TALKING TRASH WEBINAR RECAP
Exploring how we can embrace a circular economy model and decarbonize our supply chains
As businesses begin to embrace sustainability, many are embracing circular models of resource utilization. The circular economy is a production and consumption model that aims to minimize waste while maximizing resource use and providing avenues for innovation, creative business models, production, and supply chains. This model allows businesses to embody sustainability at every level, and therefore become more environmentally conscious while still looking out for their bottom lines.
This week we hosted a webinar with a panel of 3 professionals, Christopher Bodkin of Circular Blu, Suzanne Green of MIT Sustainable Supply Chains and Patrick Robinson of Pashko, to discuss their successes, challenges, and explore opportunities the circular economy holds for the future of business.
Each of the panelists are experts in different aspects of the circular economy, from manufacturing and designing with reclaimed materials and creating sustainable products, to finding opportunities to lessen the impact of transportation and deliveries of those goods through the supply chain.
CIRCULARITY IN FASHION
The fashion industry has recently garnered attention for the unsustainable production and life cycle of fast fashion. However, some fashion brands are acknowledging this issue and contributing to the growing market of eco-friendly clothing brands. Webinar panelist, Patrick Robinson, CEO and Founder of Pashko, directs the efforts of his brand to combat the negative impacts of clothing, while still catering to consumer wants and needs.
“Have you ever bought something and never used it?”
Robinson begins the webinar discussion with the idea of mass consumption leading to excess waste, which inspired his clothing line to embrace usefulness and help divert the unnecessary discarding of fabric waste. As an avid traveler and back-packer, Patrick realized that carrying less was better and that is how he came up with the idea for a clothing brand that focused on usefulness to lessen consumption.
“We’ve been taking it step-by-step…we kind-of call them smart business sustainable decisions because they actually propelled us and helped us save money, and made us a better company from the beginning.”
As an individual who has been in the industry for close to 30 years, his goal is to transform the market to incorporate circularity in products and supply chains to diminish waste. His clothes are produced from reclaimed fabrics and are made to have the lowest possible environmental impact, making the clothing attractive to those invested in sustainable fashion. Paskho’s packaging uses recycled paper bags which are initially used in the factories to ship garments, and then the same bags are used to deliver the garmets to the consumer. Consumers can then reuse the bag at home or use the bag for returns if necessary.
Patrick and the team at Paskho are currently working in collaboration with 1% For The Planet, to give 1% of their revenue to environmental research dedicated to finding solutions to ensure washing machines are able to filter out plastic microfibers that often end up in the ocean. They are also exploring legislative solutions nationally and in California to promote legislation to install a filtration system to capture microfibers that are shed during washing, further protecting our drinking water and encouraging public health initiatives.
The team at Paskho is designing out waste at each step of the material supply chain, combating the negative impacts that are so prevalent in the fashion industry by being conscious of their sourcing and shipping. Check out their site here to learn more and pick up a pair of travel shorts or a hoodie.
HOW CAN WE CLOSE THE LOOP?
In order to give materials a longer lifespan, keep them from entering our landfills, and reduce the overall energy needed to produce them, we need to scale circularity. Encouraging businesses to practice such production cycles means we must redesign our economies to accommodate for such an approach.
Suzanne, the Program Manager at the Sustainable Supply Chains initiative at the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics, gives us insight into the challenge of closing the circle:
“We have this chicken and egg problem of the supply chain where there’s really not somewhere to put the plastics, we have someone that needs to use it, but how are we going to get it to the right place in the right amount of time?”
INCENTIVIZING A CLOSED-LOOP SUPPLY CHAIN
Suzanne uses Colgate as an example, a company that has been working with MIT to find a way to meet their goal of using 50% post-consumer plastic in their toothpaste bottles. Their biggest challenge is whether or not they can source enough recycled plastic to meet the demand.
“We can use some of our supply chain management practices that we develop here at the center to incentivize additional recycling…We need to develop a new system. What can we do when amazon drops off a package at your door? Can they pick up the toothpaste tube that you bought last time? What are some new models we can throw into the system to increase this recycling?”
MATCHING SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Suzanne also spoke about a case study led by MIT Professor, Elsa Olivetti, in an industrial city in India. The project team searched for ways to close the supply loop for different factories in the city and found that large amounts of ash being produced by a sugar factory could be used to produce bricks rather than being left as waste.
This story illuminates the need for solutions to be local and designed within specific contexts within communities. “When you think about the circular economy, what ends up happening is a lot of transportation…We have to think about how we’re going to do this without also increasing trucking even more. We’re expecting emissions from freight transportation to double by 2030. We’re looking for solutions that don’t contribute to additional climate impact from transportation.”
Suzanne also serves as an Expert Advisor for the Smart Freight Centre and Global Logistics Emissions Council (GLEC) and is the co-author of the GLEC framework, which is used to calculate the climate impact of freight. Her work in advising large corporations is critical as we will need to reduce global carbon emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and reach “net zero”around 2050 in order to keep the warming around 1.5°C.
When we re-engineer supply chains, and when we think about the transportation of the materials that are being recycled into new products, we need to consider efficiency and emissions that result from moving goods and materials around.
CIRCULARITY IN HEALTHCARE
Currently, we overuse and overproduce plastics across virtually all industries; that is because plastic polymers are cheap and convenient. However, they produce enormous amounts of waste that have resulted in serious pollution and harm to the environment and different ecosystems, particularly the oceans. Christopher Bodkin, the CEO, and Co-Founder of Circular Blu, recognizes that allowing ‘waste’ products to go into landfills is also a terrible business practice. That is why he founded Circular Blu, with a model that works with hospitals to reimagine the life cycle of blue wrap – a high quality plastic packaging used to keep surgical utensils steril – that is typically thrown away after one use. Chris tells us that, in the US, over 100 million pounds of this material is thrown into landfills every year; eighty percent of it is clean, sterile, and high-quality plastic with immense potential to be upcycled into new products (like “The World’s Most Sustainable Tote”).
“Here in the United States, we are in a waste emergency…The National Sword Program has shown us our lack of domestic infrastructure to be able to process waste, and the amount of plastics we have compounded by our landfills [is] filling up at a rate [where] we have only 8 years of landfill capacity left.”
Circular Blu’s role is to go into hospitals and conduct waste stream analyses to segregate sterile, usable plastic and transport it to a facility where it can either be upcycled or broken down into non woven polypropylene. In order to combat our waste crisis, Chris tells us “we need people to think about product design, circularity, and how [we can] create reusable instead of disposable where possible.”
Circular Blu also recognizes that circularity cannot exist in a vacuum; a circular model must include both the consumer and the manufacturer. Circular Blu has connected with the companies that create blue wrap to engage them in building a service model that supports programs to collect, reclaim, and manufacture material to be sold back to the user.
It is encouraging to hear about how businesses are setting positive examples and incorporating sustainability into their models. It is equally important to recognize that business leaders still must play a critical role by incorporating such principles into their operations and in sourcing through their supply chains. Embracing sustainability can be a major contributor to financial success, a true way to show values-alignment with customers, and a path for encouraging innovation. If we can send signals to stakeholders and decision-makers, as individuals and as business leaders, we can create societal change and show that being conscious and active in solving the climate crisis as well as addressing waste and pollution is not only good for the planet but it is becoming a critical component to business success.
They are showing values-alignment with their customers, making a commitment to our planet, and they are proving that it is smart business to eliminate waste and reduce consumption.