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. In this first episode, we’re joined by Stephanie Barger, the Director of TRUE Zero Waste.
Garr Punnett (00:18)
Welcome everybody to the first Multi-usiverse podcast. My name is Garr Punnett. We hope that this is going to be a journey of our podcast that we will have with various stakeholders that we’ve met in the industry. I’ve had the privilege of meeting many of these inspiring leaders in person. These are the types of leaders that we look forward to working with at Rheaply, and we just again get to take a moment and actually have really, hopefully, interesting conversations all around the solutions that we are working for in the sustainability and circular economy space. I’m joined by today Stephanie Barger, director of True, a zero Waste program. Stephanie, what is the difference between zero waste and zero waste to landfill?
Stephanie Barger (01:05)
Thank you, Garr. Thank you for having me. I want to provide a little history. So zero waste to landfill really came out of Japan, so it’s a small island. They don’t have a lot of room for landfills. And so they were focusing on moving all of their waste from landfills and then, unfortunately, burning them. But they did have three pillars, and it was zero waste to landfill, zero waste to incineration and then zero mining. So that’s the ultimate goal. So because of a lot of the leaders in sustainability happened to be the companies coming from Japan. So Rico Electronics, Toyota, Honda and a lot of them brought that to the US, and we all know that Japan is very efficient and very mindful. Toyota, of course, came up with the Lean Path program, so that came over to the US and was spreading globally and everybody was trying to get we don’t want to send it to landfill. And that has been a lot of confusion in the industry because a lot of companies say there’s zero waste to landfill. But then they burn anywhere from 30% to 60% of their waste. And that’s actually how we came about because the companies we were working with, they said it’s apples and pineapples out there. And so a company can say there’s zero waste to landfill and there’s no equal. And so we developed our certification to help, hopefully stabilize that. And so for us, we use the Zero Waste International Alliance definition and really the circular economy and closed loop, which is about not sending any waste to landfill, incineration, waste energy in the environment. And I think a lot of times we forget about in the environment and that not only can include solid waste, but the chemical waste, air emissions, water emissions, land emissions. So hopefully that sets a really good foundation for everybody listening.
Garr Punnett (03:15)
Absolutely. And thank you for highlighting that. Let’s start really kind of from the beginning on developing this certification. When did this become a passion? What was the team like around in the beginning? How did you all really get your foothold in the industry to really sort of make this footprint on redefining sort of certification and where we should all be focusing on in the zero waste space.
Stephanie Barger (03:43)
Terrific. Thank you. So for me. Personally, I had a nonprofit, a community based nonprofit called Earth Resource Foundation. And we have a large high school program. And because we are located along the coast in Orange County, California, we were doing tons of beach clean ups, river cleanups. And, of course, it doesn’t work. Right. The next day, there’s more trash. And so our high school students literally went upstream and started identifying where all this waste was coming from. And through that, we met many of the zero waste Champions and experts, the grandfathers and grandmothers, if you will, of the movement and also the companies that were really leading the charge. And many of them I had mentioned before. And we started having conferences because we didn’t really know how to do it. The businesses were figuring it out. So we have these great conferences and workshops. And, of course, a lot of this was when bio plastic was being introduced. And is that a good thing, a bad thing, a solution, an alternative. And then all of this in the environmental arena and any social human justice. It’s about collaboration, right. It’s about community. So we brought together this big community, which included partnering with the local US Green Building Council chapters. And, of course, that’s our parent organization that we work with. Now they have this amazing program called Lead. It was developed 25 years ago, and I talked to the President at the time, Rick Fund, DSI, and I said, I’m copying you, right. Because all these businesses have come together. And it’s like, Where’s the certification for zero waste?
Garr Punnett (05:35)
I love that story. And you’ve got the headline right there that hopefully people completely recognize, which is this is now a certification that is now so mainstream that for everyone who is at least somewhat conscious of a building’s footprint, they see lead. They see lead on buildings. They see lead. That almost sometimes when I’m speaking to people who are not familiar with circular economy or sustainability, they automatically go to that certification because it’s the thing that has probably the most amount of recognition in the building space. So I love that idea. And I kind of want to unpack then what it was like to learn and to collect that knowledge because I think you’re right. There are so many ways that we can learn from what’s been done. And so in that capacity, you’re like, wait, Lead has organized a lot of the playbook for how this could work. That is an easier statement for you to say, what was the AHA moment? Probably in that moment. You’re like, Wait, there’s a blueprint here. I can actually follow this and create something that the industry really needs.
Stephanie Barger (06:41)
Yeah. And it was really about working with the local and national global US Green Building Council folks. They’re brilliant. They’ve been in this forever, and they leverage the business community. Right. So in grassroots, you know, we’re trying to sign petitions and do press conferences. And it’s thousands and thousands of hours, and it’s important work. But it takes years to get a little something done. And to me, the AHA moment was to replicate this throughout the world and spread the good word, if you will, of zero waste and circular economy. We had all these brilliant partners. I named many of the companies before, but everybody from the Del Mar Fairgrounds who was going their way to Strauss family Farms to wineries to manufacturing and office buildings. Disneyland, Disneyland was one of our first projects we worked on. And so just bringing together the think tank of brilliant people. But we just didn’t have a framework or a mechanism to put that in. And so we developed the US Zero Waste Business Council to start that journey.
Garr Punnett (08:07)
Reminds me of our early phases of Rheaply, where often in the tech space that I find myself in now, and that Rheaply finds itself in is we’re sort of actually called upon to do things that don’t scale. And it’s often in those moments where you’re forced to really reckon with a problem where you’re trying to figure out a solution. It is so manual for you to take on that effort. But that still is where all the learnings are. That’s where you’re breaking down the status quo system and really understanding where your intervention points are, really where you can actually design something that’s better and then start to take all of those learnings and build it into something that can really impact and grow across an industry. And so I think that’s what I actually hadn’t realized, that in our interaction, where all of these solutions share the same origin, which is seeing the problem, breaking it down and trying to find those intervention points to build something new.
Stephanie Barger (09:07)
Exactly. And having a passionate group of people around you. And that’s what I love about zero waste and the whole journey is it’s non competitive. Right. So I’ve had Northrop Grumman, Lucky Martin and Raytheon in the same room trying to figure out how do they deal with composite materials, which are very complicated. We’ve had Whole Foods and Safeway visit Albertson’s distribution center because they turn their distribution center into their own private merch. They were like we’re done with the recycling and waste industry, and they just back hauled everything, sorted it themselves. And once again, that intervention of finding where those problems and challenges are. And so what Albertsons did is because they were sorting everything they realized, like what wasn’t easy to sort. Right. So you have a great bucket, that’s plastic can be easily be recycled, a handle that’s metal easily recyclable. But it takes a lot of labor to pull them apart. And once again, this is the beauty. And where the big change happens is when you bring in your whole supply chain. So they brought in their vendors and said, you have to redesign your buckets. They all have to be plastic, same type of plastic. And of course, the vendor said, no, it’s too costly. And when you get these big companies, unlike when you’re a community group or grassroots group, they have the power to shift to another vendor. And so of course, the vendor changed their mind and said, okay, we’ll do it. And most of these changes, they’re not about taking years and years to do. They take a couple of months and then everybody saves. And that’s the beauty once again of zero waste. Is everybody along the supply chain safes and it becomes more profitable.
Garr Punnett (11:08)
What advice do you have then, for someone who recognizes there’s a problem within their own organization is working on thinking of a solution, but is trying to engage in that change management. And that difficulty in moving what is typically a larger organization because they have the most impact. But they also positively have the most impact around spurring on change. What advice do you have in there for that person where it’s like, how do you make the case? What have you felt that you needed to do where it was like, you need to go that extra mile to really highlight how this could work. What do you have to say to that person who’s listening right now?
Stephanie Barger (11:48)
So I think I’m going to give a shameless plug it’s become a true advisor. It’s an online training program.
Garr Punnett (11:54)
I like it.
Stephanie Barger (11:57)
Because you have to have the resources. But more importantly, is zero waste is a team sport, right? So you need to bring everybody together. Don’t try and solve it by yourself. Bring in your vendors, bring in your service providers, have a lunch and learn, have a little power. Well, because your vendors, they also want to get to zero waste, and they’re having these same issues, bringing this in. And then I always tell people, don’t go down the rabbit holes. You can spend a lot of time on the Internet or just calling the wrong people or calling an organization. But that maybe isn’t one of our experts. So I always say, I don’t know everything, but I know people that do, and it’s not rocket science. So it’s about processing that and working with people. The other thing is to involve your employees because employees, they know what’s wrong, especially if you’re in manufacturing. They know what’s working, what isn’t. And this is all about being efficient. So they know what’s being wasteful along the manufacturing line, even with retail early on before our certification, the main call that I get because we were very involved in plastic pollution is I would have the sales clerk at a retail store. What do we do with plastic film? Because they were so frustrated they saw it was wasteful. It’s just about bringing everybody together, having those conversations and then bringing in the experts. And a lot of those experts are Surfrider Foundation, World Wildlife Fund reset thinking outside the box so it isn’t just about zero waste. But it’s about those materials we brought in the coal miners, the fight against the coal mining and strip mining in West Virginia, and they had the most powerful effect on the employees and where people were going with their programs.
Garr Punnett (14:11)
What I love about that is again how it breaks it down to its parts, which is this isn’t I think, what you said commonly said, obviously. But this isn’t rocket science, where it’s like this is a question of economics, materials and supply chain. And when we can really sort of almost drill down in each one of these categories, sometimes the answer is actually reveal themselves, and you start to really take for granted the status quo. And then once somebody sees that problem, then starts to break it down, and then you bring in again your colleagues or even the employees of an organization. That’s where the real knowledge can take hold. Because I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had, where we become almost a convener. So we bring a bunch of people into the room. And then once a bunch of people enter the room, they start sharing and talking. And the solutions almost happen organically. Where things start to get aggregated, things start to actually gain value now that they’ve been moved to a certain volume. And now we can actually find a place that will buy it, find a place that maybe we’ll be able to take it or recycle it or find a way, some sort of elimination point where we don’t have to use that thing at all. And I think that’s what’s fun to your point earlier, too, about collaboration. That’s actually the fun part is not being afraid to ask the questions, not being afraid to send the invites. Put yourself out there, convene some sort of organization or some sort of group of partners, and then start that conversation. And I think that’s where I think you and I both find a lot of joy in what we do and bringing those people together.
Stephanie Barger (15:49)
Definitely. And if I can add two more tips, please don’t go digging through your dumpster, dig through your purchase agreements and purchase contract.
Garr Punnett (15:58)
I love that.
Stephanie Barger (15:59)
Because it’s a lot funner and cleaner and more enjoyable. But if everything you’re purchasing is returnable, repairable, reusable, donatable, recyclable and compostable you’re zero waste. Right. And then you’re also making sure that those materials are made from recyclable or compostable materials. Right. So you’re closing the loop because we don’t do anybody any good, right? If we’re not closing the loop, if we’re not purchasing that, and then the other big tip is focus on the majority of your materials. Don’t worry about the little Ling Cuisine lunch package. You need to figure that out. But look at what’s making up 30% of your material stream or 50% of your material stream and focus on that. And this is from Ryan McMullan with Toyota. But this was their slogan is recycle some just get your recycling programs going recycle more, recycle everything you can. So that means going through every bin, make sure it’s source separated and you’re turning it into commodities. And then you want to recycle less, which means you take that ballot of cardboard and you’re like, why do we have all this cardboard and you start reducing and reusing. So recycle some recycle more and then recycle less. And I think that’s a great mantra for us all to go by.
Garr Punnett (17:31)
And I think this is good to point out, too, for some that might be new to this. These volumes are not insignificant at a level of Toyota, and that when you speak to a lot of these organizations might really have. And this might be an unpopular opinion. But I have a certain amount of empathy for large organizations because again, they’ve been operating under a different paradigm for a long time now. Just the game is changing, and we need to figure out the new rules. And so when it comes to actually engaging with these organizations and saying, hey, now we are here to help you in what the future needs, not what the system is right now that the volumes are significant and the reeducation around, I think to your point. Okay, let’s look at recycling first and then actually studying. Well, do we need this box at all? And I’ve loved seeing so many companies rethink their packaging entirely, not even at the consumer level. These are people rethinking internal use packaging that no consumer sees that can sometimes be a pain to deal with on the employee standpoint and eliminating it just because someone raised their hand and said, hey, why do we use these particular widgets on this particular load of items? And it eliminates literal tons of material from an operation. So I think that’s what’s really fun about. Again, somebody just raising their hand and identifying that source, whether that’s in the recycling bin or just somewhere on the facility floor real quickly, then if we could take back to I am very interested in the conversation that you had with Lead and where that played into True joining Lead and those conversations where it was, can we do more together? How did that all start? Where True was growing as a certification lead being in the game for a long time, the US Green Building Council being involved for a long period of time. What was that sort of? I don’t want to call it an acquisition. I don’t know what term to use, but what was that like where they said, you know what? It’s time. And you all both agree that it was time to sort of join under the same umbrella.
Stephanie Barger (19:51)
Yeah. So I think early on establishing those relationships at the local level and even the national level, and once again, it’s about collaboration and not being afraid to invite other certifications to our conferences and to share. So that’s what really started. And I have to applaud Mr. Gary List. He was really instrumental. He was on our founding board for the US Airways Business Council. And he really made sure that we were working with the lead certification team, the experts they were presenting. And then at our conferences, we’d bring in 20 people and from their teams, our team. And we just really talk through, like, where are the synergies? How can we support one another, where is lead going and where is true going? And then from that, it was actually magical because I received a call in early 2016, and they said that their senior leadership want to mentor me. And you never turned down the mentorship. Right. And so Peter Templeton, who’s now our new CEO at US Green Building Council. He was really my mentor. And he worked with myself and the entire board to see what would be the best pathway. And we determined that a full acquisition because we were a grassroots organization, right. There was me and one and a half other people running a national organization, and we were doing good. But I was the marketer, the payroll.
Garr Punnett (21:33)
We’re working a lot.
Stephanie Barger (21:36)
And so to have that opportunity. And Mahash happened to be the CEO at that time. And so in 2016 at the Greenville, La conference, that’s where we signed the papers. And so as we’re nonprofit, they’re a nonprofit. So there is no exchange of money or anything like that. They just acquired us in our assets. And so legally, that’s how you maintain a non profit. You don’t cash out, it goes with another nonprofit or gets donated. So it’s been an amazing to have their expertise to have their infrastructure with their expertise and funding. We were able to put our Zero Waste Advisor program that was only in person and took a lot of time and money. They developed the online platform. And then, of course, they have this global staff that has been pushing lead. And there are many other programs, and they’re established in all these different countries. So they already have the relationships. And then with ours, it’s been so exciting. And, of course, they’re amazing marketing and being highlighted at Greenville conference, which is 15, 20,000 people. So it really launched us. And we continue to work closely with the lead certification team. And one of the reasons they brought us in is because they’re really good on the green building, but on the waste and how to handle that. It was good. But there’s was 50% to 75% diversion where our minimum is 90%. And so we’re working even closer. We’re launching our true for construction. So actually working with construction sites so that they are zero waste. And everybody’s trained, and we’re turning those once again by source separation. We’re making sure those valuable materials are staying in that building industry and being recycled or reused over and over and over again.
Garr Punnett (23:53)
Excellent. Thank you for that. This is kind of where I wanted to take us next is really around what you’re seeing on the horizon and whether that’s from enterprise involvement, industry involvement, but also policy involvement. I was asked a question today around what types of policies do you think would benefit most for the circular economy? And from my perspective, it was a reactive answer. But the easiest answer I think I could have given mostly around cities and cities making purchasing requirements on maybe certain categories. I think that’s a tried and true answer. I think, to establishing some amount of commodity in an industry. And so I think the example I used was around compostable or previously composted or soil that was used from 100% compostable material. But how that would define an industry around that sort of local ecosystem because it would force then everyone to take another look at all of the Organics that were landing in the consumer organic space, but then also on the enterprise level, it now creates a whole new, again commodity price for this now type of organic material. What do you see in terms of that landscape for policy? How would you have answered that question in terms of what is sort of the next policy endeavor that we can get signed really move towards on the local or federal level that could really help us scale a zero waste/circular economic effort?
Stephanie Barger (25:36)
Yeah. So I think there’s two pathways. One is the private sector pathway, and we’ve seen that where large companies like Colgate and Microsoft and Cisco and many others have put out statements, we’re going to be net zero, or all of our facilities will be zero a certified by 2025 or 2030. And I think that’s really important because it gives a direction to all the vendors. So Walmart their supply chain, what they’ve been doing with their supply chain? If you want to do business, you have to be green. And so those policies are not only leading to zero waste, but regeneration, right? So they’re not saying we’re not just not going to cut down for us and use recycled paper, but we’re going to plant more forests than we’ve ever done that. And then with legislation, it was really fine during the pandemic. I know it was a trying time for everybody, but we had our busiest year in 2000 and 22,021 is even going to be even more and hopefully 2022. But a lot of that is coming from all of the other wonderful environmental, human rights, social justice organizations. And I think everybody kind of had a time to quiet down and not be with all the busyness and running from conferences and meetings which are important. But organizations like Upstream Solutions. They’re a younger organization and the work that they have done in helping businesses implement reusables. But more importantly, the case studies that they’ve done because zero waste is all about saving and making hundreds of thousands, if not billions of dollars. It’s not about costing you anything but about doing that. So with them. And we’re all part of the Clean Seas Coalition, which is about 40 environmental organizations in California and beyond. So we pushed through, I think, over ten bills this year creating a circular economy.
Garr Punnett (27:54)
Stephanie Barger (27:55)
So that is just amazing.
Garr Punnett (27:58)
Where would one find those resources of the bills that you all were working on?
Stephanie Barger (28:02)
Yeah. So of course, you can go to the California Legislature, but some of our partner organizations are Californians Against Waste. They are one of the leaders in lobbying So, Frederick Foundation, Hill, De Bay, DC. So those organizations, we can definitely share some of those links, even our own website. We have some articles on there, and many other States also follow that. And then on the bigger national and global level, there’s the break free from plastic initiatives and policies. And a lot of those are tied with the United Nation sustainability goals. And then for the zero waste community we have our recycling is infrastructure, too, and it’s a very robust plan that we’re hoping will get slid in with the infrastructure bill because it’s so important. Right. We’ve been reliant on these other countries and we shouldn’t be. That’s a shame on us. People want to keep saying, oh, China, that shame on us. We should have robust reprocessing here in the United States, and we should be closing the loop like you were saying before, the more we can keep it local, the better it is for everyone, with jobs, with keeping down air pollution, water pollution and keeping those local economies strong.
Garr Punnett (29:31)
This is fantastic to hear, mostly because this is actually how I got my most of my start in the circular economic space, focusing on recycling and focusing on the domestic recycling economy and both its successes. But a lot of challenges ahead of itself. I just so happened to be writing my graduate thesis at the time, right. As China’s National sword policy came to really hit the US. And for those maybe who are new to this, you can look up the national sword policy, but also its impact on the US recycling economy. We basically were shipping everything over to other countries.
Stephanie Barger (30:14)
Garr Punnett (30:14)
Stephanie Barger (30:15)
Garr Punnett (30:15)
And to Stephanie’s point, how are we actually now able to handle our own recycling and build our own infrastructure? Because again to your earlier point, these are items of value. These are commodities of value, and if we treat it as such, we can actually use it as service revenue generating in many of our local economies. One of the most interesting answers I ever received from an interview that I was doing for my thesis, research was around an exporter that was shipping recycling over to China. And it was an interesting tone. I had to strike with a lot of these organizations that, as I was inquiring about their business models, inquiring about their supply chains, I had to take a tone of understanding that these people were actually losing their jobs in a lot of ways, their shops were closing. But one of the most interesting answers I got was from a woman who said, you know what? This is really sad. I’ve really loved working with the people I’ve been working with, but I’m hopeful that this will force us to change. I’m hopeful that it means that the next company I work at will now be focused on establishing internal supply chains around recycled content. And that really then almost kind of in that singular interview redefined how I was focused on the recycling infrastructure in the United States around our circular economy, how important it is for it to be local. And I think it’s just what you said really highlights that again, which is we can actually make this a very valuable loop in our own economy and not to get too out there with this, but it’s probably of national priority for us to establish our own supply chains around our own recycled content as our global economy gets more and more competitive.
Stephanie Barger (32:12)
Most definitely. And I think Rico Electronics is one of them. That really part of zero waste is making that supply chain really small and close. There are challenges for both of that, because we all know, like, our cars. It doesn’t matter what brand it is. It has parts from all over the world in it. So it’s never a US made car. It’s a US assembled car and even our computers and everything. So there’s always that balance. And, of course, we’re providing jobs for people overseas. But I think it’s more about being aware, and it’s producer responsibility. And I think that’s another thing that’s really stepped up either through legislation. I mean, Maine now has an EPR program. Chile has one of the most robust EPR program.
Garr Punnett (33:10)
The EPR being extended producer responsibility. Yes. This is my job to really highlight to everyone else who’s listening. But these are really important bills that speak to corporate understanding of where their supply chains end and how to then really control the feedback loop of these materials back into their own processing. I interrupted your thought, but please finish that about Chile. Finish. That about how these EPR bills are actually being raised and are really important.
Stephanie Barger (33:37)
Yeah. So it’s about the extended producer responsibility, like the actual legislation that companies themselves taking full responsibility. We’ve seen a lot of that with electronics, right? I mean, HP is one of the leaders. They not only take back every single HP product, their inkjet cartridges are like 50% recycled inkjet cartridges, and the rest are recycled water bottles. They’re actually pulling plastic from the ocean and incorporating that in. And we’ve seen that in clothing and everything. But I think what’s more exciting is we’re going beyond that. Even Patagonia, they’re doing major studies on the length that’s coming off all their clothing, right. Because that’s plastic pollution. But at the same time, those materials that are making that clothing that’s well, insulated that’s lightweight. So how can we not destroy all that or completely throw that out the window? But let’s keep pushing ourselves to find that better solution and that better product. And at the same time, always going back to the more natural materials and finding them. Eileen Fisher is a really amazing company. They not only take back all of their clothing and they clean it up, resell it, donate it. But those things that aren’t like I’ve been to their remanufacturing site and all their rules, they turn them into new thread their jeans. So this is like some granola, like we’re going to take jeans and patchwork them together. It’s a factory. They put all their number five right leg jeans together and then make a new dress out there.
Garr Punnett (35:26)
I am so excited to see some of those facilities coming up. We’ve made sort of newer friends, too, at companies like Trove or Renewal Workshop, which are doing fantastic work in that space. So if anybody is interested in that, I’d check out those companies because they’re getting a lot of traction. And also Renewal, I think, is another company that just popped up as well. Who are again doing amazing work. To round this out for our first ever interview here on Multi-usiverse, where are we going? What are we really trying to get to legislation wise, in your opinion, who’s going to be the first actor here? Are we really relying on corporate action or we should be pushing more and more for legislative action, where the consumers fall into this? Still, in your view, with those three players in mind, how do we really push more and more action in this space?
Stephanie Barger (36:26)
I think there’s a couple of and it’s always multi faceted how we approach this. There isn’t a silver bullet. We all have to do our part and all of that, I think with legislation, it’s very important so that we have a level field for everybody to play in. Right. But what’s more important, once again, going back to electronics like all the electronic companies want to do the right thing, but they can’t have a law in California that’s different than New Jersey. And then there’s none in South Dakota. So we need federal legislation, and we really need to push our elected officials to get federal standards because it’s going to make us stronger economy. That’s what we need to do with legislation. Also with legislation. What most people don’t understand is in having been an activist for way too many years. Is there’s usually no funding tied to legislation like we’re just fighting to get that law through. And that’s not fair to anybody. There’s no funding to go out and find those people that are bad actors. There’s no funding to create these new reprocessing plans or to create new economies that are based on our natural world. So we have to have the funding for enforcement and for innovation.
Garr Punnett (37:59)
In those two thoughts that’s really important is usually that regulation piece that many talked about. It’s like, well, you’re going to stifle innovation. It’s like, no, we’re going to just produce innovation in another way, and you’re never going to stifle innovation. You can only guide it. It’s a river of knowledge that will always flow. And so it’s like you just have to keep guiding it to a more sustainable future. And I think that was so key in what you just said.
Stephanie Barger (38:24)
Well, it’s just like safety belts, right? Safety belts didn’t harm the car company. In fact, they create a whole new industry. I’ll know how zero waste it is of safety features on your car. So I think we need to look positively. And I think that’s something the zero waste community, the circular community with businesses that we need to talk about, the positives, not the negatives. And then with our true certification, one of our selling points is if you’re two certified, you are way beyond most legislation, right? You’re already reducing reusing, your source separating you’re buying recyclables. You’re being very conscious of the food that you’re either serving to the public or to your employees and valuing that you’re engaged in your community. So you can either chase legislation and you have to keep changing your programs every year because legislation is changing or you can become a zero waste company. Hopefully true certified. And you’re years ahead. And of course, likely we’re going to keep raising the bar on our certification.
Garr Punnett (39:40)
And I think that speaks to the fact that it’s not a destination. It really is sort of that we always live in that mantra. If it’s a journey and you’ll have to keep raising the bar as we can be better and better and better.
Stephanie Barger (39:55)
Yeah. And then I would say the two other key things are technology. It’s so embarrassing where the waste industry is. We’re just now getting cameras and artificial intelligence in the band. We’re finally getting software programs so people aren’t using spreadsheets. I always laughed like one of our first companies. They were amazing, but they are farmers, and they just scribbled their version on a piece of paper and handed it to me. But why don’t we have technology? Why don’t we have an app for zero reduction for reuse? And I know you’re working on all of that. So I think if we can drive technology into our circular economy and it’s there, but we need to do it a lot more. And we need to make it very accessible for every consumer and every employee. And then the other one is transparency. And I think that’s the exciting thing, because since we cannot hide our trash in our recyclables and send it to China, we have to clean up our act. Right? I might get their name wrong, but alliance for Responsible Recyclers, and that is led by Eco Cycle and Eureka Recycling. And it’s really about cleaning up the act, because most of your single stream recycling. There’s 40% contamination in it. So these companies, they will only take your recyclables if they can close the loop.
Garr Punnett (41:26)
Stephanie Barger (41:26)
If you can buy it back in a new product. And then there’s a new organization called Sweep, the Sweep Standard. And it is about certifying the actual Merse, the material resource facilities either at the city level or the private hauler level. Certifying landfills, wasted energy plants composting that whole sector, which we really do get into. And we have certified. But that’s not our expertise. And so pulling back that curtain and understanding really what’s going on. So I would encourage everybody to go visit your landfill, your waste energy plant, your reprocessor, and get to know them, you know, your supply chain upstream. Why don’t you know it downstream?
Garr Punnett (42:15)
And anybody too, who’s listening to this that doesn’t know any of what we’re talking about, who somehow stumbled onto this podcast. If you go to your local Murph, your local landfill, your waste to energy facility, you can’t unsee what you will see there, and it will define, I think, the rest of what you might be pursuing in your own career or your own passion. I also wanted to touch on so many of the conversations I think we have typically result in us almost saying, hey, there’s no shame in what we currently have and really taking almost adding a zero shame to zero waste perspective is really important, because if you’re coming and being transparent with what your system currently looks like, I’m not going to be the one pointing fingers and being like, how dare it be this way? Let’s all come together and create the solution. And so the zero shame aspect to that, I think, is really important. Well, I’d love to round out just as we close with we want to get this going, which is a random active reuse, and this could be a very personal thing for either of us. I’ll get us started. While you think of your random active reuse today, I actually found a plant pot, a planter pot. I don’t even know what to call it in the trash in our local shared coworking space, and it had, unfortunately, a dead plant in it, and I took that out, but washed out the perfectly good Potter and cleaned it out. And I’m actually giving it to my younger brother who’s got a plant that he’s growing. But it almost starts with that willingness to be like, hey, this is actually still worth something. I want to actually reclaim this for my own needs. Do you have anything that comes to mind recently of a random act of reuse?
Stephanie Barger (44:01)
Yeah. So I’m lucky enough to live on out in the country on four and a half acres, and so there’s always a bunch of stuff just you’re pulling out of the trees and the bushes. So my reuse is really putting it out to my neighbors, like on next door and saying, hey, I have this or my handyman that comes over. Just, hey, go look through my garage. What do you want? That some person’s trash is another person’s treasure. And that’s something that I’ve always really tried to practice is if I haven’t used it in six months or a year, give it to somebody else before it gets ruined. Right?
Garr Punnett (44:47)
Stephanie Barger (44:47)
Because we leave things outside, we leave them in our garage, in our closet, and they just start to degrade. So be Proactive in giving that. And, of course, so many people are in need right now to make sure it’s what they want. Sometimes we can give people things they don’t really want. So it’s kind of this open, like, hey, what do you need? I got all this extra construction or just stuff that who knows how long I’ve had it. Come. Take your pick.
Garr Punnett (45:18)
I love that because it gets back to the heart of zero waste. The heart of sustainability, which is connecting with your neighbors, connecting with those around you to see what they no longer need, what you actually have for them. So absolutely. I think that’s again, at the heart of what we’re doing. Well, thank you, Stephanie. This couldn’t have been a better first episode for us, and I’ve already gained so much more knowledge from what you were able to share, and hopefully, anybody, too, can reach through. Check out if you are able and willing and really want to become a true adviser, adviser and be true certified.
Garr Punnett (45:54)
I highly recommend it. I know plenty of people in my network who have done that and love what they’ve learned. So thank you for taking the time.
Stephanie Barger (46:02)
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