our wastewater treatment. We have to consider it from our supplier all the way to the end of the line.

[00:06:24] Liz: I think that's what makes that remarkable, it's that you really are thinking about it in that way. I also read, Lisa, that your company has a Green Team. What is that and what does it do?

[00:06:36] Lisa: We're an ISO 14001. That means we have a Certified Environmental Management System. That takes into account all of the aspects of our business that have environmental impacts and we commit to impact reductions. We formed a team, and it's made up of people from all functional areas of the company, to contribute to ideas and to drive improvements across a wide range of packs, like wastewater, energy emissions, hydro efficiencies and generation.

We meet periodically. We come up with these products, we do cost-benefit analysis, and then we bring them forward to the executive team. When they're approved, we continue to drive those projects to fruition to meet all of our objectives. It's a great way to formalize your environmental management system have engagement from the top to the bottom of the organization to drive change. It works. Really great system and a great group of people that are very passionate about what they do.

[00:07:52] Liz: That's fantastic. Based on what you're saying and what I've read, you've really seen that sustainability can be good for business. You see other companies, especially your own customers, making this part of their mission as well?

[00:08:09] Lisa: I would say Monadnock probably would not be in business today if we weren't stepping up and meeting the needs of our customers. Everything we're doing is driven by the market. We behave responsibly. We work with the largest brands in the world. There's a reputational and financial risk if you don't know your suppliers and what they're doing. With social media today, the visibility, and the awareness of consumers today, you're in big trouble. You can't hide.

It's extremely responsible to understand where your raw materials come from, how you run your business, and what happens when the materials leave the back door. We have companies, customers, that have specific environmental impact reduction objectives. We work with them in order to educate them on how their purchasing decisions can help move the needle for them, and also help them make the case for sustainable solutions. Because sustainable solutions aren't always the least expensive. The total cost of ownership could bring you over the finish line to make the sale, to go sustainable.

[00:09:39] Liz: What do you say to people who do think that sustainable packaging or paper options are cost prohibited?

[00:09:46] Lisa: It's tough. Especially in manufacturing and consumer goods. When you say sustainable, it has to be economically viable as well. It all depends on the relative importance that these brands put in different buckets, and considering the total cost of ownership because lesser quality good can end up costing way more at the end of the day.

We have people who are sourcing today, materials that are outside of the United States and they're in a world of hurt because of the incredible disruptions in their supply chain. Sourcing locally and buying responsible materials from responsible suppliers it's good for business.

[00:10:36] Liz: It definitely is good for business and you guys are proof of that. What other interesting fibers or materials are you seeing now? Are you working with hemp, mushroom, anything interesting like that?

[00:10:48] Lisa: There's been tremendous interest in alternative fibers. Monadnock has worked with many different fibers over the years. In fact, when Monadnock opened its doors, we were making paper out of flax. We're cool again. We're not using flax, but we're using a material from shredded coffee bean bags that come back from the roasters. Those hundreds and hundreds of thousands of coffee bean bags were going to landfill, or hippies were making purses and knickknacks out of them.

This is a viable way to divert that material from landfill and make some really incredibly beautiful papers, we call Kona Paper. We're making papers for luxury packaging out of hemp. That's an interesting story with hemp today. There's not enough hemp fiber viable for the papermaking process within the United States, but that's growing. Today we're sourcing hemp from all over the world and hopefully, eventually, as hemp is more accepted in the United States and the production grows, we'll probably see a lot more of that.

We're looking at other agricultural fibers. We've been making paper out of cotton linters, which is a by-product of the cotton agricultural industry for all sorts of things. T-shirt fibers from weavers, leftover cloth, denim. There's all sorts of different waste fibers that can be used to make a paper substrate or packaging substrate. Pretty cool, the evolution. Of course, harvesting wood responsibly and being FSC Certified, Forest Stewardship Council Certified means. Virgin wood fiber is also a sustainable option for everybody.

One of our ISO 14001 objectives is to increase the amount of recycled fiber that we use in our process, post-consumer waste recycled fiber, and that's also certified. We know that the supply chain has not been broken and we can tell our customers where that fiber came from.

[00:13:09] Liz: That's great. Are you having issues sourcing it now or is it okay?

[00:13:13] Lisa: No, we have incredible supply chain partners and there is an ample supply of waste fiber. I was concerned because we buy very high-quality office waste, but last year there weren't too many people in the office. I thought, "Okay, nobody's at the office running the copiers." There were some saving graces because a very huge growth area in the printing industry last year was direct mail, and that's the office of our paper waste.

There was never really a disruption in the supply chain in recycled papers over the past year. I think it's in part and parcel with the strong relationships we have with our suppliers.

[00:13:59] Liz: That's good to hear. Speaking of last year and COVID, how has COVID affected your work in the company?

[00:14:07] Lisa: Interestingly enough, and it doesn't surprise me and everybody is probably aware, sustainability is now at the top. I think a lot of people in their homes realize it's time to clean house. I know hundreds of people who went to their homes and recycled a lot of stuff and realized how quickly trash piles up. They're a lot more conscious, just about the amount of plastic that is in the supply chain and it's crazy. Sustainability, in our minds and in our customer's minds, has risen to the top. For a while, it seemed to be waning a little bit with other challenges. 

The other thing is Monadnock is a technical specialty mill. We serve many, many different markets. We're able to ride out the storm in particular markets, and we supplied the paper for one of the integral parts of the packaging for the swab test kits. The paper industry was considered a necessary industry during COVID, and that is just one of the many reasons why. We also make sustainable signage. We have brands that have stores across the country in various waves, reopening the retail, hospitality, hotels, all needing wayfinding signage, social distancing signage, and face signage.

There was a lot of printing going on in that regard. Those brands that wanted to do the same amount of plastic in their portfolio are moving to sustainable, renewable fiber papers for signage. Signage made out of 100% recycled fiber. It's been an interesting, not very pleasant in some regard, but interesting ride. We're very fortunate to come out on this [inaudible 00:16:19] continuing to evolve.

[00:16:22] Liz: It sounds like you have such diversity in your portfolio, like you said. It's nice to see all the applications of the work that you're doing. I didn't even think that you could be doing some sustainable signage. That's amazing.

[00:16:39] Lisa: It is. I've studied the supply chain extensively over the years and a lot of signage is just made out of styrene. Today, there's really no recycling stream for styrene, a viable recycling stream. It all goes to landfills and it lasts forever. There is a place for plastics in the world, but it's not temporary signage. It's not temporary wall graphics. It's not giftcards that are used within a month of its time and only swipe three times and goes to the trash. There's a lot of places where plastic is way over-engineered [unintelligible 00:17:15] in the intended use. We aim to find every single one of those and that's what keeps us relevant.

[00:17:24] Liz: Definitely. To your point with the whole single-use part of the plastics, whenever I have anyone on who's talking about plastics and associations, plastics is definitely not the enemy. It's just like you said, the single-use application of a lot of it. It has served the world well in a lot of ways, in medicine, in cars, and other things, but to your point, that single-use application is the tough one.

[00:17:53] Lisa: Yes. That's been interesting. There's almost 10 billion giftcards that have been circulated around the world that were made by Monadnock, the paper was made by us. No failures in the market. It's 100% recyclable. It's made out of renewable FSC certified fiber that we've third-party tested recyclable. Everything that we make is made for its intended use and to meet the most sustainable profile possible for that product. That's our objective every time.

[00:18:27] Liz: I love that. Do you find, on the customer end, that folks know how to dispose of it properly so that the end of life is what you hoped for?

[00:18:39] Lisa: I am a geek. Whenever I look at claims that are made out there on any product, I test it to see how they qualify, or validate, or support these claims. When we make a claim, we support it with third-party available documentation, but we also tell them how it's recyclable in your curbside mixed paper waste bin. So if you're a recycler, or you're a transfer station, or you dump recycles paper, that's where it goes. There's no doubt. It's not like another material that I know of, I won't mention it. They say it's recyclable but the only way to recycle is to send it back to the manufacturer. I don't know, it's just not honest. Because I don't know how many people will open an envelope, remove the contents and then make sure to send that envelope back to the manufacturer. Just disingenuous.

[00:19:43] Liz: Yes, and it's a big hurdle. It's putting a big ask back to consumers.

[00:19:50] Lisa: I love that how to recycle labeling scheme. It is endeavoring when you have a especially mixed material packaging. You've got something with a film, and a tray in a box. If you have a label on the outside it says recyclable to how to recycle breaks down the components and tells you what to do with each one. It's a good start. It's the transparency that's absolutely necessary. They're probably 90% of the people in this country that think those chasing arrows on the bottom of every plastic bottle means it's recyclable. That's another area where we need more transparency.

[00:20:33] Liz: Definitely.

[00:20:33] Lisa: [inaudible 00:20:33] how to recycle label really, I think, it's the answer.

[00:20:39] Liz: And the transparency is key because we've just proven over and over again, the more education we do to show contamination issues, to show what is indeed recyclable, to show them the way that they get it. It's just a matter of reinforcing that always. I love that. You're also on the board of the New Hampshire Business for Social Responsibility. What kind of work-?

[00:21:04] Lisa: I was [inaudible 00:21:04] for four years. I had to pass the torch.

[00:21:11] Liz: What kind of work do they do? What was your role while you were there?

[00:21:15] Lisa: Well, that is a sustainability organization made up of all different kinds of companies within New Hampshire. You'd be surprised what large multinational corporations operate in New Hampshire, and then the lifeblood of the state is all business, so it ran the gamut and then consultants. We convene and talk about important issues, and thought leadership and share best practices.

We've taken advantage of that many times with members that we know have gone a little bit further on their trajectory and they were extremely open. For instance, I want Monadnock to be able to claim we're a manufacturing zero waste to landfill. We're almost there, but there's a company way up north that's doing incredible work that had reached the zero manufacturing waste to landfill. They let us come in, they showed us how they were able to accomplish that, and it was a manufacturing operation. It's really important to have those kinds of opportunities to learn and share. It's a really high-energy fun organization.

[00:22:36] Liz: That's great, that you all work so closely together, that's fantastic for the entire state. What advice do you have for people who want to make changes in their own lives or their own communities to be more sustained?

[00:22:48] Lisa: Getting involved with your community and understanding what the challenges are, that would be different [inaudible 00:22:54] within a company that wants to start the journey. There's a lot of free resources to help you start to build a framework. We relied heavily on the EPA early on, and they have a lot of volunteer programs like the Green Power Partnership, Waste Wise partner, The Smart Way Transport partner. All of those provide tools for you to start quantifying the aspects in your operation that have impacts, and help you set goals, and help you track your progress. That's very simple to do if you wanted to start.

I would take a look at the ISO 14,001 framework. You don't necessarily have to become certified, but that helps you understand that it requires [unintelligible 00:23:54] mint top-down the entire organization needs to be committed to the sustainable manufacturing or operations businesses, or even a sustainable community, and provide the framework for you to start building that at plan to move forward. Even just at home, talk to your kids about waste. I know that they're hearing a lot more about that in school, so they're probably a lot smarter than their parents.

[laughter] 

[00:24:23] Lisa: And take them to a landfill. Everybody's like, "Oh, that's icky" but out of sight, out of mind, I think this country has had a comeuppance now that we're not able to ship most of our waste outside of our country. We can't ignore it anymore, meaning the royal we. It costs money and municipalities are drowning in the expense of waste management. It's a real thing, and everybody owns it, and everybody needs to get involved.

[00:24:59] Liz: Definitely, for sure. To your point, ever since the ban we all have to think differently. I think it's great to take your children. They need to know that it's just not throw away and it's not your problem anymore. We all deal with it in some way, so I think good landfill visit is important.

[00:25:19] Lisa: Sure.

[00:25:22] Liz: Well, that's great to hear. What lies ahead for you and the company? What other exciting things do you have on the horizon?

[00:25:31] Lisa: We have a lot going on, actually. We're in the process of developing a closed-loop system for some of our large paper buyers to close the loop on their supply chain, and take back the waste materials from the converting process. Funnel it back through the recycler, and sell it to them again in new post/consumer waste recycled papers. That's pretty cool.

[00:25:59] Liz: That's really cool.

[00:26:01] Lisa: Yes. I mean, closing a little bit I think there are a lot of companies that are trying to do that in a lot of the industries that we work in, and in retail, you'll see a lot in the fashion world, taking back clothes, repairing clothes, reselling their used clothes. It's interesting.

We continue to develop more and more 100% post-consumer waste recycled products, and we have many product announcements that'll be coming out the balance of the year. Also, alternative fibers, we're working with some really great partners in that space. We continue to increase recycled fiber as we learn more about how to build high-performance papers with recycled fiber, because recycled fiber has different characteristics, so you have to change your recipe in order to continue to make high-performance materials. We've learned quite a lot over the past 10 years, so keep your eyes open for that.

We recently joined an organization called The Sustainable Green Printing Partnership. A lot of the products that we sell go to printers. We're trying to educate them on the materials that are available, and help them educate their customers.

[00:27:26] Liz: You have a lot happening, and it's all really important. How close are you to closing the loop?

[00:27:32] Lisa: We already are doing that, but we want to formalize the product or the service, and make that available to more people. We needed to do a test kit case where we know that the system works satisfactorily, it doesn't create any disruptions. It's working very well for us.

[00:27:54] Liz: Awesome. My God, this is like a little gold mine. I love all that you're doing. 

[00:27:59] Lisa: We're a good company, we're very cool. We do cool stuff. We have cool customers that really care. We're not perfect, last year was really tough relative to our impact reduction goals because of the incredible destruction. It would be nice to run one product for three weeks in a row, but our reality is to make five different products in a day. If you see a paper machine and what it takes to do great changes, you got to stop, you got to clean it. We continue to try and improve the impacts of that type of disruptive operation, but it's the new reality. 

[00:28:39] Liz: [inaudible 00:28:40] embracing it, and really making the most of it.

[00:28:44] Lisa: Waste cost money. Raw materials, natural resources, time, space, and real estate for waste. The disposal or disposition, reputation with your customers. If you don't, you can't supply a full order because you've created some waste. It's a full-time job.

[00:29:06] Liz: It really is. Do you just serve customers with big orders? Or do you also help smaller businesses?

[00:29:14] Lisa: I'd say the majority of our businesses it's all B2B, but we have some small partners, some people, the small boutique shops that make wedding invitations or custom wallpapers, you can order or upload your own design, and they'll print it and send you one roll of wallpaper that you can put on your wall. 

It's so cool, and it's PVC-free, it's an alternative to vinyl. It's beautiful, so you can upload your own designs. They have incredible amounts of artists that they work with, so you can choose one of theirs, and all you have to do it's get it wet and stick it up. It's already pre-pasted, and the best part is it's strippable meaning it will come right off the wall. It won't damage the wall like your grandma's wallpaper. [inaudible 00:30:10] on little teeny pieces, this comes off all in one piece from wash the wall with water and soap, or water and a sponge and then put up a new one.

That's really good for boutique hotels that like to update or refresh their designs in their lobbies, or restrooms, or restaurant. Not necessarily fast food, but some fast-food changing the graphics in their dining rooms, and things like that. It goes all the way to corporate offices, and conference rooms design their own branded wool coverings. That's just one of many of these types of custom products.

[00:30:57] Liz: That is very cool. I love that. All right. I need to check out and see really the full [inaudible 00:31:04] 

[00:31:04] Lisa: [inaudible 00:31:04] I'll send a link you can see. There's a couple of companies that are doing that now. It's fun.

[00:31:10] Liz: That is fun. Okay. I would love that link. Where can people learn more about you and the company? 

[00:31:18] Lisa: Well, certainly mpm.com. We've had incredible opportunities that have been highlighted. National television in the Northeast, there's the Massachusetts Chronicle and New Hampshire Chronicle that have done spots on what we're doing up here. Certainly our website is the best resource. Social media, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. We have a lot going on.

[00:31:49] Liz: I bet it's very visual, so I will definitely follow you on Instagram too, to see the beauty of what you're doing. It sounds amazing.

[00:31:58] Lisa: Thank our partners at [unintelligible 00:31:59]. They're doing great work for us.

[00:32:02] Liz: Awesome. Is there anything else you want to share before I let you go? I know it's a busy time for you. 

[00:32:08] Lisa: Monadnock it's an extraordinary company, and we understand that we have a hand in what our future looks like. We want to just continue to be responsible suppliers to our customers continue to innovate.

[00:32:23] Liz: Well, it sounds like you have that down.

[00:32:25] Lisa: Well, hope so. Look for the next 200 years. 

[00:32:28] Liz: Exactly. Well, congratulations on such a storied company and career there. I can't wait to watch more and follow you to see what else is happening.

[00:32:39] Lisa: Thank you so much for your willingness to chat with me and learn more about our great company.

[00:32:45] Liz: Well, thank you. I'm sure we'll be in touch.

[00:32:47] Lisa: Great, Liz. Thanks. Have a great day.

[00:32:49] Liz: Okay, you too. Thanks, Lisa.

[00:32:51] Lisa: Bye.

[00:32:52] Liz: 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 Podcastswag. Just tag us, and see what you get. Thanks so much.

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