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Shifting Markets Using Ocean-bound Plastics (Transcript)

[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 Ellen Jackowski, Global Head of Sustainability, Strategy, and Innovation at HP. Ellen drives HP sustainable impact strategy and programs that focus on the planet, the people, and the communities that HP serves. Welcome, Ellen and thanks for being on the show today.

[00:00:46] Ellen Jackowski: Hi, Liz thanks so much for having me.

[00:00:48] Liz: I would love to hear a little bit more about your background and how you've made your way to HP focusing on sustainability.

[00:00:56] Ellen: Sure. Ever since I was young, I always managed to find jobs that were linked to companies with fairly deep purpose. For example, in high school, I worked at Ben & Jerry's. Ben and Jerry's being one of the key founders of a company that had really strong on purpose and direct connection to social impact.

Ever since then, I've just always been drawn to choose employers that were really focused on some social or environmental mission. At one point, I was a management consultant, HP was one of our clients, and I was just so impressed with the HP way and a lot of the culture that HP is famously known for. When the opportunity came up to come and be a part of the sustainability movement at HP, I definitely wanted in and that's how I ended up in this role.

[00:01:55] Liz: That's great. I love to hear that you've always been attracted to companies with purpose, that's amazing. Please, tell me more about HP Elite Dragonfly, the world's first notebook made with ocean-bound plastics.

[00:02:10] Ellen: We could not be prouder of this product. HP it's been on a mission for quite some time to continue to increase the sustainability benefits of every single product that we make and put out on the market, and the Dragonfly is another step in our mission to create the world's most sustainable products.

The Dragonfly, as you mentioned, is the world's first notebook that contains ocean-bound plastic. It's the third product that we've launched that uses this type of material, the first was HP's ink cartridges back in 2017. Then, earlier this year, we launched the HP EliteDisplay monitor that uses ocean-bound plastic, and then now, finally, we've innovated a way to include this material in the HP Elite Dragonflies. Not only does it have ocean-bound plastic in part of the product, but there are other sustainability elements built-in, starting with the packaging itself.

The packaging is a hundred percent sustainably sourced, it has 35% recycled cardboard. We've really tried to think very consciously about every element of this product and use it as an innovation inspiration for some of our other products that you're going to see coming from us.

The packaging has elements, other aspects of the product itself, for example, the screen bezel is made of 75% percent recycled plastic. We're really on a mission to start replacing all of our virgin materials with recycled content, and the Dragonfly is another great example of the innovation and progress on this mission.

[00:03:47] Liz: That's fantastic. I understand most of the material used in this model came from your recycling model in Haiti and what you're doing there, could you describe that recycling model and that localized effort? It's pretty extraordinary.

[00:04:03] Ellen: Sure. To be clear, the amount of Haiti ocean-bound recycled plastic in Dragonfly it is just a small portion, but it took a lot of innovation to figure out how to use it in this product. PCs are pretty complex, there's a lot of heating and cooling that goes on, so we've started with a small amount, and as we continue to innovate you're going to see more come up.

Haiti, what are we doing there? This really came from an idea that had begun over 15 years ago in our ink cartridges. HP's ink cartridges are one of the leading [unintelligible 00:04:38] recycling products out on the market. We use more than a million PET bottles, those are like plastic beverage bottles that you might see, plastic water bottles or soda bottles. We recycle those bottles and use that plastic in our ink cartridges to the tune of over a million of those bottles a day.

When we were thinking about that type of volume, which is already pretty significant, we started thinking about, "How can we have more impacts? How could our procurement strategy around where we're sourcing those recycled bottles help in a broader way?" That's when we were introduced to a recycler in Haiti.

Haiti obviously is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, they have a lot of challenges. They do not have municipal garbage collection across the island, so a lot of the garbage, including those PET bottles, end up on the ground, not ever being collected. Being an island nation so close to the ocean, when it rains and when the wind blows, all of that garbage flows into canals and out into the ocean. It's a major contributor of the ocean plastic pollution problem that the world struggles with today.

It was an opportunity for us to think about, "What if we started sourcing those PET bottles from Haiti, created a market for that plastic so that instead of being seen as waste, those plastic bottles were seen as a job, as an income opportunity? And in addition to helping stop the ocean plastic problem, could also create jobs and help the economy." That's what we started to do with our ink cartridges. Through that process, we've been able to innovate now three products, including the Dragonfly, using that material.

[00:06:32] Liz: That's fantastic. Can you talk about the process of turning the ocean-bound plastic into material that can be used in your products?

[00:06:41] Ellen: It begins with collection. We work with an informal group of plastic collectors down in Haiti, and today, because we've been able to use over 35 million bottles of this PET plastic, we've been able to create over a thousand income opportunities.

These collectors collect this plastic for us, then is sent to a recycler in Haiti who shreds the plastic and ensuring that it's sorted correctly so that we have as little contamination as possible. Then we wash it, this type of plastic is much dirtier than the type we used to buy before, just up of the North American plastic market because it's been sitting outside, it's been in a canal, been collecting dirt from the outdoor elements, so we need to treat it in a different manner than we would some other types of plastic that we would source.

It goes through an extra washing step, then we pelletize it into a hundred percent ocean-bound plastic pellets, and then depending on its use, whether we're putting it in ink cartridges, or in a display monitor, or now in the Dragonfly, we compound it with other recycled materials, typically recycled computer parts source. For example, our ink cartridges are recycled ink cartridge plastics.

Then also mix it with a little bit of virgin plastic to have the appropriate strength for the performance that it's going to need, and then we turn it into the part that we're going to make, whether it's the ink cartridge itself, or the speaker that goes in the Dragonfly, or the parts that go in the EliteDisplay monitor.

[00:08:19] Liz: Okay, quite a process. That's amazing. I spoke with Dune Ives from Lonely Whale and she said that she was very excited about what you guys are doing and she said that HP has developed the way to integrate ocean-bound PET plastics into a compound that resembles ABS plastic, what you were referring to. And the real sustainability innovation is that you guys are a game-changer, you really change the game in terms of product design a material engineering, and that is going to have implications for many other manufacturers. Do you see that happening now? Was that part of your initial goal? Or is this a wonderful side benefit that you really are changing the marketplace?

[00:09:00] Ellen: Well, when we thought about this project from the beginning, as we were considering going down into Haiti, which is an incredibly difficult place to work, it doesn't have a lot of the capabilities that some of the other locations where supply chain has been evolving and been established and stable for many years. There's a lot of risk in making this decision, but the key for us was, "Can we create a stable market for this material, not just for us, but for other companies as well?".

We make black products, for the most part, our plastic that we use is black. The ink cartridge plastic is black, the speaker that we create for the Dragonfly is black, the parts for the EliteDisplay monitor are black. That means we can use these dark colors of plastic that are consumed in Haiti, a lot of the energy drinks down there are gray, red or brown. Other companies typically create products out of recycled content that needs to be clear or lighter colors. For us, we've created a lot of demand for these dark colors, but there's a question of who uses the clear and the light colors down in Haiti because, at this point, we don't have a need for that.

For us, to be able to create new materials that we can show as models for others to use, that means other companies would be interested in coming down and purchasing the clear and these other colors, helping with the combined mission of creating a stable economic market for recycled plastic and have a bigger impact on the waste cleanup and job creation.

Long answer to, yes, the idea is to create new materials and to create a stable supply chain, so that other companies can leverage it from Haiti directly, as well as copy it. As part of joining NextWave Plastics, we were intent on sharing what we've learned in Haiti and how we've been able to set up this stable supply chain and scale it, so that others could replicate it in Indonesia, India or other island nations where they also have a tremendous problem with plastic pollution.

[00:11:15] Liz: Right, that's true. Do you see that as HP's role in NextWave Plastics? Could you talk more about what NextWave is and your role there? How you see it?

[00:11:26] Ellen: NextWave is a consortium of companies, HP, IKEA, Trek Bicycles, including some of our competitors, like Dell. The mission is to create supply chains that can support the production of ocean-bound plastic in products. By us deciding to join, we've gotten to a point with our ocean-bound plastic supply chain where we felt we had lessons to share, so it was a great time for us to become a part of this organization and share the lessons that we've learned. Again, that others could leverage it, copy it and replicate it.

Similarly, we're learning from the other companies in NextWave about the challenges that they face, how they've been able to overcome them, and we're sharing those learnings with our supply chain so that we can become stronger too.

[00:12:18] Liz: That's great. Well, we can't wait to watch and see what else comes out of that, because it's quite an initiative. You mentioned some really big numbers where you've sourced so many pounds of plastic bottles from Haiti, for your products. Do you see that number growing exponentially in the future as your goals change for how much of recycled content you want to use in your products?

[00:12:46] Ellen: HP has set a goal to use 30% recycled plastic in our personal systems products so, all our PCs, our workstations, gaming equipment. As well as across our print portfolios, all of our printers, our office printers, our home printers, our industrial printers. This is an aggressive difficult goal, 30% recycled plastic across all of our products by 2025.

Today we're at 7%, so we have a long way to go, we have a lot of innovation, a lot of changes we need to make and we're ready for the challenge. In terms of scaling, we're looking to scale all uses of recycled plastic across our products, but for ocean-bound plastic in particular, we also have some challenges ahead and some strong objectives in terms of what we're thinking in terms of growth.

We've recently committed to investing in a two million dollar washing line and bringing that down to Haiti to help scale what we're doing. It's being built right now in Germany, and in a few months it'll be ready to be shipped and installed down there. We're so excited about this, this is something completely different for HP, we've never made an investment like this at the very first mile of our supply chain, companies like ours typically don't do that.

But as we were looking at the global challenges that the world is facing and the ocean plastic pollution problem and how successful we've been able to be so far -which at times surprise ourselves- this just seems like the right investment to be making. The world needs more recycling infrastructure everywhere, wherever there's waste, whether that's in the United States or in places like Haiti, or really anywhere in the world. We're doing something different and we're bringing this washing line down there and we anticipate that we'll be able to increase the jobs by adding another thousand income opportunities, as well as increase the volume of plastic that's available to us and other companies who'd be interested in sourcing from Haiti.

[00:14:54] Liz: Well, that's amazing. When do you think that would be operational?

[00:14:58] Ellen: Well, we're building a new building to house the washing line because Haiti is prone to earthquakes, hurricanes and other things, so that was a new decision that we made. It's going to be a little bit of time, probably spring of 2020, but we cannot wait, we are so excited for this and are doing everything we can to make it happen as fast as possible.

[00:15:24] Liz: That's great. Now, will that affect what you were saying about the double washing standard? Will that help cut down on that? [crosstalk] Or do you think that will still happen because of the ugly plastic? Okay, go ahead.

[00:15:37] Ellen: [chuckle] No, this washing line is to help improve the quality of the plastic and deal with that issue in particular because the plastic it's so dirty and it's so different than the other types of PET that we've been buying traditionally. That's the plan, and it's important for HP that the quality of plastic that we use in our products has to be top-notch, it cannot be contaminated. This washing line helps improve the quality.

But then our cost model, of course, is also incredibly important. When we set up the project, we needed to make sure that our economic model could stand the test of time, we didn't want to come down there and say, "Okay, we're going to be sourcing and we're going to be buying this type of plastic." Then market conditions change, the price of oil drops and then we're tempted to go elsewhere to source the plastics. By putting in this washing line this also continues to help make our economic model more efficient and keep our cost-neutral in terms of thinking about this sourcing model versus others.

[00:16:45] Liz: Right. Okay, that makes sense. Could you talk about the business benefits of your programs? It seems that your efforts aren't just good for the environment, but good for business as well.

[00:16:56] Ellen: Yes, and that has to be clear in everything that we're doing. We're seeing our customers change in their preferences, in their desires for what features and benefits they want from the products that HP is selling them. Sustainability increasingly is important to them, as it should be and as is to our own business leaders. That's opening up a pathway for us to make increasing investments and have increasing confidence in doing all of this work and taking all of these actions. Number one, because it's clear, the world is facing so many environmental crises and companies like HP need to take action and start addressing these problems.

From a business point of view, we're also thinking very clearly about, "How do we do this in a way that strengthens our business, that opens the doors for growth?" And our customers are helping us by continuing to voice their demands for more sustainable products. Together, we're able to make a difference.

[00:18:05] Liz: That's great. I also read in Fortune that HP in 2018 tracked more than 972 million dollars in new revenue back to sustainability programs, which they noted as a 35% year-over-year increase. That a huge case study for what you're doing.

[00:18:25] Ellen: That goes directly back to what I was saying about the changes we're seeing in our customers. Every year, we're seeing more customer interest and more requirements around sustainability for our products. That is simply fantastic.

We are tracking that at the commercial level, we're also seeing those changes with our consumer market, we only expect that to continue to increase and we'll continue to track it and use it as a powerful proof point for why we need to continue to invest in more sustainable solutions and share that information with the world so that other companies can see who might not be tracking this.

The market is changing, customers are changing, everybody is feeling these environmental pressures, people are going on vacation and seeing more plastic in the ocean. I'm sitting here in California today and many areas of the state are dealing with power outages because of the increased wildfires that are related to climate change. This is a reality that we all have to face and we cannot bury our heads in the sand, we must take action, it has to be right now, we can't wait. Products like the Dragonfly are examples of what is possible, and we all need to be doing more.

[00:19:42] Liz: Agreed, that's fantastic. What's next for HP sustainability initiative? It sounds you have more products on the horizon, and even more after your goals.

[00:19:52] Ellen: You are only going to see more from HP in this space. As I mentioned, we have our 30% goal for using recycled plastic in our products by 2025, and if you go to HP.com/SustainableImpact, you will see a whole host of sustainability goals, really aggressive leading goals that we are committed to. Our product roadmap could not be more exciting, we've got lots of launches coming up across our portfolio of products that aim to be the most sustainable in the world. You're going to continue to see us drive this.

We have a new CEO coming in, couldn't be more excited about Enrique Lores, who's taking over the mantle. He's been an HP for 30 years and started as an intern, he has that HP DNA in him. Our founders Bill and Dave committed to sustainability way back when they founded the company in the '50s, they listed what was called then as global citizenship as one of our eight corporate objectives, right next to revenue and profit. They were visionaries and this was inside our company and Enrique definitely is committed to sustainability as well, that's part of his very first days coming into this role. He's already been talking about it quite significantly, so you're only going to see more from HP.

[00:21:11] Liz: Wow, what pioneers in the '50s, that's pretty amazing. [laughs] They were ahead of the times.

[00:21:19] Ellen: Very much so.

[00:21:21] Liz: Any plans to expand to other countries beyond Haiti since this model seems to be so effective?

[00:21:27] Ellen: Well, right now we're excited about that washing line that I mentioned, and putting that in [inaudible 00:21:31]. Our plans for expansion are one to be more open-source about what we've been doing there, so other companies can leverage it and replicate it across the world, that's already happening. Potentially, we will be looking for additional sources, most likely a source in Asia where we have a lot of manufacturing and where the problem needs to be dealt with. You'll likely see more from us, but right now we are focused on getting that washing line and is our next step in our ocean-bound plastic program.

[00:22:03] Liz: Okay. Well, that's a big enough initiative for sure. How was the World Economic Forum? Did it give you hope for the future?

[00:22:11] Ellen: Yes, I participated in the World Economic Forum's event in New York as part of Climate Week in the United Nations General Assembly. The convening there is incredibly powerful, you're sitting among world leaders and other companies that are leading the way and it was a great powerful exchange of ideas, solutions and frank discussions of the problem. I think we all convened to continue to collaborate and find solutions together, it's clear that that's the path forward and we all need to be doing this work right now.

[00:22:49] Liz: Right. What advice would you give to other companies or individuals interested in using ocean-bound plastics in their products?

[00:22:57] Ellen: I think the innovation for this material is only just beginning, it's important to think about your entire plastic strategy. HP it isn't just about using ocean-bound plastic in our products, it's about, number one, can we stop using plastic? Where can we eliminate the use of it? Whether it's in our packaging or creating smaller parts and use less of it. How can we eliminate the use of plastic where possible?

Then secondly, how can we use alternative materials? In a lot of our packaging, we're moving from plastic to molded pulp as a second step. Then the third step is how do you move from virgin plastic or virgin materials to recycled content? As I mentioned, we have that large goal where we're working on that. After that, the question is, can you use specific types of recycled plastic, like ocean-bound plastic in your products? There are only certain types of plastic that are found in mass in the ocean, it's typically PET, HDPE, LDPE, and polypropylene, thinking about those types of plastic and where does it make sense to use them.

For us, we started with our ink cartridges and now we've moved to the ABS mix that you discussed, you have to be also really thoughtful about how you use that plastic. When we're mixing PET with ABS, you don't want to mix too much. For example, in the Dragonfly and those speaker boxes, we're only using 5% PET in that formula, and that's on purpose, we would not increase it at this point in time because we need to ensure that that plastic can be recyclable at its end of life and we're not creating a new type of plastic that's not recyclable.

Thinking about your formulation is really important, thinking about end-of-life and creating circular opportunities so that you're not creating more waste in the long term.

[00:25:02] Liz: That's great. For a lot of our listeners, they deal with the end-of-life product, they're dealing with the tail end of this, so it's refreshing to see manufacturers thinking about that at the start of the manufacturing process because that really is the only way that we're going to have significant change, that's fantastic.

HP has really changed the way companies look at material sourcing, and you guys are a great example of the changes that can be made throughout the entire supply chain, towards reusing and recycling the materials and the ways. Has this changed your corporate culture? Or have you really always been that way? Since you just mentioned the founders back in the '50s were really pioneers in this area.

[00:25:47] Ellen: Yes. No matter what has been going on at HP, the employees have carried this mantra through, the HP way is stronger than ever now, and this is something that was established by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard and it continues to grow. The momentum for this, the commitment to it, continues to grow among the employee base.

When we launched our ocean-bound plastic program, we have a video out there called Rosette's Story, it's a short two-minute video that explains this process, how it works, the job creation and all of the things in this short two-minute video. When we launched it, the phone started ringing off the hook from managing directors across the HP ecosystem saying, "In Turkey we have wheels plastic on our beaches, can we implement this program here?" Or, "In this country, we have this situation, can we become a part of it?"

The momentum and the desire for sustainability at HP and embedding it further into our business and into our products is coming from across the employee base. They couldn't be more revved up and charged up to make a difference, to create more sustainable products, to be proud to work for a company that's so committed to this. That's how I feel. Every day I wake up, I can't believe I'm encouraged to do the work I am, at the level I am, at the speed I am and I have the full backing of our entire leadership team and each of our product groups, who have their own detailed plans and goals in the space. I couldn't be more excited to be a part of this company at this point in time to drive this change with all of the employees at HP together.

[00:27:28] Liz: That's fantastic. To know that that energy is there and it is keeping the momentum moving forward. I can hear the passion in your voice, that's awesome. More great things ahead, it sounds like for sure. How can listeners learn more about HP's, the new laptop and all of your sustainability efforts?

[00:27:49] Ellen: Well, an easy way it's you just go to HP.com/SustainableImpact. In there you'll find all of our goals, all of our plans and our progress to date. We also have the HP Sustainable Impact report that comes out once a year, typically around June, that has a reflection of the past year and all the progress that we've made. Lots more to come. You can also follow HP Sustainable Impact on Twitter, at HPSustainableImpact. You can follow me as well, on Twitter too.

[00:28:20] Liz: That's great. I know, we're following you, so it's worth the follow for sure. Thanks, Ellen, I really appreciate your time today and we all really look forward to seeing what else HP does to rethink supply change, and the views on recycling and its overall impact on the planet. Thank you very much for the work you're doing and the excitement you bring to this challenge.

[00:28:47] Ellen: Thanks, Liz. It's a pleasure.

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