Pile of Scrap Ep. 31: Design for Recycling with Jeremy Spencer
John Sacco is thrilled to finally log off of Zoom, let loose, and give you the full Pile of Scrap experience after the COVID-19 nationwide shutdown. John travels to Moscow, Idaho, to sit down face-to-face with Jeremy Spencer, West Coast Representative of Atlantic Packaging, to cover everything from how packaging can increase sustainability to how consumers can participate in recycling without negatively affecting the quality and content of their products.
Watch this episode of Pile of Scrap here.
Jeremy Spencer and John Sacco
Introduction: The following is an original audio series from Sierra International Machinery: Pile of Scrap with your host, John Sacco.
John Sacco: Welcome to a new episode of Pile of Scrap. I'm here with Jeremy Spencer of Atlantic Packaging. Jeremy, thanks for joining me.
Jeremy Spencer: You bet. Thanks for having me on.
John: This is the first podcast since COVID-19 that, I mean, I'm with a human.
Jeremy: Yes, face to face.
John: I’m not doing it over Zoom.
John: God, I hate Zoom. You know, I mean, yeah, it has its advantages. Okay. I get it. And it's, you know, for Sierra, with our salespeople, we've had plenty of Zoom meetings.
John: But, I have hated podcasting because I don't feel – the human interaction, to me, creates a far better dynamic.
Jeremy: It's difficult to get that connection over Zoom. You know, somebody's got their funny background in the back and, you know, you don't quite get all the facial expressions and see somebody…
John: And, you see a lot of this. And, when you got a bunch of group of people are looking at there cellphone.
Jeremy: There's an art to that, you know, it's the whole…
John: Yeah. No, you're going to get busted. Or, somebody who's just like this. You know, we had a Zoom meaning, I have to tell you. My nephew took pictures of different people on the Zoom meeting. You know, ‘cause we have a bunch of sales people. And, he'd send me a text after, “Look at this guy,” “Look…” you know, “this person looks like their dog just got kicked.” So, it is just so refreshing to be in person, live with somebody. We're here in Moscow, Idaho, where you live.
John: This place is beautiful.
Jeremy: Especially this time of year.
John: Oh my God. The wheat fields… I arrived today. I got off the plane and there's this gorgeous green field. I go, “What is this?” So, I had to get up and walk across the street. Wheat field.
Jeremy: Wheat. You find yourself right there.
Jeremy: Right by the airport. ‘Cause that airport is surrounded by wheat fields.
John: I still like gluten.
Jeremy: Yep, absolutely.
John: Although, I've lost 24 pounds during COVID-19.
John: Because I don't – I've dropped the carbs. No bread. I used to have bread with my butter every morning at breakfast, but I've had –
Jeremy: No carbs. That's how you've done it? That's one way.
John: There's a lot of things. But you know, being Italian, pasta is a big thing, but I've had to cut that down.
Jeremy: I got a note for you on that. Remind me later, after we're done, there's a pasta that you need to check out.
John: Alright. Well, okay. So, Pile of Scrap is what we call “The Recycler’s Podcast” and I've had a lot of different people on, but I think this is the most unique one, so far, we're going to do because you're in the packaging industry.
John: So, we want to – what the hell does Jeremy have to do with recycling? I say you have a lot to do because food packaging and the products you use and the recyclable content in food packaging, et cetera, is a fantastic discussion.
Jeremy: It's a fantastic discussion and it's a hot – it's a hot button issue, right now, all over the world in terms of companies trying to figure out how do we – how do we increase our sustainability? How do we increase our recycling? How do we get consumers to participate in that without necessarily or negatively affecting the quality and the content of their products?
John: Absolutely. So, let's – this is the easy softballs to start this thing as, okay? And, I think a lot of our listeners don't really know this. When you package and you're in the back… You know, you go to Costco or whatever store and you see meat, a little tray, plastic film over it…
John: Why can't it not be used out of recycled plastic?
Jeremy: Because there's obviously a lot of things that can be recycled and there's a lot of things that can't be recycled. And, the two things that primarily cannot be recycled are polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride. And, the overwrap… A lot of the overwrap that is used in fresh meat packaging is PVC-based. It used to be saran. Now, it's PVC and then polystyrene. And so, of course, there's a lot of efforts to try to figure out how do we make those things recyclable.
John: Why are they used?
Jeremy: Uh, because…
John: What's the advantage of the polychlor–I forget the name.
Jeremy: It's oxygen transmission rate, it's freshness of the meat, it's you've got a lot of liquid in there trying to make sure that that liquid doesn't leak out, especially when you put it in your car and you are taking it home. So, it's, it's about functional use. And, historically, those items have been the best way to preserve and protect meat from the time that you get it at the grocery store until you are going to use it. But, those can't be recycled because of the contents of them – the chemical contents.
John: Okay, but you can't use – you have to use virgin plastics to – for that packaging. You can't use recycled because of the potential contamination?
Jeremy: Absolutely. That's – it's an oversimplification, but it's simply the fear factor, right? In terms of where did that plastic come from? How was that plastic processed to ensure sterility of that?
John: No bloodborne pathogens…
John: That's one of the reasons… At Sierra, we stopped taking aluminum cans, PET bottles because people had syringes in there. And, if you had an employee get stuck by one of those needles… Oh.
John: It's a huge liability, but it's a real safety issue.
John: You know, health and safety issue.
John: So, we eliminated that for Sierra because it just – it didn't – it wasn't enough. But so, virgin plastics.
Jeremy: Virgin plastics…
John: Eliminates bloodborne –
John: The possibility of contamination.
Jeremy: Yeah. There's a chain of command. There's a chain of custody in that production of that process. There’s statements, rather than inducing another variable into that process.
John: So, okay. In these plastics that – or what… All these different names, you know, for the PP – polypropylene, polyethylene to all the different ones… Which, I'm not an expert at, but you know it. Let's talk about… You hear about: Well, there's biodegradable plastics.
John: Is that a myth? Is that a challenge? What is it?
Jeremy: Well, that's the that's the challenge is, though, the big question is how do we increase recycling rates? How do we get people to recycle more? And, if they're not going to, if they're going to throw it away anyway, how do we change the structure of plastic to make it more sustainable, more recyclable? And, so biodegradable plastics is one of the ways that there's a lot of research about it right now. A lot of efforts being made to try to make something biodegradable, but it's a huge challenge because…
John: So, that plastic we call biodegradable… It's going to turn into soil?
Jeremy: It's not – not ever going to turn into soil. It…
John: So, how do we call that what? Okay, if it's not going to be soil, how's it biodegradable? How do they get away with saying plastic’s biodegradable, but it's never going to be anything but plastic?
Jeremy: There are plastics that have been designed so that microbes in the soil can break that plastic down and so that it disintegrates to a microlevel. However, the challenge with that is, what is labeled biodegradable? Does it actually biodegrade? And, a lot of it does not. A lot of it does not in any sort of efficient timeframe, right? The standard – the European standard – is that if something is labeled biodegradable, that it breaks down into smaller pieces – and, I've got a comment about that in a minute.
Jeremy: But, it breaks down into smaller pieces so that no more than 10% of it is left after 12 months.
Jeremy: That's the standard. But, the reality is, is that when somebody takes that biodegradable plastic and says, “Well, this is just going to break down.” First of all, they just… literate, right? It's not necessarily ending up where it's supposed to go. That's number one. Because, they think, “Well, it biodegrades, so I can just toss it.”
John: You're saying that…
John: The consumer in America – Are we talking about the Americans or are we talking worldwide?
Jeremy: I'm using general consumer.
Jeremy: But, generalized consumer… One that's not educated, one that's not, uh, discerning enough and not motivated to recycle says “Biodegradable.” They think, “Well, it doesn't matter where I throw this.” So, then they throw it somewhere. Okay, well, if that ‘somewhere’ is not a landfill that is chemically created to break down that plastic – Let's set aside the word, “break down” for a moment – Then it's going to not biodegrade in the way that it should. And, even if it does, a lot of those plastics simply are going from one bigger piece of plastic, to many, many, many, many, many pieces of plastic, which then... How do you – how do you then clean that up, right?
John: Okay. Well, let me ask you this.
John: You know, plastics in the ocean, you know, just a bit of a major problem, right?
Jeremy: That's a huge problem.
John: And, you know, they see dead seagulls on these remote islands in the Pacific and they cut ‘em open and they're just full of plastic, big pieces of plastic.
John: Is there a fallacy saying, “Oh, my new pieces of plastic in a microbial way is better than big chunks of plastic?”
Jeremy: I think there is a fallacy in that for sure. ‘Cause the question is, first of all, there's no guarantee that in certain seawater with certain pH that it's actually going to do that. And, I'm not an expert in that, but I've read, that's one of the big challenges with plastic and seawater in terms of breaking that down. But, how do we know that that plastic, that breaks down into smaller parts isn't necessarily a good thing, right?
John: Or, less damaging as the perception of calling it biodegradable.
Jeremy: Exactly. That's exactly right. And, it doesn't even – and a lot of it doesn't even break down. You're labeling something biodegradable, but it has to go into the right spot in order for it to be biodegradable. It's not just a ‘we've made this now biodegradable so we can toss it anywhere.’ That's not the reality of it. And to your point, whether it's in PET bottles, you know, water bottles…
Jeremy: Like this one here.
John: This Nestle.
Jeremy: Exactly. The thickness of that stuff impacts its biodegradability. So, you know, back to the seagull getting the plastic, you know, torn out of its stomach… If it's big enough, it's simply not in a category of plastics that you would feel comfortable calling biodegradable because it's just simply –
John: Too obvious.
Jeremy: But, it's not going to biodegrade.
Jeremy: It's simply not going to happen.
John: Okay. So, in all the food packaging… We started with meat and meat food packaging is just a huge, huge, huge dynamic for, you know, in the use of plastics.
Jeremy: Yeah. Too many categories to cover specific…
John: So, your company supplies a lot of food packaging to major companies.
John: Can you name some of those companies?
Jeremy: Sure. I mean, yeah, absolutely we can. I mean, major CPG companies…
John: CPG stands for?
Jeremy: Consumer Producer Goods.
John: Okay. Name some companies that you guys supply.
Jeremy: Absolutely. Okay, so Coca-Cola ConAgra foods, Smithfield foods, Butterball, you know, these are all the types of companies that we sell to. So, you're not talking about, you know, small, although, you know, small food producers or smaller companies, are great customers of ours, but the complexity of those large companies and what they demand and what they're looking to do with regard to sustainable plastics and recycling is, you know, complex.
John: Okay. So, but it's not only just plastics because… Let's take Coca-Cola, for example. I did a podcast with Leonard Zeid. Leonard is a big paper, uh broker, and knows the paper industry extremely well. We had this conversation in our podcast about, you know, you go to the store and you buy beer, you buy Coke, Pepsi, whatever.
John: And, it's in a cardboard box. Okay, recyclable. But, it has a poly-coated liner so it can withstand the humidity…
John: Uh, of the coolers.
John: And then when you pick it up, it just doesn't fall apart. Okay, you've reduced the recyclable content.
John: The recyclability is there, but you're getting less fiber out of it.
Jeremy: Because it's – because it's less and it's – and it's an – is that because it's mixed?
John: Because it's a mix. So, now take Coca-Cola. You said something. There's the thing called bundling films…
John: That's a challenge.
John: Talk to us about what bundling film is, where it's gone, the transition and because all these companies claim to want sustainable packaging...
John: And, good for the environment, not to go to the landfill and all this and all that, but there's these challenges. Talk to us about that.
Jeremy: So, the history of bundling film in short, the cliffs notes is that it's a corrugate replacement. So, instead of your bottled water… And, that's a fantastic example because of the evolution of it, right? It used to be that bottled water would come in a corrugate box…
Jeremy: And, you would buy the box.
Jeremy: And, then you would have the plastic water bottles.
Jeremy: Well now, for cost – relative cost and processing of those water bottles, that corrugate box has – first gets reduced to half the corrugate box called an HSC. And then, that gets overwrapped with bundling film. So, when you go buy your water bottle today…
John: In the case.
Jeremy: It's got that plastic film.
John: And, that’s a thicker plastic.
Jeremy: It’s a thicker plastic. Now, the next evolution is taking as much – taking that tray out of it and now you just simply have that bundling film.
John: Taking the cardboard out.
Jeremy: Taking the cardboard altogether. So, from full box to half box to pad, in some cases…
Jeremy: Underneath the bottles, and now the effort is to eliminate all of that. And, so the entire thing, aside from the water, is just plastic, right? You got the plastic bottle, plastic over wrap.
John: Alright, so cardboard has seven life cycles. You know, you can recycle it from virgin… Going from virgin that's cut down from trees that are planted for the purpose of making pulp into cardboard. You can take cardboard seven times life cycle.
John: Okay? So, now they reducing it. But when it gets into the waste stream, okay, when it gets into the blue bin and it goes to the MRF for the separation, that becomes another challenge because the cost of separating that plastic from the plastic, from the cardboard that’s in it, is tremendous. The value of it, the commodity...
Jeremy: Why is that?
John: Well, it's a commodity because there's no weight.
John: So, you can pick it up, but you're picking up air. So, you're having to store huge bins that cost a lot of money, okay? These bins that store in these MRFs that, you know, that for the recycling.
Jeremy: So, what you're saying – what you're saying is that in that evolution, taking out that plastic –
Jeremy: Reducing the amount of our plastic – taking out that cardboard, and having everything be plastic, now we've reduced the overall weight of that.
Jeremy: And, although that is less plastic in the ocean, less plastic in the world, it is – it has a direct effect on the economic –
John: Well, this is – yes. This is the issue about plastic recycling in the MRFs. Some milk jugs have good value, okay? Because there's weight behind it. Okay. You know, you pick up an old milk jug or, uh, your Clorox or your Tide bottle, colored HDPE… You know, that stuff has value and, you know, a PET bottle… There's more weight to this than there is to a lot of these plastics.
Jeremy: Less and less all the time.
John: Well, actually… Naturally, this is, uh, you know, I was, uh, Chairman of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries – ISRI, and we gave them the design for recycling award a couple of years ago because of how much recycled content or the recyclability of their water bottle that they were able to do. So it, you know, they're always more sustainability. But, here we go again, back to the MRF. The cost of separation, the cost of storing, baling, and all that exceeds the value of the commodity.
John: So, somebody's going to pick up the difference. The recycler, the people who are the big $20 million MRFs that separate the stuff… Let's say it costs them, I'm just going to use numbers.
John: Let's say costs, well, MRFs cost between a $100 to $130 a ton, five to six, seven cents a pound to process it.
John: Well, that commodity may only be worth five, six cents a pound. So, there's a difference there. So now you're at a negative value. So, who's going to pick up that difference?
Jeremy: Well, the consumer, right? I'm assuming. I mean, the consumer is going to.
John: You have people in the community who have to pay more for their garbage on their property tax, so there there's this trade-off. So, they – everybody wants it to be recyclable, but there's a cost to it.
John: And, I don't think the public is ready to truly understand that you wanted out of the landfill and we all want to – you're going to have to pay.
John: Then it becomes not an economic issue. It's not an incentivized issue. It's not even an educational issue. It's almost more of a – it's almost more of a, is that what you want to be a part of? And, do you want to pay for it type situation?
John: Everybody wants to be part of it until you, quite frankly, have to start paying for it.
John: I don't want to have to pay for that.
Jeremy: So the trade-off is now they buy an alternative product that's maybe not as sustainable, not as recyclable?
John: Maybe. And, they don't throw it out. See, you know, uh, I interviewed in another podcast, Jason Young in the Allen Company. He is a big MRF, big blue bin recycling operations.
John: Okay? And, it's really interesting, uh, what he told me, um, and this will segue into something about packaging pre-COVID, post-COVID…
Jeremy: Sure, sure.
John: Or, during COVID. Um, you know, it's a social economic thing about the blue bin. In neighborhoods, low income neighborhoods that have multifamily dwellings, okay? Uh, it costs money to have your garbage bin. They give you the blue bin for free, okay? Well, when you fill up the regular bin, you don't want to pay to get another bin dropped.
John: So, where do you put it? Put it into the blue bin. Okay. Well, that's contamination rate. So, pre-COVID, you had a contamination rate between 30%, maybe 40%. Okay? In the blue bin. Okay, once it goes, separates and all the contaminants and…
Jeremy: Sure. Yep.
John: During COVID, that contamination rate, because people had to stay home… They don't go anywhere.
Jeremy: More garbage.
John: They create more garbage because they're cooking at home and staying at home. You know, when you go to restaurants, you go to fast food, they're disposing of your garbage.
John: But, when you can't do that and you're staying at home, where are you gonna put that garbage? That doesn't cost you and you don't have a job because you can't go to work. It goes into the blue bin.
John: So, now the contamination rate has skyrocketed from 30%, 40% to 50%, 60% in some cases.
Jeremy: That's incredible.
John: So, now the cost is increasing. Somebody's got to pay for that.
John: Because the value of the commodities, you know, don't, you know, are less than the value or less of the cost of production.
John: It's really a fascinating dynamic. You see, recycling is a feel-good topic, but it is also an economic issue that I think we need to put more effort into the educating the public on what it is.
Jeremy: Well, you know, it relates to packaging and this whole idea of recycling because the culture that we live in here in the United States is a disposal culture. I mean, to your point. And so, it's about, you know, whether something's biodegradable or not – back to that topic for a moment – it's about what does the consumer then do with that?
Jeremy: You know, do they feel good about putting it in the right spot? Well, by and large in this country, they don't. It doesn't matter whether it's biodegradable or it's about the economics of it. And, the economics of it are typically going to be wise consumer choices about, about something that, you know, affects their pocketbook, whether that product that they choose is more sustainable or not, the relative cost of that. And then, and then what do they do with it? And typically, they just don't think about it and they throw it away.
John: That's right. You know, it's funny. I was, um, a couple summers ago, I was in Europe and really it's a cultural thing. I was at this place and, um, that you saw as a tourist or the European tourists, and they were finishing their lunch and they had all these different items to dispose of. Well, in America, it just goes, they don't care if you've got plastic, glass, does that… They just, you see them all the time throwing away.
John: But, they literally took the time to put the product in the right… Plastic in the plastic, glass in the glass, that the… Waste food wastes in one. And. they took the time to do it right.
John: But, here in this country, they don’t… Now, you – we were talking before we started this podcast, something I did not know and the pre-COVID, post-COVID goals of companies. And, you had something from Nestle that you were, you told me about.
Jeremy: And, yeah. And, everybody, you know, this date out there is 2025 and it's a good intention, right? It's the right thing to do. But, this was, um, this was from one of the announcements that Nestle made, specifically, and quoting it to get it right: that they want to make 100% of packaging recyclable by 2025. So, that's the date. And it includes several things. One: none of its packaging ends up in the landfill. Right? We're talking about this disposable culture, right? So, they don't want any of it to end up in the landfill or as litter, and the way they're going to do that is eliminate non-recyclable plastics. So, make everything that they buy, in other words, recyclable, encourage the use of plastics that allow better recycling rates and eliminate or change complex combinations of packaging materials. Right? So, that is part of their – that that's their announcement in order to drive more sustainability, which the education piece has directly what we were talking about. A company can make every single effort they can to use non-rec–to use recyclable packaging and to educate the consumer to label it properly. But, then what do they, what does the consumer do with that? Right?
John: Right. It can't come – Yeah. It's out of their control. So, your company, Atlantic Packaging, okay… This is a pre-COVID goal of Nestle.
John: Now, you're having to design that plastic for packaging for them.
John: And for the coats and for whoever you're selling to.
John: And, you've got a bunch of engineers and you got chemists and all this working on this stuff, right?
Jeremy: Yes, absolutely. And I think one of the things that's ignored though, is that we often focus on the primary package. Right? And, and we've talked a little bit about this before, as it relates to bread packaging is a good example of this whole idea of the economy of choices people make and the amount of plastic that's used and healthy living choices. Right? And, we can get back to that in a moment.
Jeremy: But, aside from all of the primary packaging, whether you're talking about corrugate or bundling film or your bread packaging or your cereal boxes and the liners that go in there… Some of the biggest, low hanging fruit is eliminating the amount of plastic that you use. Right? So, you have all this primary packaging, but then you also have all this indirect packaging, I'll call it. And so, you know, for your listeners that aren't aware of what that would be, that would be, uh, the tape that goes on the boxes…
Jeremy: That go to the grocery store and when the grocery store stocker is restocking the shelf, he takes the product out, he rips the tape open, you know, you got a corrugate box of some kind and then puts the product on the shelf and they see the primary packaging.
Jeremy: But, in order for that product to get there, you're talking about tape, you're talking about the corrugate box, you're talking about the stretch wrap that goes around the pallet, you're talking about the, you know, the – maybe the corner boards or the strap that's going in that. But, oftentimes the engineers and the chemists at these major CPG companies that are looking at the sustainability, or the impact, or the design of the primary food packaging are not the same people that are looking at all of those indirect packaging material things, and the low hanging fruit that's there from a recycling standpoint, you know, there's really two elements. One: our company goes in to try to help companies use what they're already using better. So, for example, we can go into a brewery – a beer brewery…
John: Yeah, you told me about this. Tell us about this.
Jeremy: And there's one brewery in particular that we eliminated half a million dollars, not by changing the structural nature of what they were already using, but taking that stretch wrap, that was palletizing the beer before it got shipped to a distributor or a grocery store…
Jeremy: Utilizing it more efficiently so they were using less. Well, the impact of that is not only financial, but you're talking about the amount of plastic.
John: It’s environmental.
Jeremy: It's a 40% reduction in the amount of plastic that they were utilizing. Not by buying – they were buying less, but it was because they were utilizing it more efficiently, not to mention the carbon footprint and all of the other necessary consequences that come from utilizing that –
John: That must be great for you guys, for your company. If you're able to do that for one, that'd to be huge for that. It's just an enormous marketplace for you to go in there, show them how to use it…
Jeremy: It's a huge one. And, it has – I would argue, from my perspective, it has greater impact on the overall sustainability and the overall use of plastic by identifying those categories that are already being used rather than necessarily re-engineering everything. It, you know, it can provide a huge drop in the bucket towards some of those goals.
John: Okay. Let's talk about the stretch film that they're using real quick.
John: The type of plastic that is used… 100% recyclable right now? Where's the evolution of it going, what – Is…
Jeremy: 100% recyclable?
John: 100%, yes.
Jeremy: 100% recyclable, absolutely. It's natural gas-based.
John: Is it made from vir–virgin product or is it made from recycled product?
Jeremy: Both. It depends on the product itself.
John: Okay. So, the stretch film for this brewery you're talking about, that is made…
Jeremy: Virgin plastic.
John: Why virgin? And why is it all virgin? Why is it and have, uh, some, uh…
Jeremy: Performance. Performance.
John: So, performance meaning its ability to keep that palette.
Jeremy: Yes, exactly, so…
John: That’s another discussion, I don't know if we have time for, but we'll touch on it right now.
Jeremy: Sure, sure, sure.
John: You said, because I argued why use plastic film when you can use cardboard, uh, corner boards and maybe you do some, uh… You said the transportation and the engineering and the testing that goes… Talk about that for a second.
Jeremy: Because from the recycling standpoint though, from your – from where you stand, the corrugate would be a fantastic and phenomenal recyclable…
John: Easy recyclable.
Jeremy: Easy recyclable.
John: Weight-wise and all the paper mills that are able to use it.
Jeremy: Exactly. What we have to factor in is… We have to factor in how it's being applied, right? And, the labor component of that. Whether that's right or wrong, companies want to drive their labor costs down. So, in terms of the transportation, one of the things that has to happen is that those products have to be able to flex. So, when you take… let's use Coke, for example. It's an easy example. A pallet full of Coke. You got the individual cell units stacked into a pallet on the pallet itself.
Jeremy: Then how do we make sure that that stays intact going from point A to point B?
Jeremy: Well, the, the ability of that product to move and flex in the back of a truck or a train is a significant factor in its ability to stay intact. If you don't do that, now that your cost goes up, going back to the economic impact, because the amount of damage…
Jeremy: Goes through the roof and damage is far more costly than the amount of plastic.
John: I'll bet you a lot of money there is not but a handful of people who would have ever thought that during transportation, the flexibility of the product in that truck or train or wherever it's going, there has to be a certain amount of flexibility.
Jeremy: Has to be.
John: Again, I never knew that.
Jeremy: Yep. That's true. You would think that you could like, you know, glue that stuff together or lock it down in some sort of a cage and it would be able to…
John: Henceforth why there has to be more plastic used in that.
Jeremy: It has to be, but back to your question about virgin plastic…
Jeremy: And, the recyclability of that. Well and machine applications in those, you know, consumer goods companies that are having a ton of throughput, the higher performing materials are thinner, therefore using less plastic. And, in order for them to be that higher performing, you can't introduce recycled content.
John: So, it has to be the virgin plastic actually has a stronger, um…
Jeremy: Works better.
John: All right. Now, we kind of got off a little bit because we talked about what Nestle was pre-COVID-19.
Jeremy: Sure, sure.
John: Okay. Now what's happened? What's the change now? This is – this was an – I did not have any idea and I think people who listen to this podcast are going to be blown away about the change pre-COVID-19, post-COVID-19…
John: From like a Nestle… What… Go ahead.
Jeremy: So, the example would be, so using an example of a… What, what… A major company like that would call something that was more sustainable, just to set the baseline.
Jeremy: Okay, so more sustainable would be the elimination of plastic. So, let's say some food product that needed some sort of moisture barrier that traditionally was packaged in plastic. Let's say frozen food, whether it's french fries or whatever.
Jeremy: So, now a more sustainable option would be craft paper with a poly lining. Okay. Something like that. So, then that would be a more sustainable option or to take it to something that's super familiar. Coffee, right? You go to Starbucks, you get your coffee, you use your own personal cup, you get like a 10%, you know, a dime discount for bringing your own personal cup. Well now, during COVID, you can't use usable cups anymore because of the contamination.
John: The potential.
Jeremy: The potential contamination who might be surface contamination. Not knowing whether or not, you know, I mean, the CDC has changed their guidelines a few times on this and I don't know if anybody really knows, but the reality is, is now single use cups are safer in this environment because they're transmitted from in the Starbucks to you and then get thrown away.
John: Of course Starbucks workers is not, uh, positive for COVID-19, but yeah. What other products?
Jeremy: So, another one would be states that have banned, and this isn't necessarily a packaging-related thing, but the principle behind it is states that have banned plastic grocery bags…
Jeremy: Have unbanned plastic grocery bags because where previously they would be encouraging you to use a reusable grocery bag that has yours…
Jeremy: They don't want you bringing that into the store right now.
John: So, now we're reintroducing that contaminant, which is a huge, you know – this pandemic. So, now we're trying to – so we're kind of going… So where does it play out though, Jeremy? So, so these companies now are eliminating… You said something on straws as well...
Jeremy: Well, straws, for example, you know, you've got metal straws or stainless steel straw, you know, when you've got a sanitation concern, right? And so which one, and I'm not answering this, but I'm saying companies are wrestling with the idea of if there's sterility concerns, single use right now tends to be the safer choice, right? So, you've got this, this nexus of this idea between what is sustainable? What is recyclable and reducing the overall amount of plastics use? But, in this conversation, it always comes back to, are we making the wise choice, right? What's the trade-off here? And, in COVID, you've got trade-off of safety versus what that material is. But, the fundamental reality is, is that any time we're talking about sustainability, and this is the, you know, this is your backyard playing in the recycling component of it is not every product that seems sustainable from a packaging perspective is either economical or is truly recyclable. And, even if it is, we're not necessarily executing on that in the way that we should be that's right. You know, so, I mean, we talked about bread bags. You know, if that's a good time to talk about it…
John: Yeah, go ahead.
Jeremy: So, we talked about bread bags in terms of that trade offs. So, and again, these are oversimplifications, but they prove a point that when we make these decisions as consumers, packaging companies and manufacturers, there's a lot of different complex questions that have to be asked. So, bread. We're in, you know, there's been a, there's been a rise in a movement towards what I would call healthy eating, right? Eating healthier. Well, bread that is healthier for you has a shorter shelf life than bread that has a lot of preservatives in it.
John: Ah, like the Wonder bread.
John: Oh, boy. I like the white Wonder bread. Butter and jellies on Wonder bread. Classic, classic.
Jeremy: Exactly. But, that Wonder bread is in a single bag.
Jeremy: Well, something that needs to be more shelf stable needs to have a plastic packaging material on it that preserves the oxygen transmission rates, such that it preserves the bread for a longer period of time, plus that single, that single bread bag, right?
Jeremy: So, in that situation, you're not going to get away from, you're not going to get away from using plastic necessarily without compromising shelf life.
John: But, it's like a paper bag too. Paper… You know, you go to these bakeries, they have like a paper-plastic mix-type bag.
Jeremy: How would that impact you over at recycling?
John: Well, it's just contamination. When you cross contaminate the product…
John: It's not really, it's not economically recyclable. I'll give you an example.
Jeremy: Because it's harder to sort.
John: Okay, Amazon ships a lot of product by cardboard box.
John: I point to, you know, so you can take that cardboard box and…
Jeremy: It's water-activated tape, not to interrupt, but, but that is a corrugate craft paper tape…
Jeremy: That's got their label on it. So, that's more sustainable, right?
John: Right. So, the beauty of that is it's really recyclable. But, weight. It's heavier. So, now they've got, well, wait a minute. A cardboard box doesn't fit in a mailbox very well.
John: But, the new packaging that has the paper, but with the bubble wrap on the inside?
John: Fits in the mailbox because, you know, if you buy in just the small product and you can bend it and put in mailbox.
John: That product isn't very recyclable because you can't peel the paper away from the bubble wrap that's inside. Economically… Oh, it can be done, but the economics of it are just dramatically impossible.
Jeremy: Sure. So, then that goes back to the eCommerce world with Amazon with regard to pure bubble wrap. You know, so they've got packages now that are 100% plastic…
Jeremy: With the bubble wrap built into it, right? They've got a machine that basically sizes it correctly for the product. But, the question to you would be, is that easier to recycle or do you have to be sure of what the components are? If it's pure polyethylene, is it more recyclable?
John: Yes, yes. Absolutely. The peer of the product, the less contamination is always more recyclable.
John: You know, cardboard, like I've said, it has like seven lines. You know, it's funny you live here in Moscow, Idaho. I kind of shifting gears ‘cause I did a pod–back to a podcast. And, we did a commercial for the Super Bowl about… In fact…
Jeremy: The pizza box!
John: The pizza box.
Jeremy: The pizza box.
John: The pizza box. Pizza box cleaned out of the plastic, uh, you know, some companies use a little plastic riser. So, that was top of the pizza box. Doesn't touch the hot cheese and, or have a grease liner. And, you take out the food content and those plastics are in the grease liner in there. You throw it out. Pratt Industries, West Rock, which make a lot of the pizza boxes.
John: They're going to take it and recycle it all day long. But, here in Moscow, Idaho…
Jeremy: That's not the case.
John: Okay, okay, alright. Potato,Pot-ah-to.
Jeremy: Gonz-ay-ga, Gonzaga.
Jeremy: When you put a pizza box at all… So, a guy will… The recycling truck will come down the street and you can watch him do this. He’ll lift up the lid and if there's a pizza box in there, they don't look inside the pizza box to see if everything has been taken out. They just see a pizza box, close that lid, put a tag on it and they don't take any of your recycling.
John: Okay. You were in the commercia which was seen, by the way, over 350,000 views of this commercial.
Jeremy: That's incredible.
John: And, it actually helped the paper there, the industry, you know. But yet, we still don't see it. You don't see it. You don't see it. Pizza commercial from Domino's, Papa John's Pizza Hut, you name it. Not one of them ever talk about their pizza that comes in that box is recyclable and where –
Jeremy: Why is that?
John: You tell me.
Jeremy: That's crazy.
John: I think that's their responsibility.
Jeremy: Especially when we, as consumers, would like to recycle that. You put it in the corrugate, you know, recycle bin and it gets rejected. What do you do with that then? Well, now I just throw it away.
John: Yeah. Well, when in doubt, throw it out. Well, there it goes. Where does it end up? Landfill. Okay, so here we are in Moscow, Idaho.
John: We made the commercial here in Moscow.
John: And yet, they still won't take the pizza box.
Jeremy: Right. They won't, I don't know.
John: C’mon, Jim. This is on you at this point.
Jeremy: We need to get on this. We need to get on this.
John: But, it’s fascinating, again. Food packaging. You know, food packaging comes from the shelves to what you, you know, Uber eats – they're delivering food pack–you know, from McDonald's. You were telling me something about McDonald's and what they want, um…
Jeremy: So, this is driven by… So, this is company/country specific.
Jeremy: Where Saudi Arabia is in the process of requiring drafting legislation to require that all stretch wrap that brings products into the country is biodegradable. And so, McDonald's in particular, has a significant interest in ensuring that, of course, if that's, what's going to get their french fries into Saudi Arabia, they have a high motivation to do this. The problem is, is that from the manufacturing side of things in the consumer cost, A: there is not a single manufacturer of stretch wrap today in North America that is producing biodegradable stretch wrap that is, that fits the qualifications of European standards for biodegradability.
John: Is it made anywhere in the world?
Jeremy: There are companies that are calling it biodegradable, yes. But, this goes back to our discussion of whether it truly is or not. A, the cost is exorbitantly higher. The amount of plastic or the thickness of the plastic that's used tested increase significantly.
John: More weight.
Jeremy: More weight because you have to put an element into it that makes it biodegradable. So, when you do that, you either have to thicken up the film to maintain performance, or you have to have less performance and use more of it, right? So there's a trade-off there. And, then there's the, the entire question of whether that additive really is biodegrading the product. It's really just breaking it down into smaller pieces.
John: How about the carbon footprint to produce that plastic?
John: Because when you're…
Jeremy: I wouldn't be the expert to speak on that.
Jeremy: But, the reality is that the energy costs go up because not only are you using more plastic because you have to increase the thickness of the plastic, but now you've got an additional additive that goes into that. Um, I don't know about the carbon footprint piece, but…
John: The reality is using more energy to make something – usually your carbon footprint is going to be going up just from a logical standpoint.
Jeremy: The flip side of that though, is that the more effective use is to actually utilize a higher performing material appropriately. And, that drives your plastics usage down significantly. So, that whole over-simplified conversation of whether do we want a thicker material that biodegrades or do we want a virgin material that is 40% less of, you know, 40% less by volume.
John: Made from recyclable material.
Jeremy: Exactly. Made from recycled material.
John: You know, this is, um, you know, I love how this ties in this food packaging to the recycling industry and people are going to have to start. There needs to be more education. There's more, the public needs to be more educated. You know, about this, you know, I have a friend, you know, this is interesting. Plastic paper, you know, different uses. He's a large table grape producer. And, we're out from a Bakersfield, California, but from the little towns: Arvin Edison, uh, Bakersfield, Delano, McFarland in North, there were huge table grapes.
Jeremy: You mean like those awesome cotton candy grapes that…
Jeremy: You know, my kids just, like, eat in 30 seconds?
John: So, when you go to the store, what you don't see… Today, when you go to the store, they're in a plastic Ziploc and they have the color, you know, where they come from, the name on them and what the vent, you know…
John: The producer of it. Well, Costco. I applaud them, but here's the difficult are telling the grape growers, “You can no longer use that plastic Ziploc bag” that's in, you know, that comes in a beautiful cardboard box.
John: And which is 100% recyclable, just beautiful plastic Ziploc.
Jeremy: Or, like, that PDT clam shell thingy?
John: That's a different. That… They don't do grapes and clamshells. You do your berries, your blueberries, raspberries, boy, you know…
Jeremy: Got it.
John: You pick up the bag, hey, you got a nice little package. You're not going to buy too much. You didn't know how many bundles to get, so you put the plastic back. ‘Cause remember, grapes used to be at the store, used to be non-package. You had to pick them up, put them in the bag and then take them off. So, now they had an easy grab and go. They could sell a lot more of that.
John: Okay. Now they want it delineate that plastic bag and the cost of finding a paper bag now because they say, but that it can, it's just, that will be, you know, that you don't pick up from the cold storage when you finally gets a store that fall apart because of all the moisture.
John: Now, you having to use a poly liner. So, now it's not really that you want to call it paper. Is it really recyclable? is driving the cost up for the great prices.
Jeremy: And, that's a challenge because depending on what food item it is, this idea back to what Nestle said, again, it's well-intentioned right. It's a sure great goal. That's what we should be doing. But, the challenge of eliminating those complex materials, well sometimes those complex materials preserve shelf life. They preserve moisture from degrading.
John: And, grapes are full of moisture.
Jeremy: Yeah, absolutely.
Jeremy: And it's, it's, you know, there's all kinds of examples of that, where you have a shelf stable product like granola. Granola, in a certain polyethylene pouch, is shelf stable for a very long time. Well, depending on how you eat granola, that's kind of important. Well, you know, the food waste component – not to go down this rabbit trail too far, but if you, if you change the component of that pouch to have a more recyclable granola… And maybe you put on there, you know, the label that says, you know, “Please recycle me,” Or, education components to help people recycle that stuff. Um, now that's less shelf stable. Your granola goes bad. You throw the granola away and now you're wasting food. You know, that's a whole ‘nother, that's a whole nother element of it.
John: Yeah. It's all part of, uh… What a tremendous subject to talk about. And, I'm just really glad, you know, Jeremy, we've had some time to talk about it. You know, I know something about you. You love coaching.
Jeremy: I do love coaching.
John: Aw, man. If I could quit my day job, I'd be a high school football coach.
John: I've coached ba–uh, not high school… I've coached high school football. I've coached junior high, uh, basketball for my daughter and my son and uh, elementary school. I've also coached baseball. Which is your favorite?
Jeremy: Baseball, for sure.
John: So, how many pizza parties have you had at the end of the season? I want to go back to this. Huh, Dad? Coach?
Jeremy: Hammering home. Absolutely. A lot.
John: So, then how many sodas? Are you buying more sodas now? Or… Oh, how about this?
John: Water. But, you know, there's that Capri fruit punch style-thing that looks like it's in a foil packaging.
Jeremy: Oh, yeah.
John: You know, a lot of moms who are the – you know, the team moms or this parent has this game. They bring those Capri packages and it looks like it's… It's not recyclable.
Jeremy: It’s not recyclable at all.
John: It's just too contaminated with so many different products.
Jeremy: Yep. Too many layers, too many different things.
John: Absolutely. Well, yeah, no, that's exactly right. So, coach, you gotta make sure…
Jeremy: No CapriSuns, no CapriSuns.
John: Team mom, team dad – whoever's bringing the snacks after the game or buying… Hey…
Jeremy: Well, now nobody's doing that because we can't share food like that, right? We're all bringing our own water bottles and we're not sharing those types of things.
John: Are you even being able to play sports up here right now?
Jeremy: We are right now, actually. We had six baseball games last weekend, eight the week before. So, I'm the same as you. If I could quit my day job and make, you know, make money coaching baseball, I definitely would do it.
John: I – there's something about coaching that I love and being with the kids, but see… You know, it's funny how this comes full circle because how many times did you – that the pizza would come in and we can't do the – or now you can't have a box full of cookies because you can't – the contamination… Our world is dramatically changing. So, back to food packaging.
John: Five years from now, how dram–it's going to be dramatically different, isn't it?
Jeremy: Yes, I think so. I think – I don't think we're going to get away from plastics use.
John: Who has to change more? The consumer or the manufacturer?
Jeremy: The consumer. I think the consumer does because there's so many products right now that are recyclable, right? I mean, you said it. As long as it's virgin plastic and as long as it is not multilayer to the point where it can't be economically sorted, right? Then a lot of that stuff we already do is recyclable. But, the reason that the manufacturers want to eliminate that plastics usage is because of that disconnect between what the consumer is doing – throwing it in the ocean, right? And, what they're putting into it. So, they're trying to figure out how do we, how do we, how are we responsible – sustainably recycling, et cetera, regardless of what the consumer does?
John: Alright, well, I want to make sure I say something here because, you know, when China closed its market to plastics in Indonesia and Malaysia and India, a lot of them closed their markets for recycled plastic out of North America.
Jeremy: Buying it.
John: Yeah, buying it. There's been a lot of investment in the U.S. um, in taking plastics and creating pellets for, you know… Hey, look, our sunglasses. This is a plastic…
Jeremy: Matching sunglasses.
John: A little different. Yours is matte, mine’s shiny. So, is your car a matte gray or something like that?
Jeremy: Yeah, exactly.
John: Um, point is there is, you know, uh, necessity's the mother of invention and, you know, there's a lot of innovation of taking, you know, post-consumer goods. You know, plastics and make it into… And, it's just not going to be able to go into food packaging.
John: But, it's going to be able to go into other products from bumpers to cars. Who knows what it is.
Jeremy: Well, it would stick with me on this example, right? I mean, that whole closed loop piece. So, one of the things, you know, we talked earlier about the ability to eliminate and make what you already buy more efficient. That's a huge financial gain. It's sustainable, but then let's say it's a necessary evil, you've got a stretch wrap your beer and that's gotta be done for transport safety. Well, you know, Trex, for example, is…
John: Yeah, Trex. Tell us a little bit about Trex. I didn't even get to mention that because this is very important.
Jeremy: It is.
John: They have a closed loop, what you call it, a closed loop.
Jeremy: Close loop recycling program.
John: Tell us a little bit about – because this is important.
Jeremy: So, for example – it's very important. So, when you – so we sell a plastic item to a manufacturer, Trex will provide the baler to that manufacturer, which in turn, all of that plastic that gets used gets put in the baler, and then they'll transport that back and they'll make it into your decking. So, all of that plastic that is being used is going right into another product. And, there's a growing market.
John: So, Trex makes decking. Are they making furniture out of plastic?
Jeremy: I don't know if they are, but there are people doing that. Well, how about – there’s a lot but they're having furniture, roofing materials…
John: How about window, uh, you know, the vinyl.
Jeremy: Absolutely. Yeah. Anything that is – I've even heard recently, seeing that they're starting to make engineered lumbers, which is a composite of like wood shavings and post consumer recycled content plastic, and pressing that into two by fours, two by fours, roofing materials, things like that. That is a, you know, the efforts with regard to primary food packaging – I don't want to give people the wrong impression, right? That is an absolutely moral imperative and it's noble to do, right?
Jeremy: It must be done. What we're – what you and I are talking about is the efficacy of certain types of efforts in that regard, the economics of it, right? But, those closed loop systems, those eliminations of plastic by being more efficient… Those are super smart, absolutely black and white achievable, you know, things to do now.
John: Yeah. Again, it's back to the consumer, doesn't see how they're general mills… Captain Crunch with crunch berries arrives at the store, palletized with plastic inside a cardboard box. And, if you're separating out and Trex wants that stretch film back to make their, uh, uh, plastic decking, you know, these are things that are – but this is where I – when I said the mother – you know, necessity's the mother of invention. You got a lot of people now go, “Well, how am I going to use plastics into products that are usable for consumers?”
John: You know, again, it goes back… You're going to be able to do… Buy things that maybe have a longer life, you know, a plastic deck. You don't have, you know, wood is great, but, you know, you've gotta maintain that way. You gotta be – you gotta sand it and varnish it and do all these things for it to last. And, then if you're in the close to the sea, you know, plastic lasts longer than, you know, the corrosion factor.
John: You know, it's a fascinating – this whole loop because it's a different – we have touched on something that most people have not ever thought about is all the recycling component to food packaging. I want to touch on one last thing.
Jeremy: Yeah, sure.
John: The Captain Crunch with crunch berry boxes.
John: The cardboard box that has plastic liner. And so, when it gets into the waste stream, or it gets into the blue bin, it's hard…
Jeremy: It combines.
John: Combine… There's cost of pulling out… Well, that plastic inside changed? Is there something that might be easier to recycle? Where the box and the insert where the cereal is actually could be 100% recyclable? You don't have to know them, pull it out? Which saves money in the processing of the recycling in a MRF.
Jeremy: Sure, sure.
John: I think the challenge is the ability to take – it's that it goes back to, is it virgin? Are we okay with virgin, non-virgin plastic touching a food product like that, right? Because there are European companies that are making plastics that are up to 60% PCR – Post Consumer Recycled content for bundling films and things like that. Well, does the safety of the food chain allow us to use some of that stuff in package like that? Because right now you can buy cereal and just a bag, right?
John: Yes, you can.
Jeremy: Like Multi Meal, right now, for example. You can just go buy that and that's easier to recycle. Right?
John: Right. You know, they're going to be people who are gonna listen to us and want to shoot holes in what we're talking about, saying, “Oh, well this is this.” Well, that's – I'm not here to – this podcast isn't to say we're definitive 100%. There are people. This is where the discussion starts.
John: And, I want it to be a discussion starting point. How do we become better? And, how do we educate and how do we use products? I'm not putting down anybody in how things are being used.
John: Look, I'm just a regular – I'm in the recycling industry. I mean, I know more about recycling aluminum and iron and copper and stainless steel, what have you. But, I mean, and cardboard. But, you know, the discussion, the education of me, the public, you… You know, you're still – we need to get that discussion going. Let's get the ball rolling. Let's work together to create better products that are better for the environment and for the longevity and sustainability for everything.
Jeremy: And, it's asking the right questions, right? It's not just simply pasting a recyclable, sustainable, biodegradable label on something without actually knowing what it does. And, is that the right choice? You know, that closed loop… Back to that idea. You know, it casts a pretty cool vision, right? Let's say, you take a beer company, Molson Coors, for example, right? Pick one, right? You got, you know, you got a singer singing a song on a, you know, on a Trex deck sitting there, sipping a Coors, right? How perfect is that? Coors wins because they're the ones whose plastic is in that deck.
Jeremy: Trex wins, right? Because, you know, they're, they've taken a product that is ultimately recyclable and made it something long lasting.
Jeremy: And, the consumer gets to enjoy both ends of that, you know? The beer, the deck, everything, you know?
Jeremy: Kind of a perfect picture.
John: This has been an amazing discussion, a hugely educational – for me. And, I think people listened to it. So, but before I went – next time I come back to Moscow – Moscow, pizza boxes are going to be allowed in the blue bin.
Jeremy: Gotta work on that. We’ve gotta get that done. I know, we've got to throw the flag on that big time.
John: You know, my favorite part of the commercial is the very end where the guy goes, “That was weird, but super informative.”
Jeremy: Super informative.
John: My wife and I laugh all the time when somebody says, “Well, that was weird, but super informative.”
John: We use that all the time. Jeremy, my friend, thank you for your –
Jeremy: My pleasure.
John: Incredible knowledge of food packaging and what's going on in the world. And, I know this dynamic changes. Post-COVID, I think when they find a vaccine and a cure for this thing, different things, you know, this is going to be ever, ever changing. The evolution of food packaging will continue and continue. So…
Jeremy: The more we learn, yeah.
John: Thank you for being on this. And, that's it for another episode of Pile of Scrap. Thank you.
Jeremy: Good stuff. You bet.
John: That is awesome, brother.
Jeremy: You get everything you wanted?
John: Oh, beyond.
Conclusion: This has been a Sierra International Machinery original audio series. Thanks for listening. Please share this podcast and make sure to subscribe.