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There is an Increasing—and Ongoing—Need for PPE Disposal Guidance and Solutions

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As the COVID-19 pandemic rolls on, the need for guidance and methods for proper protective personal equipment (PPE) disposal is increasingly felt — along with solutions to tackle the sheer volume of waste.

The World Economic Forum recently declared that, “Coronavirus waste has become a new form of pollution.” Case in point: a University College London study estimates that in the UK alone, if every person used a single-use face mask a day for a year, it would create an additional 66,000 tons of contaminated waste and 57,000 tons of plastic packaging”—none of which is recyclable and some of which is ending up in sewer systems and waterways. And when you consider these types of volumes all around the world, the problem quickly becomes overwhelming.

We asked a leading provider of KN95 face masks about the sheer volume of PPE being ordered now compared to March and April. Bill Taubner, President of Ball Chain Manufacturing Co,. and runs BonaFide Masks with his brother and company EVP, Jim Taubner, said that, “The need for face masks is not going away any time soon. We're seeing that cities, schools and healthcare providers need quality PPE now as the country opens back up. Until a proven vaccine is widely tested and used, face mask wearing will continue to be part of our everyday life." In a recent statement, CDC director Robert Redfield echoed these assessments. He noted that, “Face masks…are the most important powerful public health tool we have; our best defense.” So, what can be done about the waste problem that comes with them?

Waste haulers can remind customers that PPE is not recyclable and that it should be disposed of with regular garbage, in a tied bag. For medical waste collectors, most are treating COVID-19 waste the same as any other Category B waste. And Bloomberg Law reports that medical waste management “in light of COVID-19 has remained largely unchanged at the federal level, with additional flexibilities across many states.”

We recently chatted with Selin Hoboy, Vice President, Government Affairs and Compliance at Stericycle, who told us: “The new normal may include additional protections for employees, customers or vendors. It will be important to identify what that will include, such as face coverings, masks, gloves, etc., especially based on the type of industry you are in or services you provide.” She advises stakeholders to “review your state guidance, as some states are getting more specific depending on the industry generating the PPE. And, out of an abundance of caution, some businesses are looking at alternate PPE collection and disposal options, such as routing it to a medical waste company rather than in their general trash.” 

As Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment noted to CNN: "The PPE is intended to help us fight a public health challenge, not create a plastic pollution problem.”

For more CDC guidance on What Waste Collectors and Recyclers Need to Know about COVID-19 visit here.

Need to Know

Household Waste is Overflowing Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

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As more people are spending time at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, municipalities are struggling with extra household waste. Residential trash volume spiked as much as 25 percent this spring. (Solid Waste Association of North America).

In Alpharetta, GA, sanitation workers used to collect between 17 and 18 tons of trash each day – today the amount of trash has risen to 22 tons a day.

In addition, many sanitation workers have become sick with COVID-19 and cities such as Baltimore have faced a severe shortage of trash collectors. To manage the shortage, the city temporarily halted curbside recycling this to allow crews to concentrate on trash pickup.

Read the original story here.

University of Michigan Study Informs on Plastic Waste, Barriers and Opportunities

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We hear routinely that plastic packaging is a major source of waste and will continue to be at the rate at which it’s generated; these mass-produced, short-lived commodities were the largest market for U.S. plastics in 2017—but actually two-thirds of plastic used that year entered markets other than packaging. Meanwhile, a huge influx of other plastics, with applications from auto parts to building materials and electronics, present unique end-of-life challenges, as well as opportunities, to promote a circular economy. The “plastics packaging surprise,” and a call to look at other plastic applications, are main takeaways from a new University of Michigan study published in the journal, Environmental Research Letters.

The research project was supported by a grant from investment bank and financial services firm Morgan Stanley, who has a goal to prevent, reduce, and remove 50 million metric tons of plastic waste by 2030. The university researchers they turned to for information to help them reach for their target began with a specific goal and strategy in mind.

“To reduce plastic waste, we need to first understand the types of plastic resins going into the economy. We need to know how it’s used in what markets, and we need to know what the current practices and outcomes are for managing it at the end of life. So, we developed a characterization of plastic material flow in the U.S. to better understand and improve its use in the future,” says Gregory Keoleian, senior author of the paper and director of the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan.

As part of their research project, Keoleian and his colleagues created a map of the flow of plastics, from production through use and end of life, tracking these materials by plastic type and markets.  The map is intended to help guide industry, policy makers, and researchers to be able to accelerate plastic waste reduction.

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© The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd. CC BY 4.0

The University of Michigan study was conducted, and the map created in response to a pressing realization: “We need to reuse plastic waste and move toward a more circular economy, but there are some barriers to do this. On the front end, plastic feedstocks are inexpensive, and on the back end, there are low tip fees in many regions. So, we have a linear economy where we extract, use, and dispose,” says Keoleian.

Steve Alexander, president and CEO of the Association of Plastic Recyclers, read the report with interest and shared a few thoughts on its focal points.

“Packaging is a small part of the stream but remains the focus of the public because that is what they see on a daily basis. The system needs to address the entire composition of plastic material, disposal, and reclamation.

Many plastics, as stated in the report, do not biodegrade.  Therefore, the durable goods that the report discusses are a landfill issue, like all other materials.  Some of the durable goods have recycling options, but those options are different than the systems designed to recycle packaging, [and require consideration],” he says.

The researchers went a step further than simply showing the flow of existing resins throughout their lifecycle; they also characterized potential specific scenarios for end-of-life management of some resins.

“For instance, if you convert all plastic from the municipal solid waste MSW) stream to energy –and there are 32 million metric tons of plastic it could make 4 percent of the electricity needed in the U.S.,” says Keoleian.

Another scenario illustrated in the study involves making fuel via pyrolysis from the 28 million tons of plastics landfilled each year. The outcome in this case would translate to generation of about 7 billion gallons of liquid fuel, which is equivalent to about 15% of diesel consumed annually.

So, the map informs on current processes for managing specific waste streams as well as outcomes – which in this case is that 8% of plastics are recycled and three-quarters are landfilled. And it allows the industry to develop “what if” scenarios, to inform on potential to recover resources.

“It’s a way to visualize current practices that are resulting in lost resources, as well as understand opportunities to achieve a more circular economy,” says Keoleian.

The researchers also aimed to provide context for understanding challenges. Among those challenges are finding substitutions for these plastics. And in many cases, they are hard to separate. Adding to these barriers is that there is a huge stock in use today as manufacturers are making products that have longer lives than single-use packaging. So, it’s accumulating over time; 400 million tons of plastic are now in use in the U.S., which is eight times the amount that was manufactured this year alone.

[So], we need solutions to better manage all of these materials when they get retired,” says Keoleian.

Nina Butler, CEO More Recycling, Chapel Hill, N.C., punctuates the point that we have insufficient infrastructure: More than two-thirds of what's produced each year is not intended to be handled by our current recycling system, which is why I’m thankful to see this study from the University of Michigan. We live like superhumans thanks to plastics—flying, communicating with people beyond earth's atmosphere, replacing joints and organs …  But we must reconcile the fact that our use of plastics enables the continued growth of the human species, but that living beyond natural boundaries comes with a serious cost.” 

Butler says managing plastic in the environment will require coming to terms with technical barriers, with a large one being lack of transparency.

 

“If we had a transparent marketplace that shows the life cycle impact of our consumption we would unlock innovation needed for reverse logistics, chemical or molecular recycling, and other steps in recovery (color sorting, food-grade-level processing) that are necessary for a truly circular economy,” says Butler.

200 Major Food Producers Commit to Sharing Sustainability Journey

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More than 200 food producers, some of the biggest giants in the world, will document their journey to reduce food loss and waste.

The list of companies that will share their efforts as part of the 10x20x30 initiative includes Unilever, PepsiCo and Nestle Global. The collaboration of food retailers and manufacturers working to reduce food loss and waste will submit updates in the Food Waste Atlas.

About 30 percent of food globally is unharvested or disappears in the supply chain, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. 

Read the original article here.

Need to Know

A Search Engine Helps to Clean the Ocean

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There may be more waste plastic in the sea than fish by 2050. (Ellen MacArthur Foundation)

OCG - Saving The Ocean, a non-profit organization, is committed to saving the coasts and marine lives from plastic pollution.

The company built a Google Chrome search engine extension to help clean the ocean. The more a user searches, the more relevant ads are shown. OCG - Saving The Ocean receives a portion of the money that the advertiser is paying and uses it to fund the cleanup operations.

In three months, with 100,000 search engine users, OCG - Saving The Ocean removed over 126 tons of plastic.

OCG began its first cleanup operation in Bali, Indonesia and expects to expand around SouthEast Asia.

Read the original story here.

Need to Know

Amcor and Nestlé Partner on Flexible, Recyclable Pet Food Packaging

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Zurich, Switzerland: Amcor, a global leader in packaging, in collaboration with Nestlé, today launched the world’s first recyclable flexible retort pouch. The new high barrier pouch, using Amcor’s AmLite HeatFlex Recyclable solution, will first appear in stores in the Netherlands in October 2020.

Amcor and Nestlé partnered to overcome one of the largest challenges facing the industry – the inability to recycle retort flexible packaging – and have achieved a technical breakthrough which underscores both companies’ long-term commitment to more sustainable packaging solutions. The partners collaborated during the product development process, testing for heat resistance, machine performance, shelf-life and recyclability in the real world.

“Amcor and Nestlé together have been able to create a unique solution that for years was thought impossible,” says Michael Zacka, President Amcor Flexibles EMEA, “This high-barrier, high-heat resistant, packaging can be easily recycled within plastic recycling streams already existing in several European countries.”

Flexible retort packaging is a modern alternative to metal cans, and it can improve the carbon footprint of hundreds of consumer products thanks to its light weight, resource efficiency, ease of transportation and by minimizing food waste. Adding recyclability to its list of properties will further improve the environmental footprint of this packaging solution, which has a reduced carbon footprint of up to 60%.*

The new pouch meets the packaging guidelines for a circular economy recently published by the CEFLEX Consortium.  Project Coordinator and Workstream Consultant for CEFLEX, Graham Houlder, says, “This is a great example of how – through innovation – companies can solve even the biggest challenges to recyclability. Recyclable retort packaging is a revolutionary advance and will have a huge impact in pet food and beyond.”

The breakthrough innovation underscores Amcor’s unique capabilities and long-term commitment to more sustainable packaging solutions. The company is on the path to fulfilling its pledge to develop all of its packaging to be recyclable or reusable by 2025.

Learn more about Amcor’s sustainability activities at www.amcor.com/sustainability

How GreenWaste Recovery’s Top-Line Tech Digs Deeper Into Waste

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GreenWaste Recovery says it has one of the most advanced recycling and waste processing operations in the world with a robust network of dozens of high-tech sortation and separation systems that process up to 1,800 tons of curbside recyclables and trash. And the San Jose, Calif.-based operation is gearing to scale; it’s permitted to do 3,500 tons per day.

The system includes a sizable inventory of optical sorters, smart robots (some with multiple arms and heads), air compression sorters, metals separators and polishing screens. With all its moving parts the operation manages three separate lines: a clean yard waste line that separates leafy and woody debris; a garbage line that separates out recyclables; and a curbside line that further cleans and sorts what residents put in their blue bins. The company diverts between 85 and 90 percent of everything it takes in.

The intricate system wasn’t cheap. While GreenWaste won’t disclose a specific dollar figure, Emily Hanson, chief strategy officer for GreenWaste Recovery, said the company has shelled out tens of millions in this advanced setup in the last several years. But the investment made economic sense, the decision makers figured.

“We don’t own a landfill. We are a collection and processing company. So, if we can process and recover as much as possible it is generally less expensive than paying someone to landfill it,” Hanson says.

Having all these bells and whistles provides GreenWaste and sister company Zanker Road Resource Management a competitive edge on the hauling and processing side, plus it’s been a means to stay in front of regulations.

“We see where the regulations are going; they are becoming increasingly more stringent, and less and less is allowed to be buried. So, we have a commitment from our ownership and executive teams to invest upfront, so as demand for higher diversion services emerges, we are ready to promptly deliver. It’s kind of like the principal, if we build it, they will come,” says Hanson.

The curbside recycling line runs eight optical sorters, one eddy current for nonferrous metal, a magnet for ferrous metal, a Nihot sorting machine using air to separate materials by density, and two robotic Max-AI units, one which has two heads and works on what Hanson calls the “last chance line,” to catch recyclable materials that may have slipped through, and the other that targets cartons and mixed-material containers.

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GreenWaste, 2019

Materials on the curbside line start on a conveyor belt with manual sorters pulling off large rigid plastics, metals and tanglers, such as cable wires and garden hoses. Next the material drops onto an OCC separator where cardboard is separated, then goes through quality control with up to five manual sorters. Glass drops through screens and goes through the Nihot density separator where it is separated from all other materials that fell through the screen. The remaining materials go through several polishing screens where 2D (fiber and films) and 3D (bottles, cans, and containers) are separated.

The lightweight 2D items travel through optical sorters to separate fiber from film and other contaminants.  The 3D materials go onto a container line with optical sorters, a magnet, an eddy current and the Max-AI unit that targets cartons. Finally, remaining, unselected materials are processed by the Max-AI prior to becoming residue. 

The garbage line is just as advanced, with four single-arm Max-AI units and a double arm Max-AI, two Nihot sorters, four optical sorters, one eddy current for nonferrous metal, a magnet for ferrous metal, and two polishing screens.

Black bin content goes through several manual sort stations, then travels through a series of disc screens to separate by size; light and heavy materials are separated by the Nihot then continue to a polishing screen to separate 2D and 3D materials, while the heavies move to disc screens to separate compost and recyclables from residue.

The 2D materials then go through an optical sorter to separate fiber from film.

Three-dimensional materials move on to the container line where metals are processed by an eddy current and a magnet, and optical sorters pull high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and plastics #2 - #7. Each of these streams then travel to their own Max AI that performs quality control prior to going through a final manual quality control station.

The clean yard waste operation isn’t quite as elaborate, but the technology serves its purpose, separating leafy from woody debris, with the separated streams moving on to Z-Best, a compost facility about 35 miles away.

By separating material, Hanson says, GreenWaste is able to reduce volumes to more easily transport it.  The leafy material is composted, and the woody fraction goes into a mulch operation.

The garbage and curbside lines especially set the waste company apart, Hanson believes.

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GreenWaste, 2019

“Most processing facilities are cherry-picking higher value material like cardboard, aluminum and PET," she says. "But we want to landfill as little as possible. And if we start to see new materials, we can separate and start looking for markets.”

She exemplifies with CD’s and DVDs, “We have been pulling them and found markets for their PET. Do we make money? Not necessarily, because sometimes we have to pay to recycle them, but do we get higher diversion? Absolutely. And this gives us a competitive edge. So, if we have to invest time and money to process rather than bury, it is worth it.”

The Environmental Services Department of San Jose provides trash and recycling services to one million residents. GreenWaste is one of its contractors.

“It’s definitely challenging to try our best to make sure one million people are recycling right,” says Jeff Anderson, senior environmental program manager of the Environmental Services department for the City of San Jose.

It’s why when GreenWaste began recovering recyclables from garbage, the city bought into this service right away.

“It’s increased our diversion quite a bit," says Anderson. "We have partnered with them for 30 years now.  In those 30 years, there’s been China’s National Sword, COVID-19, and to an extent market fluctuations, which we had to adapt to. Being able to count on GreenWaste to continue to innovate is good for the city, and it’s good for our residents."

Episode 73: Solving the Food Waste Problem with ReFED’s Coari (Transcript)

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[00:00:00] Liz Bothwell: Hi everyone, welcome to Waste360's NothingWasted! Podcast. On every episode, we invite the most interesting people in waste recycling and organics to sit down with us and chat candidly about their thoughts, their work, this unique industry and so much more. Thanks for listening and enjoy this episode.

[music]

[00:00:25] Liz: Hi everyone, I want to make sure that you all know that WasteExpo Together Online registration is open. You can go to WasteExpo.com to register, check out who's speaking, and the amazing content we have lined up for you guys. We're super excited and know you will be too.

Hi everyone, this is Liz Bothwell from Waste360 with Alex Coari, Director of Capital & Innovation at ReFED. She's also one of our steam 2020 40 Under 40 winners, we're thrilled to have her with us today. Welcome, Alex, thanks for being on the show today.

[00:00:59] Alex Coari: Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Liz.

[00:01:01] Liz: We usually start at the beginning, can you tell us a bit about your background, and how you found your way to ReFED?

[00:01:08] Alex: Absolutely. My background is actually a bit eclectic, or so I'm told. I actually started my career on Wall Street working as an investment banker, mostly focused on emerging markets and industries that really are not related to food at all. I was actually focused on metals, mining, oil, gas, and the financial institution market. Food didn't really seem to be in the future for me at that point in my career, but food had always been a personal passion point. As I got a bit burnt out from years working on Wall Street, decided to shift things in my career a bit, and moved into the sustainable food supply chain certification space with Fair Trade USA. That was really my first foray into working in the food industry.

I completely became enamored with the industry, with the players, with the tangible nature of the work. Being able to taste, and smell all of the hard work that we did on a daily basis. After a handful of years doing that work, really got the bug to work in the innovation and startup space. Wanted to figure out how to use market based approaches through business to solve challenges related to topics of food.  Spent a couple years working in startup acceleration space. Actually, worked at a health and wellness startup before going down to Latin America, and working with social entrepreneurs down there.

When I came back to the states, back in the beginning of 2018, I did some thinking about what a recruiter had once told me, which is looking at all of this mix of experiences and skills that I had. He wasn't sure if I wanted to make money, or if I wanted to make an impact in the world. It was that point in my life that I started to realize that I rejected that notion that I would have to pick between the two. I found that the food industry, particularly the waste industry when I heard about this opportunity at ReFED to become the director of Capital & Innovation, was really a great marriage of being able to make money. I'm not talking personal money, I'm talking about business profits, savings for consumers, helping startups grow their business, but also doing good in the world.

We all know about food waste, and how food waste has negative impacts on climate change. If we fight food waste, we can start fighting climate change, we can start creating jobs, we can start providing food to the hungry. It's a really perfect match of making money, or making economics work, and making an impact. I was really excited to find this opportunity in the waste industry.

[00:04:05] Liz: That's great. What a great use of your skill set coming from the financial sector to really view this as a business, I love that. ReFED has really had its hands full during the pandemic, can you tell us a little bit about how it impacted the work that you're doing there?

[00:04:25] Alex: Yes, absolutely. Food waste has been a problem for a long time. Before COVID came around, everybody knows the stats were wasting about a third of our food, and yet 40 million Americans plus are experiencing food insecurity and hunger on a daily basis. This dichotomy has been around for a while, but really because of COVID, a lot of the weaknesses in our system have been exposed, they've been exacerbated.

The work of ReFED has continued how it used to be, but we have had to make some changes. For instance, the heart and soul of what we do at ReFED is really all about putting data, and economics to the topic of food waste to really understanding how much food waste is happening out there. More importantly, what are the viable solutions, scalable solutions to the topic, and then, what is necessary to get the right players to the table to start solving this problem.

That has stayed the same no doubt, but when COVID hit, we actually had to parallel path a couple of existing projects that we had planned for the year, and add some new projects to really meet the moment, I would say, with COVID. I think the best manifestation, and example of that is this year ReFED really had planned to focus primarily on the development of what we're calling our insights engine, which is a generational leap in our original 2016 roadmap to reduce US food waste. We were going to spend a lot of time, and energy on that.

We have been spending a lot of time, and energy on that. But at the same time, when COVID hit, we started to realize that there was a real need in the market, and a value that ReFED could play given our skills, and expertise by launching our COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund, or what became that fund because we were seeing that funders out in the space really wanted to start to put their money to work, to help food recovery organizations fight food waste, also help fight hunger.

We all saw the pictures, and the videos of those long lines of food banks, and food pantries, as unemployment was picking up really needing emergency, and supplemental food services. We knew at ReFED, that we had the network, and the connections to be able to help those funders get those monies to organizations in need much quicker than they could do on their own. We launched the fund, I'm really excited to say that we were able to raise more than three point five million dollars. We ended up re-granting that over the course of just three months to more than 37 organizations around the country.

It's been a fantastic example of how donors, and food recovery organizations can come together really quickly to solve this problem, and do something in the immediate board solving food waste, and hunger. At the same time keep things going internally at ReFED on our standard strategy that we had planned for this year. It really did require all hands on deck to put a new project in place to really meet the moment. We didn't want to miss that moment, that's why we did that.

[00:07:38] Liz: What a moment, such an impact. Last I had heard, the fund had distributed three million, you crushed. [laughs]

[00:07:48] Alex: It's been exciting, it's been a lot of work, but it's been one of the most rewarding things I think I've done in my career so far. Our work it's really the organizations that are on the front lines doing the hard work every day of getting that food, recovering that food, and giving it to people in need. That's what gets us out of bed in the morning, we're really just here to help facilitate the work that they do.

[00:08:11] Liz: That's great, amazing. Speaking of COVID, do you think people in general would carry the lessons learned during the pandemic with them beyond the pandemic around food waste? What people have learned? There seems to be a heightened awareness of food waste now, are you seeing that?

[00:08:32] Alex: I am starting to see that. What gives me, and what has been giving me a lot of hope is that even before COVID hit, you were starting to see real interest, and recognition, particularly from new segments of funders that could come into the space, help to fight food waste, and scale solutions. Primarily, I'm talking about climate funders, who we're starting to recognize that the power of the fight against food waste has a really big impact on our ability to fight climate change, so those funders were really already starting to see this space.

When COVID started to hit, I think hunger funders were really motivated. Other players in the food space were starting to put money to work to help scale solutions that really, I think, would shift the food chain going forward and hopefully become more resilient in the future. I'm really excited about this growing recognition and work being actually done by climate funders to recognize that all of this challenge is related with climate, with our food system, our health system, and the outcomes that we want to achieve there with continuing to improve nutrition of our population.

There's a lot of intersect there, so I'm really excited to see more players coming to the table. Some of the innovations and scaling of solutions that probably would have happened 10 years ago have really just accelerated the need for those and the ability for those to happen much sooner. It's going to take capital to do that, so I think that's why I focus a lot funding, because it takes money to make money, and it takes money to make an impact.

It's exciting to see that more and more individuals, foundations, firms are wanting to focus their efforts on supporting what I hope will become a much more resilient food system in the future. There's much more interest in helping new technologies, new business models, new innovations emerge because of COVID, so if there's any silver lining perhaps that's it.

[00:10:42] Liz: That's a good one, though. I know the work that you do requires a lot of great partners and partnerships. They're a critical part of your work. You must be very skilled in collaboration, can you talk about that a little? What you think makes a good partner and what facets of good collaboration can you share? I think it could really help others in other areas and sectors of the industry.

[00:11:08] Alex: Yes, absolutely. I love that question, because I think another kind of core activity that I think ReFED has become really skilled at is this collaboration and connection activity. The way that we look at how we're going to solve this problem of food waste and ultimately fight climate change, hunger, and just drive economic development, has a lot to do with convening and connecting the various stakeholders that work across the value chain.

If you think about it, from farm, all the way to the consumer, there are a lot of players involved and there's actually a lot of institutions that surround that system as well. It's not just farms, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers, but what about government agencies? What about universities that are working on research? I know on your program you've interviewed Emily Broad Leib from the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. Some of the work that they do, for instance, is really critical in terms of leveling the playing field, setting the rules of the game, helping government agencies really put the best policies and legislation forward so that this system can grow, and scale as quickly and as needed.

All of those players we've recognized at ReFED are really important to get in the same room, to work together, to partner together, but without somebody in the middle that's actually looking at the problem on a systems level, starting to connect those dots, understanding who's doing what, where their duplicative efforts, what more can be created if we just got the right players in the room, that a lot of this food waste fighting wouldn't happen. I think that's been a critical role that ReFED has played.

If I think about some of the best practices for forming partnerships and collaboration, we actually just put out a Scaling Food Recovery and Hunger Relief Effort Report, which is based on the Food Recovery Accelerator Program that we launched last year. We wrote this report to make sure that some of those lessons learned and best practices got out into the broader sector. One of the best practices is around partnership and collaboration. Some of the things that we highlight there is just making sure that each party understands really fully what they're bringing to the table, what is their skill, or expertise that really is unique to them and how is that complementary to what the other person or organization is bringing. Being really upfront about that.

I think, sometimes what I see in this industry, or just in general, is that a lot of partnerships are aspirational, or they don't really communicate very well what they're hoping to get out of the partnership and there's a lot of assumptions that are made. I think that's where partnerships and collaboration start to break down. I think also just being really explicit about timelines and how many resources are going to be dedicated to a particular project or partnership that are coming together is really important. Then, just making sure that missions are aligned. I think, again, there's a lot of challenges that can arise when assumptions are made, so just really making sure that the mission and objective of each partner is explicit, as well.

[00:14:27] Liz: That's great advice. It really is and can go across all industries, I think. You're speaking at WasteExpo Together Online, we're super excited about that. You're speaking in two sessions, can you give our listeners an idea of what they'll learn in the two that you're speaking in?

[00:14:45] Alex: Yes. One of the panels that I am speaking on highlights a couple other of my 40 Under 40 colleagues. In that conversation, it's really all about how the three of us got into this industry, some of the changes that we're seeing, why we find the waste industry so exciting, as a little bit of a preview to that. I think at the end of the presentation something that we all share, or at least I really echoed, is I didn't actually even know this was an industry before I came into it.

Particularly, didn't seem the sexiest when I was first finding out about it, but it really is very exciting and very innovative. It provides a lot of opportunities that hopefully come across in that conversation as something that inspires others to think about careers in this industry. I would highly recommend people listen to that. Then, my second conversation is actually with several food recovery organizations across the country. We're actually talking about some of the lessons that they've learned over the years about how best to rescue perfectly good food and provide that to those in need, and how because of COVID that has really shifted how they operated.

It's presented new challenges, but also new opportunities, and what they need, hope, and see for the future of the sector. Because, right now, what a lot of people are talking about is, of course, an immediate response to COVID, but quite quickly here, people are starting to shift to your previous question, Liz, about how we build a more resilient food system. We have that conversation with three food recovery organizations.

[00:16:30] Liz: It's going to be awesome. I had another question, just because ReFED, specifically the work you do, I feel like a lot of us rely on data and stats from you guys. How important is data to the work that you all do?

[00:16:48] Alex: It's the core. It's the heart and soul of our organization. We really believe that, as the saying goes, "What gets measured, gets managed", I believe? Without the data, without the insights that can be gleaned from that data and really shared with the industry, people are really just walking blind and operating blindly. There will certainly be good things that come from individual efforts to fight food waste but, really, we need to be solving this problem at a systems level and looking at it from a systems level, because not one in particular player can solve this on their own.

The system is just way too interconnected and really nobody, at the end of the day, has an end-of-year-performance metric around food waste reduction necessarily. If we're talking about a retailer and house, it really spans different departments and different individuals. We have to be using data to help individuals understand how fighting food waste can impact their bottom line, or their headcounts, or provide other opportunities in the future towards solving some of the challenges and impacts that they want to solve. We're really excited to continue to improve the data, and insights we're able to provide to the sector, like I said, with the launch of what we're calling our Insights Engine which will come out in the fall of this year.

[00:18:13] Liz: That's great. Please keep us posted on that, we'd love to see-

[00:18:16] Alex: Absolutely.

[00:18:18] Liz: Awesome. The work that you've been doing, with your financial background, and your work now in the food system itself, what do you feel will be progress to you in terms of the work within the food system itself? I know it's systemic and you're saying it's a systems-level problem, but if you were to walk away at your retirement, what would make you feel good about progress that you've made, ReFED has made, and, I guess, the system as a whole? I know it's a big question.

[laughter]

[00:18:59] Alex: I'm, hopefully, a good number of years away from retirement but that's a great question, they get me thinking because yes, maybe I should be trying to work backwards from that. But from ReFED's perspective, we're really focused on adoption rates of viable solutions to food waste, participation from major industry players, and commitments for major industry players. Particularly for the work that I do on the Capital & Innovation side of food waste, is really tracking the amount of investment that is coming into the space.

Because what's important to remember is that wide-scale adoption of solutions that make our food system more resilient, are going to require billions of dollars in financing and that will come from this mixture of public, private, and philanthropic capital, especially catalytic capital that will be needed to de-risk and unlock more traditional sources of financing. But without that capital, a lot of these solutions will be tough to implement and to scale.

I would say when my retirement rolls around, I'm hopeful that the amount of dollars coming into the sector is several times more than it was when I started, that adoption rates by major food businesses of solutions to food waste, has grown significantly, and that the topic of food waste continues to grow and not be seen as niche, but really as a means to solving some of the biggest challenges of our time, like I said, climate change, hunger relief, economic development.

[00:20:41] Liz: I have faith and you have at least a hundred years to get there.

[laughter]

[00:20:51] Liz: I know you'll probably address this in what you talked about with your Rising Leaders Talk Trash session at WasteExpo Together Online, but what advice would you give to other young professionals entering waste and recycling?

[00:21:06] Alex: Some of the pieces of advice that I would probably give have to do with just recognizing that- when I first got into the industry, I have a colleague who said to me that what was most attractive to him about the field is that it almost felt like you could wrap your arms around the problem of food waste, and really start to make inroads quite fast.

While I think that's true, I also think that being realistic about the time that it takes to convene and encourage collaboration across the food system, is significant because people have different motives, they have different incentives, so you have to be patient when you come into this industry and you're really trying to solve the topic of food waste, but more and more I'm encouraged every day. Like I said, it's really a bipartisan topic, it's hard to find somebody that says, "Oh, I'm anti-fighting food waste." Everybody agrees that wasting food is bad, and so you've already gotten over one hump but in order to make real action happen, it takes patience, it takes persistence, it takes a good understanding of various motivations, and really being able to map how those overlap with each other so you can start to build coalition.

The other thing I would say is, just definitely give the industry a try, like I said, I didn't know that it was an industry before I got into it but it is a never-ending learning process, and so, for people who are evergreen learners, who like to have different challenges thrown at them on a daily basis, and feel like they're always working to master their craft, this is a great industry to be in.

[00:23:00] Liz: That's awesome. What's next for you? I know you have lofty goals.

[laughter]

[00:23:08] Alex: Yes. What's next is, we have, fortunately, gotten all of that three point five million dollars re-granted and out the door to those 37 organizations. We're going to spend the next several months continuing to support that cohort of organizations whether that's helping them connect to food supply, helping them form partnerships between each other, connections to donors, things like that. In addition, we're focusing much more of the attention now -I'm excited to say- on the insights engine, so all roads lead to the publication of that insights engine coming out later this year.

Then, really, because there's so much more energy and focus on this industry right now, we're already pulling together as you might imagine our strategy for 2021 and beyond. We've got a really big and exciting capital campaign that we're going to be doing at the organization to really set us up to help support the industry going forward, and for the next several years. That's where a lot of our time and effort is going to be spent at least through the end of the year and going into 2021.

[00:24:20] Liz: Amazing. I just love the work you're all doing. You probably get this question a lot, is there anything that individuals can do to help combat food waste and/or help others? Any call to action you have for listeners?

[00:24:38] Alex: Yes, absolutely. The most exciting thing I think about food waste is that, like I said, it's very tangible, you're able to have an impact even in a very individualized basis, and fortunately or unfortunately, a lot of where food waste happens is actually at the consumer level, more than 40% of food waste happens at the household level.

Perhaps it's empowering to know that we, as consumers, have a lot of say and potential impact to drive in solving the problem of food waste. A couple of tips and tricks that I have, personally, learned from our Executive Director Dana Gunders who literally wrote the book on food waste, has to do with freezing leftovers, definitely creating stocks using some of those leftover trims that we have from the produce and vegetables that we generally use on a daily basis.

I would also say think about what I call garbage salads or, otherwise, waste salads. All the little bits of salami that you have, your extra lettuce, and, "Oh, you've got a can of chickpeas." Salads are a great way to just throw a lot of different things together, throw some delicious dressing on it, and eat that. Thinking about new ways to add value to the food that you have, that maybe wouldn't otherwise go together.

Generally, I would say really thinking about menu planning, I know in today's world we're all pretty stressed, but thinking ahead about what we want to eat that week and what we will batch make, is a really great way to make sure we're not overbuying, and that can really help us reduce our waste as well.

[00:26:23] Liz: That's great advice and something we can all practice, like you said. This has been awesome thank you so much, Alex, for your insights and we really look forward to watching you on WasteExpo Together Online and seeing what else you do. For such a young person, you've accomplished so much so thank you for the work you've done and will do.

[00:26:47] Alex: Absolutely. Thank you for the opportunity, Liz, it's wonderful to speak with you and just, really, I'm encouraged by the continued work of people like you and others in the industry, so thank you.

[00:26:57] Liz: You're welcome. Thank you.

[00:26:59] Alex: Yes, sounds good. Have a great day.

[00:27:01] Liz: You too. Bye-bye.  

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