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Eunomia Research’s Perlman Creates Data-Driven Solutions

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In this Q&A interview, Rachel Perlman, a consultant with Eunomia Research & Consulting discusses how she uses applied research to tackle some of waste management’s toughest challenges.

Perlman, a Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient, also previously led programs with the Product Stewardship Institute, where she used research and data to advance Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies and product stewardship.

This interview has been edited for length.

Waste360: How do you work with your clients to create solutions [at Eunomia]?
 

Rachel Perlman: It's a company that focuses on environmental consulting. [We specialize] in waste management, circular economy, recycling, and climate change mitigation. I am working on mostly circular economy issues in my job. It’s right up my alley. We also do work on EPR.

As a consultant I work on projects mostly for companies, mostly in the U.S., but also some abroad, that are looking to gain more information on policy strategy or operations related to waste. It could range from looking at single-stream recycling, or it could be related to a particular material type that a company is looking to make more circular in its management.


Waste360: How do you decide what research or solutions might be appropriate for a client? What is that process for you?

Rachel Perlman: That has been the focus of my work, which I would say started in grad school. I've been doing research in the field of waste since my master’s [program]. And before that actually, when I was doing research on life cycle analysis of electronics.

Effectively, my approach is to look for evidence-based solutions. First, it's understanding the problem; understanding the landscape, which can involve a stakeholder analysis; talking to the right people; and not trying to project what you think the problem and solution is too early.

Waste360: In your role at the Product Stewardship Institute, what were some policies that you worked on?

Rachel Perlman: The Product Stewardship Institute is a nonprofit. They're a small organization, but they work all over the country. Their main mission is to, basically, advance Extended Producer Responsibility and product stewardship in the U.S. As a nonprofit, they work with a lot of stakeholders to help advance the process to get these laws passed. They do policy research.

A lot of my work was convening stakeholders in the world of Extended Producer Responsibility, helping those groups gain momentum and the right tools to introduce EPR laws. Or, if the laws were already introduced, helping them pass them. We worked with state legislators, who actually are the ones that introduce the laws; lobbyists who help convince other legislators to vote for the law; and also work to discuss what the law means with other stakeholders who might currently oppose the law.

We worked with environmental organizations, government, environmental, state governmental agencies for environment and health, other nonprofits, waste managers. You think about the whole ecosystem and who needs to be involved in the conversation. We would facilitate conversations and provide information on best practices for EPR laws. I did things like write model legislation for EPR laws.

Waste360: In your opinion, what are some of the most urgent EPR policies up for adoption at this time?

Rachel Perlman: I would really love to see a national EPR policy path. As you know, even less controversial things like infrastructure are hard to pass at the national level. It's not super-realistic in the short-term, but that's what I want to see.

The reason a national program would be best is that it would be a harmonized system. Companies that sell products in the U.S. don't just sell them in one state. When you have slightly different laws in 50 different states, which that doesn't exist yet, but if that's what happened, the companies would be facing a logistical nightmare, and then, enforcement would also be difficult. That's the balance between the state and federal challenges.

Other environmental and waste policies complement EPR laws well. Another type of policy is policies that require recycled content to be incorporated into a product when it's manufactured. In the past six months I've been working with the Northeast Recycling Council. We've been working on a model law for Northeast states that requires a minimum percentage of recycled content in glass manufactured. That's an example of a policy that would work well with EPR.

Waste360: What brought you to the waste management and sustainability fields?

Rachel Perlman: When I was an undergrad I studied Environmental Science, and it's such a big field. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do within Environmental Science. I was at Cornell University, and I worked for Cornell's dining operations on sustainability issues. Then, I started a compost club. I got into the waste world through food and food waste, which is still an interest of mine and passion. When I did my master's work, I actually focused on organic food waste in India. Also, when I was an undergrad, I read the book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, and that book also really inspired me.

I've been focusing my efforts on applied work and that circular economy, sustainable waste management space. When I saw the folks on the 40 Under 40 list, there's a big diversity. Some are leading efforts in waste management companies or have started their own business, those things are all so cool. I guess my niche is that “information” part of it—understanding the problem. My PhD was in engineering systems, understanding really big, complex systems, and so I think that's how I've ended up contributing [to the field].


 

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