Transcript: Circular Plastics and Collaborating for the Circular Economy with Jeff Wooster
SEE THE SHOW NOTES AND LISTEN AT: Circular Plastics and Collaborating for the Circular Economy with Jeff Wooster
Katie Whalen [00:00:00] Hey there, Getting in the Loop listeners. Do you want to learn more about Circular economy? Or maybe you're just looking to save some time before your next big presentation? Well, I've got just the thing for you. I have taken all of the presentations that I've ever given about Circular economy and consolidated them into a 20 page slide deck. And it's yours to use when you join the In the Loop newsletter. Just head over to slidedeck.GettingintheLoopPodcast.com to grab your free copy today. Again, that's slidedeck.Gettinginthelooppodcast.com.
[00:00:40] Hi, I'm Katie Whalen. And join me each week as I talk with experts around the globe about Circular economy. You'll find out what's being done to make it a reality and if it can really solve the problems it promises. It's time for Getting in the Loop.
[00:01:01] Welcome back to the Getting in the Loop Podcast. I'm your host, Katie and today we have an exciting new episode for you. You may have wondered what big companies are doing about the Circular economy. So today, Jeff Wooster joins us to talk about just that. Jeff is the global sustainability director for Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics. He is on the board of directors for Green Blue and serves on the steering committee for the Ocean Conservatory's Trash Free Seas Alliance. Jeff has been recognized for his many efforts to advance sustainability practices, including having been awarded the American Chemistry Council's Responsible Care 2015 Employee of the Year and an inaugural Person of the Year trashy award from the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. Dow is one of the third largest chemical companies in the world and a member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's circular economy 100 network. In this episode, you will learn about some of the initiatives that Dow has been working on regarding Circular economy. This includes a partnership with the Phoenix Group to use plastic waste in the production of new polymers and Project Butterfly, which is a social initiative that addresses poor waste management through education, cleanups and innovation. It was a pleasure to talk with Jeff about what is being done at Dow regarding Circular economy. Jeff's background as initially chemical engineering and so it's great to have someone who is very knowledgeable of not just the higher strategic level, but also the in-depth, detailed level. So let's find out what must be done to meet our future plastic demands. Without further ado Jeff Wooster.
[00:02:45] Thank you so much, Jeff, for coming on the podcast. I'm very excited to dive into what you are doing at Dow. But before we get started and talking about the work at Dow, could you tell me where you're calling from today?
Jeff Wooster [00:03:01] Sure. I'm calling from my office in Houston, Texas. I travel around the world working on Circular economy projects. But today, I'm at my office in Houston.
Katie Whalen [00:03:09] Great. Well, I'm glad we were able to catch you when you're at your home office in Houston. I'm thinking about, you know, we're going to talk about what you've been doing at Dow, but maybe you could share a little bit about your background before we talk about what you're doing at Dow regarding Circular economy.
Jeff Wooster [00:03:26] Sure, I'd be happy to. I was born on a family dairy farm in northwest Iowa. So my dad and my grandfather were dairy farmers and they managed and ran the farm. So that was sort of the first exposure that I had to the natural environment.
[00:03:41] And the natural world was going out with my dad on the tractor when I was just a little baby. And if you ever come to a presentation that I give, I sometimes put a picture of myself riding on the tractor with my dad.
[00:03:51] And I ask people how old they think I was in the picture because I was only 10 weeks old when he took me on the tractor and we got the first picture of it. I might have gone before that. I don't know. But the first picture evidence that I have is from when I was 10 weeks old. And so my parents really instilled upon me sort of a love for the environment and the importance of protecting nature and the importance of being sustainable. My grandfather was the first farmer in the state of Iowa to use terraces to prevent soil erosion.
[00:04:19] And that was in the 1900s and he won an award from the State Conservation Organization for that. So I'd like to say that sustainability is in my blood. I'm probably the only kid in my grade school that read the Mother Earth news from Grade 3 on when my father started getting that magazine, which was sort of the precursor to the Rodale media publishing empire that exists today. So they have all kinds of natural publications now. But back then it was Mother Earth news and.
[00:04:45] And so that was kind of my first exposure to sustainability really was in the world of agriculture. I remember when I was maybe in about sixth or seventh grade, we were at my aunt and uncle's house and I had finished drinking a can of pop. And I said to my uncle, where should I put this?
[00:05:00] And he is like, we got a recycling bin right here. We've only got one planet and we all have to do our part to protect it. So those kind of messages really stuck with me from when I was a kid. I went to college to be a chemical engineer because I wanted to invent things. And so I joined Dow fresh out of college, started working in product development and research, and got to develop and invent lots of new technologies and lots of new things. And throughout the time that I was doing that, I really was working on those things with an eye towards sustainability, maybe not the way that we think of it today, but thinking and thinking of it in terms of how do we maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of our products, how do we make more with less? How do we make small products that protect big products?
[00:05:43] How do we invest a little bit of resources in making sure that we protect a lot of resources in those kinds of things? I really worked on for the first part of my career and for the last dozen or so years, I've been focused fulltime on sustainability. So I've had the good fortune of being able to devote most of my the last third or so of my career to working on sustainability full time.
Katie Whalen [00:06:05] It's fascinating that you say you're from a dairy farm family, because I also am from a dairy farm family, but a little bit further from Iowa.
[00:06:13] So upstate upstate New York. Yeah.
Jeff Wooster [00:06:17] Yup. That's great.
Katie Whalen [00:06:17] There's a lot of tremendous activities that are regarding sustainability in agriculture and also very important regarding sustainability in agriculture.
Jeff Wooster [00:06:25] Absolutely.
Katie Whalen [00:06:26] Yeah. I'm just curious. So you say for about a dozen years or so, you've been doing this kind of role in sustainability at Dow. Could you give a little insight into that transition from sort of the R&D into the sustainability? I know that you've said that you've always been interested in sustainability, so it's been part of sort of your at your blood. But could you get a little insight with that kind of transition look like?
Jeff Wooster [00:06:52] Sure. So I had been working in what we call it Dow Technical Service in development, which is a department that works with our customers to help take new technologies and implement them into the marketplace.
[00:07:02] So we develop a new packaging formats and new plastic materials, new structures, and we work with our customers to implement those and get them to the marketplace. And for a few years, I had been working with our value chain. So that means not just the people that we sell our plastic to, but the people that they sell their products to and the people that they sell their products to. So for us, that might mean we sell a plastic product to a converter who makes a film and then they sell it to somebody who makes a pouch and they sell it to a brand owner who puts a product inside the pouch. And then it goes to the retailer who sells it to the consumer, who then gives it back to the recycler or puts it into the garbage. When they're done with it. And so I had started working with the extended value chain for our business for quite a few years. And the brands and the retailers about 15 or so years ago really started getting interested in sustainability. And so I kind of became the subject matter expert on the topic of sustainability for our business, because I was working with the companies that had the strongest interest in sustainability. And then a little more than 12 years ago, our business vise president for North America said, you know, this is important enough to us that we really need a full time person working on sustainability within our business, not just within our corporation, because we had lots of sustainability people in our corporation at that time that worked across our entire enterprise, but we needed somebody specific to our plastics business. And so we said we need a full time person to do this. And oh, we happened to have this subject matter expert on the topic already. Let's have him become a Full-Time person and work full time on sustainability. They created a new job that sat within our business function and I transferred departments and became our Full-Time Sustainability expert for North America initially and then eventually for our global business organization. Just a quick interesting story about that transition. The Business Vise president who saw the need for sustainability and identified that opportunity and helped create the job that I eventually filled is now the president of our company. Howard Unger. Lighter. So even 15 years ago, he recognized the need and importance of sustainability in terms of making our business enterprise sustainable and helping Dow contribute to a sustainable society.
[00:09:12] So I'm real happy to have had that opportunity, and I'm very fortunate to have been working on something that I love to do for the past few years.
Katie Whalen [00:09:19] Yeah, that's great and great that you had that sort of foresight to do that. Absolutely. You do as a member of the 100 from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. So what was the motivation to become a member there?
Jeff Wooster [00:09:38] Well, Dow really has a strategy to be a leader in the sustainability space. And one of the key areas where we've identified both an opportunity to be a leader and also a need to have industry help drive change in the world is in the area of Circular economy.
[00:09:52] So as a company, we recognize that our resources are limited. They're finite. We have only a certain amount of resources available to us on this planet. And if we want to have a sustainable existence, we need to do a better job managing the resources that are available to us in order to continue to have a high quality of life. So for me personally and for our company, it's about creating a sustainable business model for the company, but also creating a high quality of life for all the people that live on this planet. And as you know, you know, we're using resources at a faster rate than the planet can replenish them. And something has to change because we can't keep doing that indefinitely. So we've either got to decrease our consumption, which not too many people are excited about, or we've got to reduce our population, which people won't even talk about, or we've got to do a better job of managing the resources that we have. And one of the most important ways that we can do that is to reuse and reprocess and recycle and recover all the resources in terms of materials that we've already created. So if we extract a natural resource from the earth, whether it's a metal or chemical feedstock that's used to make plastic, if we make that into a product, if we can keep using that product over and over and over again, then we won't have to extract more natural resources to make the product the next time around. And that's really what Circular economy is about. For now, it's really about using the resources that we have as effectively and efficiently as we can. It's about keeping the use of the resources in use for us, keeping the molecules in play because we're a chemical company. So we'd like to talk about molecules. You know, if we make a molecule, we want to keep using the molecule. We don't want it to be lost to the landfill or certainly not lost to the environment. And so for us participating in the CE 100 and some other programs that Ellen MacArthur Foundation has is really good opportunity for us to interact with other leaders, to work with other companies in the Circular economys pace, and to help figure out better ways that we can all work to use the resources that we have more efficiently.
Katie Whalen [00:11:52] And do you have a specific I mean- Dow was a chemical company so it's quite broad, but do you have a specific kind of focus or some goals when it comes to circular economy?
Jeff Wooster [00:12:04] So for our business, which is the packaging and specialty plastics business within Dow, you know, we have three high level sustainability goals.
[00:12:13] One is to keep all of our products out of the environment, so we don't want any plastics to get into the environment.
[00:12:18] The second one is to put as many of those products as possible back into the circular economy. So that means creating the systems where we can capture those materials and return them to use. And of course, included in that are the systems for designing the materials in the first place, for making products that can easily be recovered and reused or recycled, for having systems of collection in place so that we can gather them up and then having end uses for the stuff that we make out of what we've collected. So it's a whole bunch of different elements of a system that have to go together to really work effectively. And we have goals across all of those areas. So we have individual things that we're working on in each of those specific areas that I mentioned that are part of our Circular economy goal, which is to put as much plastic as possible back into the circular economy. And then the third thing that we do that's quite important is we work through partnerships to achieve those goals. And so collaboration is something that's absolutely essential when it comes to a circular economy. No individual person or company can control every step of the process.
[00:13:21] In the old fashioned linear economy, it's relatively easy for each company to just do their discrete portion of the of the chain. But when you get to circular economy, you need a lot more collaboration and cooperation. You need to make sure that the person who's designing the products is talking to the person who's recycling them to make sure they're designed in a way that makes them easy to recover and recycle and reuse. And so making sure that we have the right partnerships and the right level of collaboration with all the different partners is the third thing that's really, really important to us.
Katie Whalen [00:13:52] Well, that's a great segue into what I wanted to ask you about next, which is correct me if I'm saying it wrong, but you have a partnership with the Dutch company and it's the Phoenix.
Jeff Wooster [00:14:04] Well, they say it Phoenix like the city in Arizona.
Katie Whalen [00:14:07] Okay.
Jeff Wooster [00:14:07] Which which is very easy to say, but it's very hard to pronounce if you look at the spelling because it looks like Phenix or Phenix or who knows?
[00:14:15] But we just call them Phenix and. And so we have a partnership with them to do chemical recycling or feedstock recycling of plastics. And that means that we take use plastic packaging that can't otherwise be reused or recycled.
[00:14:29] And we break it down into it's sort of individual constituent components. So that's the material that we've originally made the plastic from. We break it down into those components through a process of reverse polymerization or deep polymerization. So we take a polymer and we make it into small molecules at the time that we made the product. We took small molecules and made them into big molecules, which are polymers. But during the reverse process, we make small molecules. Then we take those small molecules and we put them back together again to make big molecules again. So we actually take the plastic. Break it apart into tiny bits and then put it back together to make new plastic. But what this allows us to do is to take plastics of different composition, different quality levels, mixtures of different materials. And it allows us through the processing of those materials to make them back into very, very high quality materials again. So materials that can be suitable for all kinds of applications that require very high degrees of purity and very stringent qualifications in terms of being of known composition with no contaminants. So really opens up the opportunity for us to to take more of our material and put it back into the circular economy, which is our big picture goal.
Katie Whalen [00:15:42] What kind of stage is this project in? Are you doing some? Is it kind of large scale at this point or is it specific or-.
Jeff Wooster [00:15:50] So it's really in the demonstration phase at this point. So it's relatively small scale. But our goal is to prove that the technology can work and then figure out how to scale it up to a big scale.
[00:15:59] We believe that the technology itself is scalable. We certainly think that the business models and the systems that are necessary for both the collection and reprocessing of materials are scalable. And of course, if we're making feedstocks that go back into the process of making plastics, we can make as much of those as our processes can handle. So all of our virgin feedstock someday could be replaced by feedstock that's made through this kind of recycling, which is a very exciting proposition for us.
Katie Whalen [00:16:27] Yeah, very exciting. May I ask a little bit more about the used plastic, where is it coming from?
Jeff Wooster [00:16:34] Yeah. So our partner Phoenix is sourcing it locally from Europe. So they have there are particular sources of materials and I don't have the details on those because I'm not involved in that part of the project.
[00:16:45] I would add though that we have projects with lots of companies around the world who are doing all kinds of different recycling. And most often the markets in the supply sources for materials that go into those are based on whatever the local market conditions and local market availability happens to be in the US. We have a system where we collect grocery bags at grocery stores, for example. Right. So you may have seen the how to recycle label on packages that says return to the retail if clean and dry. So if you have a package that had hot dog buns in it, you can dump out the crumbs of the hot dog buns and you can take that bag back with your shopping bags and deposited in the bin at the front of the grocery store, at the front of your home improvement store. And then those can get reprocessed and made into new shopping bags or or other items that they might happen to get made into. Well, that stream doesn't exist in other countries, but they have different ways of collecting materials. And it's important to always have markets for the materials that you collect. And so this this process in this pilot that we have with Phenix is really an additional way to create new markets for the materials that get collected in whatever system happens to exist in the local location.
Katie Whalen [00:17:56] Yeah, I can imagine being a global company and having to deal with lots of different types of systems.
Jeff Wooster [00:18:02] Yeah, it's a very complex issue and it's something that takes a little bit of time to work out. It's certainly something that we intend to find a solution for and to overcome the hurdles of.
[00:18:12] But it's not quite as simple as saying, well, we'll just take recycled material and make it into new plastics all over the world because the sources of material are different, the compositions different, the quality is different, the availability is different, the seasonality is different. In the US, you have a huge surge in packaging around Christmas and around back to school shopping in China. You have a huge surge in packaging usage around Chinese New Year. In other areas of the world, you have different seasonality because of weather patterns or shopping pattern. So you really have to understand all those things. You have to understand the supply chain logistics. You know, we like to operate large plants where we can make a lot of material for a low cost. And when you operate a large plant, you have to have enough feedstock to supplier facility. And so being able to get the amount of material that we need in the right quantity and quality is really critical to success. So that's. One of the many factors that we have a team of people working on to make sure that we have solutions for so that we can in fact create the circular economy that we're looking for.
Katie Whalen [00:19:12] Yeah, well, you've played us some really, really important issues and kind of some challenges, but also there are lots of opportunities that come with it if you actually really dove down and kind of understand it.
[00:19:24] Yes, there are cultural aspects that you mentioned as very well. When you say I think, wow, okay. This makes total sense that, you know, there's a lot of plastic packaging around Christmas and it's all seasonal. But, you know, until you really are studying it and deepen it, you don't really realize it sometimes.
Jeff Wooster [00:19:39] And the cultural part's really important, too. So in some places of the world, people are very inclined to return their packaging for recycling. Right. In Sweden and other parts of Scandinavia, they have a very high collection rate because people are used to returning things and they want them to get reused.
[00:19:54] You go to some countries and barely anything is collected for recycling. And then the US is kind of somewhere in the middle with a huge opportunity to create better infrastructure and better systems. In the US, for example, most people who live in multi-family dwellings or apartment buildings don't have the same access to curbside recycling as people who live in single family homes. And so they're recycling rates tends to be much lower, but that's a group of the population who might be very interested in recycling if they just had easier access. So we're working through organizations like the recycling partnership to make sure that we broaden the access and availability to people. You know, they need to have access, but it needs to also be easy. Right. So so bringing access, making sure that it's easy to have the keys to getting materials back into the system.
Katie Whalen [00:20:40] So access and easy that the two keys.
Jeff Wooster [00:20:45] Yes.
Katie Whalen [00:20:45] Yes, yeah. I was going to ask you, I guess, some of the questions that I had prepared. One was about sort of this take back and collection of products and materials. And, you know, because I was thinking that you guys have successfully figured it out, you know, and a lot of the listeners for the podcast are working professionals who are eager to implement projects at their companies. But one of the stumbling blocks they have is like, how do you take back and collection? So I guess those two key aspects would be you recommend those are certainly two of the most important things.
Jeff Wooster [00:21:16] You know, we've established a number of different programs as pilots to test different ways of collecting material to find out what quality can we get, what quantity can we get, how can we get people to give us what we want and not give us or what we don't want.
[00:21:31] And we've really discovered that the first thing you have to do is talk to all the stakeholders and make sure that you've addressed any concerns and challenges that they expect to have. So a few years ago, we did a energy bag pilot program in Citrus Heights, California. And the Murph the material recovery facility that was going to take the bags of collected material was afraid that the bags would break open and that all that recycling would get mixed in with the rest of the recyclables and basically create a contaminant in their system. So what we did was we made the bags thicker and stronger using a very high performance polyethylene resin to make sure that the bags wouldn't break open during the processing. And then we did the tests and we determined that, in fact, the bags were strong enough and they didn't break open. And so that relieved a major concern that they had. I'm in the process as far as getting the consumers to participate. What we found was important was to make sure that they knew about the program, how to participate, why the program was there. So there's a number of different elements on the education part that are important, but it really comes down to how easy it is and how much access they have to participate.
Katie Whalen [00:22:36] Yeah, yeah, definitely.
[00:22:38] So thank you so much for that little segue and to take back and collection. I really enjoyed kind of learning a little bit about your experiences.
[00:22:48] One of the other projects that I wanted to ask you about was about a Project Butterfly. So this is another initiative that I believe now has been working on. And could you explain the purpose of this initiative to the listeners?
Jeff Wooster [00:23:02] So Project Butterfly really addresses to the two key challenges that we have, which are, one, keeping plastic out of the environment and to putting it back into the circular economy.
[00:23:10] So the project starts with collecting materials that otherwise would be waste and end up in the environment. So this could include materials that are littering communities or beaches or materials that are getting disposed of but not getting disposed of properly, then collecting and sorting through those materials and sending them back for recycling to turn into new items of all different types. And of course, what you make depends on what you get. If you pick up plastic bags, you make something different than if you pick up water bottles. Right. So you have to you have to make sure that the sorting and the processing are done in accordance with whatever it is that you're collecting. But by having a different number of end uses for the products that get collected and processed and put some of those materials back into the circular economy so we can satisfy both of our goals at the same time, which is getting materials out of the environment, putting them back into the circular economy with Project Butterfly specifically working with a small. Cycling company that actually does the recycling of the materials that get collected during beach cleanups and litter cleanups. So it's an exciting opportunity. Of course, eventually we don't want to be sourcing all the materials for recycling from cleanups, but we would like to get those materials directly from the users, whether those users are individual consumers or businesses. It's important to note that if the business uses a plastic bag, then after the business is done with it, it's considered post-consumer plastic because in that case, the businesses, the consumer rather than the individual household. That's the consumer.
[00:24:37] But in either case, you've got a good source of valuable material and plastics are too valuable to waste. We think they need to be put back into the circular economy. So if we can figure out a way to get them captured and collected and put back into the reprocessing system before they end up in the environment.
[00:24:55] Then we can prevent that litter from getting into the environment the same time as we're helping to create a circular economy, so really providing to sustainability benefits through one integrated program. And it's important that those programs are integrated, right? It's useful to pick up trash on beaches and dispose of it, but it's even more useful to pick it up and sort through it and then recycle the materials that are recyclable because it helps to capture the value from it. It also helps to train the people who participate in those programs that the material does have value, which helps then incentivize them to want to collect it and put it into a recycling program in the first place. We find that when people see and understand the value by participating in recycling, by seeing the end use items that might get made from recycled product, then they feel better about recycling and are more likely to participate.
Katie Whalen [00:25:44] Yeah. Very good point. With the education and sort of the awareness aspect. Yeah. So what has the. Has there been any feedback or any unexpected results from from working on this project?
Jeff Wooster [00:25:57] Well, I think both from that project and from some of the others that we've worked on is the part that's really made us happy is when people come to us and say we really like this project and we want to do it.
[00:26:08] But over here in this other location. Right. So it's always our goal. And we start small projects that we intend for them to be replicated and scaled. Sometimes it doesn't work out. But if we do something successfully and we can communicate the benefits of the results that we've obtained along with this sort of detailed part of how you do it, then we can have other people to replicate those programs. And so we have a number of initiatives where we've done something in one geography and had somebody from another country come and say that they want to do the same thing. It's happened on our cleanup programs. It's happened with several recycling programs. We have a program in Africa right now to make a bricks for schools that was modeled after a program that we did in South America. So so we've got lots of different opportunities for for leveraging. Particularly with social media and the ability to share information very quickly through electronic means. It's easy for people to find out about these programs. It's not as easy to implement a program as it is to find out about it. But but if you can find out about it and you can figure out how to make it work in your local community, then virtually anybody around the world can can take it and implement it. A few months ago, I was in Thailand on a trip and I went to visit a community that's implemented a zero waste model where they collect everything and they either recycle it or they compost it. And they have very, very little that they have to dispose of because they've managed to compost all of their food waste in their yard trimmings. And they've managed to recycle most of the plastic and Madeleine paper that they collect.
[00:27:40] And one thing that really amazed me was that I asked the man who started the program, I said, how did you find out about all these different composting processes? Because they had several different processes for composting, depending on what the waste stream was. And I said, how did you find out about all this? And you said, I just went on the Internet. He said and I and I found these different systems that worked for different materials. And so they basically built one of each of them. So so they had several different systems.
[00:28:05] And if they you know, if they had Watermelon Rhines, they'd put it in one pile. And if they had the husks off a corn plant, they put it in another pile. Based on what they thought, the best way to compost it was. So I think with electronic communication, people certainly have more access to information. They can find these solutions and implement them on their own. We know, though, that people need help with the ideas. They need help with the technical details for recycling. They need help with knowing what to store and how to sorted then and where to sell it. Most places I go around the world, people tell me, though, if I can get a clean stream, that's just one material. And if I can get enough of it, there's somebody that'll come and buy it.
[00:28:45] So it's very encouraging to me that the business community and the entrepreneurs are hard at work around the world trying to create uses and value for this material. It's really a matter of piecing together all the pieces of the puzzle to make sure that you've got all those steps taken care of so that the whole system can work.
Katie Whalen [00:29:04] Yeah. So I don't know if I'm understanding this correctly, but could someone, you know, let's say in Sweden or in the Netherlands or South Africa, could they also contribute to Project Butterfly and say, like, I want to I want to do something related to the beach cleanup and things like that? Or is it kind of invitation only, or?
Jeff Wooster [00:29:26] You know, I probably don't want, like, encourage people from Sweden does fly to Africa to participate in the beach cleanup.
[00:29:32] But they can certainly participate in their own local community cleanup events in cleanup or events are important not just to get the trash out of the environment, but also to raise the awareness of why it's important not to let the trash get into the environment. What we found with our own employees and we've done a huge, huge. Don't let it go to waste. Campaign called Pulling Our Weight. So we use the hashtag pulling our weight. And you can go and you can look on Twitter and you can find all kinds of posts with that hashtag. You know, we've gotten our employees and our customers and our communities where we operate engaged in these cleanups, not just to get the material out of the environment, although that is important and helpful, but also to help people understand why it's important to prevent waste from getting into the environment in the first place. And if you go out and walk along the fence, along a highway in your in your town, and you never noticed that there was any waste there before, and you take a bag with you, and so you start picking up trash and putting it in the bag. And pretty soon you've got a full bag of trash that you've collected. You realize just how much waste is in the environment, even in the US and Europe. Right. So this is not a problem that's limited to the developing world, where in the developing world the waste usually comes from not having a waste management system at all. In the U.S., it comes from litter, it comes from waste blowing out of the back of pickup trucks. When somebody goes down the highway and they they don't realize that the can and the bag and the cup and the bottle that they put in the back blow out when they go down the highway. But it does. If you've stood along the highway and watched trucks go by, you've probably seen it. So it's important to help people be more aware of this problem so that they can take actions in their own life to prevent it from being a problem. Right. So if they go and see the waste themselves, they realize like, hey, I better not put stuff in the back of my pickup bed because it might blow out when I go down the road.
Katie Whalen [00:31:24] Yeah. Yeah. It's interesting what you don't see until you start seeing until you realize it and then you see it, you know, everywhere.
Jeff Wooster [00:31:32] And when you start looking you see it everywhere. Right. If you if you've been looking for a red car in a particular model and you've never seen one before, you buy one and then they're everywhere.
[00:31:40] Suddenly, it seems like everybody in the world has the same car and color model that you have. But but it is really a matter of the awareness. And it's I mean, we really think we can change people's actions to understand why it's so important to keep material out of the environment, why it's so important to recycle. If they if they see it themselves and we're hopeful, of course, that one day we won't need to do cleanups anymore. Right. Once everybody properly manages every bit of trash that they create by putting it into a recycle bin, or if there's no recycling available by putting it into a proper trash receptacle, then we won't have this problem of littering the environment anymore and we won't have to do any more cleanups. But unfortunately, that's probably a few years off.
Katie Whalen [00:32:20] Exactly. It's little little baby steps. Yeah, baby steps. So thinking about what we've talked about. Obviously, we've been discussing a lot about plastics and packaging.
[00:32:30] But, you know, thinking about the future and continuing the circular economy journey at Dow, what kinds of important success factors do you see? I know you've hinted at some of them, but I'm just curious, like looking forward to the future. What kinds of success factors for four Dow do you have for continuing this journey?
Jeff Wooster [00:32:54] So I think for creating a circular economy and sort of by carry over keeping plastics out of the environment, because if all the materials go back into Circular economy, you won't have to worry about the environment anymore.
[00:33:06] You know, I think the most important factor there is really having the right degree of collaboration between the partners to making sure that the person who designs the package and the person who uses the package and the person who disposes of the package and the person who collects the used package and the person who recycles the use package and the person who makes the product out of what gets made from the recycled plastic, making sure that all those people have enough knowledge of what the others do and enough understanding of how the whole integrated system works, that they can design their parts of the process to work in harmony with all the other parts. And sometimes that means that somebody has to do something that's that's maybe not the way that they've done it before. So it might require change on some people's parts, but to make the whole system sustainable, it's a necessary change. So, you know, people don't want to make change unless they have to. Well, if they see the reason for making the changes to keep their business models sustainable, we're hopeful that everybody will want to participate in driving the circular economy and we'll hope to do their part to make it a reality. So whoever you are in the system, there's something that you can do and you can do a better job of enabling the circular economy by simply understanding what the other people need and making sure that you're developing our solutions together. We see lots of proposals for new integrated systems.
[00:34:23] We think the most successful systems will come when people work together to design them.
[00:34:29] And so so we're trying to make sure that we collaborate as much as we can. We're also trying to make sure that the people we know are important stakeholders are talking to each other.
Katie Whalen [00:34:38] Yeah, yeah. And I think it's fascinating also with your background and having this sort of value chain perspective, you seem like one of the perfect people to kind of do this and to understand that you need to know what and what each sort of actor in the chain is looking for. So it seems like kind of a perfect fit.
Jeff Wooster [00:34:59] Yeah, I think it is a perfect fit for me personally. And I certainly have the benefit of for a long time talking to the retailers and finding out what they need and for a long time talking to the brand owners and finding out what they need.
[00:35:10] And before that, talking with our direct customers and finding out what they need. And now more recently, spending a lot of my time talking with companies to do recycling to find out what they need, you know.
[00:35:20] So piecing all these different parts of the puzzle together to make sure that when you get the puzzle finished, that it's a beautiful picture. It's not just a bunch of pieces that you tried to wedge together and they don't fit. You know, you can't force it. You have to make sure that they fit together seamlessly. But I think there are enough of us now in the industry who are talking to the others and committed to driving this collaboration that we can be successful. If you'd asked me five years ago, I just said it's probably quite a ways off. But asking me today, I can honestly say that it's happening right now. Right. So this is something that we are doing today. It's not something that we're gonna do five years from now. It's something that we're doing today. And so and other companies are doing it, too. And so it's it's really a great an amazing transition to see in the industry and in the marketplace of these companies coming together to find solutions. And it's really driven by the fact that they see a business need for it. You know, I I worked with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development four or five years ago, and we put together a roadmap to eliminate ocean waste. And we created a business case of why companies should get involved. And at that time, we could only get a small handful of companies to stand up and say, yes, this is an important issue. We should work together on this. But now, today, in 2020. Right. We have organizations like the Alliance to End Plastic Waste and Circulate Capital that have assembled large groups of multinational companies working together to work on these problems. Ellen MacArthur Foundation has hundreds of signatories to their commitment to drive Circular economy for plastics. So I think there's clear evidence that companies now recognize the value and importance of working both on UN waste in the environment and also in driving circular economy. And we're well on our way to getting to the solutions.
Katie Whalen [00:37:09] Yeah, yeah. What do you think sort of what what made this difference in the last five years, do you think?
Jeff Wooster [00:37:17] A lot of hard work by a lot of hard working. People you know, people ask me all the time, what was the tipping point, what was the one thing that like made this happen? And there wasn't just one thing. I just told a colleague just at lunch today, just a few minutes ago, I said, I feel like the actress who gets interviewed when she lands the big part and she's 40 years old and she suddenly is a star. And they said, oh, you've had this instant breakthrough. And she said, I've been trying out for our parts since I was 15 years old. And I've been working as a waitress for 20 years trying to land my dream job. She said this was not an overnight thing. She said this took a lot of hard work. And so I think with creating a circular economy, whether it's for plastic or for any other material, I think with keeping waste out of the environment, whether it's plastic or any other kinds of waste, it's just something that takes a lot of people working very hard in working together on, you know, I've been working on it for a long time. I have a number of colleagues that have been working with me on it for quite a long time. And I think we now have enough recognition by enough business leaders that it's important that that is sort of carried through a momentum that's really gotten more and more people engaged in the issue to the point where where the people that have to work on delivering those different parts of the solution for the Circular economy are working on it. And the reality is there's just a few years off of it being something that's in place.
Katie Whalen [00:38:38] Yeah, so hard work and persistence. I love your analogy with the actress, that's a great one. I might borrow that.
Jeff Wooster [00:38:47] Feel free to borrow it and reuse it. Absolutely. It's not something that only I could think of. Anybody can come up with that one, so please reuse it as often as you'd like.
Katie Whalen [00:38:56] Yeah. Well, thanks, Jeff. Well, this has been it's been such a pleasure chatting with you today.
[00:39:02] And before we go and kind of wrap up the interview, I'd love to ask you the question that I ask all of the people that come on the Getting in the Loop Podcast, which is about the In the Loop game that I created, which is a game where you are- It's a board game and you're a manufacturing company and you have to go around and collect the materials to make your products. So they're a little bit different than the materials that you're working with as a chemical engineer, but they're more like technical materials such as antimony or gallium things that you might find in your cell phone or solar panel and one of the most memorable parts of the game is that there's changing market conditions. So they're often inspired by real world events. And what I like to ask guests is if they can create an event for the in the loop game, what kind of topic would you address? And most guests kind of link it to a vision that they have for the future in their area of work.
Jeff Wooster [00:40:03] So my vision really is reflected in the business strategy that we have for sustainability, which is no plastics in the environment and everything in the recycle bin.
[00:40:11] I think if I had to sort of think about how people could contribute to delivering on that solution for me personally, since I'm going to make this about my own personal wishes now, you know, people who are general consumers, if they're playing the game, so let's say non industry experts, non industry experts, I would ask how can you get your friends to recycle like you do? Right. So so we've got a small group of consumers around the world who are very passionate and very committed and willing to do everything that they can possibly do to make sure all materials get captured and reused. Whether it's returning their cell phone so that you can get the antimony out of the cell phone or returning their plastic shopping bags, or you can make the plastic into a new, new bag. You know, a small group of people are very, very committed. And then there's the next group who will do it when it's convenient. And then there's the ones who just don't care very much, you know, how would you convince all those others that do it only when it's convenient or don't do it at all. How would you convince them to do it? I think, you know, asking people to convince their friends is a better way than trying to get people who work for a big company to try to convince them or try to get media people to try to convince them. You know, I think that interaction that people can have one on one is really very helpful. If I was going to play the game with industry professionals, though, I would have them help identify some new uses for recycled plastic. So what are things that if I go to the store to buy and it's made out of recycled plastic, I'm really excited about it and I really see the value and I'll pay a nickel extra to buy the item made out of recycled plastic because sometimes it does cost more. So things like garbage cans and laundry bins come to mind, right? So my durable goods, things that last for five or 10 or 15 years and things that have to sort of look in a certain way and perform in a certain way. But but maybe don't have the absolute most stringent regulatory requirements or consistency and quality requirements such that it's a little bit easier to make them out of recycled materials. You know, recycled materials can be cleaned up and made every bit as good as non recycled materials, but sometimes it just is too. Cost prohibitive to do that. And so if we're talking about traditional mechanical recycling of plastics, I think finding new uses is really important. And I and people ask me all the time, what can I do to make a difference?
[00:42:32] And I'll say, when you go to the store, buy a product that's made from recycled plastics, because that will drive demand through the system. And if Target or Wal-Mart or Kroger, if they sell out of the garbage can or the laundry bean or whatever it is that's made from recycled plastic and the other one sitting on the shelf.
[00:42:51] Well, then they'll order more of the recycled plastic and the manufacturer will go back to their supplier and say, give me more recycled plastic. And they'll go to their supplier and say, hey, can you do a better job of sorting your incoming stream? I need you to give me more material so that I can reprocess it and make it in the new laundry bins.
[00:43:07] You know, you've got you've got that sort of trickle through effect that's created by driving that demand and getting people to say like, hey, I value buying something made from recycled plastic and figuring out what those new uses are, where it's relatively easy to use the material.
[00:43:22] I think it's something that everybody can do to help right away. You know, you only have to have a little bit of knowledge to do that one. You know, no knowledge to get your friends to recycle, but a little bit of knowledge to help develop the new induces. And if you're an industry expert, I can give you some really complex challenges. But I think for most of the population, those two are probably fit the bill.
Katie Whalen [00:43:41] Yeah. Yeah. Well, I love how you linked it to innovation and thinking about new new products and new ways to do it that maybe are not just like when you were talking about the the regulations and I was laughing about maybe like food grade is a little bit more difficult potentially than just having a garbage can or a laundry basket.
Jeff Wooster [00:44:03] It is in the use of recycled PTT and food grade for bottles is certainly a common and well-known and relatively easy to do because it's easy to get the PTT to that needed purity.
[00:44:13] It's not so easy with polyethylene or polypropylene, although there are a few food contact component materials available. But for the most part, what's recycled is not used in food applications. However, feedstock recycling allows us the opportunity to make food contact materials in large volumes in the future. That's not something that is in place today, a large scale, but it's something that's a potential for the future. So, you know, industry is continuing to work on new solutions. We don't we don't want to just say, well, we're not going to do food packaging because it's difficult. We're gonna say no, we're going to work on it to solve the problems that allows us to do it, even though it's difficult. And that difficulty creates opportunity for differentiation, for innovation, for new technology to come into play, for people to really create solutions that are highly valued in the marketplace. And so those are the kinds of things that we like to focus on. And I know other organizations are focused on them, too. So, you know, I'm very optimistic about what the future holds.
Katie Whalen [00:45:07] Yeah, well, I am too. Thank you so much, Jeff. It has been a pleasure to have you on the Getting in the Loop Podcast and to hear more about your work and what Dow is doing in regards to circular economy.
Jeff Wooster [00:45:22] It was great being here. Thanks for having me.
Katie Whalen [00:45:23] Yeah. And where can listeners go to learn more about the topics we discussed and you, and Dow in Circular economy?
Jeff Wooster [00:45:32] Sure. So you can follow me on Twitter. I'm Jeff Wooster RS for a really sustainable. Jeff Woofster RS on Twitter. When I went to Twitter, Jeff Woofster was already taken, so I had to choose something else. So I'm Jeff Wooster RS. On LinkedIn, however, I'm just Jeff Woofster.
[00:45:47] I was on LinkedIn a long time before I was on Twitter, so I got to have just my own name on that one. So I'm Jeff Wooster on LinkedIn. I accept all LinkedIn requests. And you can follow me on Twitter. If you follow me on those places, you'll see me link to our Web site, company, Web site and other resources that I think are are good places to get additional information on Circular economy.
Katie Whalen [00:46:11] Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode. For our show Notes and links, go to our Web site at gettinginthelooppodcast.com. And while you're there, subscribe to our mailing list to have new episodes delivered to your inbox every Monday. See you next week.
About the Show
Getting In the Loop is a weekly podcast dedicated to exploring how to transform to a more circular society. Join host Katie Whalen as she examines the challenges facing our current resource use and discovers alternatives to the ‘take, make, dispose’ way of doing things. Each week she interviews circular economy experts about what they’re doing and learning. Together we'll uncover what circular economy means in practice and find out what's being done to keep our resources in a loop rather than sent to waste.