EP. 11 - Michael Waas - How a Recycling company works with brands to turn garbage into new products

Enjoy this interview with the Change Maker, Michael Waas,  VP of Brand Partnerships at Terracycle. He is one of the most sought after leaders in the sustainability movement who's worked with some of the biggest brands in the world, including P&G & more!

Who is Michael Waas?

Michael is currently the Global Vice President of TerraCycle, Inc. for Brand Partnership. He joined TerraCycle, Inc. in 2008 to support one of the company’s first national recycling partnerships, and has since played a key role in leading the expansion of TerraCycle’s Brand Partnership platform globally. Prior to joining TerraCycle, Inc., Michael earned a B.S. in Political Science, History, and Music, and a M.A. in Political Science from Central Michigan University.


[00:00:24] Rishi Sharma: [00:00:24] Hey everyone. Welcome to take care of today's guest is Michael was, he is the global vice president of brand partnerships at Terra psycho, which is a cutting edge, social enterprise fighting waste and recycling. Welcome, Michael. How are you

[00:00:37] Michael Waas: [00:00:37] doing? Great. Thanks for having me.

[00:00:39] Rishi Sharma: [00:00:39] Pleasure having you. So I'd just like to start the conversation for the audience and give you a little bit of your backstory and kind of how your journey ended you up at TerraCycle to fight both recycling and waste.

[00:00:50] Michael Waas: [00:00:50] Sure. My personal story is that I grew up always wanting to have an impact on the world in some way, and I thought that we would be through teaching and so went to graduate school with the intent to become a professor and teach political science and help people understand how to change the system. But in.

[00:01:10] Grad school. I came across the concept of social entrepreneurship or social enterprise, and a light bulb came on. That concept of harnessing all of the power of the free market to drive positive impact in the world was immediately compelling. And so I did a fellowship on social enterprise. I was going to school in the Midwest, in Michigan at the time, and this fellowship was in New York and new Haven over a series of weekends.

[00:01:38] I thought it would be a great way to find out more about what was happening. And this was nearly 15 years ago when social enterprise and the concept of the triple bottom line wasn't nearly as established as it is. So this was, you know, a great way to find out more about it. That first weekend of the fellowship, the founder of TerraCycle was the keynote speaker and his name is Tom Zacky, and he was talking at the time about TerraCycle, his new recycling platforms, which he was in the process of launching two weeks later.

[00:02:07] I was at the airport in Chicago, flying back to the East coast for the next installment of that fellowship, and I bumped into Tom. We struck up a conversation. He basically offered me a job. I moved to Trenton, New Jersey, which is Tara cycle's global headquarters. In the next week. At the time, thought it would be for two years that I'd find something else after that, but 12 years later, it has continued to be fascinating and I'm still here.

[00:02:34] Rishi Sharma: [00:02:34] Yeah, that's great that you found a place that you can continue to grow with and just so the audience knows what is TerraCycle and what is the mission that you guys are trying to achieve.

[00:02:44] Michael Waas: [00:02:44] TerraCycle is a purpose driven company focused on eliminating the concept of waste. And we do that in a few ways.

[00:02:52] The first is by making it possible to recycle absolutely anything. And so we have recycling programs and solutions in place for everything from cigarette butts and coffee capsules to pens and pencils, and even dirty diapers. We also help consumer packaged goods companies find ways to integrate waste into their supply chain.

[00:03:15] So for instance, with head and shoulders and herbal essences, we helped them develop a supply chain for beach plastic, and now they manufacture a portion of their bottles from that post-consumer recovered beach plastic. And then we also launched a platform called bloop about a year ago. And loop is really a paradigm shift.

[00:03:33] It's really moving back to the old school milkman model, but doing it for way more than just milk. We are seeking to have durable, reusable products in place in hundreds of product categories so that you can buy everything from ice cream to shampoo to chips and snacks in packaging that can be reused over and over and over again.

[00:03:58] Rishi Sharma: [00:03:58] That sounds like a very exciting program and look forward to talking to about that. So you went into describing loop, and so I know you mentioned it was like the milkman, but how does it actually work for our consumer and then for brands, if you could just kind of go break into that a little bit further.

[00:04:15] Michael Waas: [00:04:15] Sure. So for people who want to participate, it's currently available in the New York Metro area and really most of the mid Atlantic right now, so you can go to loop store.com and really it's an eCommerce platform. Where you're buying the same products that you would find on any other eCommerce site or at the store.

[00:04:37] But those products come in durable, reusable packaging. So an example is with hugging dogs, instead of going to the store and buying a pint of Haagen DAAs . Waxed paperboard packaging, you can buy it from loop and it comes in a rigid metal packaging that actually helps keep the ice cream frozen for much longer and can be reused almost endlessly.

[00:05:02] Rishi Sharma: [00:05:02] And then for the brands out there, you know, when they're getting these products, these empty containers, how are they facilitating filling them? And then getting them shipped out on an appropriate time.

[00:05:12] Michael Waas: [00:05:12] So that's where TerraCycle and loop come in. And that loop is providing the eCommerce platform and also the logistics and cleaning and sanitation expertise.

[00:05:23] So the process for the consumer is you buy the product online through the loop store. It gets delivered in a reusable tote via ups, and then you use an enjoy the products and when you're done with them, you can request a pickup. You put the products back into that same tote, it gets shipped back to one of our facilities, and we clean and sanitize all of the packaging and then send it back to the CPG company to be refilled and sent back out to the next consumer.

[00:05:54] Rishi Sharma: [00:05:54] Okay. And then are you receiving the same container that you shipped in or are you getting a brand new sanitize container every time as part of the cycle of how it's going.

[00:06:05] Michael Waas: [00:06:05] You'll get a different container every time that has gone through. So it's not your container going back out and coming back. And that way you're never without the product.

[00:06:14] You can order a replacement and have it delivered while you send the old one back out.

[00:06:20] Rishi Sharma: [00:06:20] And what are some of the delivery times on some of these orders and refills that customers can expect.

[00:06:25] Michael Waas: [00:06:25] We strive to provide a PD delivery. Depends on the specific products. There's different fulfillment days, but it's like any other eCommerce platform.

[00:06:33] We want to get it there as soon as possible.

[00:06:35] Rishi Sharma: [00:06:35] Right, and how is the consumer reaction been thus far with this change in behavior?

[00:06:40] Michael Waas: [00:06:40] You know, it's interesting. We really designed the platform so that the sustainability benefit, which was the Genesis for creating the whole concept is really. Only one of the benefits for consumers.

[00:06:54] And so if you go to the loop store and look at the packaging, it just looks better than typically the kind of thing you'd buy at store because your looking at a rushed metal bottle or a beautiful glass permanent bottle instead of, you know, a bag or something else that's going to get ripped and not hold the product as well.

[00:07:15] So that's one of the best things. Now we've seen fantastic consumer engagement. There are more consumers signed up, then we're able to add in right now, though, we'll continue expanding and adding people in. And we've also just gotten a tremendous amount of interest on social media and coverage of the platform over the last year.

[00:07:34] Rishi Sharma: [00:07:34] Congratulations on that. That's a great accomplishment to have more demand and supply that you can provide. So that's a great accomplishment. And if any new brands wanted to be a part of it, other than the ones you mentioned, how would they go about becoming a part of loop? Or is it you're only working with some of these larger

[00:07:52] Michael Waas: [00:07:52] players.

[00:07:53] We're constantly adding new partners. Our goal is to have as many products as possible on the platform, and so the best thing is to reach out to TerraCycle cycle or loop the loop store or terracycle.com and someone on our team would be happy to work through with any brand that process to join. All right,

[00:08:12] Rishi Sharma: [00:08:12] that's great.

[00:08:13] And so let's talk, to go back to kind of the Genesis of. Recycling and sustainability as a topic, and I'm sure the Genesis of why you created loop. So what is worrying you about the plastics industry generally and its impact that caused the creation of loop. You know, we

[00:08:30] Michael Waas: [00:08:30] spent a long time, more than a decade at Terra cycle, finding ways to recycle the non-recyclable and thought that that would be a good solution for the waste crisis.

[00:08:41] But the reality is that only provides a solution at the symptom level. We, even if we make things recyclable, we're still designing and producing products that are only intended to be used once. And so that concept of a circular model has become very interesting and right now is a very hot topic. And so that was really the Genesis for loop is seeking a solution at the design level so that we can sustainably change the paradigm.

[00:09:11] We can. Work our way, design our way out of the waste crisis. And here's the thing, is that it's easy to focus on plastics as a terrible material, but the reality is that plastics offer a lot of benefits. It's disposability that is the real issue. Got it. Right. And so it's not just plastics, it's any disposable platform.

[00:09:33] Contributes to the waste crisis.

[00:09:36] Rishi Sharma: [00:09:36] So the single use aspect as opposed to the material

[00:09:39] Michael Waas: [00:09:39] itself. That's exactly right. There are some qualities in some performance that you can only get out of a plastic. There's also, you know, reasons to use glass or metal and other materials. The concept of disposability is the real challenge.

[00:09:55] Rishi Sharma: [00:09:55] And with that being said, how would you rate or explain our current recycling problem and infrastructure that we have place in this country? I think I heard a statistic that about 90% of all the plastic doesn't actually get recycled or what can be recycled isn't getting recycled. Seems like there needs to be some changes to the system.

[00:10:17] So if you could just go into whether a system is now and kind of changes that you guys are fighting to see as well.

[00:10:23] Michael Waas: [00:10:23] Sure. And I think you're right that there are major challenges in the recycling infrastructure and systems, and not just in the U S but globally. Though there are countries, Western Europe and Canada that have more developed recycling infrastructure, but still struggle with the same challenge, which is that recycling and the amount of material we recover and can get back into the system is driven primarily by economics.

[00:10:51] Is it an issue of sortation or collection? It is that there is no one who wants to buy the material. We recover. And so if you start to think about disposable products and the recycling industry from the perspective of increasing the material value or looking at the material value as the main driver, then it starts to.

[00:11:14] The recycling challenges start to make sense and that if it costs more to collect and aggregate and recycle material, then you can sell that material for, it's never going to make business sense to do it. Yup. Nobody wants to buy it. And so that's one of the fundamental challenges we're facing right now.

[00:11:36] Rishi Sharma: [00:11:36] And so what is some of the ways to kind of tackle that issue out there?

[00:11:40] Michael Waas: [00:11:40] Yeah. Well, there's a variety of ways. Some of which we don't have any ability to control, but the primary factor, that one that drives everything else is the price of oil. And there's a corollary in that. If you think back 20 years or so, there was talk of a global oil shortage and that current oil reserves would run out in the next 20 to 40 years, and that causes the price of oil to go up dramatically.

[00:12:08] And because the price of oil went up dramatically and then became viable for oil companies to explore deep sea drilling and fracking and other previously unattainable sources of oil because they were too expensive. When the price of oil went up, those then became viable. And so that led to an oil boom that brought the price of oil back down.

[00:12:35] And as a result. It is now almost cheaper. It's certainly cheaper to buy Virgin material than it is to buy post consumer recycled material. Now, there's a couple of ways that we can tackle this, and it's actually already happening in that we're seeing leading CPG companies, our friends at P and G and Unilever and Nestle and Frito lay.

[00:12:56] Make claims and plans to make their packaging and products from recycled content over the coming five and 10 and 15 years. So that's one of the key things is that helps them increase the value of the recycled material. There's actually an interesting example with Nestle who is in the process of investing a couple of billion dollars into.

[00:13:21] Building the PCR, the post consumer recycled supply chain, because they want to be able to integrate a much higher percentage of that post-consumer material ended up packaging.

[00:13:33] Rishi Sharma: [00:13:33] Interesting. So you mentioned the use of posts, recycled material versus the Virgin, but you know, they still would sometimes are going to be still used in a lot of the time in single use means.

[00:13:44] And like you mentioned, that's the main issue there. Recently there's been a lot of countries, cities, locales, either contemplating or approving laws to ban single use plastic. What are your guys' thoughts on it, on making that as a move to prevent this use case?

[00:14:05] Michael Waas: [00:14:05] A variety of solutions working together will help us solve the challenge. And I think that is one because that helps guide companies into adjusting the design and finding alternate packaging options. So I think that legislation plays a part in driving the overall process, but we also know that legislation doesn't do it alone.

[00:14:24] And so the most important and powerful aspect where we can drive change is with consumers. Every day. We all make choices based on a variety of factors, and the more we make choices and talk to the companies we buy products from about creating fewer disposable products and packaging and move to more sustainable options, companies will listen.

[00:14:51] We vote with our dollars, and those votes are very powerful.

[00:14:54] Rishi Sharma: [00:14:54] Thank you for breaking that down. You know, in addition to using their dollars for contribution, what are some other ways people can make effective changes in their life to lower the burden on the climate and waste generally that you would recommend to somebody that wanted to make a change?

[00:15:12] Michael Waas: [00:15:12] Yeah. Well, first of all, I applaud anybody working to reduce their impact on the planet, whether that's in large ways or small, and I think we're all able to do that. Different ways and at different levels. But the most important thing is to be mindful, to consider the ways that our behavior has an impact on the planet, and whether that's from things as simple as turning off the lights and turning off the water when we're not using it, which seems small, but.

[00:15:39] Across many people have an enormous impact to thinking about the ways that we buy products and operate in the world. And so simply electing to buy more sustainable, durable products is incredibly powerful. But then also reconsidering whether it's necessary to buy a product. Is it possible to, you know, if you think about a spectrum of product buying, nothing is the most sustainable option.

[00:16:06] Because it creates the least environmental impact. And if you're going to buy something, then think about buying something used because you're then honoring all of the energy and production costs that went into creating that product the first time. And if you're going to buy something new, then buy something durable that you'll be able to use over and over again.

[00:16:27] You know, Patagonia is famous for repairing and fixing their products. If they, you know, a zipper breaks or something else fails over time. They'd rather fix it, then send the consumer a new one. So to keep that progression in mind is really, I think, one of the best things we can do as consumers.

[00:16:44] Rishi Sharma: [00:16:44] Thank you.

[00:16:44] Thank you for those tips. And what is one common myth about recycling or waste management that you think you'd like to debunk right here on the show? That's kind of a misnomer

[00:16:56] Michael Waas: [00:16:56] out there. Yeah. I think the most common myth about recycling is that some things are recyclable and other things are not. We've found a solution to recycle absolutely anything.

[00:17:08] The question is simply whether it makes financial sense to recycle that product or not, and I think that's probably the prevailing myth that, Oh, I can't recycle this product when it is possible to recycle the product. We just haven't put the infrastructure and the market and the process in place to make that happen.

[00:17:27] Rishi Sharma: [00:17:27] Thank you. Thanks for breaking that down. So I'd like to move on to the final questions. So on the podcast, we like to break down with teens habits of various guests that come on the show. so it's like the night, do you have a morning routine? Do you have any rituals that you have to do that allow you to continue to do what you do in such a high performing way?

[00:17:46] So if you could just go into that a little bit.

[00:17:48] Michael Waas: [00:17:48] Sure. I tried to do a few things every morning, and the first is I tend to get up on the early side, has two sons aged five and seven and the three of us are up right around five o'clock most days. My wife prefers to get a little bit more sleep in the morning, which works out well.

[00:18:06] So every morning I like to spend a little bit of time with my kids. It's a chance to check in on how things went the last day and what they're looking forward to. I like to get some kind of exercise in, whether that's a run or do a circuit in the house. From there, it really getting into reading something new to expand my base of knowledge, whether that's a bit from a book or finding good new articles on a variety of topics, and then it's off to the races from there.

[00:18:36] Rishi Sharma: [00:18:36] And w is there any particular types of books that you find yourself gravitating or articles? Are they about your particular domain, something else? What did they generally about?

[00:18:46] Michael Waas: [00:18:46] Yeah, I think that was the best things we can do is to stay hungry from an intellectual perspective. And so I like to read. For fun, but I really like to read across a variety of different topics, whether it's biographies or a lot of mindset and thoughtfulness books.

[00:19:07] And actually one of the books I picked up most recently and just cracked in the last couple of days is mindset by Carol Dweck, which is really fantastic and talks about the. Importance of maintaining a growth mindset. And so I love that kind of work that helps reframe the things we're thinking about on a daily basis in a new way.

[00:19:27] Rishi Sharma: [00:19:27] Yeah, no, it's a fantastic book. I've gone back to that book many times. It's a tremendous book. I definitely recommend everybody to take a take a read at that. So the next question, what does personal care mean to you?

[00:19:41] Michael Waas: [00:19:41] It's a great question and an important one, and I think it's, for me, it means. Making sure that I'm taking care of myself in the ways that are necessary to be able to be there and to help my family and those I work with and those in my community.

[00:20:00] And so that's mental and spiritual and physical all at the same time.

[00:20:07] Rishi Sharma: [00:20:07] Thank you for sharing that. And final question. If you could have a dinner party and you could invite three people dead or alive, who would you choose and why?

[00:20:17] Michael Waas: [00:20:17] Wow, that's a great question. Only three.

[00:20:20] Rishi Sharma: [00:20:20] Only three

[00:20:22] Michael Waas: [00:20:22] I think I would invite.

[00:20:25] Let's see. Probably Abraham Lincoln, Albert Schweitzer, who's a noted humanitarian and philosopher, who's the inspiration for me, and then probably John Coltrane.

[00:20:38] Rishi Sharma: [00:20:38] Okay, and why would you choose Abraham and John Coltrane?

[00:20:42] Michael Waas: [00:20:42] Yeah, well, I play saxophone and have always found John Coltrane both inspiring and.

[00:20:49] Extraordinarily thoughtful in his playing and in his approach to life. So just being able to ask the a hundred questions I've had over the years listening endlessly to his albums was being incredible. And then Abraham Lincoln, because I cannot think of a harder job than his, and I can't think of.

[00:21:10] Someone who approached it with more thought and focus on the common good. And so I think really being able to dig into what it was like working through that all that he went through.

[00:21:22] Rishi Sharma: [00:21:22] Yeah. No, it seems like a good dinner party. Some good entertainment. Oh, saxophone playing to bring recall versation both on the state of the country, humanitarianism.

[00:21:34] So it sounds like it's going to be a great dinner party and any idea what you would choose to serve.

[00:21:40] Michael Waas: [00:21:40] Huh? That's a great question. Let's see. I hadn't thought about that far, but I love to cook, so there would be at least a couple of different things on the menu and probably something if I get to pick the season, it's going to be summer.

[00:21:53] It'll be nice outside. We'll be in the backyard. I'll grill something nice and simple and vegetables, a little bit of meat, and we'll focus on the conversation and hopefully get a little bit of tunes from Coltrane in there.

[00:22:06] Rishi Sharma: [00:22:06] Sounds fantastic and making me hungry right now. So it sounds great. Thank you so much, Michael.

[00:22:12] I think the audience learned a lot from this conversation, so if they wanted to connect with you or connects with Terra cycle, where would they go online to connect

[00:22:21] Michael Waas: [00:22:21] dot com it gives a lot of great information on the company and ways to contact us. If anyone has questions. Okay.

[00:22:29] Rishi Sharma: [00:22:29] And then you personally say, I want him to reach out to you.

[00:22:31] Is there particular medium that they could do? So online?

[00:22:34] Michael Waas: [00:22:34] Yeah, I'm on Twitter, MD, EWS 2015 and LinkedIn works as well.

[00:22:41] Rishi Sharma: [00:22:41] All right. Thank you. Thank you so much and spin a great conversation.

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