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Transcript: Creating a Circular Economy Value Chain for Plastics Packaging with Graham Houlder

Transcript: Creating a Circular Economy Value Chain for Plastics Packaging with Graham Houlder

SEE THE SHOW NOTES AND LISTEN AT: Creating a Circular Economy Value Chain for Plastics Packaging with Graham Houlder

Katherine Whalen [00:00:03] Hey, there Getting in the Loop, listeners. Ever wondered what can be done in your industry to help create more circular economy? To mark the one year anniversary of the Getting in the Loop Podcast, I've put together a short e-book to help you navigate key circular trends in textiles and apparel, ICT and electronics and packaging. And it includes links to related reports as well as relevant Getting in the Loop podcast episodes. It's yours to receive when you join up to our podcast newsletter at CircularSectors.GettingInTheLoopPodcast.com. So head over to our website to get your copy of the Circular Sectors Navigator. That's again, CircularSectors.Getting InTheLoopPodcast.com. 

[00:00:52] 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. 

[00:01:08] It's time for Getting in the Loop. I thought today that I would start us off with a little bit of a different intro because I'm always saying welcome back. If you're new here, welcome to the Getting in the Loop Podcast. And, of course, a big welcome back to all of our recurring listeners. Today, we're talking about the future of flexible packaging with Graham Houlder, who is managing director of Sloop Consulting. Sloop has been offering consulting services and tools in the field of packaging and sustainability since 2009. And prior to that, Graham worked for Unilever for 23 years with a wide range of responsibilities, including R&D, packaging, management and design, supply chain restructuring and sustainability. In today's episode, Graham and I talk about Ceflex, which stands for a circular economy for flexible packaging. Graham is the founder and project coordinator for Ceflex, which is a collaborative initiative by over 150 companies and associations from across the flexible packaging value chain, with the aim to make flexible packaging even more relevant in the circular economy. Graham is an expert in this field and provided me with so much insight into the world of packaging. In today's episode we talk about collection and take back, including EPR, which stands for extended producer responsibility. We discuss the limits to plastic recycling and also about how to design for circular packaging. And not only did I learn a lot about plastics from our conversation, I also walked away thinking that there is a lot to be learned from sea flex in terms of how to organize circular economy projects across the entire value chain. So meeting how to get actors involved from a sector, from material producers to manufacturers to end consumers and, of course, what happens post use. So get ready to be inspired to start your own initiative in whatever industry you work in and be on the listen for the fascinating reason why Graham and the fellow project members had to put an ongoing plan to measure the composition of waste streams on hold. I'll give you a hint. It's about Covid, but probably not in the reason that you think. Let's welcome Graham to the show. 

[00:03:45] Thank you so much for coming on the Getting in the Loop Podcast, Graham. I'm very excited to have you here today. Can you just start us off by telling us where you're calling from? 

Graham Houlder [00:03:56] I'm actually in France calling from my home office. It's in the area of Valence, which is halfway between Leon and Marseille. 

Katherine Whalen [00:04:06] Okay, I don't think I've made it there before. I've been to Nice. 

Graham Houlder [00:04:10] A bit further north than Nice. Yeah. Nice is down the coast from Marseilles. But if you draw a straight line down from Luxembourg, Nancy, Leon, Marseilles, Valence is about halfway between Marseilles and Leo. 

Katherine Whalen [00:04:28] Okay. Well, I will have to check that out on a map after we get off of this call. But I'm very excited to talk to you today about the Ceflex. Am I saying it right? 

Graham Houlder [00:04:39] Right. 

Katherine Whalen [00:04:40] Excellent. So you've been instrumental in making this happen. And the Ceflex stands for Circular economy for flexible packaging. Give us an overview of kind of the aim of Ceflex and how it started. 

Graham Houlder [00:04:56] Okay. You're quite right. The what we're trying to do is take flexible packaging materials and make them circular. Right now, in many countries in Europe, probably about a third of European countries. Flexible packaging isn't even collected and where it is collected only a proportion of it is recycled. It's a very resource efficient packaging format, but it's very lightweight, which means when you recycle it, you don't get much material back. So if you're trying to meet recycling targets in Europe, you first focus on the nice heavy plastic items like milk jugs and detergent bottles and then peta bottles and things like that, which are nice and big, lots of plastic in them. And until recently, you could meet the legislative targets by just collecting those ones. 

[00:05:53] Now, in today's world, we see two issues. One is that the targets now mean that you have to collect flexible packaging. And the second thing is we have the the issue where they are leaking into the natural environment, a to some degree in Europe, but to a concerning degree in other parts of the world. And those two factors mean that society and businesses in Europe have decided that really what we need to do is go circular for plastics. But in this case, flexible packaging, flexible packaging, being perhaps the most challenging is probably what we call the lowest common denominator. And so therefore, we fix it for flexible packaging. We're pretty sure that all the other materials, not only plastics, but glass, metals and paper, will actually work within that system as well. So that's in essence, what Ceflex is trying to do. 

Katherine Whalen [00:06:56] Right. So if you're able to accomplish it for for this, then you think all of the other types of packaging and things like that can kind of fall into place. 

Graham Houlder [00:07:08] That's right. Yes. 

Katherine Whalen [00:07:09] So when you say flexible packaging, what does that look like? 

Graham Houlder [00:07:15] We all touch it every week, several times a day and use it. So chip packets, candy wrappers and big sheets of of polyethylene pipe, paper, plastic bags that can anything that really doesn't hold them rigid shapes. If you bend it, it won't actually spring back into its original shape. And they tend to be standing thin film materials. 

Katherine Whalen [00:07:45] Yeah, so, like, if you get some new clothes and they come in like a bag from the producer and like some sort of flimsy plastic. 

Graham Houlder [00:07:57] Shopping bag is a good example as well. They are included the inflexible packaging. But there's a lot of non packaging applications as well. The team is focused on consumer flexible packaging, so the stuff that you take home or that comes off your products that you buy at the supermarket, back up store and then gets recycled. 

Katherine Whalen [00:08:23] And is it just like consumer focused, flexible packaging or is there also a lot of business kind of flexible packaging?

Graham Houlder [00:08:34] It's a good question. Ceflex is focused on consumer flexible packaging. That's in our inscope. As we get further down the project, we started to realize that the systems that we need to put in place for consumer flexible packaging are equally relevant for other waste streams or your flexible packaging or maybe not packaging per say but flexible products. Also things that don't become wasted the consumer, but become waste in commercial or industrial applications. And so why would you put two systems in place when the collection, sorting and recycling is in essence the same. Maybe the collection will be slightly different, but the sorting and recycling is pretty much identical. 

Katherine Whalen [00:09:29] Yeah, from an efficiency standpoint, that doesn't seem to make sense. 

Graham Houlder [00:09:32] And you build scale, you get a range of different qualities. We are focused on consumers, the consumers, flexible packaging, but we are finding that we are probably going to need to engage with the other non-consumers flexible packaging sectors as well. 

Katherine Whalen [00:09:54] So I want to talk a little bit about how you imagine flexible, catching, packaging, looking in a circular economy but maybe before we do that, could you just give a little introduction to the Ceflex project in terms of who's part of this and what can-- because I understand it's a collaborative initiative. 

Graham Houlder [00:10:12] That's right. We started back in 2016, December 2016, with a group of 20 companies who were some of whom were participating in the first project. That was the precursor project granted to you adults. So we I think we had 12 or 15 companies participating in that. And there was a reef project in the U.K. we called Reflex, which was it had six or seven companies participating in it. That both happened to finish in Q3 2016. And the big companies were participating to this. And we think we should carry on on a European basis and and see how far we can get. So with that as a brief, we started Ceflex, took an estimated guess as to what success looks like. And we said, well, 30 to 40 companies participating from all parts of the value chain that was going to be a real win. Well, we slightly underestimated that because we're now well over 175 companies. We're talking about all the big brand owners, all the big plastic producers, lots of the end of life, companies like Suez and DSD and I mean real leaders in the field. And we had the that the other day, because this gets you traction with the European Commission that I think is when we had 150 stakeholders, the combined global turnover of the companies participating. And this is well over one point three trillion euros annually. So it's it's it's become a big deal. And we really have a good balance of representation from all parts of the flexible packaging value chain. So actually, we kind of underestimated that. 

Katherine Whalen [00:12:07] Well, that seems like a very, a very large initiative and and it seems like it's also growing. 

Graham Houlder [00:12:18] We still get a new new stakeholders. We have another one formally joined today. And there's another couple in the pipeline now. 

Katherine Whalen [00:12:25] Yeah. Yeah. Wow. So in the work that you've been doing, can you give a little bit of insight into what you've been uncovering in regards to circular economy and flexible packaging? Like we before we started recording, you started talking about EPR systems and things like that. So extended producer responsibility and different take back system. So I imagine that's kind of what this would would look like. But I'm sure there's a lot of nuances that you've also uncovered. So maybe you could give a little bit of a little bit of kind of the broad picture of. How would you envision flexible packaging in Circular economy, and I am sure that probably more than one scenario as well? 

Graham Houlder [00:13:10] It's not an easy question to answer because we're still shaping the final picture when we started this. We were starting to needed to understand what circularity meant for this project. And we defined it as being this was the first one or two meetings. It is being we collect old flexible packaging in all countries in Europe, and then it all goes into a a sorting operation and it gets sorted into the different material types that then go to the recyclers who recycle those types of materials and then turn it into recycled new materials that can be reused again by them, the by the economy in in markets that that use them. And that this is affordable. So it's become sustainable because if it's cost more than the virgin, then they're going to use it. So we have to get the pricing right. But we also know that there are going to be losses within the system. Nothing's 100 percent. So we we say, well, if we could get collection, sorting and recycling each 95 percent efficient, then that would turn out to turn out to rate returning 80 percent, at least 80 percent of the materials to the economy that we'd put onto the market, which is a huge difference from where we are today. We probably for flexible packaging, the estimate between five and 10 percent for consumers. So it's a it's a huge step forward. So that's what we envisage to the circular economy for flexible packaging to look like in terms of what goes onto the market, what comes back. The first then we get to work out what that looks like. How do you do that? And we created what we called our roadmap and part of that roadmap was getting all the different parts of the value chain to talk within their part of the value chain and say, well, what do we think we need to do to help deliver this vision? 

[00:15:32] And we didn't took those five parts of the value chain output and put it together and created this roadmap, which consists of firstly, collect it. Secondly, you have to design it to be a mono material stream like polyethylene or polypropylene so that it's got the best chance of recycling it. And then you say you have to sort it out and recycle those streams. That's the third part was to look at the remaining 20 percent of the stream, which is multi materials. It's got a mix of polyethylene, polypropylene, nylon, aluminum foil papers, all that kind of stuff.  And see how much of that could we redesign to be mona material, either P or P.P. and because then it goes into an existing system for which we have solutions. We're not going to get all of it. So the fourth part is to it to look at how we recycle the remaining materials with which we can substitute. And then the fifth part of the roadmap is about making sure that there are sustainable end markets for the fractions that are coming back from the collection sorting recycling process. And what qualities do they need? What the quantities of materials can they manage? And how does that stack up against the materials that are going onto the market and coming back from it? 

Katherine Whalen [00:17:14] Thank you for that overview. I try to jot down all the different five steps of the road map as you were talking about it. 

Graham Houlder [00:17:21] I have a slide and I'll send you off to it so that it shows you the five steps quite nicely. 

Katherine Whalen [00:17:29] Would it be okay if I also posted that on the website? 

Graham Houlder [00:17:33] Sure, no problem at all. 

Katherine Whalen [00:17:34] Excellent. So I was listening to what you were saying in terms of the vision about taking all of the if all of the flexible packaging in Europe coming and collecting it into one location and then being able to do the recycling there. And I was it started to make me think about it. Have you discovered that the challenges with that? Because I think from a collection perspective, if you're trying to collect flexible packaging or even things that are not packaging like actual products, like phones or computers or laptops, things like that, the collection is such a. Tricky part, because it varies so much depending on the country. Like even, you know, how you deal with different waste streams and how you deal with different things in Sweden is very different than how well things are dealt with in the Netherlands, for example. So are these to have you run into things like that in this this project? 

Graham Houlder [00:18:39] That's all part of the complexity that needs managing. And luckily, that will be dealt with locally. What we have to deal provide is it is a model that they can actually use to show that they know what that has to come out of the system. A collection is very different in dense urban environments to urban environments, to rural environments. So you do have to allow the local authorities or the EPR systems to manage the system to the flexibility to do it in the most cost effective way possible, but also to be able to collect all of the materials that are going onto the market. So it's there now. There is a lot of detail. But at the moment, we're still dealing with it at the higher level, providing the overview as to how the collection, sorting, recycling can all work together with sustainable end markets and how you fund it. So I think that probably answers some of the question. 

Katherine Whalen [00:19:46] Yeah. I mean, I think the thing that I have learned over the last couple of years and my time dealing with circular economy issues is that there is no one. Simple, straightforward answer. Because if there was, then it would have already been done before. And that's what a lot of that's what a lot of the the devil is in the details of what I like to say sometimes on the podcast, because this is exactly what it is. 

Graham Houlder [00:20:12] I think that's probably one of the reasons why we've got so many interested companies participating, because even the big ones, the very big ones, the unity was broken. Gabal, Leslie Dows, Baryalai say these are huge companies. They've tried to do this by themselves, but they haven't succeeded. So you do need to move as an industry. And and that's why people are participating the project, because they understand the need to collaborate so that the different parts of the jigsaw puzzle can actually move in sync and into a new space. 

Katherine Whalen [00:20:54] Yeah, you have to do it at scale, basically, in order to have it make sense from a cost perspective. 

Graham Houlder [00:21:01] That's right, yeah.

Katherine Whalen [00:21:02] So and I'm now drawing a blank. But maybe you can refresh my memory in terms of you like extended producer legislation. Is there something? Is flexible packaging included as part of packaging? 

Graham Houlder [00:21:18] So extended producer responsibility is a thing that the EU legislation put in place probably 15 to 20 years ago. And it evolved by country. So we have 28 countries in Europe or 27 plus, and there's a couple others around the outside that every single EPR system is different and some are for profit and not for profit. It's a very, very complicated area. Flexible packaging is included in all of those. So it always pays a fee to put it onto the market. And then it's up to the the EPR system to decide what fractions they collect and recycle in order to meet the legislated targets. The big difference from CFF, Lex, as they were saying, no targets. Hundred percent. Because we want to go circular or circular as possible. And so the big difference is when you're going for a target, you try and do it at minimum cost. You're going circularity, you put the cost to one side and you say, well, how do we get there? And then once you understand how to get there, then you start optimizing the costs of the system. And that's that's the fundamental difference between where we are today in Europe, which is very advanced compared to the rest of the world to where we believe we want to get to in the by 2025. Because that's the timescales specifics. 

Katherine Whalen [00:22:56] Okay. So there is currently EPR legislation that covers flexible packaging, but it's not four, but it has set targets. And what Ceflex is trying to do is go beyond these targets and say, how do we recycle or try to recycle one 100 percent as best as possible? 

Graham Houlder [00:23:15] That's right. 

Katherine Whalen [00:23:16] Yeah. I wanted to go back to what you mentioned about one of the steps for your for your roadmap, which was a design and I'm a designer, so I'm really interested in this. And you talked about, I believe, 80 percent of the current flexible packaging being made out of mono materials, did I get that right? 

Graham Houlder [00:23:37] Yes. Yeah. 

Katherine Whalen [00:23:38] Yeah. Okay, so then the other 20 percent is of mono materials. 

Graham Houlder [00:23:45] You can have a multi layer mono material so you can bring functionality into your packaging by using different grades of polyethylene, some of which are oriented. And then you can do the same with polypropylene so you can bring in different elements. But that our definition of a mono material is 90 percent of that one plastic type. That's what we understand. It can be readily recyclable with today's technology. 

Katherine Whalen [00:24:16] And of that 80 percent, are they different types or are they all--? I imagine that they're not just all one type of mono material, right? It could be like my plastic is drawing a blank, but it could be like polyethylene, like for one type and then that's one plastic product is made out of that, and then another type is made out of polypropylene, for example. 

Graham Houlder [00:24:44] That's exactly right. So we have mono materials in terms of PE, polyethylene, a mono material polypropylene. We have mono material papers. We have mono material, aluminum foils. I think that's. We use PET, but normally it's in a combination of in the multi material sector. The reason is that the multi, the PET and the polyethylenes don't recycle well together. And so we don't currently have a solution for that to recycle PET with polyethylenes, the PEOPP, and we know that the functionality provided by the PET can normally be substituted by a different form of the PEOPP. 

Katherine Whalen [00:25:42] Yeah, that's quite interesting because it to me, it seems like high they it seems. 80 percent is a bit high, but I guess it is a mixture of different types of materials as well. 

Graham Houlder [00:25:57] It's a mixture of different types of polyethylene. But when they get to the recycler and they all get melted and re-extruded, yeah, you get a blend of properties, but it's all polyethylene and it all mixes and fixes. It goes together well. 

Katherine Whalen [00:26:12] So that comes to the end markets or like the new markets. So after the stock. So what kinds of--is it possible for these types of materials to be reused in the same capacity as before? Or are we talking about, like, downgrading them to different sort of products, different products than they were before? 

Graham Houlder [00:26:36] It is two parts of this, two answers. Two parts to this answer. One is that, yes, we can turn them back into films and turn them back into flexible packaging. Maybe not all of them, but they can go back into packaging applications. They can also be used in rigid applications as well. Because the end of a very low melting point, they tend to act as they're compatible sizes between the other rigid P fractions or P fractions, depending on what they are. And so they they they help the recycling of Richard Plastics, but only up to a certain percentage. So that's the first part of the answer. The second and they can also be used in non packaging applications. 

[00:27:29] Second part of the answer is that flexible packaging is as a huge use in the food market. So yes, I would say probably 80 percent of flexible packaging is used in food, direct or indirect contact. And the issue that we have with P and Peepee is that there is no approved recycling process that allows them to go back into food contact. So so for mechanically recycled ENTP, we're looking at non food contact applications as potential end markets. Thankfully, there's this new beast in town called chemical recycling where we actually take the materials and back to the original building block, which was the net that goes into the plastic making process. And we remake the Virgin material. And then that that those materials can be used in food contact again because it's no different from them and Vergeer materials. 

[00:28:34] So as we as we start building capacity and capabilities in that space and we starting from a zero base, we will see that plastic makers have a an alternative source foil for naphtha. Then fossil fuels, there'll be some Nepsa coming back from the recycled plastic world. 

Katherine Whalen [00:28:56]  How far out do you think we are in realizing that there are already examples? 

Graham Houlder [00:29:04] There are any pilots operating at the moment at scale 10 to 20 thousand tons. And there's quite a number of them. The I think it's going to be five to 10 years before we see significant quantities of this capacity being on the ground.  We are also trying to find a balance between how much we can chemically recycle, which there are in markets and how much they need to be chemically recycled because we have this need for Virgin. And it does. The Virgin doesn't only have to come from flexible packaging and come from rigid packaging as well. So where would we that's one of the parts of the jigsaw puzzle where we're busy running trials to find out who can use what and in what quantities and the balance would then be going to chemical recycling here. 

Katherine Whalen [00:30:06] I know if I'm not mistaken, you're you're planning some industrial scale trials, but maybe not for a couple. Maybe that's not for chemical recycling. Maybe that's for something else. 

Graham Houlder [00:30:16] No, the industrial trials we're planning are to get enough materials for our stakeholders to actually run real products on their lines as that we can we can test things at scale. So where are we? We currently starting a trial. We're looking to run two times by 50 thousand fifty tons of material sets which is actually quite small scale in the big scheme of things, because in Europe we think it's about three point seven million tons of flexible packaging going onto the market every year. And now are we talking about 50 tons. So two tons, 50 tonnes, some polyethylene and some polypropylene. But then when you sort it all out and you get the different fractions, you only end up with a couple tons of each, a fraction and then you have divide that up a bit between the people who went to different trials, and so that's why we were doing industrial trials. So by doing that, we can prove that the stuff we know happens at pilot scale can also be we done it at a real scale. 

Katherine Whalen [00:31:31] So tis hat testing for quality or performs products or, yeah?

Graham Houlder [00:31:39] So also the costs associated with doing it. And. And also, would you be cherry picking for pilots, lab scale testing? You might not get a representative mix of waste. Also, let me just make make up the way the waste stream changes with the different times of year. And so that's why we are trying to do it at at at scale so that we have a much more representative set of results in terms of the yields and the costs associated with. 

Katherine Whalen [00:32:18] Yeah. Jeff Wister was on the podcast. Yeah, you know him. Yeah. And of course, in plastic, the plastic world. And he was talking about, you know, in December, you have a lot of wrapping paper, for example, and all of these types of packaging from Christmas gifts. And he's talking about the different cultural effects of. Waste in plastics, packaging, and it just really it's very obvious when you start to think about it, but you don't really think about it from that perspective often. And I can only imagine now with and with covered that the rise of surgical masks and gloves and things like that. A whole different ballgame. 

Graham Houlder [00:33:06] Yeah, we actually are in the process of running compositional analysis where we go and hand salt, different waste stream. So stuff that's separately collected and municipal solid waste streams in in a in a country and then document what's coming back. Which waste stream in which quantities and stuff I that. Well we had to stop for two reasons. Firstly, ws lots of travel during a pandemic. And secondly, the waste stream is not representative anymore. So where are we. And it costs a lot of money. So we've had to delay it. We'd hope to have the results by the end of June this year. But we haven't done our first sorting trials yet. That's scheduled for the end of September. 

Katherine Whalen [00:33:50] Yeah, yeah. Again, I can also just imagine thinking to you know, now everyone has changed their their habits. So many people are eating out less. So there's a lot of less of these types of flexible packaging from different sort of consuming out kinds of things. And yeah, it's it's crazy how just like that all of a sudden the waste composition could could change. Yeah. 

Graham Houlder [00:34:13] I mean I, I used to travel several times a week between countries and since literally February I haven't been any way that there's I mean even my usage, the consumption patterns of trade changed drastically. Also way the way waste becomes waste, this is quite important. And the stream that it comes back with. 

Katherine Whalen [00:34:36] Yeah, yeah, that's true. Now, it's probably moved to all of the individual households as opposed to offices and transit stations and things like that. Yeah. So I know that you've also done and I keep coming back to design, but I'm a designer. So you've done some work with design guidelines for a circular economy, and I think some of the listeners might be interested in hearing about that. Maybe you could just tell us what what they are and and the work that you've done in that area. 

Graham Houlder [00:35:07] So when you go into the space as a designer, especially in countries where flexible packaging is in the collected sort and recycled, you, you don't take it into consideration because you're designing it for the functional and functional requirements of the product. So now in a circular economy, you have to add another set of designer requirements to your product or your design because it's going to become circular and you have to get the materials back. So what the purpose of our design guidelines was to distill what's important, what can be recycled, what can be sorted, and to write all of those requirements down for the different types of flexible packaging out so that the designer can then look at the guidelines and say, okay, now I understand what I might I have to design the pack to deliver in terms of recyclability as well as the products functional requirements. So that's what the design guidelines are. They're easily downloadable on the Ceefax website. 

[00:36:16] It's a there's three different versions of it. A simple table for people who want an immediate overview. There's a what we call executive summary for the management units that understand perhaps a bit more detail. And then we have the the real the real deal, which is for the designers who actually also want to understand the reasons behind why you can you need so much materials in a pack, why you don't mix materials source and kind of like the hierarchy of decisions and tradeoffs that you need to make as a designer, which I'm sure you know very well. 

Katherine Whalen [00:36:56] That's brilliant. I'm going to link to that in the show notes Web site. So, of course, everyone can can check that out. For me, I'm smiling really, really big here, too, because it reminds me of a project that was started and I believe like two thousand twelve maybe, and it was called the Great Recovery. It was based out of the U.K. And one of the things that they did was they took designers to school waste locations like recycling centers and things like that. And they had them talk with the people who work there and explain like, OK, well, this type of plastic that because of this color, this is a problem with disorders that we have and yada, yada, yada. And I think it's it's something that I have been looking for kind of since then in terms of from like clear guidelines of how to do it. So I think what you've developed is really, really good in that direction. 

Graham Houlder [00:37:53] The interesting thing about is that it's probably the first guidelines that I'm aware of that we developed with input from all parts of the value chain. So the people who make the plastics or the additives that go into those plastics, the converters who print and laminate and blow the films with the brand owners who have the product requirements top of mind and the recyclers, the collectors orders and recyclers who say we can't do that or yes, we can do that, or maybe sometimes we can do that. And also the EPR systems as well. So it was a huge team. It started off at about 20, 20 people. But by the time we finished, I think that the team looking and compiling these design guidelines was well over 150. So it's it it's pretty robust. There are some small differences with some other guidelines out there. But minor differences. And when you get into the detail, you realize it's because we're talking about consumer packaging and some of the other ones are looking at other applications which are more requiring in terms of levels of purity of materials. But generally speaking, they're very much aligned. They we've launched phase one, which focuses on the poly olefins and paper and the Monat materials. 

[00:39:22] But we're busy working on phase two, which is looking at the at the 20 percent that we haven't covered to work out how to recycle those and and what the impacts of those are on the sorting and recycling. Can we sort them out? Can we recycle them? Do they impact the quality of the recycled product? So there's a lot of those things that we just don't have data on. It's just not available. So we couldn't do them in the first lot. We're also looking at clarifying some of the. The principle of the things that people say, oh, you can't do metalized you can't recycle metalized films. Well, turns out you can do that. And we're putting the data in place to show that they are able to be sorted. 

[00:40:13] And if you recycle in is this there's no impact on almost the applications that you want these things to go into. So there's a lot of hearsay. And because we couldn't find the facts to underpin that, we were busy doing the testing now and we'll bring out of phase two, which will complete the guidelines. But then once you've done that, we have to relook at all of them because the technology is moving so fast in terms of mechanical recycling and chemical recycling and sorting. So where are these things going to be reviewed? I think at least annually into the future. Definitely until we reach a steady state and everything's circular. 

Katherine Whalen [00:40:54] Yeah, I find it really inspiring that you created these and developed these guidelines with the entire value chain. Because I think that's often the keeper. You have different actors who are working in silos and really in order to actually make the change happen, that has to happen across while bringing these different actors together. And I also really like that you're busting these myths surface, so to say about, well, what is this actually true or is this not true? And what's the status on that? Yeah. 

Graham Houlder [00:41:30] Yeah, it was a dual function. And I think this is one of the other functions of Ceflex is that it's educational as well, because by having this discussion in a a cross industry perspective from different parts of the value chain, you start to understand the issues from other parts of the value chains perspective, not just your own little silo. And so there's an education or a building understanding benefit that comes after the process. And that's not to be underestimated. Similarly, the the policy flex building is vision as to what the circular economy, flexible packaging looks like and how we're going to get there. Everybody has the same vision. So they understand a lot more detail what they have to do. And it is incredibly powerful. And we're hoping that it enables us to really ratchet up the speed with which we can deliver the circular economy. 

Katherine Whalen [00:42:36] Speaking of education and creating awareness, I think this is the perfect segue way to the question that I ask all of the guests that come on the Getting in the Loop Podcast. And it's the final question that I usually ask. And I find it's a great way to wind down the interview because it kind of sets the stage in terms of the vision and the things that you would like to see happen next to really in your case, to really make this circular economy happen with flexible packaging. So the question is related to the In the Loop game and this is the game that I created to engage people in the topic of Circular economy and in the game. You're a product producing company and you have to travel around the world collecting materials. So right now it's focused on the 12 months, 12 materials that are found in the periodic table of elements. So a little bit different than what the topics and the materials that you're used to dealing with, because these are things that are like antimony and beryllium and indium, tungsten, cobalt. Not exactly probably found in flexible packaging, but more so--. 

Graham Houlder [00:43:55] Because most are avy metals. 

Katherine Whalen [00:43:56] Exactly. You don't want those in there. So they're not they're not found there. But sometimes they're added they are added to different things as additives. So, but, yeah. So you have these types of these materials and they're found often in electronic products, technology products. And in the game, you have to collect these materials. But there's different challenges that come. They're also different opportunities that come and they come in the form of events. So they change the market conditions in the game. It can either help or they can hinder the the players in collecting materials. And a lot of these events kind of make them start to think about maybe I should go circular. So my question for you, Graham, is if you create an event for the game, what would you focus your event on? 

Graham Houlder [00:44:48] Not being that familiar with the game, but it sounds fascinating. I would probably suggest and I don't know whether it must be some sort of recycling part to the game because it's going circular. I don't know whether you you you have the requirement in when this recycling event happens for the person who draws the card or has to make things happen, that he has to go round. The other players can get them to voluntarily agree to paying into an EPR style system to make to fund the whole recycling system and to make those recycled materials cost competitive with version and then make that contribution every round of the game. So it'll be quite interesting because it said it becomes a level playing field for everybody. Yes, your costs go up, but actually it becomes part of the product cost. And the consumer or the who's buying the product, who's paying that? So for you, as a product producer or brand owner, it's not coming out of your back pocket. What you're doing is included in the product cost and taking that money and then putting it into a part of it that enables those those products to be recycled, collected, sorted and recycled. So I think would be quite an interesting debate among all the players to say, Oh, I drew this card, guys. We're going to set up a recycling system for antimony. That's going to cost us an extra thousand euros a year per player. And so we can't go forward with this. All you guys, you're going to be using me and all those you guys who aren't going to be using antimony, but maybe use Cobalt or something like this. Let's agree to put this in the pot and fund it. And let's see what happens, because it is a collaborative requirement to go circularity, to go circular and I think it will be an interesting twist to the game. 

[00:47:04] And maybe you can have a different levels of high recycling in circular. So are we prepared to to actually fund the whole thing? Or is it too much for us? And one step, do we have to do it in two or three years or, yeah. So that's I think would be an interesting twist to the game. I also think would be being interesting twist to make a version of the game for packaging, because that's not that simple. But for people in the field, that would be quite educational. 

Katherine Whalen [00:47:37] Yeah, I was imagining like the different levels as you were talking in terms of, you know,  okay, we have different targets. And how are we going to hit these different targets, for example? But also for for the plastics, I mean, I think that could be such a interesting way. And also combining what you've done with the design guidelines, trying to incorporate that into, you know, some sort of game where we game with that and have to, you know, have these different actors in the value chain. And there's different criteria. Well, based on the contents of the design guidelines, for example. And so, well, if you do this, then you're only going to get this amount back. But if you were able to redesign it according to these different criteria, then you could be able to, you know, go more circular with this version of the game. 

Graham Houlder [00:48:32] You could also have a clock, which is a fixed time. If you haven't solved the problem with setting up the recycling and making it circular by 2025, you're probably not going to be allowed to use that material anymore. So I'd say you just time out. Nobody wins. And it's like, oh, we should have done that better. Let's play the game again and see whether we can make it work. 

Katherine Whalen [00:48:57] Yeah. Now it's my turn. We've been talking a lot. The time running, the time running out factor is quite interesting, and a lot of times when people finish playing In the Loop, they always turn around and say to me, I want to play again, because if I had a chance to play again, I would do X, Y and Z differently. But, yeah, you don't really get a second chance in life all the time. 

Graham Houlder [00:49:25] That's why it's important to get me fired. And interesting thing that  I've observed in Ceflex is that as the group gets bigger and there's more, more people expressing their opinion and a, you need to take the time for to bring people with you, you can't just leap frog steps. You need to bring everybody with you. You can't do too fast. Unfortunately, even if you throw money at it, it doesn't work the buying that you need. 

Katherine Whalen [00:50:09] Yeah. I imagine that if you're also constantly having new people join, then in some ways you might feel like you're taking one step forward and two steps backwards, because then we have to get these people up to speed to have the buy in. I don't know.  Have you found that? 

Graham Houlder [00:50:25] Critical mass now where the new ones are the smaller part of the whole and they normally get brought up to speed by those quite quickly. So it's less of an issue than it was at the beginning. In the beginning it was. But we have to go back to square one. And so we actually offered a quick crash course in how we developed the road map and the different elements of it and actions and stuff like that. 

Katherine Whalen [00:50:53] Yeah, communication keeps popping up is something that really needs to-- has a significant role to play in having making sure everyone's on the same page, especially in these different types of large initiatives. But thank you. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Graham, it has been such a pleasure to talk with you and I'm going to link everything that we've mentioned in the show notes. But can you just say where listeners can go to learn more about you and the topics that we discussed? 

Graham Houlder [00:51:28] To learn more about me, my LinkedIn profile as well out of date. So don't bother going there. But our Ceflex website is www.ceflex.eu not .com, .eu. And from there you can get to the design websites as well.  And we are ramping up our communications initiatives. We wanted to have something to talk about before we went public and then said this is how we're gonna do it, but we really are putting a lot of effort into getting the message out beyond the Ceflex stakeholders into the whole value chain and in the material sectors as well. 

[00:52:13] Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode. For show notes and links, go to our website 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. 

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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.

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