Blog & Podcast

Dealing with the Climate Crisis

Anthony Day helps you plan a sustainable future with expert guests and reports on green technologies from across a warming world.

The Texas Trash Talker
Stacy Savage

Last week we heard from the Shubhi Sachan of the Materials Library of India about how to minimise waste and re-use and recycle what cannot be avoided. This week, from the other side of the world, Stacy Savage, Founder & CEO, Zero Waste Strategies, LLC, explains how she addresses such issues with her clients, some of them very big brands.

This is what she told me.



I'm talking today to Stacy Savage. She's the Texas Trash Talker. So we're going to talk rubbish, are we?


We are.


Great. Well, you are the founder and owner of Zero Waste Strategies, a consultancy which advises some quite big names on how to achieve zero waste. So what do you tell them?


Waste Streams

What do I tell them? Well, every company is different, which means every waste stream is different. So we do a lot of customization and we tell them that reduce, reuse, recycle is not the only Rs that we should be implementing in our business. So there are many Rs in between reduce, reuse, recycle that we do not address. And that means we're losing materials, and we're losing out on resources, and potentially even jobs in the local area.

So when we think of reduce, reuse, recycle, before reduce comes refuse, let's refuse waste where we can. Refuse refuse is what we like to call it. And after that, let's look at, once you've reduced, we look into between reduce and reuse is repair. So instead of chucking that old printer out because the knob is missing, well why don't you order the new part and just put it on there instead of getting a new printer. So where can we repair? And after reuse we would say remanufacturing, refabrication. What are the ways that we can reuse those materials in those newer type products? And then we look at things... After recycling, well, what would come in as a contemporary to recycling is resoiling, which is composting of food waste, yard waste, green organic material. And there's just a lot of res that we're missing out there, which, in turn, are job builders, job creators for local communities and local material markets.


Service Organisations

Okay. So you deal obviously with manufacturing organizations and you describe all sorts of things that you can do, but you also deal with a lot of service organizations, like hotels and things. And that must be quite a different approach because they receive products from other people. Other people have decided on the wrapping manufacturer and everything else, so they've got less control. How do you approach that?


Well, the key thing with that is vendor contracts are a thing. If you have a supplier or a vendor under contract and you are no longer willing, as a business, to accept their materials, the products that you're ordering coming in, the specific containers that they're coming in from that manufacturer or from that vendor, you have the ability to sit down with them and say, "We no longer accept this packaging. How can you work with us to change it upstream on your end? Because we don't want to handle your massive amounts of cardboard. Can we use collapsible plastic containers? Can we use collapsible metal containers instead? What are the options that you can utilize to keep our business? And if you don't want to work with us, we can rebid that contract out."


So those collapsible containers are reused and reused again?



Many, many, many times. And it's the same thing for consumers. We don't necessarily have the ability to dictate what is on the store shelves for us to purchase as everyday humans. So it's incumbent upon the companies further upstream in the design, and innovation, and engineering phase to design for recycling. Make it easier for us as consumers to recycle your products.

I believe in Germany, many, many years ago, when, I think, maybe in the early to mid '90s, where there was those compact disc containers that had the long opaque plastic. So it was an anti-theft device, basically. But people would pop them out and leave the waste there at the counter and say, I don't want to take this home. I don't have anything to do with it. That propelled a movement where people were taking cereal out of the cardboard boxes and leaving the cardboard, leaving the materials there and just taking the product home because they were being charged at their home for recycling the materials that the producer gave them. And so, they didn't want that anymore. It started a whole movement in Europe, I believe, around package refusal and just taking the product that they bought home.


Bring Your Own Container

Yeah. We do have some stores which provide dry goods in dispensers and you can bring your own container. It's not mainstream. I know where there's one in my town. But it's a way to go. It's certainly a way to go. Now, you are down there in Texas. Texas is an oil country.


I'm in Texas.




Yee haw.


Oil Country

Oil country. And you say your family has got a long history in the oil industry. And we didn't used to think about pollution. We didn't used to think about emissions, which come from, not only from refining the oil and the gas and so on, but of course, from the use of it for burning it in cars and whatever else. So it must be very difficult, given that that industry is so vitally important to your state, to begin to change attitudes. But are attitudes changing?


Yes, I believe so. There's a much higher demand for recycling infrastructure. Unfortunately, for the past 30, 40 years, as Americans, we have relied upon shipping our recyclable materials overseas or to Mexico just across the border, at least here in Texas and more of the border states. But now that China has put what's called the national sword or the green wall, if you will, they're no longer taking contaminated shipment at their ports. And a lot of times, China is where these materials would go and they would suffer the consequences of accepting these materials that were contaminated by bringing them into port, accepting those materials. They would get into the remanufacturing stream, but they had to be sorted first because the recyclables that we have sent from America or for other developed nations would come as dirty materials. They would be co-mingled with trash because, unfortunately, Americans still don't know how to recycle properly.

Pushback from China

And so, it was a dumping scheme, if you will. And now that China has says, "No more, if a container of recyclable materials has more than 0.05% contamination rate, it's getting sent back to the home port." And as these container ships are coming back with our recyclables over the 30, 40 years that we've been dumping, we have not invested in the actual infrastructure of recycling plants, composting facilities, reuse and remanufacturing here in America. And that has cost us a lot of cash, and it's cost us a lot of jobs, and economic stability as well.

So, now that these are coming back to port, we're having to deal with them and we just can't build these plants fast enough. And unfortunately, a lot of the materials are getting land filled because they're coming back just as contaminated as they were when they left our shores. And so, if we can't process them here at our recycling plants, what makes us think that they can process them in China? It is really an out of sight, out of mind concept that we have bought into for far too long. And it's time for us to make changes, instill that infrastructure, create the jobs, create the economic vitality in local communities by reusing these materials.



Yeah, it's a problem for Europe, I think, just as much. But you say we can reuse these materials, but if they're contaminated, that's the first problem, isn't it? I mean, are these plants that are being built actually going to recycle or are we just talking about incinerators?


Well, a lot of it will be going to incinerator and landfills because of that contamination rate. It's really starts with us as the consumer to properly sort at the point of ridding our homes or our offices of these recyclable type of materials or even compostable materials. Making sure that the plastic bags aren't wrapped around that old head of lettuce that just went bad in your refrigerator. Making sure that the little stickers aren't on the orange peel rhymes, that the little staples are no longer in the tea bags. Those kinds of things that we need to look out for, people a lot of times just don't think about it. And it's not their fault. We haven't invested in the education of our population either, and we haven't made it a priority.

Value in Trash

People see trash as trash, as non valuable, and it's really not the case. There's a lot that can be done with these valuable commodities, such as corrugated cardboard, as well as plastics, glass, metal, and office paper, newspaper. These things that can be reintroduced into the remanufacturing process is a big job creator. But if we're giving these plants dirty materials, at some point it's just not financially feasible for them to sort materials that should have been already sorted and clean.


Sorting Plastic

And at the consumer level, it's difficult to know what's what. I mean, you get all these plastic containers from the supermarket, and if you can actually see the recycling symbol, is it a one? Is it a two? Is it a five? Is it an eight? Because you're not supposed to mix them.


I know. I [inaudible 00:11:08] to look like, what does that say?


Can you recycle your pizza box?

There needs to be a convention that they've got to be a particular size so that you can actually see them. But then the other thing, I found out the other day that I'd been religiously recycling my pizza boxes and they said, "Don't do that because they've got grease on and they're contaminated. They can't recycle them, put them in landfill." But these are things that you don't know.


I'm not sure who's telling you that, but that was the previous method. Technology is now allowing for those greasy pizza boxes to be recycled. And actually, Waste Management, which is the largest waste handling and hauler and processor in the world, has encouraged their clients to put those pizza boxes into the recycling bin. Now, you can compost those as well because it has the greasy food waste, but the technology is advancing so rapidly in the recycling industry that they have put out a statement that they're okay with it. And imagine... I mean, my husband and I just had pizza the other night and I put the box in the recycling bin, and he was like, "Well, wait, we can't do that." I'm like, "Aha, yes, we can. Look here." And I showed him. So there's a lot of miseducation. There's a lot of conflicting messages. And there is just a lot of confusion out there.


Yeah. Well, it's interesting because I heard that from a representative of our local recycling plant. Now, this is a state-of-the-art plant. They take the domestic rubbish completely unsorted, drop it in, and then they sort it out, they triage it out, they take the paper, they take the metal, they take the plastic. And so, it is a pretty sophisticated plant. But they said, "No, no dirty pizza boxes." Maybe they'll upgrade it. I don't know.


Waste Management

Yeah. Well, if you have a Waste Management account, confirm, of course, for your local area, but they put out a statement that it's okay.


Right. Waste Management, though, that is a United States company, is that right?


That is a US-based company. But they're international. They're global. They're the largest Waste Management company in the world. I think they have changed their marketing to instead of Waste Management. But yes, you'll always want to check with your local policies first, of course. But I think more and more of these... Because they understand that's even a valuable stream. If they can pull it in and keep it out of landfill, that's beneficial to them for the bottom line. But also, if you have a composting system, either at work or at home, if you want to shred the greasy pizza box and put it in your compost bin, that's fine too. It's made of paper. It's got food waste on it. It's a great place to put it instead of the landfill trash.


Zero Waste - cheaper to recycle

Right. Okay, I'll work on that. Yes. We were talking... You just mentioned the costs on the bottom line. So this aiming for zero waste is a way to improve the bottom line, presumably because landfill has a cost. I know it does here. I'm sure it does there. So that's one of the things you promote then, to reduce what you send to landfill or to any other disposal point.


Right. Yeah. At least here in Texas, it's about 10 to 20% cheaper to recycle than it is to landfill. And so, we want to encourage waste reduction. Remember, that's one of the first Rs. Of course, refusal of waste is the beginning of that funnel. But the ability to reduce waste and keep things from the actual dumpster or the receptacle that's on your property is really the fastest and cheapest way to kick off or kickstart your sustainability journey as a company.

And that is that when you can realize the most immediate cost savings, because once you're reducing your waste to landfill or to incinerator, you can negotiate with your hauler, the company that trucks away the materials once it's dumped out of your landfill receptacle into their truck, you can work with them to reduce either the capacity of the dumpsters that you have on site or the frequency of pickup per week, or both. You can combine those for even more cash savings.

And the more cost that you save, the more that you can put that into new programs. Let's say you already have a recycling program as well where you're 50/50, right? But 50% of what's in your landfill trash is actually organic material. If you're switching the organic material into a composting system for your employees, let's say at the cafeteria, there's a way to offset those costs by reducing the landfill trash even more, more, more and more. You have more cost savings as well. So you're in a fluid, contractual negotiation capacity with your hauler so that you can right size those systems for your specific business needs.

Arbitrary Costs

Many times, the haulers that truck these materials away will see your property. They'll see how many employees you have, what kinds of materials that you generate, and they'll give you an arbitrary capacity for your dumpsters and an arbitrary cost that you will accept because right sizing your containers and your systems is probably not your forte. So getting a specialist like me on site say, "You don't need that much capacity. You definitely don't need three pickups a week. You really only need two." So we can work with your hauler and we can renegotiate those terms in the contract to make sure it's fluid for your business needs. And if you need an additional pickup, then you can use the costs that you've saved throughout the year to pay for that pickup. Maybe it's around the holidays and you have more waste generation. So there's ways to do it that are optimally fluid throughout the year so that you're not paying to just carp air off your property.


Right, right. Well, you work with manufacturers then to minimize the waste that they send out, to minimize indeed the waste that they produce. And ideally, the waste that they do produce is suitable for going somewhere else within the circular economy and becoming an input to another process. And then, with the service organizations, like hotels and so on, you help them with procurement so that they can push the pressure back up the supply chain.




Changing Attitudes

Now, do you also work with the employees within these organizations to inform them and also to try and change attitudes?


Absolutely. It's the habit change of the last 30, 40 years that has really gotten us stuck. And people view trash as invaluable or as not having value. But in my case, I'm going to make the case for trash is invaluable because it is full of materials that could have been recycled, that could have been recovered in some way. Even if it's food waste, if it's still consumable, it could have been donated legally through the Federal Good Samaritan Act that was passed back in 1996.

How do we feed our aging population? How do we feed food insecure communities? A lot of times that's going to come from business donations of foods, of prepared foods, or frozen foods that they haven't used and that are still consumable. So even in the Rs, the res that we're talking about, redistribution in the food waste category is a big thing to optimize the use of a higher and better use of those food materials to needy communities that could have used them rather than it going to landfills.

So there's just a lot of ways that we can really address these issues, but it's really about changing the hearts and minds of people around how they view these waste materials. We call them material discards because they're discarded, no longer in use doesn't mean that they have no value. And so, changing the view of those staff members is really quite a thrill for me. Doing the staff training, the employee training, that is very fun. It's engaging. I mean, we're talking trash here. A lot of people don't see it as fun. It ain't sexy. Except me, waste, recycling nerds like me. But if we can make it fun and engaging, we can do pop quizzes. We can gamify it. We can help them have healthy competitions floor by floor in an office building, or those green teams that can rally their peers around taking accountability, taking ownership of these programs and making sure that they succeed. It really helps the business attain its zero waste and sustainability goals.

So it really starts with the internal employee and how they see themselves fitting into the microcosm of the small circular economy within the business and really allowing them the ability to present innovative tactics that will energize their peers as well. If there's an ability to present ideas, or new innovations, or new services, employees should feel empowered to do that, to go to their manager and say, "Hey, I think we could do this a better way." And managers should be open to receiving that feedback because this is about air, land, and water quality. This is about feeding needy communities. This is about increasing the job pool in the local area because we're using those materials as feed stock for new products.

So there's a whole manufacturing, and waste reduction, and diversion circle within the internal operations of the business. And employees are critical to making sure that the program actually succeeds. And the money that you spent into their training is something that can be carried on with new hires as well. One thing that employers a lot of times don't really tackle is there's usually a lot of safety precautions. And safety, safety, safety, safety, it's a top tier issue. It's always at the front of the mind for employees. But are we doing that with environment? Are we doing that with sustainability? Are we putting that same energy into empowering these employees about taking ownership of sustainability programs actually succeeding? A lot of times, it's no.



Okay. Are you finding that organizations in general are getting on board with this, or are they talking the talk but not walking the walk and relying on a bit of greenwash?


It depends on who you're talking about.


Well, we don't need to know names.


Consumer (Buying) Power

Here's the thing, the next boon in consumerism is going to be your younger Gen X, your Millennials, and your older Gen Zers, and maybe even your younger Gen Alpha. They are going to be... I believe there's around $50 billion just in the US of annual collective buying power from this particular set of population, this particular block of consumers. And their ideals are far different from previous generations when it comes to social justice, environmental protection, and transparency. And they are keen enough and savvy enough to research your consumer sustainability reports on your website. They have the ability to expose bad practices on social media and make that go viral.

If you don't want those types of PR nightmares, you're not going to greenwash. You're not even going to chance it. You're going to actually invest in your business for a long term solution that will prioritize sustainability, green operations, green products that you bring to the store shelves for consumers to buy. And you're going to also invest in your green marketing and your storytelling so that you can envelop, you can bring in these new consumers, you can bring in new investors, you can bring in new shareholders, and again, empower those employees that are internally seeing one thing but may be seeing on commercials a whole different other thing from your company. And they're like, "Hey, these don't align." That's a morale deflator. So you need to be in alignment with this new block of consumers. And their values are focused on environmental justice, social justice, worker rights, those types of things that are very dear to their value system, near and dear to their heart.


Well, that's a very interesting perspective. Stacy, are you optimistic for the future?



I am. I am very optimistic for the future because these large companies are getting on board. They're signing onto global packs. They are coming to the table. And they are finding new ways to be innovative and to even alter their products, so the materials that they're using. They're becoming more collaborative, I believe, in the way that things are manufactured or the way that they're making their products. And it's because of the way these newer generations have been speaking up and have been calling them on the carpet for bad habits, bad practices, bad labor tactics, and even poor extraction policies as well. How do you extract the materials out of the earth, the raw resources, And they are taking a look at all of this and they're voting with their dollar.


Right. Stacy Savage, the Texas Trash Talker. Thank you very much for talking to the Sustainable Futures Report.


Absolutely. Thank you for the opportunity.


We've got a climate crisis, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that we still need people like Stacy to keep our planet clean and habitable. Many thanks to her for her insights. You can find her on social media,

·       LinkedIn

·       Twitter

·       Instagram

·       Facebook

·       TikTok


 Next Week

Next week it’s my review of the year as I promised. I’ve spoken to a lot of people and covered a wide range of topics. I need to know what you would like to revisit, to find out how things have changed, improved or possibly got worse. No, let's be optimistic!

My review’s not quite the very last episode for 2023 as we’ll conclude the year with Peter Wang Hjemdahl of RePurpose on Wednesday 28th, and 360º solutions to take action on your plastic footprint. And I’ll be up  and running in January with a string of episodes for the New Year.

For now, I'll let you get back to your Christmas shopping. It's only a couple of weeks you know.

That was the Sustainable Futures Report.

I’m Anthony Day.

Until next week.



Image by <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=297475">Clker-Free-Vector-Images</a> from <a href=“;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=297475">Pixabay</a>


No comments

Subscribe to the Updates


Join the Mailing List for updates on new podcasts and blogs


About Anthony Day

A weekly podcast and blog brought to you by Anthony Day. A selection of stories and interviews aiming to be sustainable, topical and interesting.
And also, I do address conferences.

Anthony Day

Lastingham Terrace
York, UK
+44 7803 616877
email Anthony