A Climate Change with Matt Matern Climate Podcast


145: Revolutionizing Recycling: Zachary Kirstein's Ocean Recovery Group Mission

Guest Name(s): Zachary Kirstein

Matt Matern speaks with Zachary Kirstein, CEO of Ocean Recovery Group, about recycling efforts, particularly in the Dominican Republic. He emphasizes the importance of addressing recycling needs locally and highlights low recycling rates in the Dominican Republic.

They touch on legislation like Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) bills and express optimism about corporations integrating recycled plastics into their supply chains.  Kirstein discusses ocean-bound plastics, greenwashing, and the future of recycling efforts.

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We’re working to solve the planet’s ocean-bound plastic crisis in the Western Hemisphere. We’re using our unparalleled expertise to improve the collection, cleaning and recycling of ocean-bound plastics in the Western Hemisphere for the next generation.

You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern and your host I’ve got Zachary Kirstein on the program. Zachary is CEO of ocean recovery group and it’s a big recycling group and I’m pleased to have him on the show to tell our audience a bit about the efforts that he and his company are making towards recycling and, you know, we had heard about you and thought, hey, it’d be great to have you on the program because recycling is a big part of solving our environmental problems. Yeah. So Zachary, tell us a little bit about Ocean Recovery Group and the work that you’re doing over there.

Thanks for having me, Matt. Yeah, so I’ve been in the recycling industry for more than 20 years. And around the start of COVID time, I saw an opportunity to make a larger investment in infrastructure in the Dominican Republic. So about 800 miles away from Miami, where I live is Dominican Republic. And we saw a unique opportunity. We’ve been buying recyclables there for about 10 years and right around about a month or two before COVID actually hit the US.

My partner says to me now, my now partner says to me, come down, check it out, see what we’re doing here. And it’s a very compelling story. And you go to this country that’s very close to the US. I didn’t realize that Santo Domingo is three and a half times the size of Miami where I live. And there’s no recycling infrastructure there to be spoken of at a high level. And so we saw this as a very compelling need and our ability to meet that need was, you know, kind of a drive to bring us there.

Well that kind of shows a degree of ignorance that I have. Is it Santa Domingo is three times the size of Miami?

Exactly. Who knew? I didn’t know that. And honestly, I live in South Florida, and I didn’t realize that, right? And, you know, country, almost 15 million people and the recycling rates are below 10%. And so, you know, a lot of people are tackling ocean plastic problems in Southeast Asia and other places. And that’s very noble. And, you know, we applaud everyone’s efforts, but not as many people are doing it here in the Western Hemisphere, and certainly not as close to, you know, a lot of these US corporations that have a demand for these sustainable materials.

I guess one thing that I’m hearing a lot recently is that why recycle so much of this stuff isn’t actually going to be recycled, kind of an apathy factor. So what do you say to the apathetic recycler?

Yeah, I mean, here’s what I would say overall, you know, the call to action is really on these large CPGs and brands to back up the claims that they say 2025, 2030 goals for how much recycled content is going to be in their material, how much waste neutralization is actually going to happen. And so as we see these brands start to kick drive some of these initiatives further and further in gear, I think that’s going to trickle downstream to the consumer.

I believe that recycling initiatives really matter. I have a bias, I guess you could say, as a guy that’s in the recycling industry, but nonetheless, there is truth to a lot of the recycling rates and we could throw our hands up in the air or we can be part of the solution and that’s what we’re trying to do.

So being kind of the devil’s advocate for a minute, given my profession as an attorney, it’s not a hard thing for me to swing into. You know, you hear people say, well, there’s all these different symbols on these triangles, one to eight on the back of recycled plastic. And which of these get recycled? And lots of them and the one to eight are not very easily recycled. So what’s your comment to that?

Yeah, and so about eight or nine years ago, most recyclables in the US, at least, or North America, 30 to 40 percent of them went to China. They instituted different policies that changed that for the global recycling economy and made it so a lot of these questions came about. Whereas before, you know, one through sevens and these materials had at least some outlets for it, to your point you know, there became less and less outlets for it. The world’s had to adjust since then.

There’s been a lot more markets that have opened up in different places globally, in Southeast Asia, in India, in Latin America, in the Caribbean. And so, you know, ultimately we have a responsibility to make it easier for people to recycle and to make recycling, you know, beneficial for people. You know, specifically to the Dominican Republic, I touched on them not having, you know, a robust recycling infrastructure.

Think to this question yourself, what would you do if you and your neighbors didn’t have trash and recycling collections outside your house? You would go, you’d find a local plot of land that was near your home, and you and your neighbors would get together and find somewhere to throw your waste, right? And so that’s kind of what we’re dealing with in these foreign countries.

So in the US and in Western countries where there is more recycling infrastructure, my hope is that you know, these brands continue to buy more and more of these materials and integrate them into their supply chains and that it becomes easier for your average person just to do the right thing. Cause I believe most people want to, and when they see the benefits of it and these companies are making it attractive to do so, I think even more so.

Well, isn’t another way to deal with this is to have less plastic out there in the system so there’s less of a need to recycle?

Yeah, so my understanding is that in the next 10 years, the plastic industry plans to either triple or quadruple the amount of plastic that’s being produced. Given that plastic is not going to go away anytime soon at least, you know, instead of demonizing it, what I try to do is think of how we can help elevate these brands, how we can integrate recycled plastics and recycled content into their supply chain. We can make it, you know, so it’s a more sustainable approach.

And yes, to your point, it’d be great if there was other, you know, sustainable materials, et cetera. But given that that’s not happening anytime soon, we’re looking for solutions that are viable and at least address the problem in some meaningful way.

Have you followed the legislation here in California that just got passed in the last year, which is kind of phasing out or at least reducing the amount of plastics that are kind of being generated here in the state?

So we have an office in Los Angeles, so I do spend some time in California, do follow these different states and their rulings. I also look at other policies globally and how that’s kind of impacting the plastics world. And yes, I think it’s again, very meritorious to try to find alternatives, but in the interim, I keep thinking to myself, man, these big companies say they want to integrate these into their supply chain.

They can make the greatest impact in my mind. And, you know, while legislators have the ability to help in different capacities, and you see this with different EPR bills, extended producer responsibility, and more things along those lines, and we’re for that. But, you know, here we are in the short term and our ability to impact the issue is through taking sustainable materials that otherwise we left in the ecosystem and finding ways to integrate that back into big company supply chains and creating products out of it.

So what are you seeing on that front that gives you some hope that the big companies will start using this recycled plastic more in their supply chains?

So in Europe, you have it now where they have 30% for PET specifically, 30% requirements going into packaging. You have more and more places starting to adopt these practices. And so do I believe that every brand is gonna, you know, follow corporate edicts that they put out? No, I truthfully do not believe that’s the case. What gives me some hope is we talk to the biggest companies in the world my primary business company, 4G recycling company, I do recycling services for many of these companies currently and the conversations are evolving.

These companies have really put their foot on the gas pedal in my opinion. And so my optimism is based on the experiences that I have and seeing these brands start to take these conversations more seriously. I’m the one here challenging these brands to try to do that. I’m one of the people that’s doing that.

And you know, I hope to see more efforts along those lines. I want these brands to meet their goals and I want them to understand that in fact, these materials are higher quality than other plastics that they might already be using. These materials have greater properties than their current materials that they’re using oftentimes.

So in terms of the corporations have goals, outside of the legislation in Europe, are you aware of any legislation in the US that is requiring plastic manufacturers to use recycled plastics?

So the main thing that we’re seeing in the US that I’m aware of is EPR bills, as I alluded to. So the Extended Producer Responsibility. And you know, I’m a businessman, right? So this is a really interesting dynamic for me, right? Because I can see it as a business owner. If I believe that selling a certain product in the packaging is gonna help me to sell more of my product, I wanna be able to do that.

But a lot of legislators are saying, one of the ways that we can bring more responsibility to the businesses is by saying, okay, well, if you’re going to do that, and it’s less recyclable, then we’re going to find you or tax you in some way to try to get you to use more sustainable materials.

Now, as a recycler, that’s very compelling to me. I’ll get cleaner recyclables that have more outlets for it. But as a business owner, I see the challenge in that. And so my hope is that there’s thoughtful conversations like this, that brands get to, you know, have more say in how they’re going to integrate these materials into their supply chain, and that they give it a try, and that they work with their packaging innovation teams and find ways to actually fall through with their goals that they’ve set out.

Well, certainly we do hope that is the case, but I guess I’m concerned that without kind of a kick in the butt that these brands won’t actually do it. And particularly, I mean, we’ve seen pushback from corporations all over the world, particularly here in the United States, where they say, hey, we can’t meet this regulatory requirement. This is going to be too hard for us. We’ll never make it. And then they do it and they survive and things move forward.

So I think that sometimes you do have to put the push on them because when that happens, then innovation occurs and they find a way. And that is the American way. So you’re listening to A Climate Change. I’ve got Zachary Kirstein on the program, CEO of Ocean Recovery Group.

I will be back in just one minute to talk with the Zachary a bit more about these important issues.

You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, and I’ve got Zachary Kirstein on the program, CEO of Ocean Recovery Group. Zachary, before the break, we were talking about kind of living in the solution, if you will, and what, what your company can do, will do, that is solutions-based and kind of where do you see the heading in one year, three years, five years, 10 years? What’s the trajectory of this kind of best case scenario?

Yeah, so different people have been trying to tackle the issue in different ways. One thing you’ve heard a lot about recently, perhaps, is plastic offset credits, which is still a very nascent industry, you know, similar to other types of carbon credits. They’re trying to do plastic credits. I believe as brands continue and CPGs continue to seek out answers that these can be part of the solution. That’s one part of the solution.

I also think specifically to integrate these into the supply chain that I was alluding to before the break. I was on a panel with Barry Global and the guy Robert Flores was talking about the quality of these materials. You’re in California. The average yield from curbside collected plastics from California, as an example, through CRV is in the 50% range. Our plastic averages about the 80% range, meaning you get 30% more approximately yield, which is the number one thing that people are looking for when they’re buying these materials.

So I think the second part, in addition to the credits, is as brands start to trial these materials and they see the innovation and performance of these materials, I think that you’re going to see greater and greater use and appetite for these. And I also think, you know, the third point that I’d make is about, you know, the younger generation. I’m in my 40s, you know.

I have young kids, so I can’t say that they’re in the generation of the teens or the 20s, but my opinion is that more and more people are seeking out sustainable solutions. If a bottle of water costs a dollar, and it was a dollar five because it helps somebody in a developing nation in some way, or it really made a difference in the world from a recycling standpoint, I think many people would pay that extra nickel. I think a lot of people, if they buy, a woman buys a thing of lipstick.

If it costs a slight one, two percent more and it makes a difference in the world, I believe that consumers are now willing to pay a small premium for that. And I see that continuing to grow over the next five to ten years as well.

You know, I realize this probably cuts into your business, but I think, uh, what we should be doing is kind of not drinking so much bottle water. Somehow we, we got by without bottle water when I was a youth until I was, you know, into my twenties, maybe even thirties before it kind of became a thing. And now everybody running around with plastic bottles of water. Like, how did, how did we survive without these before we, we seem to do okay. Now all of a sudden, you know, billions of plastic bottles are generated to drink water that we could probably drink from the tap.

Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting to me. Yeah, also, you know, and some of the stats about what’s happening and the impact of these things is staggering. They say, El MacArthur Foundation says by 2050, there’ll be more fish in the ocean, there’ll be more plastic in the ocean than fish. I mean, some of the ramifications of these decisions we’re making are affecting our planet. And, you know, as we continue to evolve, I hope that more and more people carry these bottles around, as I do and other people do, many others do, and that we continue to have these types of conversations where people are, yeah, I mean, people are being thoughtful in their approach now, right?

Many people are being thoughtful in their approach, and the onus is on the people that see it more clearly, perhaps, to continue to push in that direction and try to make a difference where they can.

I’ve got my glass bottle.

Yeah, kind of what has happened to the ethos of kind of protection of our environment and stewardship as a conversation and as a duty of a citizen to be a good steward of the of the land that we have the environment that we have. What, what are you doing through the work that you do with oceans recovery group to kind of continue that or project that ethos out into the people you have contact with.

Yeah, and I’ll say this, you know, I can think about being a kid and, you know, driving and seeing people throw a McDonald’s bag out the window or just throw their litter out the road. That doesn’t happen. I feel as much in the US as it once did from my perspective, and I might be wrong. I’m not saying no one does it, plenty of people still do. But when you’re in these foreign countries, you know, it happens regularly from my experiences. I’ve been to almost 80 countries.

I’m flying tomorrow to the Dominican Republic, you know, again, and as I alluded to, there’s 10% recycling rates are below there. And so how do you create awareness is by, you know, doing the right things, by communicating about your activities and by coming up with solutions that are viable for any different marketplace and then different where that you are.

You know, that’s something that’s within every person’s capacity to do, to try to do what I believe to be the right thing.

Well, tell us a little bit more about the Dominican or a lot more as to what’s happened there over the time that you’ve been there. Have you seen the recycling rate move up at all? Have you seen consumer behavior change? Have you seen corporate behavior change?

So what I can tell you is in the last two and a half years, our company personally has prevented 600 million bottles from going into the ocean. You heard that number right, 600 million bottles from going into the ocean. So certainly I know that there’s impact that’s being made from recycling efforts, right? Specifically to, am I seeing wholesale changes? You know, there’s been changes in the government there.

There have been more talks with the current administration, currently there, about ways to improve recycling rates there. You know, I think that there’s a lot more activities that can get better, but, you know, it’s a tall mountain to climb. It really is. And I see this globally as more and more people creating awareness about this and, you know, everybody in their own backyards, if they will, making a collective effort towards these positive initiatives. And, you know, I don’t know incremental changes, how much it should look like, what it should look like, but we’re trying to do our part in the ways I’m describing.

Well, that’s great. And I applaud your work of getting 600 million bottles into recycling versus out into the ocean. So that’s a good first step. I guess then the question is, what’s the second step look like? Yeah.

Yeah. And how do you create, you know, initiatives that are interesting for people? How do you make it so it’s either compelling or fun in some way? I’ll tell you one thing that we do. There’s a town of Mocha. And one thing that we did recently, we got all the townspeople together to collect plastics that we met in a park and we overpaid for these plastics.

And then all the monies that came for these materials went to local cancer hospital to give chemotherapy treatments to patients that were down there that couldn’t afford medical treatments. That was a way to get the community involved, to recycle, to do some goodwill. And I think that the more people come up with initiatives like this and try to make it compelling and interactive will help to raise recycling rates and you know the cool impact of doing the right thing.

Yeah, it’s kind of like where do you create the tipping point, or where is the tipping point in a society so that they start acting as good stewards of their environment? And I think it starts locally. So kudos to you guys for doing that. That’s great work. Where do you see your kind of company growing? You did 600 million bottles. When do you go to 6 billion? Or what’s the next landmark for you?

Yeah, God willing. So for us specifically, a lot of it right now is hinging on these large brands and CPGs that I keep alluding to. As we start to gain more and more traction with them for this Dominican business, we have plans to expand into other Latin countries, as well as other Caribbean nations. We’ve been traveling to a variety of them trying to determine where is there a robust enough understanding that we have the recycling infrastructure there, where there’s a big enough waste problem that we’re able to tackle.

Creating it out of nothing is a lot more challenging than taking a slightly broken system and or broken system and trying to refine it a little bit. So we chose the Dominican Republic because there’s 15 million people there. It’s a sophisticated, one of the largest GDPs in Latin America. There’s a sophisticated workforce there. There is a problem there that we can tackle and it’s something that is identifiable. So now that we’ve found a few other countries like that are nearby, our plans are very much to scale this.

And as these brands start to buy more and more of these plastics and integrating them, I think that you’re gonna see greater and greater growth for hopefully our company, as well as all companies doing this. We believe that a rising tide lifts all ships. And so we’re trying to create awareness about it. We do more beach cleanups where we’re getting greater footage about it. We hired a new social media team, woman Christina Hunting, who’s been great. And we are continuing to expand and create greater visibility around this.

I’ll add one more quick point on that real quick if I can. Just, you know, I just came back from the largest recycling conference, one of them in the country is called the Southeast Recycling Conference. And last year when I spoke about, at this conference about ocean bound plastics, I’m in a room with the largest recyclers in North America, and less than 10% of them even heard about ocean bound plastic.

And these are the people that are in the recycling world. And so if the recyclers aren’t tuned into this, you know, then the brands aren’t gonna be getting that push from the people that have these materials. And so that’s something that we’re trying to do is also create awareness in the recycling industry. You know, my family are pioneers in the American recycling industry.

And we’re trying to create greater awareness in the US recycling industry specifically as well.

That’s great. You’re listening to A Climate Change. I’ve got Zachary Kirstein, CEO of Ocean Recovery Group on the program. And we’ll be back in just one minute with Zachary.

You’re listening to A Climate Change. I’ve got Zachary Kirstein on the program, CEO of Ocean Recovery Group.

Zachary, right before the break you were talking about a conference that you were attending with a bunch of other plastics recyclers and that they were not aware of particular programs that you were talking about. Maybe you could fill us in since most of us in the audience are not that familiar with these things.

Yeah, so I don’t know how much you know about me. My family’s been in the recycling industry for 120 years. My family are considered pioneers in the American recycling industry. We have started out in New York with a horse and wagon, and our family’s been through lots of different iterations in the recycling industry. So when I go to a recycling conference, I have some level of credibility, and often get opportunities to be keynote speakers or to kind of lead conversations and I asked last year if I could do one about ocean bound plastics and the conference organized like ocean bound plastics, what’s that?

So I told them a little bit about it. So I get on the panel and I’m in a room with waste management and Republic and all the largest waste and recycling companies in the world. And certainly, you know, I was taken aback by how little the recycling industry knew about some of these initiatives, not just your average person listening about it you know, people that should be on the forefront of this in my mind, were also, it was kind of foreign to them. So to kind of highlight the importance of these programs, you know, it’s got to start with the people that are able to affect the change and the people that are already working with some of these brands and have the ability to try to, you know, bring greater awareness to these solutions.

Now how would you define an ocean-bound plastic or that concept?

So we’re certified by Group Zero Plastic Oceans, an NGO based in France, and they certify that it’s in a developing nation without reform or recycling infrastructure, that the material is within 50 kilometers of a waterway, and that thus it’s bound for the ocean or to be left in that ecosystem. It’s one big gust of wind away from ending up in the waterways. I highlighted that point when I talked about there being more plastic in the ocean than fish, they believe in the next 20 years as we look at this challenge and the impact it’s making in the marine life and globally, you know, it becomes readily apparent to me that it’s not just going to go away. And so we need to continue to find ways to tackle these issues.

Now do you see other companies in this space, such as waste management and the like, taking this seriously and upping their game in the recycling world?

So, you know, I go to sustainability conferences as well as recycling conferences, and Waste Management is often lauded for, you know, their efforts for helping to clean up landfills and things that they do. They own a lot of those landfills, you know, they have a unique perspective, which is different than our perspective. You know, do I see these bigger brands starting to get into ocean bound plastic? I don’t necessarily.

I think that you’re going to start to see a groundswell as these companies demand these products more, that these bigger companies start to get their foot in the space, but they are not currently getting their feet wet in a similar way that we are, you know, with ocean bound plastics specifically. You know, we are one of the largest players doing this and we’ve only been doing it for a few years. It’s still a very early industry. All the more reason why we’re trying to create this awareness, both in the recycling industry and more globally.

And which countries are you looking at starting new facilities at?

So we’re currently in Dominican Republic. We are also expanding currently into Panama. We’re looking at projects in Ecuador, Honduras. We’re looking at projects throughout for different Caribbean nations. Whoever has enough recycling infrastructure, specifically Trinidad and Tobago and St. Martin are two places we’re looking at, as well as in Puerto Rico, but it wouldn’t share the same ocean bound certification. So that’s one of the reasons we haven’t gone there yet because part of the United States.

Okay. So when you say that they have recycling infrastructure, what is that constitutes recycling infrastructure?

that there is enough waste for it to be impactful enough for me to make a difference there. If I go into a smaller nation and they don’t have enough waste there for me to tackle this problem, then it wouldn’t qualify for me to want to put our boots on the ground there. Additionally, you know, we went some places that you might go, you may think that there’d be good opportunities there. I was on a trip to Mexico recently.

I was blown away by how clean it was in Mexico City and some of these other places that I was traveling to. And so it has to be somewhere where there’s also a noticeable problem where we can make a difference there is kind of our other call to action. And for me, you know, the third part, when I say recycling infrastructure, it’s more about the competency about the current recycling that’s on the ground there. My partner in the Dominican is a guy, Pedro Molin.

He is extremely knowledgeable. He’s been doing recycling in the Dominican Republic for almost 15, 20 years. And so for me, that is a big part of it, is having someone that can give me the true lay of the land on the country so that we can make the impact we’re trying to make.

Right, so earlier you talked about plastic offset credits. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about those and how they’re evolving, because it’s not something that I had ever heard about before.

Yeah, so I think that plastic credits is a really compelling part of the story, if you will. So one type of credit, for example, is neutralization credits. So neutralization credits are as follows. There’s a lot of material that we go and collect from a beach cleanup, let’s say, that isn’t recyclable. It’s not just a PET water bottle or an HEP milk jug. It can be a flip-flop or other items that are left behind.

And so through Zero Plastic Oceans, I’m able to collect those materials to neutralize them, meaning to turn them into a fly ash that would go into concrete so it never ends up back into the environment and issue a credit similar to a carbon credit. In fact, we’re the first company in the world to be certified by Zero Plastic Oceans to have all three of their certifications for collection, recycling, and neutralization of these ocean-bound plastics.

So we’re finding unique ways to enhance the collector’s lifestyle. I’ll tell you from our perspective, these plastic credits are not a profit center for the business. We use it as a means to capture additional revenues for these commodities that otherwise don’t have value so that we can pay the collectors more money. So we can pay these small groups of people that may or may not eat dinner tonight, on an average night, we’re able to pay them more money through these collection efforts. And this is one way that we’re able to gamify that through zero plastic oceans.

Well, that’s great because there are tons of things that are plastic that are circulating around our environment that don’t have any kind of recycling stamp on them. And if we can get rid of them in a way that is environmentally friendly and can be then reused and put into concrete, well, that’s a big win. How long have you been doing that and what kind of volume are you doing in that area?

So we’ve been doing plastic credits for about 14 or 15 months now. It’s still a very early industry. I’ll make sure I say that, you know, one of the largest groups I was doing it just backed out of this industry. The other largest group doing it is, you know, kind of examining what they’re doing with it. There hasn’t been this overpouring of people that are looking to do this yet. We might be one of the very largest in the world doing it.

And we’ve only so far done about 175,000 pounds of material. So that may sound like a lot, but you know, my US company, 4G Recycling Company, recycled 700,000 tons last year. So I think in the context of being a large recycling company and volumes, but you know, we believe this is really a part of the future and a part of the path forward and want there to be greater awareness about this so that more and more people want to participate in this way.

So tell me about a little bit more about your backstory of how you got to the position that you’re at. I know you had said that your family’s been in this for 120 years. What’s been your personal path towards your current position?

Yeah, so I worked for my dad for about 10 years. He sold my family business to a company Greenstar. They were the largest recycler in the time in the UK and Ireland. I worked for them for about three and a half years. And while I learned a lot about big business, about international business, they were on their third CEO in a three year period of time. Some of the best people had started to leave there. I thought to myself, I can do this better myself.

So about 12 years ago, my brother who also worked with me there and I left that company. We had non-solicitation agreement, but no non-compete. So we couldn’t go back after our family’s book of business. Some of the accounts my father had for 40 or 50 years, but we could start over. So we started 4G recycling company about 12 years ago. Today we’re one of the 10 largest privately held recyclers in America.

And now that we’ve reached some monocle of success, we keep looking for the right initiatives to make a greater impact. Hence, Ocean Recovery Group as one of the key initiatives and, you know, trying to find more sustainable ways that we can evolve the recycling industry and merge this recycling industry in the sustainability world.

So what’s the interplay between your 4G and Ocean Recovery Group?

So for 4G, 4G if you will, is the parent company. It gives me the credibility I need to talk to these large brands and to show up and not just be another fly by name that they might not know. 4G is a well respected name in the recycling industry. And we’re trying to leverage that and use the goodwill associated with our name to try to create more awareness about the ocean plastic issue and about ocean bound plastics as a whole.

So do you see Ocean Recovery Group being a big profit center for you or is it more of a philanthropic effort?

So we’re a social business enterprise. So for me, the two would go hand in hand, fortunately. God willing, it’s financially successful as it is a for-profit business, but we give more than 10% of our profits to charity. And so my hope is it’s both.

Well, that’s a great way forward. You’re listening to A Climate Change, and I’ve got Zachary Kirstein, CEO of Ocean Recovery Group on the show, and we’ll be back in just one minute to talk to Zach some more.

You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Maddern, and I’ve got Zachary Kirstein, CEO of Ocean Recovery Group. And Zachary, before the break, we’re talking about, you know, a lot of different things. I want to kind of circle around to greenwashing and how there’s a lot of it out there in the world these days. People saying, hey, we’re clean, we’re green, and it’s kind of a little bit of a ruse and that the company isn’t really as clean as they say they are. What are you seeing in that regard?

Yeah. So we think, I think it’s a really important topic. You know, there was Windex, who has a partner a few years ago, had a large lawsuit against them that they had to pay because they wrote that it was ocean plastic instead of ocean bound plastic. They didn’t give that same delineation that I gave you when I was talking about it being 50 kilometers from a waterway and things of that nature and I believe they had to pay $5 million or something towards that end.

You know, ultimately greenwashing can give a black eye to the whole industry. And as an early industry, that’s the last thing that anyone needs, right?

We want to have people recognize the merit of what we’re doing. That’s why we invite people to come down, see our supply chain, see what we’re doing there. Because, you know, someone making false claims right now could be the death of the early industry of these ocean bound plastics. And that would be tragic because really, these are a large part of the solution that these brands are seeking out.

And as there are more awareness about plastic credits and about ocean bound plastics and these materials and these concepts being part of the solution for the supply chain for these large brands, I think that we’re really touching on something that can really be sustainable and can really provide solutions for them.

Well, tell us a little bit about the major brands and what they’re doing to shift their products and the plastics that they’re using or maybe not using that is making a difference in the environment.

Yeah, there’s been a tremendous amount of packaging innovation that we’ve seen. A lot of people are doing very unique things that are integrating these materials, as I’ve said, into their products. And so even our partners, I have a partner company, A Global, they’re making a tray to serve some of their food and customer, and they’re able to make one now. I wish I had one in my hand right now to show you these ocean bound trays that, you know, look very comparable but are much more sustainable products.

And as you start to see, you know, a groundswell of people that want these materials, that wanna find solutions to the problems, you know, these bigger brands are gonna continue to adapt. So right now these large brands say that they’re gonna have this certain amount of recycled content, that they’re gonna go work towards waste neutralization. A lot of these lofty initiatives, and we believe that we’re offering some of those solutions for those brands.

How about whether it’s biodegradable? Do you see that as a potential, or realistic potential, that we could have truly biodegradable packaging that would not have to be recycled?

So I’m hearing a lot more about biodegradable, compostable, uncompostable, that’s a lot bigger part of what people are talking about. And we laud anyone that’s trying to come up with solutions. And we welcome those types of solutions. I think that’s really where we come in with these brands and try to help them custom tailor some of their marketing and custom tailor some of their products in the ways that we’re able to by showing them what we have and how these stories can be told in a more meaningful way by their brands.

I mean, I guess your earlier comments were that, and I had heard similar things, that plastics manufacturing is gonna go up by three to four times as many plastics out in the environment. What are we gonna do to ramp up our recycling efforts to meet that kind of ginormous demand when you consider that we’re not recycling just the amount that we have right now, multiply that times three or four, how is that possible?

Yeah, and you know, you referenced, you know, legislators and politicians, where can they fit a role into, you know, having the right systems or checks and balances in place about what these companies are doing, how they’re doing it. I think ultimately it’s going to take, you know, a collective effort where consumers and the public demand, you know, to have cleaner, more sustainable products.

These brands are gonna meet their customers’ needs. And the government comes up with policies that support the businesses, but also make it so that they’re being compliant and responsible in the way they handle these things. One thing that can be done is more bottle bill deposits, which we’re for, and creating greater collection rates. In the states that seem to have them, there seems to be more that are collected.

And so as you see these types of initiatives going both globally as well as domestically here in the United States, I think that that’s one potential part of the solution.

What do you see Florida doing in terms of its recycling programs and how well is it doing recycling plastics there?

So I’m happy we’re talking about Florida. Inc Magazine named us the fastest growing recycler in the state of Florida two years ago. And Florida has tremendous business initiatives and I believe from the environmental standpoint that they’re trying to find unique ways to improve. One thing that’s really lacking in the Southeast is pelletizers who can take this material or ocean bound material and convert it into resins that can be a food grade product that can get sold to these brands.

So I’ve heard of several initiatives coming potentially in the state of Florida, where they’re going to be creating this and like field of dreams, build it and they will come. We are hopeful that the state of Florida can be the place and I live here and I’m keenly invested in that, that the state of Florida can be one of the places where you’re seeing this kind of integration of these policies that we’re talking about right now.

Where are they currently pelletizing these recycled plastics, or are we in the US?

So a lot of it happens in the Carolinas and in the Midwest. There’s some throughout the mid Atlantic, but it certainly is not addressed in a way that I think it can be handled as much as possible. I think that there’s more and more demand. A lot of it’s being done now in Latin America instead of in the U.S. And I hope to see more of that done in the United States.

Well, is it a dirty process in terms of manufacturing outputs being kind of creating some degree of waste when the recycled plastic is pelletized?

So my understanding, what I can say is my understanding is they’re turning these materials in a safe environment into food grade resin and have standard protocols to protect from seepage into the environment. But I can’t tell you definitively that I’ve heard of any major claims against pelletizing facilities or taking it further downstream.

Essentially what you’re doing is you’re taking the ground up plastic and converting into little pellets. It’s a machine that’s turning into little pellets, if you will. So I’m not aware of any major catastrophes that have come from that. And I’d be happy to learn more if there is, but.

Right, I’m just curious because obviously that seems like it could be part of the solution is if you can recycle this stuff and turn it into some other product, then we’re not creating as much new product from ground zero because my understanding is a lot of the plastics come from petroleum products, correct?

Exactly. Yeah, that’s essentially who we compete with, right? The virgin resin market, which is an oil-based product, competes with recycled content. And so exactly all the more reason why we advocate for using more recycled content, especially with these ocean-bound materials where literally this stuff’s gonna get left in the environment. I’ll share some footage with you offline, which just rock your world. I mean, people come down there, they see what’s going on down there.

It’s hard to fathom that you go to the most beautiful beach and 100 meters down the walkway, you can just have litter to the nth degree. I mean, it’s really startling. And you know, you have dozens and dozens of people in every single unmanaged landfill, people living there in wooden pallets.

I mean, it’s a sight to see. And so, you know, without getting too caught up in the emotion of it, we’re trying to come up with sustainable solutions and, you know, convert that to the big brands that really need these solutions right now and try to find that path forward together with them.

Well, I think that I appreciate your kind of living in the solution because that’s certainly something I try to do personally. And I think it’s something that everybody, our whole community would gain a lot by instead of kind of pointing fingers at each other like, hey, let’s try to find a way to solve the problem. And thank you for your work in finding solutions to these problems.

They’re not easy problems and they’re going to take a lot more effort for sure. But leave us with maybe something that you’re feeling optimistic about going forward.

And I thank you for the dialogue, Ben. You know, from my perspective, having an audience like this, having reputable people that are hearing about what we’re doing, hearing about the issue, and want to create a demand for solutions, it really gives me, you know, a tremendous meta-optimism. I’m bubbling with confidence that, you know, we’re at a place now where this inflection point of these brands needing these materials and needing solutions to meet their sustainable requirements and ESG requirements is now. And, you know, we’re ramping up to see more and more of that as we head into 2025. And I’m eager to share more of our findings as we continue to find more successes.

Well, thank you for that. Thanks for being on the program. You’ve been listening to A Climate Change. I’ve had Zachary Kirstein on the program, CEO of Ocean Recovery Group. Zachary, thanks for being on the show. It’s been a pleasure talking with you and applaud the great work that you’re doing with, you know, cleaning up literally tons and tons, 600 million bottles worth of plastics is amazing. Everybody tune in to our podcast at Apple, Spotify, iHeart, or wherever you get your podcasts. And we’ll be talking to you next week. So have a great week, everybody.

(Note: this is an automatic transcription and may have errors in formatting and grammar.)

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