Sustainable Packaging

Executive Director Bob Lilienfeld (SPRING)

May 22, 2022 Cory Connors Season 2 Episode 60
Sustainable Packaging
Executive Director Bob Lilienfeld (SPRING)
Show Notes Transcript

https://www.linkedin.com/in/boblilienfeld/
https://www.springpack.net/

https://www.corygated.com/

What is SPRING? (Sustainable Packaging Research Information and Networking Group)
What should consumers do to be more sustainable? 
How can we make packaging more sustainable? 

https://ororapackagingsolutions.com/
Looking to improve the sustainability of your packaging today? Check out:
https://www.landsberg.com/
The views and opinions expressed on the "Sustainable Packaging with Cory Connors" podcast are solely those of the author and guests and should not be attributed to any other individual or entity. 

https://specright.com/ This podcast is an independent production and the podcast production is an original work of the author. All rights of ownership and reproduction are retained—copyright 2022.
https://www.amazon.com/dp/1329820053/ref=as_sl_pc_qf_sp_asin_til?tag=corygat

Cory Connors:

Welcome to sustainable packaging with Cory Connors today. I'm very excited for my guest, Mr. Bob Lilienfeld who's the executive director of SPRING . Bob Lilienfeld: How are you? I'm very good. Thank you. It's it's snowing here in in Colorado, but we need the snow, so I'm happy. That's good news then. Yes. Yeah, they The people who are listening. Can't see. But Bob's got a really beautiful picture of the mountains behind his house as his background here. So when you get a chance, check out the YouTube version of this, and you'll see that, you'll see the picture. So Bob, tell us about your background. How did you get into sustainable packaging? How did you, how did you come about starting this company

Bob Lilienfeld:

are well, I'll try, I'll try and keep this brief. I've been, I've been doing this since about. 19 early 1990s, 92 or so. And at the time I was working with DOW plastics I handled their advertising account and they came to me and they said, you know, , we got a problem. And, and most of their business at the time was polyethylene based. And they said, you know, this is a pretty cool material. But, but it's plastic and the public hates it. Is there anything we can do? And I said, yes, but it's not going to be what you think you can do. It's not a question of saying to the world, look, this has the highest strength, you know, to product ratio of any material in Baba. I said, you, you really have to put it in a way that people understand. And the value of polyethylene is not its recyclability. And we've learned that, you know, many, many times over the last 25 years, but the real value is, is it source reduction? Capability and waste prevention. So I started to talk to bill wrath, J the world famous garbologist who dug up landfills. And, you know, I said, this is an area where we need some more focus and expertise. And he originally said to me, you're, you're full, you're full of crap. It, you know, it doesn't really matter. And I went, oh, okay, fine. And then about a month later, he called me up and he said, you know what? I've been thinking about it. And I think you're right. Let's do something. I love

Cory Connors:

it. So we.

Bob Lilienfeld:

Good. We wrote a full page op ed piece for the new year in the New York times. That was called six enviro myths that talked about all of the things. And frankly, they really haven't changed that. Recycling is, of course it's a, it's a smart thing to do, but it's not the be all. And the end all, and that at the end of the day, we, as human beings are responsible for our own activities. And nature doesn't care where CO2 comes from. If it's being produced. And driven into the atmosphere. You know, a molecule is a molecule. So based on that, we we, we were called by random house and wrote a book and just became more and more involved in, in sustainable at the time. It wasn't called sustainability. But the book used what was called useless stuff, environmental solutions for who we really are. And based on that book, I've been involved in this for the last 25.

Cory Connors:

Back then it was called environmental ism or green, green, green living, right? Yeah. That's it's so interesting. How it's this kind of gotten rebranded over and over again, but we're all doing the same stuff.

Bob Lilienfeld:

Great. We all, we all desperately want to. Not have to change our behaviors and hope that either other people will do the work for us or that we can get by doing the minimal amount of work. We can, we, we can do a hundred

Cory Connors:

percent. So your organization is called sustainable packaging research information and networking group, which is spring for short. Can you, can you tell us about how you started that and, and, and what you guys

Bob Lilienfeld:

do there? Sure. Yeah, it started about six months ago. There was a flurry of government reports, both us international UN regarding climate change. And I started to write about it and there was a a group of gentlemen in the oil and gas industry who seem to kind of float around and look for, for bugs to squash. And I became one of those bugs and I got very annoyed and said something, something needs. To be, to be done. I, I certainly don't have all the answers, but I know people who do or, or can we at least get the science out. So that's how that was the Genesis of spring. And I looked at either people I I've known over the last 30 years, or I followed people assiduously on LinkedIn and other sources to see who I trusted and basically had two. You know, initially sell them on the value proposition. And basically I'm, I'm thrilled with, with the people who are involved. They're all for the most part. Senior engineers, academics consultants most of us are. Let's say in our mid sixties, some are a little bit younger. But the thing we all have in common is it's time for us to try and give backward. We've learned we don't make any money doing this. It's really a labor of love. Obviously there are there's consulting work that comes out of this. If, if people want it, but it's not our primary objective, we're trying to remain. As transparent as we possibly can. And I judge my success, not by how much people agree with me, but by how many people disagree with me. Cause that's the, and I want people to disagree across the spectrum. Right. So we have as, as a group. It politically we're, we're a mish-mash it took us a long time to get past the policy, text to the point where we now respect, you know, we can see through each other's politics, we can take the political lens off and get down to the reality of the science.

Cory Connors:

That's excellent. Waste 360, just announced their top 40 under 40 influencers for the environment. And you guys should have a top 70 under 70. I think that would be perfect for spring. That would be wonderful.

Bob Lilienfeld:

Okay.

Cory Connors:

Yeah. Well, it sounds like an amazing group. Can, can you speak to some of the things that spring suggests to consumers? So what are things that consumers can do to be more sustainable?

Bob Lilienfeld:

Well, most of what we're doing is, is really. Trying to work within, within the industry. The problem with dealing with consumers is it's an enormous market and, and it it's expensive. So the people we really want to reach are what we used to call influentials today. And the, you know, the meat in the social media world are so-called influencers, but there's, there's really three groups. There's consumers. There's the media itself. People like you. And there's the. And these people are not, they they're self-identifying in the sense that they tend to be open-minded, they're looking for information. We do not know. We try hard not to tell people what to do. We trust them to make good decisions if they have good information. And the hardest thing is, is to remain, I'll say value neutral. And this is the biggest, the biggest issue we face is that. You can make a good economic decision. That's bad environmentally and socially, and did over the other two legs on the stool. So when people at what we try to get people to understand is this is. We're not looking for perfection, we're looking for progress. There, there has to be trade offs there. We have to be willing to give up something to get something. So the issue is always, how do you generate the most value with the least amount of change? So there's a whole social psychology component to. That, that we have to continually try to address that the academics in the group they'll tell you exactly what needs to be done. And then they'll think, you know, Bob, just go do this. Okay. Just tell people what to do. And if it doesn't really work that way the primary thing we want consumers to understand is there's really no such thing as sustainable. And that, and that you cannot look at simply the package. You have to look at what the package contains and that the true sustainable package is one that delivers a hundred percent of the product that you as a consumer expect to receive and the condition you expect to receive it and makes that delivery to you with the least amount of waste . That's yes, that's our definition door open for things that most people would think are not sustainable. And the, the one that comes up all the time and came up today was electronics packaging because of polystyrene. So if you just looked at the, at the material, you might say, well, this is a bad actor, whether it is or not as irrelevant, but it's a bad actor. The public doesn't want it. Let's make it go. Okay. What, what would that really mean? I mean, that would mean the $2,000 television sets wouldn't make it from Shanghai to Sheboygan without breaking. And not only did you just lose the price and the cost of the TV set, but you created hazardous material that now needs to be cleaned up. So a good part of this is, is the discussion that you need to look simply beyond. The package to, to what, what the package is designed to do.

Cory Connors:

Absolutely correct. I, I totally agree. There's nothing sustainable about damaged goods. There's nothing sustainable about going out of business. There's nothing, you know, all of these things that people are pushing for are great, conceptually, but it's going to take time. You know, there are replacements for polystyrene that are viable and that are working things like molded pulp and things like chitin foam. I interviewed Cruz foam on this podcast a few months ago and it was it's coming, you know, but it's going to take a long time like you said, to fully replace a styrofoam or polystyrene. But I think it's possible someday and that's why we'll keep advocating.

Bob Lilienfeld:

Right. And, and I mean, you, you said the word, the word, you said, the phrase that people don't want to hear, which is it's going to take time. And I, I did a lot of work in the last few years in the bioplastic space and. What seems like an easy decision is, is not, and you're substituting something new for something that's worked for a long time that people understand how to process, et cetera, et cetera. And it's very similar to the automotive industry. I mean, it takes five to seven years. Between the point where you walk in the door to a potential customer or client, and the day your product walks out the door, you know, in robbing their products. So nothing is going to happen over.

Cory Connors:

That's exactly right. And there are large companies that frankly have to fill warehouses full of packaging due to supply concerns right now. So there's no way they could pivot immediately. They need months or sometimes years to to make changes of higher PCR content or things like.

Bob Lilienfeld:

Well, and the, the other, I mean, the other ironic changes is consumer inertia. You cannot simply make a change in your package and uh, you know, put it on the show. And expect consumers to understand why you did it or to not be afraid that they're getting less for their money. And that's the reason that initially concentrated detergents, for example, didn't take off because I'm an ex P and G brand managers. You know, I'm pretty aware of this stuff, but initially the first concentrated detergent, you know, 30 years ago was tied and it failed. And it wasn't until lever brothers came out with a detergent and went to Walmart and Walmart said, Hey, this is a pretty good idea. We're going to require all of our detergent brands to be concentrated. So Walmart was, was the impetus and it, it, you know, it was 20 years later than what P and G had tried to do. Timing is.

Cory Connors:

Isn't that incredible too. I didn't know that story. And thank you for sharing that because that's the kind of wisdom we need to know about a lot of people give Walmart a bad time, but I think they've made some really positive environmental changes over the years.

Bob Lilienfeld:

Yeah. I I've worked with them. Initially on their scorecard, I was the keynote speaker at one of their conferences and I warned them. That this was not as simple as they thought it was. And that putting a scorecard in front of busy buyers who are being judged. On sales per square foot of shelf space, we're going to have a very hard time wrapping their minds around what we were trying to do. And that at the end of the day, they were going to just say, is this stuff recyclable? They had to have a simple mnemonic by which to judge this. And that's pretty much what happened and, and the Walmart's credit. That's how, in a large sense, that's how the project gigatons. I was born because Walmart came around to understanding, wow, this is a lot bigger than simply recycling. And frankly the ability to reduce greenhouse gas generation in our supply chain is significantly more important than worrying about whether, you know, something, how recyclable is something really. I know that's heresy, but

Cory Connors:

well it's, but it's the truth. And you know, I try not to make hard, hard lines on this podcast, but frankly, it's, that's what it's all about. We're trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and trying to you know, and if recycling can help with that. Wonderful. But maybe it's. Source reduction or, or near onshoring or whatever the case may be. There's all these things I interviewed Jamie from Bluebird climate yesterday. And what they're working on is life cycle analysis four brands. And he, I asked him the same kind of questions I'm asking you. And his answers were very similar. That depends. We're not sure if we have to look at the whole thing and you must, you must not only look at what you're buying, but where you're buying it. And, and is it traveling from, from overseas or is it traveling from, you know, across the world? These are all important

Bob Lilienfeld:

facts. Yep. And we've we, I call it the wheel. But if if you look at this spring website, which is spring pack.net, you'll see that we've got a sustainability roadmap. And within that wheel, I mean, it's, it's, it starts on the outside with the concept of what are we trying to accomplish, reduce greenhouse gas generation reduce water, use, reduce materials and chemicals of concern, but there's a new way or that we put in there that most people don't consider it. And it's it's factors that are beyond your control. It's local, it's it's cultural norms. , it's the infrastructure that exists within, within a company, within a country or a community. And all of those factors are going to make a determination and there are 10 of them. And so the way that a problem gets solved in Germany is going to be radically different than the way it gets solved in Alabama. And ditto for Alabama versus Missouri. So the, the biggest problem we face is that nobody, even the UN hasn't set aside a specific goal that we're all trying to accomplish. Once there was the goal and the goal probably relates to greenhouse gas generation, once the goal is set it's really, that's when the market. Can can work its magic, but, but somebody has to create the playing field and set the goals and the objectives. And then you let the teams do their, do their best within the parameters that everybody's agreed upon.

Cory Connors:

Yeah. Well said, do you think that'll be tied to extended producer responsibility?

Bob Lilienfeld:

It could be. EPR is certainly a tactic. Most of us within spring or, or skeptics primarily because the, the people who are the most skeptical are the Canadians seen it firsthand and don't believe it's really working. But. We have a program in spring of a mentor program for startup companies. And a lot of times younger people will come to us with ideas that we've seen over and over and over again. And our first reaction is to say no, but then when you take my detergent analogy, you know, it, maybe the time is right for those things. So, you know, things do change. And so there, there is no perfect answer. There's and, and I can virtually guarantee you that any significant change that occurs is going to come at the margins that it always does. We don't, we don't see. Until it until it's like all of a sudden it's like, holy crap, this is,

Cory Connors:

this is true. Yeah. And, and it's going to affect price probably. Right. Unfortunately until, until the, until the recycle streams have value, which I think will happen more.

Bob Lilienfeld:

Well, they, you know, some of them do now. I mean, the paper cardboard OCC pricing , is way up polypropylene. And I'm sorry, not polypropylene, but pet certain polyethylene resins and HDPE are all up. That the other thing that I think has to happen is. We have to recognize the fact that not all plastics are going to get recycled. Okay. So once, once let's, let's just say that pet and HDPE are a slam dunk and we've got, we've got the systems in place and the economics in place to deal with them. Okay. Let's push those aside. Now let's look at what's left on an individual basis, and then we can determine both the value of those records. And, and the best way to ensure that greenhouse gas reduction post life is minimized. And so, so the next one you'd attack, I don't mean attack in a negative light. The next one you you'd look at if it's polypropylene. And until, and I dunno if you notice this, but I re I responded this morning to the Pia. Comments about you know, the value of plastics. And my response was there's no such thing as plastics. Okay. You need to stop referring to what you're about as plastic is. If, if you were to look at the different resins and the values of those rights. It would become clear to consumers a lot clearer what they ought to be considering. And frankly, it would be clear to the industry what they ought to be considering. But as long as you lump everything together, you can only be perceived as good as your poorest member.

Cory Connors:

So that's a great point. We need to. Disseminate, which which materials have value, which ones don't, which ones should be lessened, which ones should be used more. Very good point. You mentioned Dow you, you worked there before, or you worked with them? Yeah, I had. I got to interview them on this podcast, DOW specialty plastics, and there, what they're doing is focusing on mono materials. And I think that's a positive step. So rather than multilayer films, that can't be recycled except by chemical means they're making recyclable you know, mano material films, which is a good step.

Bob Lilienfeld:

Yeah, it is a good step that, I mean, their issue is. It's two-fold one of those is it's. Those are not generally rigid applications. So you've got, there's the flexible element to that. And the other is that , in a lot of cases those products , are those packages are contaminated by the product inside, or they're too small to pass over the screens and Merced. I mean, it's beyond, it's certainly beyond Dow's control. And that's one of the values of, of what we're calling non-mechanical recycling because Chaz Miller, Hey. The term chemical recycling. And I have, I have a lot of respect for chat, so I've done, non-mechanical recycling, but the public doesn't understand where it fits in the equation. And if they did, they would have a far easier time understanding where it's, where it's value. Yeah,

Cory Connors:

well, frankly, a lot of us professionals don't understand how it works and where it's, where it adds value and where it, you know, there's, there's so much to be learned here. That's why one of the reasons I started this podcast, people don't know what they're doing. It's, it's so confusing. And they're, you know, their CEO says we're going to be plastic free by 2030. How do you do that? You know, when you know, there's when you absolutely need. Barrier elements that plastic provides there. There's so many, I feel terrible for some of these buyers out there are trying to pivot to you know, non-plastic material when there's not a good alternative.

Bob Lilienfeld:

Right. Well, there's two questions. You asked one of them, which is how to do it. But the first question is why to do like, right. And that's the one that CEOs are never you know, they're, they're never asked because if they were, it would force them to make a decision. And if they want to decide, because we want to, you know, we want. I don't want, I'll say pander, we want a pander to a specific audience. Yeah. Okay. That's your decision, but, and you'll have to live with those results. Good or bad. But

Cory Connors:

this goes through, this goes right back to what you just said of, if, if you're lumping all plastics together, then people are gonna think styrofoam, you know, that's, that's the worst. That's the, the, the least. Respected if you will. The the, the one that people hate, because when it breaks, it flies all over the place and they try to put it in their trash bin and it's it causes a problem sticks to

Bob Lilienfeld:

your sweaters

Cory Connors:

or, or blows up in your garage. I've had that happen to It's this is, I'm so thankful for this conversation, Bob . I think , it's such a challenge and wisdom and can teach us you know and I'm not trying to, to, to blow smoke, but I think it's really important that people listen to what you guys are saying. We need to learn about how to do this better.

Bob Lilienfeld:

Well, thanks. I, I am so. Grateful for some of the people who we work with. Dr. Ramani Ryan, who is one of the world's leading experts on, on biomaterials and compostability. Dr. Mario Ramal at the university of Mexico. These are, these are brilliant people. Who's, you know, Einstein said to the average person, mere brilliance looks like genius. Yeah. These guys are geniuses. I don't know how else, how else to say it, but, it's a great experience. And it's probably the most rewarding thing I've ever done. And it's the culmination basically of 40 years of, of knowledge and experience.

Cory Connors:

Oh, that that's amazing. Very impressive. Can you, can you leave us with a couple of suggestions, like maybe some more general kind of, here's a couple of things that you can do to be more sustainable

Bob Lilienfeld:

if you, if you're a if you're the average consumer, the two. Simplest things to do. And frankly, the two most important things to do are drive less. And it's it's winter. So put a sweater on turn, turning the heat, turned the heat down by two degrees. If we worry, . If, if we weren't. If all we worried about with the amount of energy we used in our homes, that would have a hundred times the impact versus worrying about which bin to put our packaging in. So I mean that's, so from that perspective, it's, it's really all about energy from a packaging perspective. In an, in an I deal world, you're in a situation where you have single stream recycling No pay it. So it's fairly easy to pay attention. I mean, put the right stuff in the right bin. And it, it makes a significant difference, especially when you look at contamination, which is the real issue facing the recycling industry. One more quick thing. You mentioned EPR. If you consider bottle bills is EPA. Frankly, I'm a big fan. There's, there's plenty, plenty of data to show that the states with this with bottle bills, not only have high recycling rates, they have cleaner, cleaner bails . So there are there, you know, there's solutions out there. The question is who has the political will to impact.

Cory Connors:

Yeah. Well, thank you so much. Yeah. I live in Oregon and we were there was a poll done recently. We were, one of, we were voted the top green state in the country for now very closely. I think Washington was next, but I think it might have something to do with our, our bottle bill. And I think you're right. That makes a lot of

Bob Lilienfeld:

difference. It does. And the other thing it has something to do with is your DEQ people like David Allen. They're brilliant. They're down to earth. They look at the science and because you have a fairly well-educated electorate, if you will they've listened to the science of, I, I'm not sure that David Alloway would, would be an effective person in Arizona for example, but he's found a way to make people believe in the science. Thank you, David ally.

Cory Connors:

Well done, sir. Well, how did we get ahold of you? How do we get ahold of spring? What's what's the best way?

Bob Lilienfeld:

Well either go to, I would say go to spring pack.net as P R I N G P a C k.net. And you can find all our contact information or type me in on, on LinkedIn either way. And most of what we do on spring, we do through my LinkedIn site because it's the simplest and easiest way. To get things done.

Cory Connors:

Yeah. LinkedIn is great. Well, thank you, Bob. I'd like to thank Landsberg Orora for your continued support of this podcast. If you're listening, please subscribe and give us a, a share to your friends. Thank you so much.

Bob Lilienfeld:

Thanks Cory