Kathi King, Community Environmental Council: I’ll get started and people will continue to trickle in as we take care of a little bit of housekeeping before we get started. This session is being recorded. And you will receive a follow up email with a link to the recording as well as resources that we discussed during the event.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ll just say it again, this is another episode in the webinar series that we have been doing this year where meeting in person has not been possible. We also have a special webinar page on our website. So if you want to find this one, as well as past webinars, you can find them linked there.
This is an active session, and we definitely welcome your engagement. We invite you to add questions to the Q & A as the presentations are happening. We will answer a couple of them following each presentation and then more Q & A sessions at the end. We will get to as many as we’re able. We’ll provide you with my contact information if you have a pressing question that we’re not able to get to. Thank you for your patience with that.
The chat box is for any comments you have or other resources that you would like to share. We have a great support team here to help us including Iris on the Zoom side, and Katie on Facebook Live. They have CEC in their names, so if you need technical assistance, you can reach out to them directly.
Before we get going and introduce our speakers, we want to set the stage for you about why we chose this topic. It’s the thing that CEC and Channelkeeper are directly associated with but it has implications for the work that we do. I found a quote from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that really encapsulates the actions: “Switching to renewable energy plays a vital vital role in addressing climate change. But this alone will not be enough. In order to achieve targets on climate, it is critical that we transform how we design, make and use products and food.” To provide a little more detail on that, 40% of our greenhouse gas emissions come from how we make and use products as well as how we grow and distribute food. A circular system designs out a lot of this waste through innovations like reusable packaging and regenerative agriculture practices.
CEC’s role here today is to advance this conversation with you, the community, sharing thought leaders through today’s presentations, and providing you with resources. Our goal is to create a dialogue about our consumption habits and how they might be adjusted over time to factor out the waste that contributes to climate change. As we reflect back on this, our 50th anniversary year for CEC, it’s a good time to point out that when CEC launched our Fossil Free by 33 initiative over a decade ago, the focus was on transitioning to renewable energy and green transportation. Years ago, there were no affordable electric vehicles on the market. Today there are dozens. 10 years ago, solar panels were attractive mainly to the eco-conscious. Today, solar powered electricity is cheaper than coal powered electricity. A few years ago, we added a food program to broaden our focus to include regenerative agriculture as a climate solution. Similarly, we also see that the community can’t fully tackle climate change without addressing the goods and services lifecycle of consumer products.
We have been working on the reduction of certain consumer products with Santa Barbara Channelkeeper for more than a decade. And I’m proud to introduce my partner in all things plastic, and today’s co moderator Penny Owens.
Penny Owens, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper: Thanks so much, Kathi. Well, like CEC, this topic – circular economy – is not something that Santa Barbara Channelkeeper is directly associated with, but it also has implications on our work to protect and restore the Santa Barbara Channel and its watersheds, as well as climate change.
Plastic is ubiquitous. It’s everywhere we look for it in the environment. It’s in the air we breathe, the food we eat, our streams, rivers, and oceans. It pollutes at all stages of its lifecycle from extraction, processing and production, and end of life. As we’ve talked about in previous plastic webinars, the plastic production, particularly plastic packaging, is projected to increase significantly in the coming decades. In fact, the industry’s stated goal is to increase plastic production from 8% of current total fossil fuel use to 25% in the next five years.
Together, Channelkeeper and CEC have successfully advocated for six regional laws to reduce single use plastic. These laws have resulted in significant reduction at the source. More than 140 million plastic bags per year have been eliminated from circulation in our region. Thanks to these laws, and in addition to significant reduction of foam to go containers, and plastic straws, lids and cutlery. We’re not done yet. We look forward to advocating for the city of Goleta and Santa Barbara County to adopt EPS to-go foam container laws as well.
In addition to reducing single use plastic in our own backyard, these local laws help demonstrate and build support for statewide laws, which can have greater impact. And those can then lead to support for national legislation and greater system changes.
Through Channelkeeper’s 20 years of keeping watch for clean water, and in particular, our past 10 years working with CEC and other community partners, we see again and again how important education is. We also see the importance and the need to take a step back from “is my yogurt container really recyclable? Or what do I do with this plastic wrapper- can it go to the film plastic diversion project?” We need to look at how we can make meaningful changes towards more sustainable systems regionally, nationally, and even globally, including our consumer products, many of which, at the end of their lifecycle, in our current system, end up polluting our streams and rivers and oceans.
So thanks from Channelkeeper and me for joining us for this really important conversation today. We really look forward to learning with you. And to the discussions that follow.
And now we want to hear from you, all of our attendees. Here we have our very first poll of the webinar today. And we’re going to ask you a question, looking at your familiarity with the circular economy concept. Iris, thanks so much.
Are you familiar with the term circular economy? Give folks a few minutes.
Kathi King, CEC: So do any products you currently use meet that definition? Packaging tape back for reuse, textile reprocessing, etc. So we’ll give folks a minute to answer the poll. And then when we’ve got the results, we will share them with you.
And also the next little segment that we have for you is kind of a treat. CEC’s in-house graphic designer has created a little video on circular economy that we will share. 81% of you are familiar with the term circular economy, and 60% of you have products that you use that meet the definition, which is really nice to see that much familiarity and also that you are also already actively participating in this. We have a very advanced group here with us today. Thank you for that. So Iris, let’s run that video.
Making more circular choices (video)
Penny Owens, SBCK: All righty. Thanks so much again to the Pharos team – Lisa and Andrew – for that great little intro video.
It is now our pleasure to introduce Dr. Roland Geyer, Professor of Environmental Science with the Bren School at UC Santa Barbara. Roland Geyer is interested in the lifecycle of manufactured goods, the processes in the form of energy and material flows that are related to transforming raw materials into products, and ultimately waste, and then the environmental and economic potential of reuse and recycling activities. He uses the approaches and methods of industrial ecology, such as life cycle assessment and materials flows analysis to assess energy efficiency and pollution prevention strategies based on recycling, reuse, and material and technology substitution. Dr. Geyer also combines these approaches with research methods from operations management, and other fields in order to study the relationship between environmental performance, economic viability, and technological and operational feasibility of energy efficiency and pollution prevention strategies. His overarching goal is to help develop the science and knowledge necessary to reduce the environmental impact from industrial production and consumption. Dr. Geyer, thanks so much for joining us.
Dr. Roland Geyer, UC Santa Barbara: Hey, good morning, everyone. Thank you, Penny, for that kind introduction and Kathi for having me being part of this. So I’m ready to have the slides shared.
Circular Economy 101
And so, just to let you know, I’ve been thinking about this for over 20 years now. Actually when I started researching in 1998, reuse and recycling, we did not call it circular economy – that’s a newer development. I just used to call it reuse and recycling, pretty much still do. But I’ve been thinking about the circular economy ever since – still do research basically daily on it. So that’s a lot of data, a lot of information, I have 10 minutes to share it with you. It’s just going to be a couple of highlights, a few things that I feel really strongly about. If you want to learn more about my research and my group, they finally have a website up and running. So here’s the URL down there. You’re looking at lovely Bren Hall here. But let’s move on to the next slide.
The Circular Economy life cycle
So for me, the circular economy takes pre and post consumer waste and turns it into useful things that I call secondary outputs, secondary products, or components or materials. And as you know, we very much still have a linear, I would call it a linear, production paradigm. We have a supply chain that makes virgin materials and then turns them into components, assembles the components into a product, a final product, which then gets sold and delivered, and then we use it in our households. Until it’s no longer of use for us, either because it’s reached the end of its life or we’re just done with it. And then usually the fate is disposal. So typically, that means landfill or worse. That’s how most things are made, used and disposed of. The idea of the circular economy is to close that linear supply chain and turn it into a supply loop. And essentially we can do this on sort of three levels.
We can do it on a material level, on a component level, or a product level. And there are many words that describe these sort of basic things: refurbishing, remanufacturing, reuse, recycling typically means material recovery, but in the end, it sort of comes down to roughly those three levels. Are we recovering materials only, are we recovering components from an end of life product, or are we trying to actually give the entire product a second life. So just examples: material recycling – recycled metals, paper, cardboard, glass, plastics, not that much.There are some positive stories, but overall the recycling rate in the US of plastics has gone below 9% sadly, which is why plastics is very much in the news at the moment.
Component reuse examples would be reusing building components, reusing spare parts from crap vehicles rather than buying brand new spare parts from the vehicle manufacturers. Retread tires would be an example when it comes to reusing an entire product. Examples would be cell phones – cell phones last much longer than we typically use them. We only use it for one to two years. But the actual product lifetime technically of a cell phone is more like eight to 10 years. So we could reuse it multiple times.
And there are business models out there that reuse cell phones, other electronics, the same. Secondhand clothes are an example of product reuse. Refurbished furniture would be another example. Many examples of reuse happening, recycling happening. Having said that, we still very much live in a linear production paradigm world. And there are reasons for that.
What do we determine the environmental benefits of reuse and recycling?
Before we move on to some of the obstacles, the challenges of the circular economy, actually how do we determine the environmental benefits of reuse and recycling. And here, essentially we need to look at the additional environmental impacts that come through collection of the waste or the end of life product. And then the additional impacts of reprocessing be that a recycling plant or a remanufacturing process. Those are additional impacts which need to be weighed against the avoided impacts that will determine the benefits of reuse and recycling. And here, it’s avoided impacts of primary material and component production and avoided impacts of waste disposal.
On the right side, you can see I have a little example for you. One kilogram of recycled PET, that’s your number one plastic that soda bottles are made out of, you can see that impacts of collection and reprocessing add up to a bit more than a kilogram of CO2 equivalent. So that’s the indicator for climate change. However, if that recycled PET avoids a kilogram of virgin PET, and then therefore also avoids waste disposal a kilogram of PET, then that reduces or saves emissions of over 2.7-2.8 almost kilograms of CO2 equivalent. We have a net environmental benefit of 1.6 kilograms CO2 equivalent.
So you can see that in order to be an environmental success, the circular economy needs to reduce our use of primary resources and our consumption of primary products. That is critical for the circular economy to reduce environmental impacts. And so sometimes people say, well, what else should it do and it could, in the worst case, it could lead to overall increased consumption. Making lots of recycled material available doesn’t necessarily mean that we will use less material overall, so those two things need to play hand in hand for the circular economy to really make an environmental difference. Just keep in mind that climate change is one environmental impact. CO2 is one environmental indicator. There may be other environmental reasons and indicators we want to use to determine the benefits of the circular economy.
So, as I mentioned earlier, the circular economy does have some serious obstacles to overcome. And so, I try to break them down into three groups of obstacles.
The Circular Economy has to overcome a series of obstacles
The first one – next slide – basically, there it is. So of course, first we need to access the end of life products, we need to be able to access them, we need to collect them. And so I call that the collection constraints. This waste is very dispersed, it may not be economically viable to even go out and collect. Someone in the industry calls the PET bottle the other day, “the rock star of plastic recycling,” and sadly, the rock star of plastic recycling still only has a collection rate of 30% overall in the US. We can see that collection can be a serious constraint to making the circular economy happen.
Once we have things collected, say here in Santa Barbara, we are lucky we have curbside recycling, then the reprocessing needs to actually be technically or economically viable. It’s not good enough to collect the waste and be able to do so. But we need technologies, we need processes, that can convert those end of life products and waste into useful secondary output materials or components. One example here in California we’re currently struggling with is that the fact that PET thermaforms, so clam shells here is one example, are currently not being recycled. So PET bottles frequently get converted into, when they get recycled, those thermaform that we may buy our berries in. But then these containers are currently not being recycled for a mix of technical and economic reasons. That will be the next obstacle.
And then finally, of course, it’s not good enough to just generate secondary products, but we need market demand for those products. So you know, we as households need to want to use those secondary products, instead of the new products, which very often are, unfortunately, very cheap. The economics can be really challenging there. As an example here I did many years ago – looked into markets for second hand or refurbished electronics, and in developed economies, the demand for refurbished electronics is just very, very low, for better or worse.
That is just a very, very brief overview of some very basic considerations. I’ll hope you’ll find that stimulating and useful, and I’ll hand it over to Kathi and Penny.
Kathi King, CEC: Thank you very much, Dr. Geyer. Really appreciated that very broad, but very informational overview.
We have a moment here, we could take a couple questions, if there were any. I don’t see any yet in the Q & A box.
One thing that struck me when you were talking is that you said this might lead to increased consumption. And so something that I think about when I think that we’re going to cut some production out of the system is where the jobs are going to go. So do you see this as a job creation opportunity?
Roland Geyer, UCSB: Absolutely, I think there is. And I actually think it’s really important that we sort of point out the social and environmental sustainability benefits of a circular economy. So what happens is that reuse and recycling activities tend to be more labor intensive than virgin production activities, just because some of those processes are harder to automate and have to be run by machines. And that can create economic challenges, right? Because then you have a high labor cost. But I actually think we could turn this argument on its head and say, no, this is actually great, because not only do we generate environmental benefits, but we generate social sustainability co-benefits by creating jobs.
Kathi King, CEC: Excellent. That’s a great co-benefit. Then we have one question here from Elena Ortiz: Is the low PET bottle recycling due to people simply not recycling them and then ending up in the landfill or due to contaminated bottles because they’re being recycled without being clean first? So asking why is that lower rate on PET recycling.
Roland Geyer, UCSB: Right. I do think obviously, in California, that collection rate is much, much higher. And the reason for that is that California has a so-called bottle bill. Right there is the CRV redemption value, which sort of adds an economic incentive to actually return the bottle. And we do have curbside recycling available in many places in California, but that is simply not the case throughout the country. Very often, yes, once once a PET soda bottle makes it into a recycling stream, I would say it’s almost guaranteed to be recycled. With PET bottles it’s mostly just creating the incentive to the households and the individual consumer to actually make sure this item gets returned. Same thing with the aluminum can which has phenomenal economics and the environmental benefits of aluminum recycling are outstanding. But even with the aluminum can the collection rate US average is only 50%. Sadly, currently.
Kathi King, CEC: Yeah, wow, that’s really low.We can improve on that. Well, thank you very much. And thank you for letting us take a couple questions there. We will see there’s more questions popping in but we’ll move along now and come back to a broader Q & A session as we close out.
But now I would like to introduce you to our next speaker, Sarah Palladino, who is the Community Relations Manager and Culture Steward at Toad & Co. You may remember they used to be called Horny Toad. Sarah aims to connect Toad & Co with environmental and social initiatives within our community. She embraces the culture and mission statement of Toad & Co to live every day as an adventure, and hopes to inspire others to do the same. Sarah’s background is environmental geoscience and she has previous experience as a consultant leading environmental remediation projects. Sarah is an environmental and sustainability advocate who believes in grassroots initiatives that can spark widespread change. Thank you for joining us today.
Sarah Palladino, Toad & Co: Thank you so much, Kathi.
I think we have a poll to start off the presentation. Iris, if you want to pop that up. Thank you. So what’s the most sustainable item of clothing? Let’s see the results here, see what everyone’s thinking.
All right, so we’ve got overwhelming for vintage items purchased secondhand, everyone’s going in the right direction. But it’s a trick question, because the answer is none of the above. The most sustainable item of clothing is the one you already own.
We’re going to go a little bit into that in the presentation. But thank you, Kathi, for the introduction. As she mentioned, I am going to be talking about Toad & Co and why the circular economy is important in the apparel industry, and what options you have as a consumer to make the most sustainable choices.
Toad & Co.
So Toad & Co is a Santa Barbara based outdoor lifestyle clothing brand. And since 1997, we have been focused on cleaning up the apparel industry, educating consumers on eco materials and trying to build the most sustainable and circular business that we can.
I'm With Her
The apparel industry is unfortunately the fourth largest polluter on earth. And that makes a lot of sense because we live in a society that values fast fashion and the ability to buy a lot of really cheap items, and then throw them away when they’re out of style or not wanted anymore. But making clothes has a huge environmental impact. And it goes everywhere from massive amounts of water consumption to chemical additives used to treat and dye the yarn to greenhouse gas emissions from production to deforestation and soil degradation. What’s even worse about all of this is that the clothing item that just made a huge impact on the environment will likely end up getting incinerated or will end up in a landfill. That’s why as an organization that is ultimately creating more clothes, it’s essential that we follow a circular business model and make the most sustainable choices.
The Circular Model
In a circular model, we look at every step in our supply chain to reduce waste and increase longevity of a garment. We start with only using low impact materials and we design durable items that are made to last. And we only work with production partners that are environmentally focused and hold up to our environmental standards and required certifications. Once our garments actually make it to a store or our ecommerce platform to be sold, we work with partners who are also focused on the circular economy to repair, reuse, and recycle that garment so that it ends up in a circular model and there isn’t any waste associated and they don’t end up in the landfill. So I’m going to be going into some detail about each of these steps.
If you’re making a new garment, you have to start with new raw materials. And most fabrics used in fast fashion are synthetic, such as polyester, acrylic, and nylon. These are actually made from fossil fuels, and they’re extremely harmful to the planet to make Those materials contrast with natural materials like cotton and wool and bamboo. And although natural fibers are definitely a step up from synthetics, there are sustainable natural fiber options such as organic cotton, hemp and tensile which have a really low impact on the environment and are much better for production. Organic cotton is grown using no GMOs, no toxic chemicals and uses traditional farming techniques, which result in 80% less water and 62% less energy to produce than conventional cotton. Hemp is another great plant that is a really low impact – doesn’t use any pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or GMO seeds. And hemp is actually also a phyto-remediated plant, so it decontaminates soil by absorbing pollutants through its root system, and clean, shallow groundwater and associated soils. Tensile is another really incredible plant. It’s actually harvested from sustainable eucalyptus trees and these trees don’t require a lot of space or water to grow naturally. And so it makes them inherently good on the environment. The wood pulp that is used and is processed and actually creates the yarn is made with non toxic solvents in a closed loop system, where 99% of those solvents are actually recovered and recycled, so there’s very minimal waste associated with that process. In addition to using some of these natural and sustainable fibers, we also look to third party certifications like Bluesign, and Eco Techs to make sure that material that we’re using has stood up to the rigors of the certification process, so that it actually meets our sustainability standards.
So all the natural materials that I just spoke about, they’re great, and they’re sustainable and much better than synthetics, but if we want to make an item out of virgin material, it’s going to use natural resources no matter what. That’s why if we are trying to progress to a 100% circular system, products no longer have a beginning, middle and end. We want every product to add value to their ecosystem. And once they stop being used, they go back into the useful cycle. We make clothes out of recycled cotton, recycled wool and recycled polyester. Recycled cotton is literally just shredded up old fabric pieces of cotton and doesn’t take any water or chemicals to make. And recycled polyester is actually made from post consumer plastic water bottles, which is actually taking the water bottles straight out of the landfill, which it shouldn’t be in in the first place and making it into something that can be reused and used again.
The future of fashion is circular
In the design process, we’re also designing so that we’re making sure that all of our materials that we’re using are designed to last a long time and can remain relevant. And in the best fashion clothes go in and out of style every season. Instead we’re trying to create intentional and classic designs that will never actually end up as waste. One really easy way to have a sustainable and circular wardrobe is to purchase vintage items instead of brand new items. Shopping for vintage is not what it used to be. You don’t have to spend hours in dusty and smelly racks looking for one good item.
On Toad & Co’s website, you can actually buy vintage items just as easily as you buy a new item. We’ve actually partnered with a really great organization ThredUp which is an ecommerce platform. They’re committed to circularity and giving clothes a second life. So it’s a really easy process. You literally ask for a cleanout kit, they send you a free shipping label and you put all your old clothes in a box, and for every one item that you send back to them and goes back into the circular economy, it actually extends the life of that garment for 2.2 years and reduces its carbon waste and water footprints by 82 percent. So it’s a win win. If they can resell the item, they’re going to send you a check. If they can’t resell it, then they’re going to recycle it responsibly. That textile is going to go back into the loop. And it’s going to be made into another item.
The shipping revolution begins now
As we continue to look at all aspects of our business, one of our major hurdles is our shipping waste. How do you get these garments, sustainable or not, to a consumer in a sustainable way. There’s 165 billion packages shipped to the US each year, which equals more than 1 billion trees and 140 billion gallons of water used. At the rate that our ecommerce platform, everyone’s ecommerce businesses, are growing, recycling plants can’t keep up with that demand. We really need to have different long term solutions.
We partnered with an organization called Line Loop and we are trying to transition to all reusable shippers instead of our normal recycled paper mailers. These shippers are made from durable vinyl, and they’re actually made from old billboards. The billboard comes down and it’s upcycled into this reusable shipper. The way these work is that you’re a customer and you’re trying to purchase something from our website, you opt into using a reusable shipper to get your items, you get a return label, it gets shipped back to our warehouse and is reused and reused and reused again for a lifespan of about 10 years. These are pretty incredible shipping options for people and it’s a really major step in for a business to become circular and for a consumer to opt into a sustainable shipping method.
The Renewal Workshop
We are proud to be one of the founding members of the Renewal Workshop, which is a recommerce program that cleans, repairs, renews and certifies old clothing items to be resold. The renewal workshop has identified that 82% of inventory that has been deemed unsellable due to stains or holes or just normal wear and tear can actually be fixed and resold. We work with the Renewal Workshop by sending Toad garments that are old and stained and a thrift store won’t even take them. They’ll actually restore them and resell them to another consumer. In addition to that, as a partner of the Renewal Workshop, they actually provide us with feedback to our designers and our team so that we can know about the limitations and the options that we have in our design choices to make sure that everything we create can ultimately be renewed or recycled.
The Circular Model
To go back to this original diagram of the linear versus the circular model, it’s really important to note that potentially the most important piece of this model is the last step, in which the consumer has all of the power. We as the consumer have the power to decide what we initially purchase. Is it recycled material? Is it synthetic? Is it a natural fiber? We have the power to decide where that item ends up when it finishes its lifecycle with us and we don’t have any use for it anymore. We have the power to change our mindset from “this is waste” to “this has value”. The consumer is the one that can create the demand for the circular economy so that more and more brands and organizations can move towards a circular model. What I empower everyone to do today is go home and look in your closet. What are your clothes made out of? Can you fix them if they’re ripped? Can you recognize that there is a lot of value in that item? And also recognize that there’s a huge environmental impact that went into making that one item? What is your choice going to be to get that item back into a circular model once you’re done with it. I’d love to take any questions if anyone has any.
Penny Owens, SBCK: Thanks so much, Sarah. That was a great presentation. And it’s really fun to hear what a local company is doing to make their product part of the circular economy. I just want to say, I feel like it was a couple years ago, we actually ordered some clothes from you guys online. I was so excited to try that reusable shipper as you called it. We popped it back in the mail and sent it back to you guys and it worked great.
Let’s look at some of our questions here. We do have quite a few up. Looks like we have someone interested in, and you touched on this a little bit, the cost of growing the process and transporting fabrics internationally instead of locally.
Sarah Palladino, T&C: The cost and the environmental impact of that… There’s a lot that you have to look at. A lot of different parts of the supply chain. When we’re looking at our supply chain and our producers or the factories that are actually making our garments, we have to ensure that they have all the environmental certifications that they need, so that they will meet our standards. We have a really rigorous process. An example of that is our factory that makes our hemp and the growing process is all solar farms. We try within every single aspect of that supply chain to say, how is this farm growing its plants, what sustainable practices they’re using. And that’s something that we are continuously working on. The organization’s been around for 25 years and we’ve grown these partners and have a lot of really great partnerships .That is something that we focus on when we actually make a new partner or we work with a new manufacturer.
Penny Owens, SBCK: Great, thanks, Sarah. Some of the questions that folks are asking: Where can we take shoes and other clothing? We’ll actually come back to that with some of our upcoming speakers. But there was a question and it wasn’t a resource you talked about, but they were asking, How is bamboo as a source, sustainability wise?
Sarah Palladino, T&C: Yeah, bamboo is actually not very sustainable fiber. It’s actually because it takes a lot of water and chemicals to break it down. If you think about bamboo, it’s so hard and hearty, it actually takes a lot to break it apart. A better alternative to bamboo is something like tensile, which is extremely soft, and a really incredible fabric. And that doesn’t take as much to actually break down the eucalyptus tree. Bamboo would be on our list of not so great fabrics and fibers. On our website, there’s a sustainability cheat sheet. You can look and just quickly understand, what is sustainable, what is not. You can make really quick choices, and we can send that out after the presentation as well.
Penny Owens, SBCK: That is great, that’d be a great resource to share. That’s really interesting, too, because I knew bamboo was really fast growing and used a lot of water. But I didn’t think about how fibrous the material is, and the resources and energy that go into breaking that into a usable fiber. It’s really interesting.
And just real quick. Someone just had a question: Is it only according to Horny Toad working with the Renewal Workshop, or are there other companies? And then we unfortunately will have to get to the rest of the questions at the end of our webinar.
Sarah Palladino, T&C: Yeah, a lot. There are other organizations that are working with the Renewal Workshop, we just kind of helped get them founding members and started working with them from the beginning. But lots of organizations work with them. And I can give as well an address so that you know where you can send your items to be renewed, so that they can get a new life.
Penny Owens, SBCK: That’s so great. That’s so fun to hear about all the new resources coming up beyond our local thrift stores and supporting those as well. Thank you so much again, Sarah, that was really interesting and so informative, and I’m going to hand it back to Kathi now who’s going to introduce our next speaker.
Kathi King, CEC: Thank you, Penny. Here we go. Moving along.
We’re going to hear from the City of Santa Barbara and Bryan Latchford is the Public Information Officer for the City of Santa Barbara Environmental Services Division. Bryan’s role is to help the public understand how to fully utilize the modern solid waste services provided by the city. Bryan joined the division in 2015 and brings a wealth of experience in marketing and communications for sustainability. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and earth Science from Cornell University, and a master’s degree in environmental science and management from UCSB’s Bren School, and I think Bryan’s going to start with a poll.
Bryan Latchford, City of Santa Barbara: Yes. Yeah. Start with a quick little poll. How many pounds of trash are created per day per resident in the city of Santa Barbara?
Kathi King, CEC: And this is per day. When I was looking at this the other day, I thought this was per year and I thought oh, that’s not true.
Bryan Latchford, CofSB: Yeah, this is per day per resident for the city of Santa Barbara. Not necessarily going to different communities – have to guess for us. Okay. All right. This is pretty good, so six was the highest guess and then four. If we want to move on to the first slide, or I guess, maybe the second slide. And the next slide, please.
Daily waste disposal limit
It’s actually six. As of 2017 six pounds of trash disposed per day per resident. If you’re thinking about that, maybe it seems like too much, we have to think about where trash actually comes from. It’s not just what we throw out at home, it’s what we throw it in our businesses, in our offices, but it’s also our impact for trash community-wide. If you’re going to a restaurant or shopping in a retail store, those places are also generating trash based on what they’re providing to you, as well as services like infrastructure, materials used for you know, water, gas electric use, there’s trash being disposed of in those areas, as well. We do all have a kind of a shared impact by living in the community.
Keep materials in use
I wanted to kind of put the perspective back on the City of Santa Barbara. I’m in the Environmental Services Division, our wheelhouse really is recycled materials and trying to divert things from the landfill, back into the system, and also making suggestions for how to do that – where to bring your objects and trying to keep materials in use. That’s been what we’ve been focusing on the last few decades since this office even existed, the services we have been providing, but we really need to start shifting our focus. I’ll talk about some of the other things on the circular economy kind of wheel here. First, I’ll kind of focus on what things we’ve been doing recently to improve our diversion from the landfill.
There’s a new facility that’s being built up at the Tajiguas landfill, which is just north of Santa Barbara called the ReSource Center. It’s a new facility being built by Santa Barbara County. And the funding for this facility is coming from increased trash rates, which are impacted across the county wide. Anyone who’s paying for trash services will be essentially funding this new project and Sarah Stark from Marborg will be talking more about the specifics of what is happening at this facility. Marborg has been contracted to run the Materials Recovery Facility up there. But I wanted to bring this resource center up because it’s a huge project, about 130 plus million dollars, in order to better process our materials locally. And by better, I mean by increasing our diversion from the landfill, possibly up to 85% is the goal. And so the reason we’re doing that is because we know moving forward in time, we’re going to have more and more materials and we need to do better at limiting our greenhouse gas impacts and diverting those materials. At the same time, we need to reflect on the fact that we are assuming that we’re going to be generating more and more materials, because that’s not always the best approach. We’re taking care of what we know to be the future, but we really need to shift our behaviors.
A lot of things in our daily lives are not recyclable. And unfortunately, there’s a big reason for that – a lot of these materials are really flimsy, low quality materials. And they were sold to us or given to us as a consumer, because they were the cheapest option. They’re the easiest thing to produce. They’re usually virgin materials, for instance, a lot of these plastics are not made from recyclable sources. No matter what we can keep trying to focus on once we have something in our hands, what do we do with it? How do we get it recycled? There really is a lot going on in the kind of upper circular economy model that we need to start focusing on really shifting our behavior to do that.
Shipped to China
And the reason is, we can keep focusing on recycling markets, but recycling markets only exist when there are companies out there that want to recycle the material and want to bring that material back into the fold. The only reason that will happen is that more companies are then using recycled content, and actually investing in materials and spending possibly more money to use recycled materials rather than virgin materials and choosing more durable components.
A lot of our plastics, we’re seeing a big drop off in the last few years that we can keep focusing on recycling bottles. If there’s not a market, like what happened in 2018, where China decided that they didn’t want to impact our environment as much and accept most of our plastics and paper, all of a sudden the market drops out and a lot of these lower quality plastics, we don’t have anywhere to send. We really do need to long term shift our focus.
We need to move up this wheel, we need to think about focusing on keeping products in use and overall decreasing consumption. That’s why I brought up that poll. It’s not necessarily just about trying to get things recycled, it’s about decreasing consumption overall, and that includes the amount of materials that we’re generating, that we expect there to be a spot to recycle them and keep them out of the landfill.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
We’ve all heard the three Rs, and it’s in this order for a reason. It’s not just the fun saying. It’s actually a hierarchy: reduce first and foremost, reuse second, and lastly recycle, when you couldn’t have done the other two. Then of course, after that we have disposal into our landfill or some other source. But reducing is always the most impactful on the environment and on the system.
What can you do? Do a waste audit!
What can we do as individuals moving forwards? Really think about our lives and kind of do what we call a waste audit. Thinking about what you’re purchasing, what you’re throwing away. Where can you save money? Did you really need that extra tool, or could you have borrowed it from someone else for that one time you’re going to use it a year? Buying and fixing durable goods. Thinking about, well, this is broken, let me look locally to see if there’s something I can fix. I had a lamp that broke and I actually brought it to a lamp store recently, and had it rewired instead of buying a new lamp. Better planning overall. That really goes for food purchases as well – making sure that food isn’t going bad first, making sure that you know what’s in your fridge and in your cupboards before you go and buy more.
Buying used and selling used. Trying to keep some of the things that are already out there, and rather than buying new materials, and demanding better from the products, making sure we’re buying better materials, more durable materials, and that we’re asking more of the companies that are selling us these products – to invest in take-back programs. To invest in valuing the end of life of their own products.
A few quick things that you can do are just really try and get rid of those single use products in your daily life. Nowadays, it’s a little harder with COVID. Of course in some of our to go restaurants, a lot of restaurants or a lot of the supermarkets weren’t allowing reusable bags, but some are now as long as you’re bagging things yourself. But there are a lot of single use things that we can just first and foremost get rid of and are super low, super low quality. We’re not really going to be able to recycle those to begin with.
Also I put in there challenge vendors again – ask more from the places you’re buying products. Say, Hey, where do I recycle this? What do I do when I’m done using this product that you are selling me? Because they should know exactly what’s going to happen to that product and reuse containers that you can’t normally recycle. We’ve had a change where food plastic containers are no longer recyclable. You can use those at home for Tupperware. There are many uses that we can give the products that we already have and we kind of already expect to throw out. We just need to do a little bit more digging for that.
A big thing for restaurants and just any other business that is kind of giving out single use products, even for office spaces, is really focusing on washables, focusing on spending a little more time cleaning. Spending a little more investment in the beginning to get some washable materials rather than just buying really cheap, single use products. They’re going to exit the facility and then get thrown out somewhere else and fall onto the consumer. That’s a really big way we can just get rid of a lot of the single use products that end up in the trash.
Design out pollution, design out waste
Focusing beyond the repair and reuse and decreasing our waste consumption. This area is really focused on the actual initial products, focusing on the businesses and having them design out the waste from the very start. Thinking about what is going to happen to this product as my customer uses it and then what they’re going to do once it’s done being used, and designing out the solution. That could be essentially in the distribution channel. Shipping, how can you package it smaller?
How can you fit more into this the one package that you’re already getting out there? There are many ways to do that. Just to give you an idea of how this connects to some of the businesses and what they can do. This is one example where we actually have some take back programs, specifically with beverages. Caje Coffee, Juice Ranch, they all give out a material, whether it be a smoothie in a sealed bottle, or whether it be coffee in a cup, and they include a deposit. Sometimes it’s a few dollars just to get that cup, but that also provides an incentive for the material to come back to them. You return it and you either get a refund for that deposit, or they replace it with another one. They clean and sanitize and refill it. And there we go. We don’t have to worry about that impacting recycling system because it’s actually just getting reused and contained in that system. Those are some local examples and we’ll go to the next slide for some national examples.
This is a bigger picture. There are some companies that are now realizing, okay, we do need to invest in this take back program for a lot of our materials. This is a company called Loop that is now trying to work with some of the biggest brands to actually get reusable containers which you purchase with an increased deposit. You send it back in a box or bag – there’s of course shipping greenhouse gases associated with that. At Lush Cosmetics you can actually bring back the containers and they clean and refill them. Concentrated cleaning solution is one thing I’m seeing. Most of our cleaning solutions and liquid detergents and stuff are not concentrated and are just a ton of water. And we have water at the tap at home. So buying smaller bottles and concentrate and actually diluting yourself with your own water saves a ton of greenhouse gas and shipping that, essentially, just water all across the US.
These are some national trends that we’re seeing, but it’s still a very small number of businesses that are doing this. We do have to, as a society, shift to putting some burden back onto the businesses or the manufacturers that are producing these materials.
In thinking about this, there’s of course a lot of power in purchasing, and you can choose, but sometimes there really isn’t a way to do that. There really aren’t other options for better recyclable products. In the area of organic waste, for instance, there is some new legislation asking municipalities to now go back in and say, okay, talk to your restaurants, talk to supermarkets, make sure that there’s planning and there are ways for organics to not get wasted. Essentially make sure that we can recover some edible food. There’s always edible food out there that’s just getting thrown out. Can we set up systems where that food is recovered? There’s the Santa Barbara Food Action Network in town and that’s going to be a huge impact on our edible food recovery. There has been some legislation that tried to increase circularity in materials, at state level, saying essentially, if you’re going to create something and sell it out to California, it needs to have some sort of recyclability built into the material. Unfortunately, we still need more purchasing power. We need more support for these initiatives so that we can hold companies to a better standard so that the burden doesn’t fall on the consumer and the individual.
And I think that’s my last slide. Again, I’ll leave you with, if there are any questions about purchasing decisions like how do I buy a greener product? What is greener? Is this recyclable? If there are any kind of questions like that, as a business or an individual, our team is always here to help. Our phone number’s right there. And that’s our website. We’re here to answer questions.
Kathi King, CEC: Thank you, Bryan.
I have a question. We have questions piling up in the Q & A, but I get to go first. One area that I was listening for and would like to hear a little bit more about is compostable containers. That’s a question that comes up for us quite often. And also, some of the grocery stores, there’s one particular one in town that’s using the compostable produce bags now. Those turn up a lot in our collection that we do with Ablitt’s, which they are not allowed in because they obviously are not plastic and break down differently. What are people supposed to think about compostable containers?
Bryan Latchford, CofSB: Well, there’s all different types of compostable containers, but I would say the biggest and most important thing is that if it looks and feels like plastic, it’s probably plastic. Plastic is just a type of material. It could be made from plants, or it could be made from oil. A lot of the plastics, the compostable plastics that we’re seeing out there, are potentially compostable, they can break down into their components with high heat and processing in a specialized facility, which your area has to have. You have to have a collection system to collect it and bring it to that facility. There are a lot of caveats to the products when a company says it’s compostable. It doesn’t mean it’s compostable everywhere, because you might not actually have those facilities to do that. It’s really important to think about compostable as still single use. You’re still buying it and you’re throwing it away and then needs to get handled and shipped and processed and turned into something else. That’s still a lot of energy and resources. Was there a way we could have avoided that single use product altogether? For a lot of the ones that look and feel like plastic – those are by far the worst those bags, for instance. They are a type of plastic, it’s a bio plastic. It’s so thin that I think some of them are backyard compostable, which means you don’t need a high heat processing facility. But unfortunately if certain things like that get out into the environment, say a cool ocean water, that thing might break down a little bit in the UV light, but it’s still going to look and act like any other plastic bag out in the ocean. We do need to think that it’s not necessarily better if there’s not a place for it. If a business says it’s recyclable or compostable, that’s not true. You need to check with your local municipality, because recycling rules vary based on city, county and state. Unfortunately, there’s not enough rules out there to regulate those kinds of phrases like recyclable and compostable products.
Kathi King, CEC: Right, thank you. That’s a really good point, that compostable containers are still single use and still take a certain kind of energy to make them. We should be cognizant of that and not think of that as some sort of cure all. Just a follow up to that in our question and answer section. Patty is asking, and this could be kind of a loaded question, so sorry about that Bryan, will Santa Barbara ever have a residential composting program?
Bryan Latchford, CofSB: As of right now, the Resource Center, which Sarah will go through a little bit more in the next presentation, is set up and designed to actually pull our organics out of the trash. Any of the organic materials would be soiled paper, like napkins or paper towels, or food waste, for instance, that stuff will get pulled out and will be anaerobically digested and turned into compost and renewable energy essentially. As of right now, the biggest issue with implementing a municipal composting system is that you not only need a different collection system, you need new bins in an already space constrained city, you need different trucks to pick those up, and different routes for that one type of material. The infrastructure is a big cost. Even in other very, very green cities that have had these residential composting facilities, they still only see a very small participation, and an even smaller amount of actual material recovered from that. It’s a big upfront cost and potentially an even bigger greenhouse gas contributor, if you’re thinking about all the different truck routes and everything going on there. And for very little return. So what we’ve decided to do is invest in the Resource Center to cover that, but we are thinking about rolling out a pilot for some municipal family and multi unit family apartment buildings that would start to do that. And we already have composting for our schools and for businesses. Offices are included in that.
Kathi King, CEC: Yeah, that’s great to hear. And it has to be correct – there’s no room for error on that. So thank you, Bryan. If you have more questions for Bryan, you can keep contributing them to the Q & A, and we will get back at the end of the session with the main Q & A.
For right now we have another video to share with you. This one focuses on what individuals can do as part of a barter system circular economy.
How the Hills barter as part of a circular lifestyle (video)
Penny Owens, SBCK: Thanks again to the Pharos team for that great video. It’s fun to think about alternative economies.
And for our final speaker today I’m very pleased to introduce Sarah Stark. She’s been busy answering a lot of questions already in the chat. Thanks so much, Sarah. Sarah Stark is the Environmental Compliance and Outreach Coordinator with Marborg Industries and her role with Marborg is that she works closely with the City of Santa Barbara and surrounding jurisdictions to ensure that businesses and residential complexes are in compliance with state and local recycling laws. In addition, she gives tours and provides other outreach opportunities to children and adults from preschool to retirement communities. She earned her master’s in environmental science and management from the Bren school at UC Santa Barbara where she also launched a nonprofit called Smarty Pants that teaches kids how to be good mental stewards. Thanks so much, Sarah, for joining us. We look forward to your presentation.
Sarah Stark, Marborg Industries: Thank you so much for the introduction.
I think I have a poll as well to start off. How many pounds of carpet are sent to California landfills each year? Just California, and in one year. Started off on a positive note. All right, let’s see. Oh, wow. Good job.
The correct answer is 320 million pounds. You guys are right on. Awesome. I am ready for my slides. Thank you. All right.
Today, I’m going to be walking through a few different types of materials and talking about how they fit into a circular economy, as well as looking at some innovations in that space for how we deal with these materials. I’m going to start by talking about two bulky items: carpet, as I just hinted at, and mattresses, and then we’ll go into commingled recycling and organics.
I wanted to start with carpet and mattresses because these two items have similar stories. They’re both considered what we call bulky or large items. They are recyclable, but it’s often inconvenient for people to recycle them or maybe just not easy to do so because we don’t take them in our regular recycling containers. Carpet, we have over 320 million pounds being sent to California landfills each year, as we just learned. And that’s largely due to the fact that we do not have a good recycling infrastructure for carpet. They’re a really complex material. They’re actually considered a system of parts, with the main components being face fibers, which is what you step on or what you feel, and then the backing. And although there are four common types of face fibers, they each have completely different properties. They do need to be separated if they’re going to be recycled.
In addition, the backing systems can consist of several different components. Usually it’s latex or PVC that fuses the backing to the front, which renders carpets almost impossible to separate. Sometimes they even throw polypropylene in the mix, so another type of plastic is in there. And then the filler is often an entirely different material, usually calcium carbonate. All of the steps in collecting carpet, separating them, shredding them, and recycling them, leads to a really expensive recycling process.
In 2002, a nonprofit known as CARE was established. And that stands for Carpet America Recovery Act. This is a national nonprofit that oversees carpet recycling, and reclamation goals and targets that were established by the carpet industry along with a number of states, the EPA and some NGOs. They oversee the California carpet stewardship program, which is obviously what we have in our state. In 2010, a law was enacted to incentivize the growth of carpet reclamation and recycling in California. And one of the ways that they do this is by implementing a fee. It’s called an assessment fee on carpet. At the point of sale, for any carpet sold and shipped in California, it costs 35 cents per square yard. This fee actually helps to establish a market for post consumer products.
Post consumer products
Carpets can be recycled, they can be recycled into fiber or plastic pellets, and then turned into new products. Some of the examples are pictured here. Other examples include railroad ties, composite lumber, roofing, shingles, it can even be recycled back into carpet itself. But it is important to know that a lot of these items are being down cycled. At the end of the day, at the end of their lives, I guess I should say, they will be ending up in the landfill regardless. It’s kind of a step in the circularity direction, but not truly a circular economy just yet.
Mattresses have a very similar story to carpet. Unfortunately, people throw these out with reckless abandon. I’m sure you’ve seen them around town. That’s a local picture of one of our mattresses. More than 50,000 are discarded in the United States each day. And just as we discussed with carpet, there’s really a lack of recycling infrastructure.
Bye Bye Mattress
Because they’re difficult to recycle, the Mattress Recycling Council has created a nationwide program known as Bye Bye Mattress. This is designed to encourage the public to bring mattresses to recycling centers to keep them out of the landfill and get them recycled. About 75% of a mattress can be recycled, so it’s certainly worth doing.
This image, if you can see, kind of breaks down where the components might go to be recycled into another use. Again, similar to carpet, we do have a fee on all mattresses and box springs that are sold in California. You pay $10 and 50 cents. That fee is set by the state of California, and it helps fund the recycling efforts in our state. This is a national program. But California, Connecticut and Rhode Island are the states that have the most robust mattress recycling programs so far.
With mattresses and carpets, we can sort of think about how their aspects of circularity were implemented after we created them. Creating post consumer markets and identifying how to recycle components of these items is great. But to be most effective in a circular economy, you really have to look at it from a design process.
There is a company, a European company based in the Netherlands called DSM Niaga. Niaga is the word again spelled backwards. And they have actually come up with a circular model for carpets and mattresses. Their carpets are really simplified, they’re made of either just one or two types of materials. Then the bread and butter of what they do is really what they call a click unclick adhesive. They’ve developed their own adhesive, which allows carpet to be fused together and then separated at the end of its life.
They’ve really created a closed loop system for their carpets, where they can create a carpet, pull it apart, get those components back, recycle them and make new carpet again. A really, really neat way that they do that.
Again, with the mattresses, it’s pretty similar. They’re using very minimal materials, just polyester and steel, and then their mattresses are actually modular and fully recyclable. You can pull apart the six components that might need to be replaced over the mattress’s life. And then they can do that, replace it with things like yarn or their adhesive or Velcro. At the end of the day, they take those materials back, repurpose them and use them again. There are challenges associated with creating a circular product like they’ve done. For one, you rely on getting those materials back at the end of the product’s life. Then you are designing that recycling infrastructure from the ground up. That can be a real challenge.
Moving toward circularity
Locally, our waste management efforts are moving towards circularity with the resource center that, as Bryan mentioned, is currently under construction at the Tajiguas landfill. And this multi jurisdictional project is designed to keep more of the cycles and organics out of the landfill. Because while one brand, building a supply chain for a product is awesome and definitely important, it can be really difficult to scale that. If we think about commingled recycling, that’s plastics, paper, metal and glass – anything we’re tossing in our curbside cart, one way to scale the circularity of those items is to make sure that we’re getting good high quality clean post consumer products to use for new applications.
Bryan also mentioned that Marborg will be operating the Material Recovery Facility, also known as a MRF to the Resource Center. We can help drive the markets for post consumer materials by utilizing technology. Things like optical sorters and other screening methods can help us get more high quality and clean materials. Better sorting then leads to better bales, higher quality bales of material. That means there’s greater potential and more variety for those items to be used in new products or in packaging, whatever it might be.
Then lastly, I just wanted to mention the organics process up at the Resource Center, because they’re actually going to be processed in a very circular manner, which is exciting. The county will be utilizing an anaerobic digester to process organics like green waste food waste, soiled paper, and ultimately they’ll get turned into a compost. The compost will be put back into the earth to ultimately grow more organic products, green waste, or greens, plants, food. That in itself is a nice closed loop. And then the process of anaerobic digestion also creates bio methane. A portion of that will, actually all of that, will be used for renewable energy. A portion of that is going to power the facility that runs it. Then another portion of that is going to be used to power homes in our community, which is really neat. The anaerobic digester also yields a digestate. That’s what ultimately gets turned into a compost. But the rest of it that doesn’t get put back into the anaerobic digester for the next round organics to be processed, so again, within this big closed loop, there’s sort of two other little loops going on as well. This is a good example of a closed loop system that hopefully more materials can follow in the footsteps of, but pretty exciting that we have something like this going on in our community.
I believe that’s all I have for you. Happy to take some questions.
Penny Owens, SBCK: Great. Thanks so much, Sarah. It’s really interesting to hear about what’s happening with mattresses and carpets locally, and also some examples of companies doing some great work on the design level of the circular economy and changing that production and manufacturing. There were some questions. Folks were interested in DSM Niada. Is that correct? The name of that company?
Sarah Stark, MI: Yep, we’ll share that link. And then the word again, spelled backwards.
Penny Owens, SBCK: Was it they were in the Netherlands, you said? Looks like here in our Q & A, as you might expect, there’s quite a few questions about the new facility, the Resource Center. From Celeste: Folks are interested in knowing if the north county will benefit from the Resource Center. Then we had another question about if the public would be available to tour the facility once it’s completed.
Sarah Stark, MI: Good questions. I am actually not totally sure about the ins and outs.
Penny Owens, SBCK: Still a long ways off, right?
Sarah Stark, MI: It’s not that long off, hopefully. Marborg is really most directly involved with the MRF up there. That’s just one component of it. That’s the recycling process. And so that we are hoping to begin testing out the equipment mid December, with the goal of being operational in the first quarter of next year. I believe the last date I heard for the anaerobic digester was to start receiving organics the first week of February, so that then they’ll be testing that and making sure everything’s running as it should be. Bryan might know the answer to that as far as which jurisdictions are participating. But it will be open for tours. I’m just not sure when that will be due to COVID. But they do have a really awesome multi purpose room out there with a lot of cool stuff. They’re certainly going to be doing tours.
Penny Owens, SBCK: Excellent. I work with a lot of student groups, and I always encourage them to visit the landfill. And just to think about that whole process of our waste and where it actually goes. It looks like we have another question from Tim. Katie kind of grabbed at it a little bit, but does Marborg pick up used mattresses and box springs? I know that there’s the option to drop them off, but I didn’t know about a pick up option.
Sarah Stark, MI: Yeah, we do pick up bulky items. If you are the account holder of your trash and recycling bill, you’re entitled to two free bulky item pickups per year within the city of Santa Barbara, and all of the jurisdictions that we serve have bulky item pickups available. The rules and days and all that vary a little bit. It’d be worth reaching out to us if you have a specific question. And if you don’t pay the trash bill, you can pay for Marborg to pick it up, or like I mentioned, you can drop it off for free at a Marborg facility.
Penny Owens, SBCK: Great. Thank you. It’s just always good to get that information out there.
Sarah Stark, MI: Yeah, please don’t leave it on the side of the street.
Penny Owens, SBCK: Thank you. Yeah, that’s one of our things. We think we often find them thrown over bridges into creeks and then they get wet and then they’re even more heavy to drag out and are more difficult to transport. We have one final question about the Resource Center – it’s about the compost that final digestate. Will it be available? Will it be going to local farmers?
Sarah Stark, MI: You know, I’m not sure if they’ve set up the market yet for that. Again, that would be more of the county question because they’re the ones operating the anaerobic digester. But if you do have specific questions and want to follow up with me, I can certainly refer people to the right point of contact over there.
Bryan Latchford, CofSB: Yeah, it’s my understanding that it depends on the inputs to where the materials are coming from – whether it’s directly from a food scraps collection program or from the negatively sorted trash. It just depends on what markets exist at the time. Based on the levels and the foods that are in the compost.
Penny Owens, SBCK: That makes sense. Thanks, Bryan. Well, thanks again, Sarah. And thanks to all our presenters are some really great information being shared with the community today. We were really excited to get everybody together. I want to bring Kathi back up here and ask all our panelists to please join us for the Q & A. There’s quite a variety of questions here. And we’ll just kind of work through them as we can.
Kathi King, CEC: Yeah, and the few minutes that we have left, it’s been great to answer some of these questions as we’ve gone along. And thank you to the people behind the scenes who have been answering questions.
Q and A
There’s one here for Sarah from Toad & Co: Do you know how much of your clothing earned through retail outlets? And would Toad & Co ever consider a take back program?
Sarah Palladino, T&C: Yeah, that’s a really good question. We do get a lot of returned clothing to our retail outlets. We also get a lot of return clothing to our warehouse, if you were to buy e-commerce, we have a very generous return policy. We have been looking into a kind of take back program where we can offer credits to buy something new or get something else if you want to kind of move through the cycle and get something new for something old. So we are looking into that right now.
Kathi King, CEC: Great, thank you. Somebody else? Jenny had a question what happens to clothes donated to thrift stores. And this might be something more broad that Dr. Geyer might want to address. What happens to clothes donated to thrift stores like goodwill and other nonprofits that use the money for their organization? And I guess the bigger part of that question, too, is what is the ultimate end of those products? If there if there isn’t someone who is going to use it?e
Penny Owens, SBCK: Maybe Dr. Geyer would be a good person to take that? You have a lot of experience.
Roland Geyer, UCSB: Oh, yeah, I can talk to that a little bit. I think is there’s a lot of sorting and inspection going on. There’re sort of high value items, then, obviously, their shop floor area is very limited. They have to really decide what they are going to try and resell locally. That’s only going to be some of the most attractive things. There’s going to be a lot of bulk that still has a market, but it’s international. There’s a fair amount of that sort of returned clothes that then goes to developing economies, you know, like Africa or Latin America. And that is, I would say, from a social and environmental sustainability perspective, a bit of a mixed bag.
I would say you could make all kinds of arguments why that is not a great solution. The one thing, in terms of social sustainability, is that it sort of suppresses or hinders the development of a local garment industry in those recipient countries. Another is that once that clothing has reached the end of its second life, it’s actually more likely to end up in the natural environment rather than a well-managed landfill. There’s a lot of concern around that. And then clothing that doesn’t even make it there. It can be sort of turned, you know, it sort of tends to get ripped up, and then maybe some of it gets turned into insulation material, those kinds of things. Again, just like Bryan said, and I think also Sarah said, the greenest piece of garment you have is the one in your closet. Just keep it as long as you can.
Kathi King, CEC: Thank you. And there’s sort of a follow up question on that that you might also know Dr. Geyer. Are there accreditation or certification programs that people can look for when they’re purchasing products that tell them that they are made to be part of this circular economy?
Roland Geyer, UCSB: I wish there were and maybe, Sarah or Bryan, you know more there, but I’m not really aware of any of any labels there. I mean sometimes you products are labeled in terms of recycled content, which is sort of one indicator. And then if you see that you always want to look out for post consumer recycled content. Sometimes it just says recycled content and it turns out to be pre consumer, which is typically waste material that gets recycled anyway. That, you know, is a little borderline greenwashing. But on the state level, Cal Recycle, the state agency that manages resource recovery, does have an active program called Extended Producer Responsibility. That’s sort of the umbrella term for all kinds of legislation that is trying to make producers more responsible for the end of life of their products. It’s challenging, as you can imagine, because it really means that companies have to completely rethink the way they run their businesses. So the short answer is no, I don’t I don’t think there’s much currently in terms of labeling for a circular economy.
Kathi King, CEC: I guess it’s something that we have to demand on the consumer side. It’s nice to see the examples that Sarah showed us of mattresses and carpet that are made easier to take apart and recycle. I’ve heard of a clothing company that’s doing that to where everything from the zipper to the pockets to the lining are all made from the same materials. Look for things like that as well.
We have kind of unbelievably reached to the end of our time today. Thank you for hanging with us. We really wanted to take a deeper dive to the content and 60 minutes didn’t seem enough to contain that. We appreciate you being with us today. We will be sending you a follow up email with resources. And I regret that we didn’t get to all your questions but I hope we got to most of them. And like I said, you can reach out to me with your other questions and I’ll try to point you in the right direction. Thank you again to my co-host Penny and our panel – a very distinguished group that we have with us today. And enjoy the rest of your day. Thank you so much.