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Episode 68: Exploring Hunger, Waste & Covid’s Impact on the Food Chain

In our latest episode of NothingWasted!, we chat with Emily Broad Leib, Clinical Professor & Director, Food Law & Policy Clinic (FLPC), Harvard Law School.

The Food Law & Policy Clinic provides legal advice to nonprofits and government agencies seeking to increase access to healthy foods, prevent diet-related diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, and reduce barriers to market entry for small-scale and sustainable food producers, while educating law students about ways to use law and policy to impact the food system.

We spoke with Emily about global food bank trends and laws; organic waste bans; and food waste as it relates to COVID-19, climate change and more.

Here’s a glimpse into Emily’s observations.

On the effects of COVID-19 on hunger:

At the end of 2019 in the U.S., about 11 percent of the population was food insecure. And now that number is 38 percent people saying they’re not sure they are going to be able to provide all the meals they need in the next few months. And the UN has reported that hunger might double due to COVID-19.

On how COVID-19 has brought to light the importance of food workers:

Workers in the food chain are often invisible, and people don’t think about where food comes from, and all the hands that had to be working in the fields and processing and stocking shelves…this has become a lot more visible. So far, however, we haven’t seen measurable changes that align with that at the federal level. But my hope is now that it’s more in the public consciousness that we’ll see policy changes follow.

On FLPC’s Global Food Donation Policy Atlas:

The last year and a half we’ve been working with the Global FoodBanking Network.They asked us to help analyze and compare laws regarding food donation across countries. The genesis was really that, as concerns about food waste are growing…one big reason food is being wasted is because of policies and laws and government regulations.

So we selected 15 countries and just launched all the materials and maps online for the first five countries—the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Argentina and India. For each country, there is a guide, recommendations, and a map that shows how food safety and labeling laws, liability protection, tax incentives, and more are impacting donations in each place.

On what’s next:

Anyone working in any part of the food system right now is probably seeing rapid changes. As for what’s on my radar…we anticipate that there are going to be some additional pandemic-related stimulus bills at the federal level, so we’ve been focused on the opportunities there. And we’ve been trying to get some changes on the margins to liability protection to make it easier to protect the types of food donation we’ve been seeing during the pandemic.

We’ve also been pushing for additions to the tax incentives for food donations — most notably to create an incentive better suited to farmers. The other piece we’re pushing would be a tax benefit for companies involved in the logistics and transpiration of getting food waste from point A to point B. Another thing that’s important is remembering that this is going to be a marathon, so we have to take the long view. There will be a need and opportunities for those with expertise in different parts of the food system to give input.

Read transcript here.


Episode 63: Behold…A Renewable Landfill for the Ages (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.


[00:00:25] Liz: Hi everyone. This is Liz Bothwell from Waste360 with Emily Dyson Director of Science Research and Development at BioHiTech Global. Hi, Emily, thanks for being on the show today.

[00:00:37] Emily Dyson: Hi, Liz. Thank you for having me.

[00:00:39] Liz: I would love to hear more about your background and how you found yourself in this industry.

[00:00:44] Emily: Seems like it's a long story, but it's really not. I started 30 years ago there, graduated with a degree in environmental science from the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, one of the SUNY schools, and knew that environmental was my passion. I've known that since about seventh grade that that was really what I wanted to focus on. The first part of my career, I really focused on writing environmental impact statements and doing just general environmental consulting.

I was with a large company, then from the large company, I was with them for 10 years. Then, for 12 years, I was with a small environmental consulting firm. There was probably six of us. From there, really, is where the Entsorga project starts to come into play. I owned my own business for about five years and in that time, I was contacted by Entsorga Italia. That time, their partner, who wanted to build a HEBioT, High Efficiency Biological Treatment facility in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

I took that opportunity to work with them, thinking that I was just going to do the environmental permitting. It was a good size permitting job for an individual in a single person company. Took that on and was really intrigued by the technology, and the potential that that technology had in changing the way waste management was going to be done. It was going to create basically a renewable landfill and was really different. It was out of the box. It wasn't just recycling, it wasn't just composting, it was a mash-up of the two that was going to really be able to work for the small and the medium-sized municipalities.

I did the environmental permitting and really got involved in assisting, in looking at design, and really how it would operate. From there, that's when BioHiTech became involved in the project. Frank Celli, who's the CEO of BioHiTech, reached out to me and said, "Hey, I found somebody that we want to really focus on the HEBioT technologies, as well as some of the other science aspects of BioHiTech", I was like, "Great. Tell me who it is. Be happy to hand over things to them", and he was like, "It's you", I was like, "No, Frank. I own a company." He's a very persuasive individual.

We talked several times and, basically, I decided I could go and work for BioHiTech. I think it was a good move in that BioHiTech shares the vision that I had all along, of trying to find ways to turn waste into a commodity, ways to change the mindset of the use of landfills, and to add another tool to the global toolbox of waste management. That's what I think about our HEBioT technology is. We are another tool in the toolbox, to try and change how waste management is done.

[00:03:59] Liz: I love that. What a great story [laughs]. He sounds very convincing, obviously. Emily, can you tell us about that facility in West Virginia?

[00:04:12] Emily: Sure. It's about 56,000 square foot building. It looks like a warehouse from the street. You would never know that it has, at any given time, upwards of 4,000 tons of municipal solid waste inside with anywhere from 100 to 200 more tons of what we call commercial and industrial waste. That waste is the large plastics, the heavy fiber material, cardboard, the morph residual, the plastics that because of the recycling industry, and the way that it has turned, there's a lot of places that can't do anything with the numbers four through seven plastic. We can use those and turn them into fuel.

We've got MSW coming in, we've got commercial and industrial waste coming in. What we do with that is, we send it through a separation process to start with. This is just the MSW to start with. The MSW comes in on standard trash trucks. Right now, Apple Valley Waste is our hauler that provides us what we call feedstock, some people might call it waste. We work very hard at Entsorga, making sure that we know that we are a manufacturing operation.

We are not just a waste facility. We produce a valuable fuel commodity that has a high BTU value, so we really stress that. That inbound waste is feedstock for us. The waste comes in, at that point it is separated into what we call the overs and the unders. The overs are the big cardboard, the big plastics, the big carpet, curtains, that type of thing that people just throw in their trash, and set it by the curb, so that is separated out.

The unders is the smaller than seven-inch pieces. That would include your organics and anything else that would be that smaller fragment of the waste. That under goes into a pit where it stays until it is moved by overhead crane into what we call the bio-oxidation hall. In the bio-oxidation hall, we have 26 rows of MSW that is sitting over a fan system where the air is either getting pushed or pulled out of that area. It looks like windrows you would see in a composting facility. The air is getting sucked out by a patented fan system that's across the back.

In our partners in Entsorga Italia really- that's what I like to call the secret sauce of our facility, that air circulation system that's drawing out the air. That air is all going through an outdoor biofilter. The biofilter is about 154 feet long and about nine feet tall, and it's full of hardwood mulch. The reason that we use hardwood is that the natural microorganisms within the hardwood actually eat the odor chains that would come out from that moist air that we're pulling out of 4,000 tons of MSW.

While you're standing by the building you do not smell trash. You might get whiffs of mulch, but what you really smell is fresh air. Once that material is in the bio-oxidation hall, it is picked up when it's ready, so the entire process is automated. From the time that the trucks dump into the pits, to the use of overhead cranes which are on, basically, a geo-locator grid on the rails of the crane. We can set up missions and say, "Today we're going to clear sectors two, three, and four," we tell the crane that that's the mission and it spends the day cleaning out those sectors.

Those materials have been dried and we know how many hours they've been in there, we know in general what their humidity and what their temperatures are, so we know when they're ready to be made into fuel. That material is picked up from the bio-oxidation hall and put into what we call the primary shredder. At that point, we're also adding commercial and industrial waste to it, so we're getting a nice mix of overs, which go straight to the shredder. Unders, which are coming out of the bio-oxidation hall and into the shredder, and commercial and industrial material. It gets blended and put through the shredder, then it's time for it to move into the refinement process.

That's really where we start making the fuels. Our feedstock has now entered into refinement, we're pulling out all of the metals, we're pulling out the glass, the rocks, and the dirt. The things that just can't be made into fuel. From that perspective, we actually improve the recycling rates of the local community, because metals, both ferrous and non-ferrous, that were in people's trash and were destined for a landfill are now being pulled out and put back into the recycling stream.

Some of the things that we've found is that getting those metals clean enough has been a challenge, but we're working with a couple of different organizations to figure out how to clean those metals to put them into the recycling market. We also pull out polyvinyl chloride. Chlorine is one of the key chemicals that we have to monitor very closely because our fuel is going to the cement industry. We need to make sure that we don't have chlorine because that fouls their system.

Once the material, the PVC has been pulled out, the metals have been pulled out, then it's ready to go through the secondary shredder which takes it down to the three by three by half inch, which is the specification which is in the EPA comfort letter that we have. They no longer issue EPA comfort letters, but this is a letter from the EPA saying that we are a valuable fuel commodity, that we are no longer a waste, and it takes us out of any of the waste regulation when it comes to the shipment of the fuel.

We break it down into that three by three by one, it goes through a truckload out, we use walking for trailers. We are located in the Entsorga West Virginia facility, is located about two miles from our offtake partner Argos USA. We have the perfect storm, so to speak, right there in West Virginia because the community generates the waste, we take it as feedstock and we are able to create a fuel that burns cleaner than coal. It takes about a ton and a half of SRF to equal one ton of coal. Our BTU values are anywhere from 8,500 to 10,500 BTU which is comparable to coal.

We burn cleaner, it's about one-ton offset of carbon equivalent when you use the SRF in place of the coal. The intention of the cement industry is to use it to up to 30% of an offset for coal, we're just now ramping up in Entsorga West Virginia and Argos but we're getting there. We’re getting there quicker than what I had expected. It's been a long haul, it took a couple of years for the construction. When you're the first in the country, you've got hiccups along the way but I think we're definitely reaching our end goal lines, and I am very confident that we are making high-quality fuel that will be that could be an excellent substitute for fossil fuels.

[00:11:54] Liz: That's fantastic. Now, did you model this after a European facility, Emily?

[00:11:59] Emily: Yes. Entsorga Italia who the technology partner, they have nine of these facilities throughout Europe and one in Africa. Our specific plant in West Virginia is actually modeled off of their plant, the Wiltshire plant in south of London, about two hours south of London. That is owned and operated by a third party but is Entsorga Italia technology.

[00:12:23] Liz: That's great. Do you have markets for the fuel?

[00:12:27] Emily: Yes. Argos USA is our primary offtake, we also have one other offtake cement partner in Pennsylvania. That pretty much takes all the fuel that I can make. Our facility is permitted to take in a hundred and ten thousand tons per year of MSW, of that 110 we're hoping to get about 80 to 85,000 tons of MSW, and the rest of it to be the commercial and industrial materials coming in. We're seeing a real uptake in the commercial and industrial side of things.

We have some other opportunities that we're just now getting started with, some really exciting opportunities to use the SRF in other polymer technologies and things like that where people are reaching out to us and asking us for samples of the SRF to see what they can do with it, what they can make with it. I think there's some real game-changing possibilities, not just in landfill diversion but also in what that material can be used for down the line.

[00:13:32] Liz: I bet. That's exciting too for you guys, to be part of that.

[00:13:36] Emily: It absolutely is. If we truly can get into the polymer technologies and we can get into add-on technologies to what we currently have, thermal processing, and things like that so that we open the door to other fuel users. It's the first plant, we're taking our baby steps but I think the possibilities of using our fuel for coal fire power plants, steam generators, pretty much anybody that would use a fossil fuel, I think is real. I'm really confident that the research that we're doing, and the people that we're talking to that have those existing technologies, we're going to mesh really well.

[00:14:19] Liz: It sounds like it. What else is unique about the technology that you're using?

[00:14:24] Emily: I don't know of any other place in the United States that has basically a renewable landfill inside a building. I think the fact that we pull out the metals so that we add to that recycling rate versus having all that going to a landfill. I think the process that we have set up-- there's other facilities certainly in the United States that have set up ways of pulling material out beforehand before it gets turned into a fuel, but there's far more energy-intensive, they take a lot more labor.

Ours is relatively- we're an energy user but in comparison, we're not as much. We have 20 employees that run on two shifts -that's all it takes to run the entire operation- to bring in 200 plus tons a day of MSW into a facility and only have 10 people on a shift, and that includes the administrative folks. As far as labor and maintenance goes, there's only seven at most eight guys on a shift. I think that's pretty impressive. From the road, it's our goal to never be seen as a waste facility from the road. You look at us and you think that we were an industrial, a manufacturer of some sort.

[00:15:44] Liz: It sounds like you're doing that, especially like you're saying, there isn't even an odor issue so you're good neighbors, for sure. [chuckles]

[00:15:52] Emily: We're certainly trying. One of the things that I've spent some time doing is reaching out to the neighbors, we've given over 700 tours in groups and just as individuals, that have wanted to know about the technology. I feel very strongly that educate people in what the possibilities are for this plant, are critical for the success of us going forward. We have a housing development of about 250 homes within a half a mile of our facility.

It's important to me that we keep in touch with the homeowners’ association, and make sure that they're satisfied with us as their partners in working with waste in that community. We actually got a letter from them telling us that we were doing a good job and we were good neighbors. I don't think there's many waste places that have the neighbors sending you letters thanking you for being a good neighbor.

[00:16:54] Liz: No, I don't think so. That, definitely, major accolades there [laughs].

[00:17:00] Emily: Yes. I'm not saying we're perfect but we try really hard to be a part of the community.

[00:17:07] Liz: That's great. Beyond the residents themselves, how was it working with the municipalities there?

[00:17:13] Emily: Some of it is mandated basically, through the West Virginia Public Service Commission. West Virginia's waste setup is that you have to have a certificate of need in order to operate, so the state of West Virginia basically has control over who comes into the communities. Apple Valley Waste, who is the provider of the waste the feedstock for us, has the certificate of need to do residential pickup in the five surrounding counties, so that's where our inbound comes from.

We're also working with Republic and Waste Management. We have loads that come in from them. I think one of the biggest takeaways for me so far has been the fact that when you talk about Waste Management and Republic, those are huge waste companies that are turning to [unintelligible 00:18:03] Entsorga West Virginia as a place to bring their waste.

Their drivers are very happy to come to our facility. There's not a long line, they're not waiting at a landfill. Maintenance cost on trucks is greatly reduced because they're not driving up the hills of landfills with nails and all the other things that come with the maintenance of having trucks do that. As far as new municipalities, we're still working to bring in more municipalities, but it's been very encouraging the number of municipalities that have visited us that aren't just interested in bringing us waste, but are interested in having one of these built-in their communities because it's a viable alternative.

It's not even alternative, it's a viable addition to looking at how to manage for an entire community. If we can extend the life of the landfill by upwards of 500 years because we're taking, sort to speak, the low-hanging fruit. We've got the organics that we can take, a lot of that just general residential, that opens up airspace in the landfills to take a lot of the materials that you just can't do anything else with, you can't do anything but landfill it.

That's why I refer to the heavy at the high-efficiency biological treatment technology as one tool within the whole bag of tricks that can be used for waste management.

[00:19:27] Liz: Absolutely. I think that people will be looking to you even beyond the residents, like you're saying, Waste Management and Republic because everyone needs to extend the life of the landfill. And safety of their people as well, so this is great, I love hearing about this. I know that you said this was really based on a European standard, is there anything else we can learn from Europeans about waste?

[00:19:56] Emily: Europeans from the standpoint of what they waste, we could certainly take something from them on that. The Europeans buy their food every day, you don't see big refrigerators in a house in Europe, and because of that they have very limited food waste. Their packaging, they're not necessarily packaging everything wrapped in Saran wrap or plastic wrap. From that perspective.

Plastic bag, you don't see people buying things in plastic bags. There's a lot more of the reusable bags, and I think with knowing that it's possible to live with a lot less waste than what we do. I think that should be the first goal of everybody, to reduce the waste that we put out. If you follow the waste hierarchy, is, "Don't make the waste", and then, "Reuse the waste you have", and, "Reuse recycle." Then you come in to the composting, then it's our technology, then followed by incineration.

I think there's room for all of us at the table on that. I think that's where Europe is definitely ahead of us, looking at all of the various aspects of waste management, of ways to just not put it in a big hole in the ground and use it as a commodity or use it as a valuable resource.

[00:21:26] Liz: Absolutely. I know that's your vision and you want people to view it that way. Do you think the work that you're doing and that BioHiTech is doing, do you think that's effective in changing the way people view waste? Or do you think there's a long road ahead?

[00:21:42] Emily: I think BioHiTech is certainly taking strong steps with the two divisions, if you want to call it that, of what we do with our biodigesters, which are aerobic organic food waste digesters that divert food waste. Those can be placed in restaurants, convention centers, and university cafeterias. That's taking your food waste out.

Then you've got our HEBioT technology, which is taking all the other waste with the residuals that just can't be made into fuel, then go to a landfill. When you look at a company who's truly looking at what that landfill diversion is and is looking at other uses of what traditionally has been considered waste, waste management, we've got a really good headstart on looking at a different way to do that.

Now, that's not to say that there's not a long road ahead. I think for as long as we are a disposable society we're going to have to come up with new technologies. With the recycling market taking the dive the way it is as a country, we're going to have to find technology, we're going to have to find ways to recreate from all these materials that we just continually want to throw away. I think BioHiTech is putting a really strong footprint on it.

[00:23:10] Liz: Definitely. That's great. I know the world has changed in recent months with COVID-19, has that upended anything that you're working on in your facility?

[00:23:20] Emily: Certainly for Entsorga it has. It's increased our waste. The majority of Entsorga's inbound is in residential waste, so with everybody staying at home we had a big spike in the volume of inbound waste. Now, that was good for us. Probably not good for the poor people who were stuck at their houses. When we started a year ago, we brought in our first wastes in March of 2019 and made our first fuel in May of 2019. In March and April, we saw the trickle of the spring cleaning, but May and June was when we really saw it hit. We saw it more like February-March where we were getting just that real spring clean out kind of trash. People were really focused on cleaning out their houses, so we saw a definite uptick in that type of material.

It's been interesting to watch, it's been interesting to see how seasonal waste is. In the summer, my chlorine I have to manage it much more closely because I get the pool covers, the solar covers, and the buckets of chlorine, the chlorine residual and the buckets of chlorine comes in. There's just a little bit something different to manage. In the winter, I have to worry about how cold the material is when it comes in and making sure that the fans are still operating and they haven't gotten frozen over. It's been interesting to see the seasonality of it, but with the whole COVID thing it's definitely been an uptick in the residential MSW.

[00:25:06] Liz: Yes, and you're not alone there. I love hearing just how quickly you got off the ground and how much you've accomplished in such a short amount of time. What's been the biggest challenge working for a tech startup?

[00:25:20] Emily: Oh boy. Probably figuring out how to do it in the US. We had a model based off of the Europeans, and we've realized that that model isn't the exact same model as what we have to have here. It's been a little bit of the ability to be flexible and light on our feet to make the changes that we've had to make. We had to add more magnets because we have far more metals in our waste than what the Europeans did.

We've had to adjust the ventilation system because we have far more moisture. We have a lot more trash juice. That's a gross word, but it works. [inaudible 00:26:03] a lot more of that because we have a lot more organics. As those organics break down, they rot and it's juice, so we call it trash juice at the plant. There's more of that. It's really been how do we take this technology that works and make it work even better.

Those modifications have been made so that we can really perfect the fuel that we make and provide it to the cement industry or whatever industry we can eventually farm it out to sell it to, to make it the best that it can be. Like I said, it's required some fast moves on our part, it's required us to be patient. That's something that I've really had to work on, patience. I wanted to be able to flip the switch and, "Poof", it was going to work 100% and, being that this is the first startup I've ever worked on. I've always been on the consulting side, never on the make-it-happen side. I think my expectations are very high, but I believe that we have a team on-site there that are willing to try and achieve those and meet those expectations. We have an excellent team out in West Virginia.

[00:27:26] Liz: You do, and that's fantastic. I know one of our 40 Under 40 is there.

[00:27:33] Emily: Yes, Mike Schmidt. Mike is the business CFO side of things for us. He's a valuable part of the team, certainly.

[00:27:43] Liz: I like that. We loved hearing his side of things and now more of your scientific view of this entire process. It's very interesting to follow the waste and recycling industry from a technology standpoint because, even though things have been in the works, it feels like it's booming lately. Are you seeing that as well from the standpoint from going from consulting to when you started this process? Do you have faith in the industry and technology going forward?

[00:28:11] Emily: Yes. There's new technologies coming out all the time, you have RePower South in the Carolinas and in Alabama. You've got a facility up in Maine. There's a lot of places that are trying it and finding different ways to be successful, but I really think that when you look at the economics of our HEBioT technology and the way BioHiTech is rolling it out, I think that it becomes very economical for the small, medium, and even large municipalities to really be able to make a difference, and not necessarily impact the homeowner with costs of waste disposal. I definitely think there's plenty of room in the technology world for people to grow into it.

[00:29:00] Liz: What's next for BioHiTech? Any expansion plans?

[00:29:05] Emily: We've got a facility that's in the permitting process in New York. We've got several irons on the fire with municipalities. Another one in West Virginia, another one in New York. We're having a lot of discussions. You asked about what COVID had impacted, and COVID has impacted some of those discussions with municipalities about their interest in going forward with facilities.

I have a goal. I'm 52 years old, I want to retire by 60, 62, something like that. I'd like to have five to eight of these in the pipeline. Not necessarily all built, but at least have the permitting in process. I think that's a realistic number. That's my number, that's not necessarily BioHiTech number. I have a personal passion about these facilities and what I think they can do. That's my driver, is what can I do to help BioHiTech get to that five to eight. BioHiTech may have a bigger number, but that's the one that I shoot for right now.

[00:30:11] Liz: That's great, good for you. Ambitious, but seems achievable, especially with your passion. Emily, that's awesome.

[00:30:18] Emily: Yes, I hope so.

[00:30:19] Liz: What lies ahead for you? Sounds like you're going to be quite busy focusing on those five to eight and getting those into the pipeline.

[00:30:28] Emily: That's one part of it that, that certainly will keep me busy. The digester side of the world too, we've got contracts with Carnival Cruise Lines, we've got contracts with large convention center types and athletic facility types. My work there is looking at the microbiology, and working with regulators to understand the impacts of the effluent, the positive and the beneficial impacts of the effluent that we create from the digester.

I jump on both sides of the company. I think we'll have some new technologies to talk about in the not too distant future that have some great merit to trying to change the way people look at waste, to try and change the way people look at sanitary conditions in light of the whole COVID thing. Where we're going to move in that space as well. It's really a matter of looking at where our fingerprint is going to be on the environment. That's the part that's critical to me, is leaving a really positive fingerprint on the environment when I'm done. 

[00:31:42] Liz: That's fantastic, I love that. You're doing that, and I'm sure you're inspiring a lot of other people. Do you have any young entrepreneurs or environmentalists in your family?

[00:31:53] Emily: I do, as a matter of fact. My daughter just graduated with a degree in architecture. She decided about a year and a half ago that she really doesn't want to be an architect, she wants to get into sustainability, sustainability planning, and the urban design around sustainable planning. I think a little bit of it rubbed off there.

I've done classes in high schools for a number of years, since my kids were in high school, where I've shared my environmental passion with a focus on what we do at BioHiTech. I've worked with middle schools in Berkeley County in West Virginia on environmental footprint on manufacturing. I have a secondary degree in education, but realized really closely after doing my student teaching in college that I really wasn't cut out to be a teacher. I think actually there's a part of me that is. I might not be cut out to be in the classroom as a teacher, but I really enjoy spending time and getting younger people excited about what they can do to change the environment. Not just talk about it, not just read the articles off the internet, but actually do something about it. That's really where I enjoy my work a lot.

[00:33:20] Liz: You can tell, even the way that you phrase things, I don't know if you realize, but it is from a very educational standpoint. The fact that you want to help people learn the right way to view waste. Also, focusing on cleaning the metals and a lot of things that education can help along the way. That's great, good for you. Thanks for all that you're doing, what BioHiTech is doing, we really look forward to watching you grow and expand. Where can listeners learn more about BioHiTech and all the great work you're doing?

[00:33:57] Emily: You can go to our website, which is BioHiTech.com. From there, you'll have links that will get you to both the digester side, as well as the renewable resource side, which is the heavy out technology. There's some really good videos associated with the website. One, in particular, is a day in the life at Entsorga. It's about 45 seconds to a minute video that takes you through the entire process and shows you how it works. I think that's a really good one to watch just to get a sense of what the movement is and how easy it is.

I think people try and make this a complicated high tech thing, and it's really not. It's a recycling center with a composting center with another recycling center attached to it, to put it in really easy terms. We've just added some software, some automation to it with a really good ventilation system. I would encourage you to go to the website, though. Once you get to the website, my email address is on there. I'm happy to talk to people. We've been given tours. With the whole COVID thing that's scaled back a little bit, but I encourage people to come out and see the facility. We're going to be working on doing some short video clips that we'll be posting to give people a little bit more information on it. Those are in the works, you can stay tuned.

[00:35:27] Liz: That's great. Please, share those with Waste360 as well, we'd love to keep our readers and listeners posted. This was awesome, Emily. Thanks for spending so much time with us. Stay well, good luck to your daughter, and all her endeavors.

[00:35:44] Emily: Thank you very much, I've enjoyed being on this. I could talk for days about Entsorga you can just cut me off now. [laughs]

[00:35:54] Liz: [laughs] No, this is great. I think our listeners will get so much from this. I really appreciate your time.

[00:36:01] Emily: All right, thank you for inviting us.


Episode 66: Sustainable Fashion Using Food Waste (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.


[00:00:25] Liz: Hi everyone. I just wanted to remind you that WasteExpo has been reimagined for 2020, it will now be digital, all online. September 14th through the 17th and registration should be live soon. We look forward to delivering the same world-class content that you're used to just from the convenience of your home, office, or anywhere else that you're working these days. Keep a lookout for registration and we'll see you online soon.

Hi everyone. This is Liz Bothwell from Waste360 with Isaac Nichelson, CEO, and Co-founder of Circular Systems. Hi, Isaac, welcome to the show today.

[00:01:06] Isaac Nichelson: Hello, thanks for having me.

[00:01:08] Liz: To start, we usually begin at the very beginning, we'd love to hear more about your background, and what sparked your passion for sustainability.

[00:01:19] Isaac: Yes. Thanks [inaudible 00:01:20]. I guess goes all the way back to the beginning. I was born into a family of back-to-the-land, hippie activist, way back in 1971. My parents, who grew up in the Bay Area, and graduated high school in the mid-'60s, of course, we're drawn into the cultural movement of the time.

Eventually, headed to the Pacific Northwest as part of the back-to-the-land movement. I was raised really with an environmental and social consciousness as a defining factor in my culture. A given, in fact, in terms of how I understood people should be relating to the world, and to one another. That has, obviously, heavily informed my worldview. As I became a young man, went out, and did every job under the sun, really fortunate to have been inspired with an incredible work ethic by my father.

I quickly realized that I really wanted to make what I was doing in life, both fun and financially rewarding. But also, somehow in service and doing good things for the world. That came up after a lot of hard jobs, doing everything that a kid does throughout high school and college, really recognizing that where you put your energy matters. In college, I was a really good athlete in terms of board riding, surfer, skater, snowboarder. Maybe, even better than my athletic ability, I could really communicate with the cultures, which at that time were quite different between those three sports, surfing, skating, snowboarding, were being bridged as a singular culture, which is really what's happened over the last 25 years, or so.

At that time, regions were quite different, we weren't all connected by the internet, youth culture hadn't been homogenized. I was a special connector for the brands in Southern California who were selling surfwear, skateboard clothing, skateboards, and all the hard goods equipment. It allowed me to get a lot of sponsors, and travel paid. I didn't realize it, but I was becoming a good marketer through that.

Ultimately, decided through my exposure to the design and manufacture of clothing in that industry, going all the way back to being a team rider for Volcom when they just started a brand called Volcom Stone, which become massive, sold to the Gucci, Puma Group a few years ago, and was sold again. These are old friends of mine. When the company first started, I saw the back end of design for the first time at that company, got really interested, and got into making snowboard outerwear with my friends from Southern Oregon where I was raised originally. This was at the very advent of snowboarding's explosive growth in the early '90s, and we decided to launch a brand.

That brand, even going all the way back to that time when it was virtually impossible to make any form of responsible, or lower impact outerwear, the brand had a full social consciousness, was rooted in the classism of the resort culture around being. The young snowboard culture that was coming up into these resorts was being treated as the beneath second class citizens, and really we were experiencing a very classist situation up on the hill at these resorts.

We decided to, actually, poke fun at the elitist mentality in the space. The brand, we named it Soup Kitchen. This was inspired by some of our friends who were so passionate about snowboarding, families of little means, they would spend all the money that they had saved during the summer on their past to get on the mountain, on their equipment, and be left with very little to survive the winter with, and their dishwashing job not helping a whole lot.

Half the time, they would be eating at the St. Vincent De Paul Soup Kitchen, there in Bend, Oregon, where we all were at the time. I thought that level of passion was so inspiring. More than anything, we wanted to really stick it in the face of the elitist resort community, and say, "Yes. These miscreants from this lower class are coming to a mountain near you to have fun, and guess what? They're not bad people". [laughs]

That was really the start of my career in fashion, and textiles. Really starting from a very technical standpoint outerwear being the most sophisticated apparel we make from materials, and technology standpoint, but also just from a pattern making, and construction standpoint. 120 plus pattern pieces in a garment and all these different components.

It was a really great hands-on design school, it allowed me to get deep inside the understanding of apparel manufacturer. It also allowed me to get deep inside the understanding of the impact of that type of material that makes waterproof breathable actually function. At the time, in the early '90s, these were PVC based waterproof breathable laminates applied to a nylon six shell fabric with a durable water repellent finish that was made of pure fluorocarbons. You couldn't ask for a worse sandwich in terms of toxicity, human health, and climate impact all wrapped up into one synthetic, beautifully functional fabric, but terribly impactful.

Really, didn't have the realization of that until one day when I went to our sewing facility in Portland, Oregon, where we had been working for a couple of years with this wonderful family who was doing amazing work for us, walked in, and they had just received all of our new fabrics from Japan what I just described. They were cutting it with the heat knife, all the patterns, and as you could imagine the off-gassing coming off of all that plastic, and synthetic chemistry being melted by the heat knife in this in this little factory there, it was enough to make you feel like you were going to blackout.

In the first few minutes I was in the space, I felt sick to my stomach, wanted to leave, and just had this realization that this family that we'd grown to really respect and love, was going to be stuck in there working all day like it was nothing, breathing these fumes. That's just standard procedure, "Wait a minute, I'm a part of this, and actually this is where I'm putting my creative energy." My subconscious started running with my upbringing, and it's like, "My mom would not like this situation. My parents would not agree with this work."

I realized that this beautiful brand that we had created, it was getting a lot of success, growing so fast, giving us all this radical experience, and growth, was actually diametrically opposed to my lifestyle, my upbringing, and my values. What we were doing from a material and manufacturing standpoint. That was really where it came home, this was 1996, in the late summer of '96. For the next year, I started looking for different fabrics, we launched a casual collection, so we could use things that were not so technical. We pulled in some of our first really terrible quality hemp and organic cotton materials, very substandard materials, but we were really proud of the impacts. This was back 1997.

I was hunting for better materials and wound up at a textile show in Portland, Oregon where I had positioned myself and our business at the time. It was, basically, an overgrown Nike vendor fair with all the most technical stuff in the universe at that time. They had allowed the other brands around the Portland area to come for the first time. Shopping around that place was more of the same terrible off-gassing, every form of PVC you could ever imagine was there in every glittery bright color possible.

As I walked the shop, I came across this one booth with a big sign that said, "Organic, linen, and hemp." Inside were the most stylistically, relevant, high-quality eco-fabrics I’d ever seen. All different types. That's where I met my current business partner, and co-founder of this company Yitzac Goldstein, who is really the mad scientist of eco textiles going back more than 25 years now.

He was there tinkering away for years already, working in China with the traditional hemp agriculture, and processing methods. Yitzac comes, originally, from a sustainable farming background. He studied permaculture and Chinese. Originally, went off to China to look at traditional Chinese agricultural practices. Came back a textile guy 10 years later. Really, somebody who's responsible for changing the game, and making a lot of the first fabrics that combined organic cotton with organic bass fibers like linen and hemp.

Nobody had ever thought to do that before, that idea of aligning organic inputs, specifically for what they mean, to agriculture, society, and the habitat. Yitzac went on to really help advance the recycled polyester space in terms of fabric applications over in China. Ultimately, he and I started trading that year. I bought all of my first good eco-fabrics from him, we've been working together for over 20 years ever since. That takes us into the beginning of how Circular Systems started.

[00:12:44] Liz: That's amazing. You were so fortunate to have an upbringing like that where your parents were so forward-thinking, obviously that helped you become who you are. Then, it sounds like it was meant to be for you to meet your partner where you did at that point in time.

[00:13:02] Isaac: It definitely was. Even in the moment, I had started to do a lot of freelance design in addition to the outerwear company we were running, I had the chance to do some really big work over in Italy with Sky's the Limit R&D budgets, and was able to utilize all those fabrics into this collection. That was when I really got addicted to the idea that you could make an apparel product, a fashion, or accessory product without creating all the terrible impact.

I made a commitment to only doing this work in fashion from here on out in 1999 after that first collection of product was put together. I signed something called the design manifesto that had come out, it was a magazine called Adbusters out of Canada at the time, that was all about protecting our mental environment, which could not be more relevant today, especially in this time. They had put out an adaptation of an original design manifesto that was created in the home furnishings and interior design space back in the '60s.

They updated it, basically to reach out to all creatives who are designing things, whether it be information design, pure art or commercial expressions, and product design. They said, "Hey, you young creatives, commit now to only designing sustainable things whether that be messaging, or products. Resist and refuse when your boss tells you to do otherwise. If all we do is design sustainable things, that's all that will exist in 20 years in the market".

That was something I was really a big believer in, signing that in 1999 was my commitment to this work. I wish a whole lot of other people had been exposed to that and signed on to that as passionately 20 years ago. That's really what's informed the path that's led to this moment, and the formation of Circular Systems in 2017.

[00:15:26] Liz: Can you tell us more about Circular Systems?

[00:15:29] Isaac: Absolutely. Circular Systems is a material science company. Ultimately, we design solutions. We like to say that together, meaning together with our global community, we are the solution. The idea is really about creating resource efficiency, and regenerative impacts. This is really striving for something that's well beyond zero impact, which has been the high bar of our sustainability movement around product at least. This striving for zero impact is absolutely critical, but in fact, it's just a milestone in route to beneficial impact, which is really what we need to be achieving as a species in our habitat. It's what almost every other species does, it contributes rather than detract.

Homeostasis zero might be fine for us if we hadn't caused so much damage already, but we're at a point now where we have to actually fix things for quite a while before zero impact is enough. We're about regenerative impact, beneficial impact with the systems that we design, that's the ultimate goal. We've been really fostering that as a concept within our movement in the industry, as well with all of our colleagues in this space, raising the bar on what we think about sustainability today, taking it beyond zero all the way to beneficial and regenerative.

Circular Systems was formed to enable that for the textile and fashion industry. We do it with three technology platforms that are specifically designed to work together, synergistic technologies. The first being the Agraloop, which is a closed-loop biorefinery that's designed to convert food crop waste, or the biomass leftover in fields after harvest into high-value textile, and other industrial products while creating regenerative impacts in that same community where it operates. I'll tell you a little bit more about that, we can go more deeply into that.

There's Texloop, which is the circularity of textile waste, pre and post-consumer garment waste. Taking those textile waste streams, breaking them back down to fiber and building them back up again into new yarns, fabrics, and useful products for the same manufacturers who generated that waste to begin with, or the same customers who turn that old garment in, can receive a new one made from that fiber. Texloop is really enabling that resource efficiency, the true circularity, the cycling of textile raw materials.

Then, we have Orbital Hybrid Yarn. Orbital Hybrid Yarn is a noble, new spinning technology that allows us to use shorter, or lower quality recycled fibers into higher quality, and higher-performing materials. I'm talking materials that actually meet, or exceed the performance of the most technical, virgin materials that produce a lot of the biggest impacts.

Now, with Orbital we can actually produce materials that function as good, or better than a Nike Dri-FIT yet with only recycled and organic ingredients, and zero chemical finishing required. That moisture management that keeps you dry, and cool while you're working out can be achieved actually, without all the impact that's normally associated with those fabrics, which are some of the worst.

With these three platforms Agraloop, Texloop, and Orbital, we go into the industry to be facilitators of change, to be collaborative solution providers with the biggest and best brands on earth, as well as the coolest and most niche startup brands. That's really what we're doing as a company, we're replicating, and rolling out these technologies on a global basis. We're doing that through regional partnership with an eye toward distributed economics, and really focused on decentralization for all its efficiencies, including its social and environmental efficiencies, first and foremost.

Really, working toward a moment in the not so distant future when these technologies have become the gold standard around the world, the fiber processing, yarn, and fabric formation, really a priority achieving great success with the uptake of our products at an early stage with some very big and important labels. Very grateful for that, we can see on the horizon truly beneficial impact Circular System-

[00:21:12] Liz: I love how, obviously, you're focused on the regenerative impact and raising that bar, but at the same time you're not sacrificing function, fashion, or look. I really hope that more brands catch on, and really take this to the next level for you. What types of brands are you're working with now?

[00:21:37] Isaac: Currently, our biggest customers are Converse and the H&M Group. H&M being the mega fast-fashion retailer, but really one of the most committed companies in our industry to social, and environmental change in the space, really putting a ton of support into the sector. They have a number of smaller brands that have launched in Europe, very interesting new products just now coming to the U.S. Brands like ARKET, COS, C-O-S, are already here in the market. 

Other brands like Weekday. These are a lot of really cool young Scandinavian kids that have started these brands and work with H&M to get the support to take them global.

Those are a lot of our first customers. Here in California, we are working closely with a brand called Outerknown, which is a very sustainable focused brand in the surf industry launched by 11-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater. Additionally, of course, the usual suspects in our space, Patagonia, and Levi's, and these brands as well, we're on the long arc of development with them and with a whole host of other leadership and niche brands in the space.

[00:23:02] Liz: That's awesome. Good for you. Do you think that more brands are catching on? Do you think that there is a race to find more sustainable solutions in fashion?

[00:23:12] Isaac: Yes, at this point it's undeniable that the transformation of this industry is in full effect. It’s really being driven now by the big management consultancies in the world. BCG and McKenzie have done extensive reporting on the dismal state of the industry from an impact standpoint and from an economic standpoint.

I would urge people to check out The Pulse of the Fashion Industry report from Boston Consulting Group. The first 2017 report really framed up what the future of the industry looks like, and it's not so good. If we don't change as an industry, the whole space will collapse, and this has already been mapped in great detail. What that means is by 2030 -and this was a few years ago now that they forecasted this and it's likely been greatly accelerated by the COVID era here- they said by 2030 the entire space would have no ability to continue growth, and the EBITDA would be down by as much as 4% across the boards and that, ultimately, the space would be collapsing on itself due to resource scarcity and regulatory pressure.

This is because, as you know, fashion is considered the world's second-largest polluter right after the petrochemical industry. This is something that really finally got the leadership, the c-suite of all the major brands, and the manufacturers that serve them finally sitting up to take notice. We saw a catalytic move forward in that year after this information came out, so that's really been part of the tailwinds driving this moment. It's become now even more clear through the last four months of COVID reality and the upturning of every market under the sun that coming out of this fashion is going to be moving toward a sustainable imperative. It's no longer an option, it's a condition of doing business in the space.

The companies will no longer be relevant if they're not doing very real and relevant work with the impact of their product. We've seen this in the form of orders, actually, for our business. Entering March and looking at what was happening in the world it was quite scary, we didn't know if it was going to take out our young business as we were just leaving start-up mode and going commercial. Quite dangerous what was happening.

While a lot of people we know all around the industry were suffering order cancellation after order cancellation, in the manufacturing sector, we were getting bigger and bigger orders week over week starting in March and have been all the way till now. In fact, our pre-COVID sales projections are still right on track. For this year we'll grow 400%, and that is indicative of a world that's changing. While all the conventional goods were getting cancelled, the same brands were doubling down on the products that we make and it was a pretty remarkable validation. We feel very fortunate and grateful for this movement that now appears to be unstoppable in our space.

[00:26:57] Liz: Definitely. I think one thing that will come out of this pandemic, like you're saying, is that everyone wants transparency of the supply chain now. Everyone is going to be informed in a different way, and I'm so glad that you're benefiting from that. I didn't know if that was happening now or something down the road, but I thought a company like yours would benefit for sure.

[00:27:21] Isaac: Yes, we're already seeing the biggest brands in the world making these decisions and headed in this direction, putting increased emphasis on it every day, so it is quite encouraging.

[00:27:36] Liz: That's fantastic. I was watching a MasterClass Q&A with Anna Wintour, and it was interesting to hear how much she now thinks fashion will be focused on sustainability and reuse going forward. Do you think the real fashionistas of the world are really on board now beyond the marketing spin and greenwashing?

[00:28:01] Isaac: I think they know now that they're about to be really uncool if they're not, and fashion is all about being cool. You can't buck a major global trend that actually rides a top fashion in every other industry in the world and think you're fashionable. This is the biggest social movement of our time. To be left behind by that would be like being a white supremacist brand right now, totally irrelevant. Beyond irrelevant. Negative.

There's nobody in business that wants a negative image. Thankfully, whether these folks in the more premium, luxury, and couture spaces like it or not, whether it's really their passion and whether they really care about the environment or humanity, or not, they have to do it because it's a social imperative. It's just not cool to make things the old way when we know it's killing people or subjecting them to slavery-level working conditions. That change is happening now, and you're seeing even the old guard, who were quite resistant for a long time, its fashion's version of climate change deniers, are now falling in line. They don't have a choice.

[00:29:29] Liz: It's a great way to look at it. The consumers are demanding it as well. To your point about the consulting firms, they're proving it's good business as well, too. I think when those things come together you really have the ultimate impact to make real change.

[00:29:44] Isaac: Yes, it's absolutely true and it's quite simple to understand. This is what business leadership needs to understand across every sector. When you're using your own waste or the waste of your industry as your base raw material, your costs are always going to be lower. If you couple that with the fact that your product is going to be relevant, not just more relevant, this is the only relevance going forward in very near-term. A more profitable business that's relevant? That's all any business person wants.

We are hoping that we can take this example in fashion, this example in renewable energy, this example in organic food, and catapult that effort across all sectors of manufacture and all sectors of consumer goods. It's doable, yes.

[00:30:45] Liz: That's great. Do you believe in a circular system?

[00:30:48] Isaac: Yes, hence the name. We really do believe in a circular economy and in circular materials flows. It's just biomimicry, ultimately, when you look at these materials flows. But circularity is not enough on its own, circularity can also be greenwashed. Circularity can have bad things revolving within it. Circularity can provide justification for overproduction and overconsumption, so circularity also needs to be engaged consciously, and with ethics and values driving it.

Circularity should be patterned after nature, not patterned after a globalist, industrialist, perspective. It should be about producing enough for our markets, and having these cycles of materials and capital flow in fair and equitable ways that ultimately regenerate things. Fix things. Circularity should not enable a perpetual state of negative impact, much less zero impact right now. We've got to take it further.

We are the circular movement. When I say we I mean all of us. But as we engage this movement that will become everything in economic modeling, in the way we produce things, we have to be mindful that circularity alone is not enough. It has to be engaged effectively from the standpoint of values and ethics.

[00:32:36] Liz: Definitely. Outside of what you're doing, are there any brands inspiring you right now?

[00:32:42] Isaac: Absolutely. We see a ton of inspiration in the realm of vintage and upcycling. Companies like The RealReal really showing what luxury retail should look like. These incredibly valuable products continuing to cycle through use and be valued, and presented in a beautiful sexy way. Really loving to see that and to understand that the fastest growing sector of fashion is vintage is also quite encouraging. We're really big fans of that.

We're also really big fans of the work that's happening around some of the more progressive brands. Obviously, companies like Outerknown and Patagonia, but lesser known is the really massive shift that's happening inside companies like H&M and Nike. They're are truly committed. It's not that that's all altruistic or environmental concern, the business leadership there knows that their companies are doomed if they don't change, so now the move is really quite ardent and swift. 

We are fans of what those brands are doing, not just because they're our customers, but because they're really genuine in their motive. They're trying their hardest to go as quickly as possible down this road. Maybe that's 90% for the sake of their business survival, who cares the motivation? It's working and we're seeing a shift toward really improved impact. Ultimately, the adoption of the concept of the Agraloop by these brands means they're banking on a future of regenerative impact with Agraloo BioFibre replacing a whole lot of conventional cotton and polyester. We're excited to be engaging that work with these brands that we are pretty enamored of for their commitments.

[00:34:54] Liz: That's fantastic. Speaking of Agraloop, what is your feedstock? What type of food waste are you using?

[00:35:01] Isaac: Right now we're focused a lot on the oil-seed flax and oil-seed hemp that we know so well how to manage. This is really the history of the founders of the company, including our COO and one of our other co-founders, Geof Kime, who is the person largely responsible for ending industrial hemp prohibition in North America. Geof worked with the Canadian government back in 1994 and grew the first legal test plot of industrial hemp in North America since prohibition.

A 10-acre test that they did, he and his father, and ultimately got the rules overturned there, which started a cascading effect throughout North America. Now we see industrial hemp legalized across the entire lower 48 as well. Geof work around the utilization of the waste straw from oil-seed flax and oil-seed hemp in Canada really unlocked all of the materials handling and mechanical processing first steps of the Agraloop.

We're largely focused on those waste streams right now because we know them very well, we know the farming syndicates and how to engage those sectors quite well; and because those are very sexy fibers for the global market right now. Linen has really been hitting a gigantic moment of trend for the last couple of years, and now hemp is becoming, finally, the coolest new thing in fashion. Or we should say, the coolest old thing in fashion as the original textile fiber.

We're also working with cereal straws, like wheat and rice. Or corn. These are incredibly massive opportunities that will be next on our agenda as we scale the Agraloop to hundreds of thousands of tons a year over the next decade. In the tropics our emphasis is really around pineapple, sugarcane, banana, so many different tropical inputs. We're actually also processing the waste of cotton cultivation, the woody stalks of the cotton plant, and able to produce a beautiful bass fiber from that as well. All of this delivering those regenerative impacts back to the farms where we get the biomass.

[00:37:34] Liz: That's amazing. You have no shortage of inputs or ideas for the feedstock, that's for sure.

[00:37:40] Isaac: No, it's pretty limitless. In fact, just scratching the surface of our top five or six favorite inputs we realize we're accessing three to five times the global fiber demand all in within these waste streams. The opportunity for pulp paper applications and nonwovens building materials, everything even beyond textiles is just massive.

There's a growing movement around productizing these waste streams, and if you can do that in a way where you're creating a beneficial impact in that community with those farms. I'm talking about carbon drawdown and sequestration, and soil building. That's what the Agraloop does through its process, and we want to challenge all other big systems thinkers and industrialists to come with us on this journey for the new regenerative industrial revolution. That's really what we're kicking off with Circular Systems.

[00:38:48] Liz: That's amazing. I know you mentioned there is opportunity beyond the applications you're using it for, but how about for you, will you expand beyond fashion?

[00:38:58] Isaac: Well, it's not the part of our business plan that we talk a lot about, but our business model actually also depends on all the co-products that we derive along the way to a textile fiber. That puts us in the space of building materials, and paper, and packaging, and biochemicals, and all of the various product iterations that can be produced through those co-products.

It's pretty vast and we are moving one step at a time, but the really huge opportunities around things like safe biochemistry for the responsible and regenerative upgrading of natural fiber products or for the responsible production of dissolving pulp for viscose, this is something that Circular Systems will be also responsible for bringing to the world and popularizing. That's just one of the co-products of our systems.

[00:40:00] Liz: That's fantastic. I can't wait to watch that too. Isaac, what do you think the waste and recycling industry's role in all of this is?

[00:40:11] Isaac: Well, waste haulers and recyclers are absolutely the essential enablers of this movement. If within those models the true opportunity can be recognized for the future, we're going to see those businesses become not only more profitable but more relevant and more powerful in the global industrial scene. To be a waste hauler forever has been seen as, "You guys take out the trash", and people happily do because it's a very lucrative industry to turn garbage into gold.

If you can really be cycling those waste streams up into value-added goods, can you imagine your business model now, Waste Management? That's the kind of conversation that we're beginning to engage with the waste haulers like Waste Management. How can we take these massive textile waste streams that makeup as much as 20% of your landfill and get extreme value out of them for your business and for society, and prevent all the methane production that would have gone on in the eventual breaking down of those goods?

It's an extreme opportunity, and the players in this space are absolutely fundamental to its success. We look forward to engaging this industry more and more around waste hauling and collections. We have huge solutions to put together, working together my friends, so let's go.

[00:42:01] Liz: I love that. Your timing is perfect because we're at a place in the industry where you need to view waste as a resource, and not just the talent of products, or textiles, or anything else. I really hope that everyone's listening and can work with you.

[00:42:20] Isaac: Thank you, and thank you for the opportunity to share. You're absolutely right, it's really the end of waste as a concept. There is no such thing. If you're wasting things, you're actually being stupid. Let's move beyond that as a species. Thank you so much for this opportunity, we look forward to engaging the sector. Thanks for putting the word out, is very important.

[00:42:52] Liz: No, this is great. I really look forward to seeing what happens in the future with you and the industry. Is there anything else you want to share, Isaac, before I let you go?

[00:43:06] Isaac: I just would like to share that let's check back in for a progress report next year this time. We're going to be delighted to share with you the work we're doing to draw down a gigaton of carbon with the Agraloop and the work that we're doing to really start to create resource efficiency within municipalities and the textile and fashion space around the management of textile waste and agricultural waste.

The evolution will be extreme when I talk to you again next year, so we'll look forward to that. Hope everybody out there is staying safe and keeping their mind open to what the world can be on the other side of all this craziness that has been 2020 thus far. Let's use this moment everybody to not return to business as usual, let's innovate together and create the world that we all want and need. Thank you.

[00:44:09] Liz: Thanks, Isaac. Thanks for all of your time today, it's been so insightful. We will check back in with you next year.

[00:44:18] Isaac: Thank you so much, it's been a great opportunity. Take care.

[00:44:23] Liz: You too, stay well.


Need to Know

First-Ever Wastequip WRXTM Equipment Service Facility Opens in Florida


CHARLOTTE, N.C. (July 16, 2020) – Wastequip®, the leading North American manufacturer of waste handling equipment, today opens its first Wastequip WRX equipment service facility in Pompano Beach, Florida. Wastequip WRX (pronounced “Wastequip Works”) provides parts, service and installation for a variety of Wastequip equipment.

Wastequip WRX will offer parts, service and installation for Mountain TarpTM and PioneerTM tarping systems, Galbreath® hoists and AmrepTM refuse trucks as well as Go To PartsTM OEM and aftermarket parts. Customers will receive service from a Wastequip-owned facility with technicians who are trained in servicing Wastequip, Galbreath, Pioneer, Mountain Tarp and Amrep branded equipment. 

“The idea behind Wastequip WRX is to localize maintenance and parts, providing Wastequip authorized service technicians and replacement parts inventory where we have limited or no authorized equipment dealers,” explained Wastequip CEO Marty Bryant. “Additionally, the opening of Wastequip WRX facilities will support the expansion of our Amrep brand in the eastern U.S. by ensuring that customers have convenient access to fleet maintenance and parts.”

Wastequip WRX enhances Wastequip’s expansive dealer network, providing access to service and parts for the company’s leading equipment brands.

For more information about Wastequip, Wastequip WRX and affiliate companies, please visit www.wastequip.com.

About Wastequip

Wastequip is the leading North American manufacturer of waste handling equipment, with an international network of manufacturing facilities and the most extensive dealer network in the industry. Wastequip’s broad range of waste and recycling equipment, trucks and systems is used to collect, process and transport recyclables, solid waste, liquid waste and organics. The company’s brands include Wastequip, Wastequip WRX, Toter, Galbreath, Pioneer, Mountain Tarp, Cusco, Go To Parts, Amrep, ConFab and Accurate. For more information, visit www.wastequip.com.

Erin Heaney
[email protected]


Need to Know

Biohm to Use Waste as Raw Materials for Bio-Manufactured Products


The construction industry accounts for 39 percent of carbon dioxide emissions and 11 percent comes from manufacturing building materials.

Sustainable bio-material construction company, Biohm, has launched a £1.25m fund to help develop bio-manufacturing technologies.

The company will use commercial and local-authority waste as raw materials for products with a goal of reducing emissions. With production expected to start in September, they will produce mycelium insulation panels made from mushroom roots and semi-structural construction panels produced from food waste such as orange peel.

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SCS Engineers’ Linehan Recognized for Leadership


Steve Linehan, senior project manager with SCS Engineers, has earned a companywide reputation for his knowledge, expertise and integrity. He was recently named a 2020 Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient

SCS Engineers is an environmental consulting and contracting firm with locations across the country. The company provides core services that include solid and hazardous waste management, renewable energy, remediation and environmental compliance. 

Linehan oversees solid waste and environmental services projects from SCS’s Oklahoma City and Wichita offices. His expertise includes solid and hazardous waste regulations, landfill design, and regulatory compliance. 

Linehan recently spoke with Waste360 about his career with SCS Engineers and how he got his start in the waste management industry.

Waste360: What brought you to the waste management industry?

Steve Linehan: I’ll start a little bit before that. I worked for a firm that did a lot of infrastructure design — highway, culvert and drainage design, things like that. I was working towards an environmental master’s degree, and an opportunity came up to work with a small, 12-person environmental firm. 

After that, I was in an environmental department manager position with another firm in Wichita. That was with Terracon, a geotechnical materials testing and environmental services firm. As the department manager, my focus was on overseeing the solid waste group and the regulatory compliance group. 

Waste360: What are some skills you learned from that job that you are able to use now?

Steve Linehan: As a department manager, because I oversaw what others were doing, more than anything, the thing I took away from it was leadership — being able to oversee several people at one time, making sure people were comfortable and safe, and making sure we were making our work profitable.

Waste360: What happened next?

Steve Linehan: SCS reached out to me to see if I would like to at least look into coming to SCS. I talked to the person who is my current boss, and I decided that it was a good fit because it was much more focused on environmental services. I made the switch, and I have been here for three years.

Waste360: What are some things you value about the company or your position that you have?

Steve Linehan: I value the flexibility with the company, the laid-back nature of the company. They are not huge into forcing the numbers into your face. I appreciate my position because I can be a lot more hands-on with this company, with my position. 

Waste360: Do you like having more of a hands-on approach?

Steve Linehan: I don’t know a whole lot of engineers that relish the idea of just managing people or just being an executive or something like that. I mean, I’m sure there are some, but I’m not one of them. I’m one that likes to be in the thick of design work and managing my projects.

Waste360: What is a project that you have enjoyed working on during your career, or a challenge that you had to find a solution to that you thought was interesting?

Steve Linehan: A challenging project that I am working on right now is a one of our solid waste clients wanted us to completely redesign their scale house area and their household hazardous waste area for two reasons. One reason was to move it out of the way, to make way for a new cell. The other reason is that the facility is getting older. 

That is a new thing for me. We are basically having to do site design, versus designing a cell and a liner system and things that we are more accustomed to. So we had to subcontract it out to some architects and mechanical and electrical engineers to make this all come together, to make sure the utilities run correctly, and to make sure the drainage runs correctly.

As an environmental engineer, we don’t get into that kind of site design, but it has been really fun and challenging. At the same time, with that support group of architects and other engineering disciplines, we have made it work. It’s been kind of neat to see it come together.

Waste360: What advice would you give a young person about entering the waste management industry and being successful in it?

Steve Linehan: A person coming out of college may think, “Solid waste? That’s just trash.” But I am looking to see if I can put somebody out in the field to do some work and see how things are done in the field, at a client’s job site. 

I would say, to succeed, don’t be afraid to go out and learn the ropes for the first two, three, four years. It’s dirty work a lot of times. Sometimes it’s not, but a lot of times it’s dirty work. But don’t be too proud. You have years ahead of you to work your way up the ladder.

Need to Know

Nestlé Waters North America Expands Use of 100% Recycled Plastic (rPET) in Three Additional Brands, Doubles rPET Use across U.S. Domestic Portfolio


STAMFORD, Conn. (July 16, 2020) – Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA) today announced that three more of our U.S. domestic still water brands have started to convert their packaging to 100% recycled plastic. Ozarka® Brand 100% Natural Spring Water, Deer Park® Brand 100% Natural Spring Water and Zephyrhills® Brand 100% Natural Spring Water packaging, which has long been 100% recyclable, will now be both 100% recyclable and made from 100% recycled plastic. With the expansion of recycled plastic (rPET) to these brands, nearly 60% of all households in the U.S. will have access to one of our regionally distributed spring water brands in bottles made entirely with recycled plastic.

“We have made significant strides on our journey to use more sustainable packaging,” said David Tulauskas, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer of NWNA. “Bottles made with other bottles – like these – provide tangible proof that recycling works and the circular economy for plastics is achievable. By using recycled plastic, we are breathing new life into existing materials, reducing the need for new plastic and our carbon footprint, and supporting the 757,000 jobs in recycling and reuse activities in the U.S.”

The packaging conversion for these three brands means that NWNA has now doubled the amount of rPET used since 2019 across its U.S. domestic portfolio to 16.5%. This step brings the company closer to achieving its goals of using 25% rPET across its U.S. domestic portfolio by 2021 and 50% rPET by 2025. By accelerating the use of rPET in its bottles, NWNA is leading the shift from virgin plastic to recycled plastic and helping to create an end-market for sustainable rPET. Using recycled plastic can help keep it out of landfills, waterways and oceans, and reduces greenhouse gases by 67% compared to using new plastic1.

“As we continue our brand-by-brand approach to convert our portfolio to recycled plastic packaging, we are building on the rich history of Ozarka, Deer Park and Zephyrhills and giving them new purpose,” said Yumiko Clevenger-Lee, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of NWNA. “By embedding sustainability into the foundation of our brands, we are able to deliver a superior product experience that also aligns with what our consumers want and what the planet needs.”

To help consumers identify the new rPET bottles, all three brands will include a new message on the labels of the 20oz, 700mL, 1L and 1.5L bottles, stating they are both 100% recyclable and now are also made from 100% recycled plastic. To provide greater transparency about the source of the water, the labels will also include a QR code that allows people to scan and track the journey of the water they’re drinking, as well as the bottle. Ozarka will be launching a TV, digital and social media campaign this summer to inform Texans of the new rPET bottles. Understanding that bottles need to be recycled in order to create bottles with other bottles, Zephyrhills will be launching limited edition labels that encourage consumers to recycle through a bold message stating, ‘I’m Not Trash! I’m 100% Recyclable.’ This message will accompany the “100% recycled” message on the applicable bottle sizes.

NWNA’s ability to expand its use of recycled plastic partially relies on existing bottles being recycled when empty. Unfortunately, right now, less than 30% of PET bottles are recycled and many recovered beverage containers are being down-cycled and used in non-food contact applications versus being made back into beverage containers. While giving a plastic beverage container another life in products such as carpets and textiles ensures one more use, it does not represent the highest and best use of food-grade recycled material. Recognizing these challenges in obtaining enough rPET to incorporate into more of our product packaging, NWNA will continue to work collectively with industry, NGOs, governments and consumers to address critical issues related to infrastructure, collection, policy, consumer education, and development of end-markets for recycled materials.

“Our resolve to lead the industry in the use of recycled plastic in our packaging has never been stronger. Through collaborative relationships with stakeholders along the entire recycling value chain and long-term agreements with suppliers, we work to provide stability to our suppliers and reinforce our commitment to this market,” said Tulauskas. “This means that we often pay more for recycled plastic than we would if we purchased virgin plastic. This is an investment we prioritize for the business, given our responsibility as a producer of packaged goods and our commitment to sustainability as we work toward a waste-free future.”

To help the underfunded and often outdated recycling infrastructure in the U.S., NWNA made a $6 million investment in the Closed Loop Infrastructure Fund to support projects that help increase recycling capabilities throughout the country. In 2019, Poland Spring collaborated with The Recycling Partnership to launch the first Instagram recycling hotline to help Americans understand what is recyclable in their communities. NWNA was also the first beverage company to add How2Recycle information on the labels of its major U.S. brands, reminding consumers to empty the bottle and replace the cap before recycling.

About Nestlé Waters North America

Nestlé Waters North America offers an unrivaled portfolio of bottled water brands for healthy hydration, including Ozarka® Brand 100% Natural Spring WaterDeer Park® 100% Brand Natural Spring WaterZephyrhills® Brand 100% Natural Spring WaterNestlé® Pure Life®Perrier®S. Pellegrino® and Acqua Panna® Natural Spring Water. The company also owns and operates ReadyRefresh® by Nestlé®, a customizable water and beverage delivery service. Just Click and Quench®.

Based in Stamford, Connecticut with approximately 7,000 associates in the United States, we manage natural resources for long-term sustainability, and we conserve more than 18,000 acres of natural watershed area. We currently source water for our six regional spring water brands from 38 active springs throughout the United States. We are also committed to creating shared value and being a good neighbor in the more than 120 communities where we operate in the U.S. For more information, visit us at https://www.nestle-watersna.com/en and follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook: @NestleWatersNA.

Need to Know

COVID-19 Has Impacted Recycling in Omaha


The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Omaha, Nebraska’s recycling schedules. Due to revised pick up schedules, residents have been dumping garbage at drop-off sites and creating dump sites.

"They throw mattresses, couches, wood," Warren Anderson with FirstStar Recycling said. 

The city’s Department of Public Works will increase collection times and supply additional large containers for the recycling materials. Starting June 29, crews will begin to collect recycling in neighborhoods every other week. The Public Works Department has posted signs reminding citizens what can be recycled and the Police Department is considering increasing patrols at the sites.

Read the original story here.

How to Recycle Cardboard — and Why it’s Important in the Era of COVID-19


Does your business or organization generate cardboard waste that is not being recycled? An increasing number of municipalities and states are instituting waste bans that prohibit corrugated cardboard from entering the waste stream. But, whether or not such a ban applies to your locale, cardboard recycling is a smart and environmentally responsible measure—especially now, in this time of COVID-19.

As noted by Brian Hawkinson, executive director of recovered fiber for the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), the pandemic has “exposed vulnerability in the supply of recovered fiber. Among the many impacts caused by COVID-19, AF&PA has seen a decline in the volume of recovered fiber from institutional, commercial and industrial facilities, such as schools, hotels and factories, many of which are experiencing reduced operations or are shut down.” Additionally, some residential recycling programs have experienced suspensions over the past months.

This, at a time when many packaging suppliers are seeing increased demand for cardboard—much of which is made from recycled fibers—as a result of people staying at home more than usual and ordering more products for delivery.

So, if you are in a waste- and recycling-management role—whether at an office building, retail or food-service operation, sports facility, managed housing property, or any other place that generates cardboard waste—now is the time to get a recycling plan in place.

Getting started

Your first step should be to check with your current waste hauler and/or recycling provider to see what cardboard-recycling options they offer and what protocols are required. For instance, some haulers accept comingled cardboard and paper; others do not. Most providers will want the cardboard to be broken down flat and kept as clean and dry as possible. And waxed cardboard (often used for shipping produce) is generally not recyclable.

If your current provider(s) don’t offer a suitable solution to meet your needs, search for other cardboard recycling services in your area. Or, if you have the ability to transport loads to a local facility, see where you can periodically drop off your collected cardboard. 

Preparing the cardboard for recycling

If your location only generates a small amount of cardboard per pick-up cycle, you may be able to simply stack and store it in your shipping-and-receiving area. But for larger volumes, you may find equipment such as compactors and/or balers to be useful. Another option is to install a cardboard-collection dumpster on the property. This is a cost-effective and relatively easy option that keeps cardboard out of your usual dumpsters and corralled in a designated spot.

Alternatives for reusing your cardboard waste

For some businesses—namely, those that need their own packaging material—it also makes sense to purchase a cardboard shredder so as to reuse some or all of the cardboard waste generated on site.

The bottom line is that cardboard is a commodity, and you can save and/or make money when you find ways to recycle it or sell it to those who need it. Three tons of trees are required to create one ton of virgin cardboard, so recycling is an important part of the packaging industry supply chain. And, the beauty of cardboard is that it can usually be recycled five or more times, giving the product a long useful life.

Any other tips? We would love to hear.

ReFED Appoints Nicola Dixon as New Board Chair and Announces New Board Member and Executive Committee


New York, NY (July 15, 2020) — Today, ReFED – a national nonprofit organization working to advance solutions to reduce food waste – announced that its Board of Directors has elected Nicola Dixon as the new Board Chair. Dixon, who is the Executive Director of the General Mills Foundation, succeeds ReFED Founder and inaugural Board Chair Jesse Fink, who will continue to serve on the Board of Directors as Chair of the Development Committee.

ReFED also announced a new Board member – Stacey Greene-Koehnke, Chief Operations Officer for the Atlanta Community Food Bank, whose term began in April. Additionally, ReFED has appointed Steve Swartz, Chief Strategy Officer of The Wonderful Company, as the new Board Treasurer and Eduardo Romero, President and CEO at Hana Group, as the new Board Secretary. Rob Kaplan, Founder and CEO of Circulate Capital, has completed his term as a Founding Board Member and retired from the Board.

“About 40 percent of food in the United States is wasted somewhere along the supply chain – but it’s a solvable problem with benefits that include food security and food justice, climate change mitigation, environmental resource conservation, and economic opportunities,” said Jesse Fink. “Rescuing food that would have been wasted and getting it to the most vulnerable communities has never been more important. It’s been an honor to serve as ReFED’s Board Chair since its inception in 2015 and to bring more and more people, businesses, funders, nonprofits, and others into ReFED’s ‘Big Tent.’ I’m thrilled to now pass the baton to Nicola, who has been a longtime ReFED supporter and collaborator and whose leadership and knowledge will guide us as we continue to strengthen our mission and impact.”

Dixon became Executive Director of the General Mills Foundation in April 2019. She joined General Mills, Inc. in 1999, before transitioning to the Foundation as Associate Executive Director in 2012, where she worked to transform General Mills’ philanthropy to strategically align to the company’s greatest opportunities for environmental and social impact:  Increasing Community Food Security; Advancing Sustainable Agriculture; and Strengthening Hometown Communities – areas that overlap with ReFED’s goal of reducing food waste in the US and making the best use of the food that is grown.

“Jesse’s leadership has been instrumental in ReFED’s approach to accelerating food waste solutions,” added Dana Gunders, Executive Director, ReFED. “We are grateful that Jesse will continue to serve on our Board and excited for our new executive committee spearheaded by Nicola. They will both help support ReFED’s work to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030, which is more critical than ever in the wake of COVID-19 and its effects on our food system and the vulnerable communities that depend on it.”

About ReFED

ReFED is a national nonprofit working to end food loss and waste across the food system by advancing data-driven solutions to the problem. ReFED leverages data and insights to highlight supply chain inefficiencies and economic opportunities; mobilizes and connects people to take targeted action; and catalyzes capital to spur innovation and scale high-impact initiatives. ReFED’s goal is a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food system that optimizes environmental resources, minimizes climate impacts, and makes the best use of the food we grow. For more information, visit www.refed.com.