Welcome to The Multi-usiverse. Alongside your guide, Garr Punnett, explore worlds of opportunity within the use of physical resources across companies and organizations. Consider this a field guide in scaling reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing, and recirculation. We’ll learn from guests who have ventured down this path and carved their way. Our aim is to discuss the successes, opportunities, and challenges of scaling a connected, circular economy. This episode, we’re joined by Rheaply’s own Director of Ecosystem Growth Daniel Kietzer.
Garr Punnett (00:16)
Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Multi-usiverse Podcast. I’m Garr Punnet. You might be noticing there’s a little bit of a different atmosphere around me due to the great complications of COVID. I have some sort of sickness. I don’t know whether I’m positive or negative yet, but I didn’t want to go into the office. And so what you will find is we got to have a great conversation with me at home and actually my colleague Daniel Kietzer, who got to join me from our studio, which, as weird as it felt for myself, I hope it doesn’t feel weird for you. We have a great conversation about reuse, what he’s focusing on, a little bit of his history in scaling reuse and finding creative solutions for materials, frankly, that you either see every day or don’t even know that they’re going to landfill, but have great immediate economic and social impacts on local communities. So I hope you enjoy a quick hit. We’ll be back at it next week. Enjoy.
Garr Punnett (01:19)
Thanks for joining us, Daniel, on the Multi-usiverse Podcast. We’ve known each other for some time now, and only recently you joining the Rheaply team. Can you give everybody a little sense of the depth and breadth of things that you’ve sort of been thinking about and working on over your career, both in circular economy but reuse and material reuse. I’d love for you to introduce yourself to the audience.
Daniel Kietzer (01:48)
Yeah, absolutely. Yes. I’m Daniel Kietzer. I’ve been in the circular economy and sustainability world for quite a while now, almost going on ten plus years. I have a background in reuse and recycling, looking at things from a market development perspective, looking at things from a corporate perspective, and how these sorts of principles and these sorts of actions and activities integrate into a corporate environment. And then working with weird stuff, I kind of cut my teeth working on hard to recycle very challenging resources and byproducts and what a lot of people look at is waste materials and working with us to find creative, new, high value homes for those things.
Garr Punnett (02:47)
Early on when I was sort of getting to know you, I think you blew my mind with one example, and I know you’ll remember this, and I’d love to hear another one, too, if you got one. Top of mind. But the example this was back when I was learning more about material use and almost not even material reuse doesn’t do it a service. I think waste doesn’t do it as a service either. It’s materials that people don’t think of as having value and then finding more valuable out of those materials. And you can correct me if I’m getting the details of the story wrong or the material wrong, but from what I remember, it was like oyster shells. I swear I use that as a teaching tool to others about the unknown value of materials and how there’s so much value in visibility of materials can you brief people on what I’m talking about with the oyster shell?
Daniel Kietzer (03:48)
Yeah. So I have a personality trait, maybe a personality disorder, of not being able to go gently into learning about new things, and that’s both in my personal life and in my career. But yeah, the oyster shells, that was an interesting one. So early on, one of the first projects I ran was with the city of Austin called the Austin materials marketplace, a program for businesses in the city to find new uses for materials that they were being challenged by. And we were working with a company in Austin, quality seafood for those from Austin, Texas. It’s an iconic institution, a great restaurant. They also do a lot of seafood distribution to restaurants in the city as well. And they’re one of the biggest oyster distributors in the city of Austin. They service a lot of restaurants in the city with fresh oysters. A lot of that coming up from the Gulf of Mexico. And when the city of Austin rolled out the new ordinance at the time around diverting Organics from landfill, those oyster shells were a really big problem for quality because in Austin, Texas, we’re not a coastal environment. There’s not a lot of known uses for oyster shells in the area.
Daniel Kietzer (05:22)
I became a little bit of an expert in oyster shells, and we explored a lot of kind of conventional and a whole lot of unconventional uses for those shells. The conventional routes, we’re bringing a lot of those back down to the Gulf, and then after they’re appropriately sterilized, which just means leaving a mountain sun for a long amount of time, they can go back into the water, and they form new oyster Reef habitats so they can be used in that kind of restoration motion. But the logistics of taking just oyster shells, not the oysters from Austin, Texas, down to the Gulf kind of pricey didn’t quite work out as a backhaul scenario to put them on empty trucks and take them back down. So we started looking for creative local solutions for that. Some of the stuff we explored. Oysters are really great feed supplements for chickens. I have backyard chickens, and I buy crushed oyster shells that they eat, but we couldn’t find at the time someone that was interested in crushing them up to getting them into the right size that chickens could consume. So we kind of crossed that off the list.
Daniel Kietzer (06:41)
We looked at some really creative landscaping applications for them. I did a pilot project with a local farm where I loaded up as many boxes of oyster shells as could fit in the back of my tiny pickup truck at the time and Chuck them out to a local farm. We used them in a couple of landscaping projects. They looked really cool. I don’t know that the widespread applicability of that is possible, and it’s definitely not possible for all situations because they smell something fierce for about two weeks. So you probably wouldn’t want that around your house. Your neighbors wouldn’t be too happy. We had a couple of folks that used them to fill potholes and kind of as that road base material, and they work really well because they don’t slide around or move around too much. We just went down the rabbit hole and finding new uses for this stuff and lined up a couple of cool options. But yeah, oyster shells were just the tip of the iceberg for looking at how we can find new uses for strange and unusual things out there. Yeah.
Garr Punnett (07:54)
And I think that was always the key that stuck with me is how we are the status quo. I think of a lot of systems that we deal with in materials or even some of the more valuable assets that we deal with that might be office infrastructure or It equipment or research equipment that Rheaply deals with. But it often comes down to visibility and that the options only become clearer and there are only secondary or sort of tertiary life cycle uses for these items. Once you have a broader audience in which you can broadcast these materials and that someone like you who’s creative or someone else in the community who sees potential, can actually put that to use and can say, oh, my gosh, this is an opportunity. It’s almost an entrepreneurial opportunity where you’re saying I can save money if I just use this material that nobody wants. Do you have other examples for that for listeners on things that you’ve seen or examples that you’ve seen on why it’s so important to actually rely on visibility rather than just putting something in landfill?
Daniel Kietzer (09:03)
Yeah, visibility. It changes the game. There’s a lot of incredibly motivated people out there that want to be working on these issues that have very unique capabilities, whether that’s as an individual or at their business. And they really just need that creative spark. They need to see what’s there to be able to think about what it can be. Another Rheaply fun example of that. I was working with a couple of companies on unleaded CRT glass, which is a product from a lot of electronics recycling processes. Crt monitors, the big, like old 50 pound giant monitors. There’s still a good number of them out there, and companies are still processing them at a pretty good rate and probably will be for the next five or so years.
Garr Punnett (09:58)
Is that such a messaging of itself where it’s like we’re still processing that? Yeah, there’s still left to process that isn’t 40, 50 year old technology.
Daniel Kietzer (10:09)
Exactly. We were working with these companies trying to find some new creative end markets for this unleaded CRT glass. There’s still a wedded component that can be a little difficult to handle. But the unleaded stuff super clean, really uniform. It’s a really nice high quality feedstock. And then at the same time, I was working with a couple of ceramic tile manufacturers down in Tennessee who are looking to source more recycled content to pull into their ceramic tiles. And that was to me, and still to this day, one of my favorite examples of two organizations that would never contact one another in today’s world, they wouldn’t be going to the same conferences. They wouldn’t be bumping into each other in the same Expo Hall ever. But through some of the work that I was doing, some of the stuff that we were leading in the space to create some of those new connections, they found one another, and now they’ve gotten an astronomical amount of that CRT glass into tiles, which is super cool. So, yeah, it’s stuff like that that again, without that initial visibility, without that initial effort to just see what’s possible out there, that would have never happened.
Garr Punnett (11:38)
What does it take? Well, we focus on this a lot, or we are going to be focusing on this more and more of this end market development, secondary market development, finding use that is beyond the obvious. You’ve done a lot of that. What does that take in a community if we’re building a roadmap for others who might be listening and who are curious about that, what does that take for somebody in the community, from a planner to someone who’s working in economic development? What have you seen that’s really caught traction at some of these communities.
Daniel Kietzer (12:24)
Where my role has been for quite a while is on that kind of initial outreach, engagement, visibility piece. So getting as many businesses and organizations involved as possible, getting them engaged, where they’re open and able to share information about what they might have open and able to share information around what sorts of capabilities and what sorts of manufacturing processes they’re working with and really starting to kind of map that out from a systems approach so you can see what’s coming out, what could go in. And it’s kind of in that motion that I think a lot of the gaps start to emerge. And that’s where other stakeholders, whether that’s local government, whether that’s academic institutions, whatever that needs to be. As those gaps start to emerge, I think there’s some really interesting and very creative ways to engage, whether that’s through supporting, funding, running these sorts of entrepreneurship programs that are getting small businesses thinking very creatively about this, whether it’s looking at those gaps and saying these particular groups have been historically excluded from these sorts of conversations, and we need to find really creative ways of bringing them in and engaging them. It looks different in every community that I’ve done work in.
Daniel Kietzer (13:48)
But starting with some data, starting with some mapping, really lets the rest of that flow really easily.
Garr Punnett (13:57)
That’s great to hear. And I think we find ourselves in those conversations where these are all passionate organizations, passionate individuals who can really come to be collaboratively, focusing on how to build a marketplace, how to build an organization or at least a platform in which more people can be joining and finding those solutions amongst one another. That’s ultimately to what I hope this podcast can offer, and we’re going to be focusing more on that is how do we start collecting voices and connecting more dots? What advice do you have, though, for someone who’s trying to find that community or trying to be more plugged in? Is it to go to your local ceramics processor and try to talk more there, or is it to go and talk to economic development? What can you piece together for someone who’s like, man, I’m really interested in this. I just don’t know where to start. I need some sort of what can you put down in terms of you should go down this rabbit hole for that person’s then?
Daniel Kietzer (15:09)
Yeah, that is a great question. One of the absolute favorite things that I love in this space and working in this position or talking to the crazy, innovative people out there that are really pushing new ideas and really trying to do new, totally innovative, totally off the wall things with materials. And a lot of the times, it’s those wild, very innovative, maybe kind of risky entrepreneurs that are really changing the game and really opening up new markets for stuff that’s on us to find those voices and to amplify those voices and to share that work. And then at the same time seeking out those venues, whether it’s folks like us or whether it’s community programs, whether it’s getting involved with city programming that’s out there, to find those venues, to share that. But I think there’s a hunger out there to find more people that are operating in that space, to find more content, to find more stories like that, because I think that’s really what it’s going to take to start shifting, to start changing the game from where we are today to where we want to be in the future.
Garr Punnett (16:50)
Yeah. I’m always thinking about what Reuse looks like to others for so long. For myself, personally, Reuse simply meant, oh, as a kid, I had to get used to the idea of goodwill. That was it. And it was like, oh, yeah, that makes sense. That will solve the problem. But then as you start to dig more and more, then it becomes okay. Actually, there’s more to this in terms of different material streams, different types of assets, whether it’s table legs from 500 tables that don’t need their legs anymore for some reason, there are crazy stories like that that you always see. And I think people it gets a bad rap sometimes for people saying like, oh, it’s too messy, it’s too incongruent, it won’t work at scale. And I think what’s so easy to point out, but a lot of what I’ve been thinking about lately is saying, well, nothing works at scale until you’ve ironed out some of those kinks or ironed out some of the messiness of the problem itself, which is we don’t have a system built to solve this problem. And the only solution that we’ve really created is probably one of the best inventions of all time.
Garr Punnett (18:24)
You can put it next to the Internet, and you can put it next to flipping on a switch to getting light. But it’s being able to reach out your hand and drop something in a trash can, and it’s all of a sudden it’s gone from your life. That’s the system we’re trying to change. Exactly. So of course it’s going to get nasty. Of course it’s hard. And so that’s what I’m always and it’s so inspiring to me to see those entrepreneurs that you mentioned that see, and I’m trying to think of some entrepreneurs that you’ve put me in touch with before. But that C one comes to mind of biochar, if you’ll remember that conversation where if somebody realized biochar, which is for anybody who’s listening. And I don’t want to Butcher this, but it’s fairly scientific and sort of not is the properties that are available to essentially anything that you organic material that you’ve earned that have certain maybe purifying properties or clarifying properties to waste. What can you help me with in explaining that?
Daniel Kietzer (19:28)
Yeah. So biochar would process heated at a very high temperature in a specialized environment that pulls certain combustibles away and we leave others there in place. It’s a fascinating process. It’s also a fascinating product and unlocks a lot of the potential for wood waste and what folks would traditionally consider waste and makes that into a very usable new product. Obviously, you can use it as charcoal if that’s what you need to do. But biochar is great for as a soil amendment. It’s good for pulling certain toxic materials out of land, does all sorts of cool things.
Garr Punnett (20:24)
Yeah. And it’s that creativity to using it. And I was trying to remember because my first engagement with biochar, actually, now that I remember, it wasn’t even with Bundling, it the entrepreneur I was speaking about earlier would bundle it and use it in those applications. A little bit of purifying, whatever solution or water or whatever. I was actually first introduced to biochar through Pcycling, which I did a documentary on how Arizona State University researchers are looking more and more at how you can recycle urine in, frankly, long distance space travel. And so it was a fascinating thing where I was like, wait a second, not only do I not know about biochar, which was, again, more of an introduction to how you can reuse materials if you process them appropriately. But also it’s just this idea, frankly, of recycling urine for plant growth or for human consumption. And so it was a fascinating, again, take on, oh, this is how we can rethink materials. And we’re going to need to constantly do this with every type of skew, every type of thing that we create. There’s got to be a handful of solutions for that, whatever we create to turn it into something new that’s further useful but not being put in landfill.
Daniel Kietzer (21:46)
Exactly. And biochar is also really cool because at the industrial scale, when you’re making incredibly large quantities of this, taking in incredibly large quantities of wood products to process the Ed markets, piece of that becomes so important to the overall business model and without strength in the end markets, without that pull to bring this stuff through the system, the model shuts down. It just doesn’t work. I think in some regions, that’s been a very kind of classical case of the end markets not supporting the process, and the end market is just not being there for the process to work long term. Again, one of the challenges and also one of the really exciting opportunities of working in this space is that we get to go out and be and kind of evangelicize some of these materials and some of these things. But without that demand, the system doesn’t work.
Garr Punnett (22:54)
Yeah. And that’s the demand that again, we are both probably most obsessed with, which is establishing because that’s how the whole system works. That’s how the economics work. That’s how the impact. Then it gets driven. That’s how we can then fully more reduce carbon consumption. What experience have you had, or is there anything that come to mind if there’s somebody listening on how we can creatively think about something at an industrial level where it’s not quite the restaurant level, but it might be a manufacturer of a product or someone who’s trying to connect us at their organization, but something that might have quite a significant footprint.
Daniel Kietzer (23:40)
Interesting. Can you elaborate a little more on the question?
Garr Punnett (23:44)
Yeah, absolutely. What I’m thinking of, too, is we had some experiences where we were talking more and more about how industry can come to the table, I guess, is what I’m getting at, which is I’m thinking of there was a carton recycler, actually, that comes to mind where someone is actively taking on using recyclable materials for manufacturing tissue paper. But there are byproducts. So I guess the root of my question is almost actually, how does someone come what advice would you have for someone who is coming out of an industrial level impact? How do they come to briefly, how do they go to another organization without shame? And I think that’s what I so respond to. Sometimes people are like, oh, I have this problem. It’s so embarrassing that my organization has this problem. And I guess what I say, no, every organization has this problem. Rheaply has this problem. There are things that we do that we don’t know, that we’re polluting in some way. And once you start to become more active and discover that, then you’re like, oh, wait, we can fix that. But it’s that first step of saying that this is the thing we want to solve.
Garr Punnett (25:07)
How do you advise people to come forward on that. How can we help people in that way, come forward to us or come forward to others to say, this is a problem I want to solve, I’m not ashamed of it, but I’m bringing this to the community because I want in a partnership.
Daniel Kietzer (25:20)
Yeah, totally. We’re all in this together. At the end of the day, it’s not like we don’t share landfills. It’s not like we don’t share the same negative impacts that industrial activity has or our personal activity has. We buy the products. We’re a part of the system as much as anybody else. And I think starting to realize that also is a really nice transition. And translation to we also all have a shared responsibility to solve the problems that we’re creating together. So I think it’s okay. We know there are problems out there, and we know that there’s problems out there that can be solved. Let’s get it on the table and see what we can do there. Yeah. I think a really nice kind of way to tiptoe into that, too. It doesn’t have to start with the biggest headache. And I think a lot of the stuff that I was working with in my past role and a little bit in this role as well, it’s the hardest problem that somebody has to solve, and they come to us expecting all the answers, and that’s tough. That’s not an easy way to begin a relationship with the biggest mountain to climb.
Daniel Kietzer (27:07)
But in that same kind of motion, I think there’s still a lot that can be done with stuff that you might have a solution for today. I think there’s still a lot that can be done to elevate the quality of that solution. We talk about highest and best use that really is in almost every case. It’s an endless journey. You can always do something better. You can always go higher. You can always go better. So maybe as one piece of advice, don’t start with the absolute hardest problem to solve. Let’s start with something that might be easier to tackle, that might have intrinsic properties in the material, that make it easier to look at how we bump that up into a repair remanufacturing, pure reuse. How do we start bumping those things up the value chain, not just the one thing that you’re struggling the most with.
Garr Punnett (28:05)
Yeah. And that speaks to, I think, too, what we always find it working at Weebly, which is when we get to start having more of these conversations, we always uncover more stuff that we can work on together. And that might be both a benefit and something that’s kind of scary to jump into something knowing, okay, I feel like it’s like going to the dentist or something where you’re like, My tooth hurts, but it’s Cobid. And I haven’t been to the dentist in two years. I know I need to do this, but they’re probably going to find some other stuff. I think it’s very similar in that capacity where, yeah, we’re going to find a lot more things and we’re going to learn a lot more together, but it can just start the ball and you just kind of keep the ball rolling and then it will just get easier and easier to solve more of those problems.
Garr Punnett (28:51)
At the end of the day, circular economy is about efficiency and that’s what we’re trying to build is a more efficient economy, a more efficient organization, something that allows more people to share more of the resources they’re putting out into the world and then do more of that and get more economic utility out of those resources. And I think fundamentally that’s what’s most exciting about what we are able to offer and bring to the table. Well, I so appreciate you taking the time on chatting with us a little bit more about this. If there was anything that was of interest to anybody listening, please feel free to reach out to Daniel or myself again on LinkedIn and we are happy to chat further. This is an exciting time for reuse. We are here to help and try to guide the conversation even if we don’t have the answers or even just trying had to guide the conversation with you if we don’t have the answers. But thank you so much, Daniel. I will see you in the office tomorrow.
Daniel Kietzer (29:56)
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