Transcript: Packaging and plastics in a circular economy with Olaf Boerner
SEE THE SHOW NOTES AND LISTEN AT: Packaging and plastics in a circular economy with Olaf Boerner
Katie Whalen [00:00:01] 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.
[00:00:15] Hello and welcome to the Getting in the Loop Podcast. Thanks so much for tuning in today. It is now fall, which means summer is sadly kind of over. I hope that you had a good one. Right now, I actually- Well, I actually prerecorded all of the episodes. So right now I'm recording this in June and it's kind of hard for me to imagine that this is not going to air until, you know, the fall, because my summer hasn't even started and I don't want it to be over. With the start of fall means that we're headed back to our weekly scheduled programming for Getting in the Loop. This means that you'll have one new episode each week instead of every other week, which was our bi-weekly scheduling this past summer, summer of 2019. I'm curious, though, what you thought of the bi-weekly scheduling. Did you notice a difference? If you have any thoughts or feedback that you'd like to share about your experiences with the biweekly versus the weekly episodes, send me an email at Katie@intheloopgames.com. Again, that's Katie@intheloopgames.com. And I'd love it for you to get in touch with me. Don't be shy.
[00:01:28] Today on the show, I'm talking with all of Olaf Boerner about plastics and packaging in a Circular Economy. I met Olaf in person actually at the World Circular Economy Forum back in June in Helsinki. And as we were talking and he was explaining what his company does. I was thinking, oh, this is really interesting. And I would love to bring him on the show to have a bit of a perspective that we don't normally talk about on this show. Olaf is head of business development at Flustix, which is an organization that tests and certifies plastic free products as well as products made with recycled plastics. In order to help reduce overall plastics waste worldwide. In this episode, you will learn about current trends in the plastics industry and packaging sector. You will discover what it means to be plastic free and the tradeoffs associated with this. And you'll also hear about practicalities related to recycling plastics. Get ready to be shocked a little bit when you find out what things you use everyday without realizing may actually contain plastic. If you want to check out any of the resources or links or things that we discuss in this episode, head over to gettinginthelooppodcast.com.
[00:02:40] Welcome to the Getting in the Loop Podcast. And let's dive into this episode and welcome Olaf Berner to the show today. Olaf, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. Could you just start us off by telling us a little bit about your background and how you kind of got interested in Circular economy?
Olaf Boerner [00:03:01] Yes, Katie, it's a pleasure to be here today. And well, on a personal level, I always was very much interested in sustainable development and having read Al Gore's sense of balance back in 1992, it's absolutely disastrous to see how long the climate change diagnosis is already around and how little has been done about it over the last 30 years. So on a professional level, I worry that that was a master of international economics and started my career in marketing departments of companies like Unilever and Amazon. That caught me is a topic of international education in this area. I was active as an entrepreneur and consultant until last year when I go to bouts of justice initiatives. The irresponsible use of plastics has disturbed me for a long time. So I lived with my family and the countryside, and the only way we could use is plastics and cardboard. So many from packaging. While cardboard is almost circular, plastics is not yet circular at all. And it's getting burned and goes to landfill and worst our ocean. So plastics wants to change this. And I want to help the initiative to grow.
Katie Whalen [00:04:13] That is very interesting that you have a marketing background and now heading into this topic of circular economy and environmental aspects. And as you mentioned, plastics and packaging has been a focus point of many discussions in Circular economy. And I'm looking forward to diving in too into what your company Flesh Sticks is doing.
[00:04:35] But before we do that, could you maybe just give a little bit of insight on where the conversation is currently focused regarding plastics and packaging? Because we both you and I met a couple of weeks ago at the World Circular economy Forum in Helsinki and there was a lot of presentations about packaging. In fact, like the Carls Carlsberg, which is a beer company, beverage company in Denmark, they had one about this like news pack case of beer that's glued. So it doesn't require the plastic things to hold it together anymore. So maybe you could just give us a little bit of your thoughts on if there's any main themes that are currently in the discussion around plastics and packaging.
Olaf Boerner [00:05:20] Yeah, I think it's true that the plastics discussion firm made me mainly focus on packaging, more than a third of our plastics produced are used for packaging. So that makes also sense to send it around this area. Other big areas, our construction industry, electronics, automotive, but packaging is the majority of plastics is used. And this is also what people notify most their everyday life. Packaging is also an area where plastics become visible for most particularity. If you think of waste and how to avoid it, it's also an area where you see that plastics also might have good aspects and are difficult to replace. So to your question about the key focus of the discussion, I see basically three big topics. So that is first of all, to reduce plastics. Secondly, to replace it. And thirdly, in terms of circular economy to recycle it. So if you start off this, the reduction part. So there is already a strong economic incentive to use less plastic for the same product. If you still can keep the same functionality, if you take all the packaging here, then we see a lot of initiatives from manufacturers and retail chains to reduce packaging weight and therefore the amount of plastics because it also saves costs. Low cost bag. Example you mentioned where they use blue instead of plastic rings that falls under this category. It's good for the environment and it's economically makes sense. So I think that reduction thing is already going on. A lot of initiatives are pretty straightforward. The replace part from my perspective is a little bit less straightforward than to reduce or recycle part. There are many areas in the world where that round no collection systems for plastic waste and recycling facilities are not the presence. It's difficult to organize it there. So the replacement debate plays an important role here. I see the main focus in the discussion on the bio readability and also on so-called bio plastics from renewable sources. However, I believe that in this area a lot more development is needed as not all alternative materials can prove that the eco balance is actually better than plastics. So the classic example thing is as a paper bag results a plastic bag. If you I mean, if you ban plastic bags and then you use a paper bag, it doesn't mean that it's necessarily better for the environment. So and the replacement definitely is a very important topic. It's a whole area off Michael plastics and cosmetics detergent and the household cleaning products. Well, traditionally, national materials were used in these products. If you decades ago, the plastics were introduced to the these product categories, for instance, for peelings, for hair wash and so on. So on the level, there is a broad consensus just to bands, benzene uses of micro plastics as these materials go more or less directly to the oceans. So here also our plastics certification comes into play for manufacturers which proactively replace micro plastics and products before it's actually becoming binding law. So what we will cover that, I think a little bit later our plastics can help you. So coming to my my, my. Part and parcel recycling thing is in terms of plastics. Also, I'm not 100 percent straightforward for forward, but I think that both our goals is clear. If we want to have 100 percent similarity of plastics and we are going to really far away from being reality as each hand is 100 percent depending on the region and the road, maybe we have something between 0 percent and to the max 40 percent of material recycling of plastics. And when it comes to material recycling, there is a lot of discussion going on about the use, likeability and the design for recycling. So for plastics and psyche ability, focus is again most. On packaging at the moment and other aspects, but a variety of different kinds of plastics that actually could used and used. The idea is to have more streamlining and to focus on plastics, on less number of plastic, some testings that are actually more easy to handle material recycling. But I believe that this is this book cover or a discussion for quite a while still about the new technology approaching, which is the chemical recycling, which will be really a game changer in this area. So I think there would still need some quite some development efforts to make this process energy efficient and economically viable. However, I believe the design for recycling and recycle can be organized much easier with this method. So this is about actually plastics plastic. Ray screams a few words to the kind of which approved from which you can put it could use you any new kind of plastics, no matter what kind of waste stream or plastic recycling you have presence here.
Katie Whalen [00:11:43] Wow, what a great overview. That was so full of rich information that I think my listeners are just going to eat it all up. So you talked about the three sort of main. You gave us three main focus areas that a lot of the conversation has been happening around. You talked about reducing, replacing, and then, of course, recycling plastics and the fact that a lot of the plastics discussion has been focused on packaging. We've we've heard a lot of about micro plastics in the news, you know, as as you mentioned. So there is a growing interest in what's actually happening and what's in our in our in our art, in our packaging, which I think is a great Segway. Could you explain a little bit about your company? Foot sticks to our listeners. So what is plastics and and how do you see it contributing to a more secular economy?
Olaf Boerner [00:12:42] Yes. Las Vegas is a private initiatives initiative that was founded by Multiplex in 2017. My dad comes from journalism. He was active for more than 15 years. Were in German media and you only noticed the plastics crisis even before it was discussed broadly in public. So the idea behind plastics is that we make sustainability in the area of plastics visible and credible to the consumer.
[00:13:11] You do this with independent third party certification process and consumer trust marks for plastic products and products made with recycled plastics. Specifically to the circular economy contribute and the way that we help manufacturers manufacturers to make trustworthy claims around the use of plastic recipients in their products and around avoiding the use of plastics which do not contribute to the circular economy or which is not certified. All sites such as intentionally added micro plastics and home and personal personal care products. So consumers basically can easily identify products at the point of sale that contribute to a more responsible use of plastics. So this is the main idea of plastics.
Katie Whalen [00:14:04] Yeah. Okay. Fascinating. So I think that's quite interesting. And you bring up a good point about, you know, companies actually making claims and being able to verify them. Maybe we'll take a dive a little bit into that and then in a couple of minutes. But one of the first thoughts that I had was, are consumers really interested, you know, in certification, you know, in plastic free products? Yes.
Olaf Boerner [00:14:31] Yes. There's definitely a growing and strong interest, particularly in the area of micro plastics for personal care products. I think it's very natural that consumers don't really want to have plastic particles on their skin or in their hair. So the same applies to detergent or household genius. So that we can test products physically and we assure consumers as these products are free from micro plastics or take another example, bamboo. So there are many bamboo products in the markets which are present present themselves as sustainable alternatives to plastics. So however, if you test them in the lab, you will see that many of these products actually contain some bamboo, but also contain a lot of you, sometimes even toxic substances. So it makes sense to test and certify such products as plastic free. One last example, teabags. Are you aware that the average tea bag contains about 10 percent plastic in the paper, much to the bag? So there are only a few good uses around to have plastic free tea bags. And this is another area where the consumer is definitely interested because the food can take you half of your daily nutrition. And of course you don't want to eat plastic, which you do anyway, because as Michael plastic is like in the meantime, everywhere around when you really stop to think about it, it's everywhere.
[00:16:07] So I have two thoughts on that. One is coming from a design and design and engineering background. Is there a reason why these know these materials are in these products? Like, do they, you know, enable them to be to last longer? Is there. Is there a purpose for them, basically? And is there something that's something bad that's going to happen if you take take them out, where are they easily removable?
[00:16:33] I mean, yeah, if you're dead. I mean, let's let's take the cosmetics as an example. So the plastic material, the wood used.
[00:16:46] Yeah. Decades to go. And basically the original reason to do those. So it was replacing natural materials like oils or minerals. And the reason why it was we placed it wasn't easy because it was cheaper and as a spec square were more like to the point than natural materials could deliver. So of course a lot of alternative to to these materials, natural materials.
[00:17:17] And in cosmetics also I mean if you take the whole area of single use plastics. So there are alternatives products. Also, we already have certified like glass straws, reusable spray glass doors instead of a plastic straw or you have certified plates made from. Or cane, which are biodegradable.
[00:17:47] So that is that those are tentative to to the use of plastics. So there are many around. But as I said earlier, it's not always makes sense to to replace plastics. One hundred percent. So it's from case to case. But I think the examples I mentioned are good examples. Definitely makes sense to replace justice.
[00:18:11] Yeah, it's, uh, it's always a tradeoff.
Katie Whalen [00:18:13] We had a Dr. Layla Jha Lulu on the podcast a couple weeks ago talking about design and she has a TED talk. Maybe you've seen it on on the Internet where she talks. It's called Paper Beats Plastic The Effects of environmental folklore. So it's kind of like, well, you just have to consider the situation, which is not really a good answer. Maybe for some people who want to see things kind of black and white. But what I've learned is that there's never there's always like a gray area and there's always a gray area.
Olaf Boerner [00:18:46] Yeah, that's that's I think just adding to this. I mean, I think that is also the reason why we have different certifications around plastic. So I mean, plastic is just one part. And I think Michael Plastics intentionally added Michael Plastics, which will be banned soon on that level to cosmetics or detergents are definitely something. What what you really don't need and where you have better alternatives, but be also certified or recycled content in plastic products. And that is about the circular economy and that is. Yeah. There are areas in medicine or if you think about food waste packaging and so on. You not necessarily can avoid a sort of plastic and it makes sense to rather use this metal material, vise me and use it in a circular sense. And that is the other certification you offer. So certifying the percentage of recycled plastics in any given Jesse product.
Katie Whalen [00:19:50] Okay. So you bring up a good point in terms of the certifications, and this is actually one of the reasons why when we we met at the world's circular economy forum and we were talking and I thought this would be so good to have a discussion about certifications on the podcast because it's something that we really haven't dived into. So maybe because some of our listeners might not be so aware of certifications in general. Could you just explain like very basically what our certifications. And then also how yours works. And if it's, you know, third party party audited.
Olaf Boerner [00:20:25] Yeah. Okay. So just to put it in one sentence, I mean, what a certification does. So certification basically works as a third party assurance that claims made about a product are actually true. So this is a reassurance for the consumer. And in terms of our certification for plastic products, we test the product physically in the lab. So the lab that we work with has a lot of experience about the tricks of plastics and applies different testing methods dependent on the product. So if the test results show that the product is actually plastic free, then the product can be labeled with our plastics consumer trust math. So and the whole in addition to that, because we have private initiative as a whole process is supervised by an experienced nonprofit certification body to make sure that the whole process is transparent and true. So yeah, that is that is on the on the plastic free side.
Katie Whalen [00:21:26] OK. Yeah. So there is a third. There is something in there. Do manufacturers then do they have to pay something to then have this audit done in order to ensure that they can put your plastics label on their product?
Olaf Boerner [00:21:41] Yes. Yes.
[00:21:42] It's exactly the reason why we also have this external certification body NGO working with us because the company's a manufacturer has to pay for the costs of the certification.
[00:21:56] And you want to make sure this is all transparent and also supervised again independently so that there's no like commercial interest to certify products which are actually not stand to live up to the claims they are making. So, yes, as a certified company needs to be as the costs for the certification. But the process makes sure that there is no. Yeah. You know, mixed commercial interest in the whole certification process.
Katie Whalen [00:22:33] OK, I see. And you so you have I have your sort of. I have it there. The 5 certification logos, I guess labels in front of me right now. And I see that. So there is like the four have no plastics and then there's varying degrees if it's like a product or a packaging or it's free from micro plastics.
[00:22:55] And then you also have what you've talked about already a little bit is the recycled content. So this is a big one for Circular economy talking about, you know, be able to do recycling and close loops. Could you explain a little bit about how the recycled content like how you how you certify that? I imagine it's quite difficult.
Olaf Boerner [00:23:17] Yes, it is. And is very different also from the plastic free certification models, because the Jesse fee side you have and that is as you can go to a Lebanese neck and wide. This is this is this has plastic y that doesn't have plastic on a recycled content thing. There is no analytical method yet available. It goes through an audit system.
[00:23:42] So when B 35 is our trust back, a certain percentage of recycled plastics used in the product or packaging, then it is done. Why? Why an audit process along the value chain? So we just certified, for instance, a beverage bottle made of a hundred percent recycled PET.
[00:24:02] So in this case, an audit partner and first recycling company which could use this annually from this from the actual waste. So you look at the waste stream, where does the waste come from? What is the waste? I mean, what what is the material? And then you look at the production facility where ready to actually process this waste and and make regulate out of it. So and meetings are the audit. And we looked at the waste not only as waste to come from under grandly, but we then went a step further down and looked, where is this? Clearly it is actually used and it is used to produce a new bottle. So then we look how much of it is actually used. For that example, it was 100 percent, but you could also add virgin material to it. And then you have only a 50 percent recycled material. And I think here is also a strong reason to have a two party independent certification, because in the current situation and setup, there is a lot of incentives to use virgin plastics instead of recycled plastics because virgin plastic has. Quality if it comes to colors or clarity or something. And it is also cheaper than recycled materials. So from an economic point of view, there is a few incentives to rather use virgin materials and recycled materials. This hour with our certification, we make sure that actually there is as much this type of material is used as it is claimed. And you probably would say, yeah, wow, it is this is a lot of effort to to do it or to certify this percentage of recycled material. But I think there is also definitely need in the market to do so. Besides the economic incentive of virginity and being less expensive and of better quality, there are also a lot of other things out in the market. Plastics like ocean plastic and social plastic and lots of plastic. And so we see our role here to create transparency and trust trustworthiness. So that's a circular economy. You think it's also it's too important as a responsible use of plastics. That is this is perceived by the consumer only as another marketing gimmick to sell more products. And do you believe there is definitely some heat in the market for external party certification?
[00:27:07] Yeah, you mentioned the ocean plastics and these these claims about recycled plastics. I keep some reason I keep getting targeted on YouTube for someone who wants to buy like an ocean plastic bracelet. Yeah. So there's a lot there's a lot that's out there and and trying to market. You know, this is better sustainable and things like that. So I think it's great that looking back through the entire value chain and ensuring that actually. Yes, that these claims are true and this is where this is coming from and this is, you know, X percent recycled. But I imagine. Yeah, that's it's quite a challenge. And a lot of work. I mean, certifications in general usually usually are. And not just from plastics, but other types of certifications. Yeah, definitely. Have you encountered issues with ledges like legislation? Because I know I've heard sometimes a lot about reach like this EU regulation about chemicals and the there's you know, there's risks associated with recycling. Has this kind of come up a little bit or.
Olaf Boerner [00:28:13] Oh, yeah. I mean, there's definitely I mean, doing the recycling process, you have difficulty to do that. You sometimes have. Yeah. Toxics in there. And so I accumulated an inverse of plastic because the source of plastic comes from electronics. So you have a certain sort of materials in there. But this is all supervised also and regulated by reach that you don't have as toxics in the final product. And another thing is the food grade of recycled materials only. There is also regulation that you can only packaged food with recycled plastics if these sources of justice also was well used for food packaging before it came to the waste stream. And yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I don't get your nation you have to look at. It is also necessary to make sure that these type of plastic material is of good quality.
[00:29:21] And I think maybe at this point I can come back to what I mentioned earlier as this chemical recycling process. I think this will this will solve a lot of issues.
[00:29:36] We have as a mature recycling at the moment in terms of those toxics that might be in there accumulated during the recycling process, because that is the chemical process basically avoids all these disadvantages or risks of material recycling.
Katie Whalen [00:29:58] Yeah, it's it's definitely a challenge and needs to be with food grade vs. light electronics and yeah. There's a lot of things that are interconnected and inter interdependent.
[00:30:12] And, you know, the ability for recycling or reuse of these materials because they come from certain products and not being able to go into other products, that could be an entire another entire podcast in itself. But I I I want to ask you the sort of the final question that I asked all of my guests. But before we do, I was thinking, is there a place that you know or an area that listeners could actually go to find your and see your labels on on shelves? Or has it is how have you reached that point yet or is that coming soon?
Olaf Boerner [00:30:49] Oh, yeah. This is. We already reached a point. So, yeah, I mean, we are based in Birmingham. So obviously we started off in German Germany to certify products even if our like ambition is to go global. So as I mentioned to the 100 percent recycled PDT bottle is distributed or is actually at this moment delivered to the two guys on main German retail chains. So. And you have also the smaller products like the glass was I mentioned, which you can also find on shows on German major German retail chains, or you can buy those products online on Amazon, for instance, and so on. So this is already a nice place. It's a number of products. It's not like in the thousands yet, but we think we will add quite a number in the next months to two and also growing more international over time.
Katie Whalen [00:32:03] Yeah, well, success at that. So the last question that I have that I always I always asks ask my guests is about a game that I created when I was a master student.
[00:32:15] And now still I've run workshops with it and other people run workshops with it. It's called In the Loop. And essentially it is a game where you are a manufacturing company and you have to collect materials to produce your product. But it's not as straightforward as just collecting the materials because there is different events that changed the market conditions in the game. And often these are reflective of real world happening. So, for example, there is some maybe export disruptions and then these materials are not available. So you have to rethink how you could get these materials. Maybe you could actually manufacture your product instead of making a new product. So it really gets people to start thinking that we need to rethink how we use our current resources and tries to get them to think a little bit more about taking action towards a more secular economy. So the events are the most memorable part. And I would like to ask you a laugh. If you could create an event of, you know, for the In the Loop game, what would your event kind of centered around?
Olaf Boerner [00:33:25] I think my event would send a round for protection. So in that case, I would use this to show where external certificates that the product claims about recycled content are actually true and they need to be pay a penalty if they don't have the necessary certifications available.
Katie Whalen [00:33:47] That is such a nice, nice event.
[00:33:50] We don't have that in the game yet, but I think it's really good that, you know, you need to show and you just you just can't talk the talk. You actually have to walk the walk. So thank you so much, Ola, for coming on the show. It has been such a pleasure talking with you. Before we go, if you could just say where listeners can go and find out a little bit more about you and the flick sticks and the topics that we discussed.
Olaf Boerner [00:34:15] Yeah. Katie, thank you for having the opportunity to be on your show. Thank you for that.
[00:34:21] And if the listeners want to learn more about what we do, then they can go to our Web site, flustix.com and find out about more products we certify and how the whole thing works. I couldn't cover you on the show.
[00:34:44] Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode for show notes and links, go to our Web site at gettingintheLooppodcast.com.
[00:34:53] 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.