April 12, 2022

How to Design Sustainable Packaging with Terracycle Pt 1 of 4 | Ep 89

How to Design Sustainable Packaging with Terracycle Pt 1 of 4 | Ep 89

Michael Napoli, VP of Material Sales at Terracycle, is a designer turned sustainability expert. He shares how design has to evolve to support sustainability and how it's critical to stay informed and not fall behind.

Now if you don't know Terracycle, they recycle the unrecyclable and work with some of the world's largest brands to put in place recycling schemes that reduce global waste. Here's why you have to listen:

1) The differences between practically recyclable and technically recyclable, and why this matters.

2) Learn how brands view Sustainability today

3) Different types of recycling processes 

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Past guests on Package Design Unboxd include: Former Creative Director of Packaging at Burberry Vincent Villeger, Founder of Terracycle and LOOP Tom Szaky, Head of Realization at Pearlfisher Brandi Parker, Head of Pentawards Adam Ryan, Cardboard Ninja at Think Packaging New Zealand Mat Bogust, Packaging Instructor at Art Center School of Design Gerardo Herrera, Founder of Center Design and Front and Center Podcast Host Alex Center, Head of sustainability at Interact Brands Valerie Hawks, Materials and sustainability at Nirvana CPH Katie Kubrak, Founder of Liquid Death Mountain Water Mike Cessario, and more.


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Designing Sustainable Packaging with Terracycle Part 1 of 4

Mikael Napoli: [00:00:00] Packaging design needs to be innovated continuously to adapt at a

Evelio Mattos: Hey, we're just going to jump in, I really want to just have a conversation, not so much like a full interview.

Evelio Mattos: I think that's just better. Yeah. What you guys are up to. Some of the stuff that I'm seeing, hopefully we've got, we can solve all the world's problems here and in a couple of minutes, and then

Mikael Napoli: again, no pressure,

Evelio Mattos: man. For the, for people that are listening that aren't familiar with you, Mike can you give us a quick rundown on who you are and who you work

Mikael Napoli: for?

Mikael Napoli: Yeah, sure. Michael Napoli senior director of materials recycling over at terrace. For

Evelio Mattos: anybody that's not aware. Terra cycle is also owns loop, which is a reasonable packaging company to put it in a simple terms, but TerraCycle is its own separate entity. And you guys recycle the unrecyclable essentially correct.

Mikael Napoli: We, we recycle everything. And the reason why we say that is because our our ideal is, to eliminate the idea of what. Which is really, a social enterprise, [00:01:00] a right in trying to reform, people's thinking of what, waste and trash can be. Which is why even our founder, Tom Zacky is famous for saying that everything is technically recyclable and we're always up to the challenge.

Mikael Napoli: And we always come through with our innovations and our policies. So

Evelio Mattos: when you say that everything is recyclable, a lot of times brands unknowingly put recycling symbols on packaging and on product because they're being sold a bill of goods by their manufacturers, by their suppliers. When there's, when they're being told.

Evelio Mattos: Yeah. This material is recyclable. Here is here's all the data behind why it's recyclable, but at the end of the day, if there's no value in that material, it's not going to get recycled. Yes, it could be recycled, but it's not going to be recycled.

Mikael Napoli: Correct. That those are the two key differences. If you want to break it down, simply as what is practically recyclable.

Mikael Napoli: Technically recyclable practical where the resulting output material is of higher value than the cost to process [00:02:00] technical on the other side, where you're looking at a higher cost to process due to the complexity material resulting in a lower value on the output, which is why not.

Mikael Napoli: A lot of people are so inclined to recycle most material.

What is Chemical Recycling?

Evelio Mattos: So let's put it in simple terms. When we looking at packaging from a retail brand where they've got paper shopping bags, they've got rigid gift boxes, which are made out of paper and like gray board chip board, those things are in and of themselves are recyclable.

Evelio Mattos: There's a demand for paper to be recycled. But once you start adding coatings and different things to those, they become really impossible to recycle. Are those, the things that you're working, that you guys are able to receive?

Mikael Napoli: Correct. There, there are a lot of means of mechanical recycling these days where there are processes that can be used to remove coatings as well as put materials into a recyclable or process or processes format.

Mikael Napoli: [00:03:00] It and people are constantly innovating and investing in these technologies even use waste management as an example just invested over $700 million into their recycling technologies at their Murph's. So that is varying technologies to ensure capabilities of greater acceptance.

Mikael Napoli: In greater processing and th the old adage, for example, of pizza boxes where, you know, you can't recycle a greasy pizza Boswell. Now you actually can. And these are things that aren't made, widely publicly available, but they're very Googleable and they're searchable.

Mikael Napoli: But it's not like very in your face. I'll just say that with innovation of packaging and materials, Then comes the demand for proper disposal. So I think in the past way, in the past, it was very reactionary which really caused more of a queue of materials to build up. But nowadays it's all about innovating and looking at materials of a whole from, from a layer separation [00:04:00]perspective and how can things really be captured and recycled properly, noting that there are.

Mikael Napoli: Greater levels of transparency, greater levels of collaboration and even greater amounts of pressures on companies to invest in sustainable practices. That's where you see, on the other side, Of recycling this chemical recycling, and that's where you see, great investments by Eastman and BIS F into building out these facilities and technologies to be able to capture everything else.

Mikael Napoli: That's not traditionally a recyclable.

Evelio Mattos: Mechanical recycling, which is what we're all used to curbside pickup, gets picked up. It doesn't go to a recycling center. It goes to a separating center, which is a Murph, right then that gets divided up into different materials, gets sold to different recyclers, which will actually recycle it and resell that product chemical recycling, I hear a lot of buyers at brands throwing this around saying I'm told this is chemically recyclable, so it should be easy to recycle anywhere.

Evelio Mattos: [00:05:00] What's the reality on chemical recycle. We

Mikael Napoli: can only speak from personal experiences, at this point just like any new emerging technology, it's going to be the case as to what is scalable and really what are the net effects of any process until it's widely done over a period of time.

Mikael Napoli: That's not just particular to chemical recycling that is for any emerging technology or process across the board. What I will say is that best practices are under the. To capture 100% of materials that go through a chemical recycling process, meaning that, for instance, through like a paralysis or something like that w when you're using pretty much by any process by means of where a pump polymer is being, chemically reduced to its original monomer form.

Mikael Napoli: If you have off gases, let's say any methane results. From that separation, that methane is being captured 100% and being fed back in through a closed loop to then power that equipment that this is running through. This is a [00:06:00] very typical process not necessarily IP, but overall what I would say is that the designs of chemical recycling Our to capture 100% of everything that goes through it.

Mikael Napoli: And that's not just from an ethical and social standpoint. It's also from a financial standpoint, too, right? In justifying the the cost of equipment to be able to properly keep the equipment going

Evelio Mattos: Michael, if you were going to explain to a first grader how chemical recycling works, what's that explanation.

Evelio Mattos: Because I'm a first-grade as a first grader, this object,

Mikael Napoli: to be honest. So these very the, these difficult to recycle materials go into a machine where other chemicals are added to it, to separate out all the materials into their individual components. Those are then all captured. And those can be then [00:07:00] processed into a recyclable format and it can be sent off to be made into new things with just that sole material.

Evelio Mattos: And how widely available is this at the time?

Mikael Napoli: So there are companies that have been business for quite a few years now dedicated to chemical recycling. And as you can see, the big boys are now coming into play with, nine figure investments into equipment and practices.

Mikael Napoli: Of course, I wouldn't say that chemical recycling is like the go-to by any means it should not be ultimately circularity. Is where it needs to be a reusable patching, we usable formats. It is ultimately what we need to do aside from just reducing how much we consume in the first place.

Mikael Napoli: Really mechanical cycling, curbside and those capabilities would be also the friendlier way to go chemical recycling. And again, this is just my opinion does serve a very specific purpose because, we have things out there like carbon fiber that are not easily. Recyclable due to the nature of how it's made the material it's made of, [00:08:00] but that is chemically recyclable.

Mikael Napoli: If it is, mixed in with other materials, which normally it is, so I would say chemical recycling is out there. And it is available if you look and you can partner with people.

Evelio Mattos: But it's not something that I can do for my home. It's not something that I'm going to put on, like curbside and somebody can actually go and get this.

Mikael Napoli: We're not there yet. Like I said, with any emerging technology it does take time, so I think we're just steadily moving in a direction where the. Collaboration across the recycling board of look, we need to come up with new technological means as packaging materials are now starting to get more complex.

Mikael Napoli: But again, that's just a backlog. Now we're looking at, sustainability and packaging redesign, and now we're trying to simplify that. So now. Do we need that much investment in that technology for the future? Hopefully not, hopefully we are scaling back. But we do have a backlog of materials that we have to get through as well.

Mikael Napoli: We have to deal in the here and now. Yeah.

Evelio Mattos: It's not just the backlog of materials that we have, that I have in my local [00:09:00]municipality or in your area. We look at the fields in Chile or Brazil all these different countries that are, that just have endless miles of waste that's being collected.

Evelio Mattos: We have to figure out a solution for everybody, not just for ourselves.

Mikael Napoli: And that's another issue too, like in cleaning up the planet, we have materials sitting around in countries that go on for miles, all different types of materials that they don't have a means of recycling.

Mikael Napoli: They don't have a means of disposal, so yeah. They just find a desert or some area to just dump, whether it's, textiles, whether it's tires whatever it is. Yeah, I we need to find ways to clean up, the current materials we have out there. So

Evelio Mattos: Mike, I really appreciate you being on here.

Evelio Mattos: I'd love to cover a few different things. They're pretty light topics but I want to get into them, I want to talk about carbon neutrality. I'll talk about offsets. LCAs, we talked about some hard to recycle materials, but I do want to get into circularity of course.

Evelio Mattos: And then of course what does it mean and how do you actually create [00:10:00]sustainable packaging? The conversation that you and I were having. Before this was, every brand out there they say they want to be sustainable. I don't know a brand out there. That's saying they don't want to be sustainable.

Evelio Mattos: Although there's plenty of products out there that kind of show this stand against sustainability. But when you ask these brands, what does sustainability mean to them? Each brand gives you a different definition if they can even define it, like what's missing. Is there a, is it a language problem?

Evelio Mattos: Is there just not the appropriate understanding of what sustainability means, but everybody goes to recycling, right? We want a material that's recyclable. That's what's going to make us sustainable. What are your thoughts on what sustainability should mean for a brand that's out there?

Mikael Napoli: It really depends on the company's goals.

Mikael Napoli: It depends on what their industry is. Sustainability can mean different things and it could just mean operational based. It could be, what is a company doing that they have to reduce? Are they reducing [00:11:00] their carbon emissions? Are they trying to offset or they, it really depends on their process.

Mikael Napoli: So for a company that more distributed. Product, but doesn't manufacture it. They need to only look at their fiscal building and, maybe logistical emissions to, to try to offset. If you're looking at a raw material consumer to produce product, you have emissions from the manufacturing process, as well as to taking to consideration where you got your materials and what went into the gathering of those materials.

Mikael Napoli: In the end, it's great. Everyone is trying to have a joint sustainable effort, and there's certainly nothing wrong with going with one effort over another. I would say it's just Very hard these days to give general guidance on one direction. It's just overall, let's cut out the consuming, and start from there and work backwards because that, I think in that one statement, that's something everyone could get on board with companies and consumers alike.

Mikael Napoli: It's how do we reduce consumption? And then backfill that [00:12:00] into your process. Have everyone aligned with those values and is that from, utilizing a reusable packaging and looking at the net effect that has is it having mano layered materials for simple, simpler, fully recyclable?

Mikael Napoli: Packaging, curbside, recyclable packaging. How can we fit that into our process? That, that's how we have to do, because it's a reduction of packaging material and a reduction of production of units in the first place. So there's many different ways to go about finding it. And everyone just has to find their own way.

Mikael Napoli: But I think so long as we all agree together, what that is, then, we'll get there together one way or another.