Re-Imagining the Building Blocks for Sustainable Packaging
In anticipation of Earth Day 2022, Packaging Impressions spoke with Michael Ferrari, ounder and president of Ferrari Innovation Solutions. Ferrari is also executive director of The Consortium for Waste Circularity — a group of packaging industry; brands, printers, material manufacturers, equipment manufacturers and insurance companies that are collectively using their influence to transform waste management so that all municipal solid waste can be dealt with and returning it to virgin materials to be used again. The last part bears repeating — the group is working to transform waste, such as spent packaging, and return it to the market as virgin materials. That’s something that’s not only good for the environment, but at a time when supply chains are constrained is good for business.
Packaging Impressions: Congrats Mike on your new role! Can you tell our audience a little about what you’ve been working on in your first year of executive director of The Consortium for Waste Circularity (CWC)?
Ferrari: We are excited about converting from a founder model to a membership-and-sponsorship model in our organization. We’ve grown, including filling the academic committee with members with qualified people from two university. So we truly are represented across North America — Canada and U.S.
CWC also has a public affairs committee, which includes a former congressman! He was one of the early supporters of our technology-first approach. He originally reached out to us to ask if the technology that we were espousing could deal with ewaste, and reclaim rare earth metals. The reclamation of rare earth metals was a matter of national security, he explained, and we needed to find a way to bring that back to the U.S.
We are also moving toward an investor portfolio. We've been approached and have commitments from a group out of Chicago that is looking for modest returns for pension funds that they're investing in because this group sees trash as something that is recession proof. I’m telling you this because moving toward an investor portfolio means CWC will not need government funding or subsidies unlike many organizations that work in wind and solar. Unlike some alternative energy initiatives that don't pay out, what CWC is doing with regenerative gasification does.
Packaging Impressions: The promise of regenerative gasification is exciting especially when it comes to the possibility of making eco-methanol out of what traditionally has been difficult-to-recycle materials such as some types of spent packaging.
Ferrari: And it’s more than packaging! We’ve been working with two major flexo plate manufacturers, and we found that it all converters to synthetic gas. We have all the data from testing their plates, and the science has repeated itself — just like gravity does every day. We expected to be able that the plates could be converted to syn gas, and the theory proved correct. This inorganic material converts to syn gas, and then syn gas is the building block for methanol, and methanol makes the plastics.
This technology impacts business, consumers, and municipalities. Right now, we are overburdened. The EPA quotes that 70% of what you and I put in our recycling bin actually goes to landfill or incineration. So only at most 30% is actually recycled.
Part of the reason for that is people might not be doing exactly what they're being instructed to do when recycling — because it's complicated. For example, before you put a plastic jar for peanut butter into recycling, you're supposed to wash it out That’s way too much time after time. And when someone fails to clean out that peanut butter jar well, they think they are sending off that jar to be recycled but it doesn’t get recycled.
Then think about all the existing recycling streams — mechanical recycling, metal cans, PET depolymerization. It’s confusing. But those streams can continue and actually get stronger if you have robust gasification of waste into syn gas. Why? Because you should have less contamination!
Packaging Impressions: We’ve talked a lot about the potential of materials being converted syn gas and the ability to convert that syn gas to eco methanol. But your last answer brings up something you’ve hinted at before and that’s the recovery of rare earth metals.
Ferrari: Let’s fast forward to our vision of a future commercial landfill, which would include several robust gasification vessels. So each vessels is designed to take 150 tons a day. If we have four vessels, we could process 600 tons a day. We could dedicate just one of these vessels to process things like computers. E-waste such as TVs, computers, phones can all be processed to create syn gas but these devices also carry rare earth metals. At the bottom of this dedicated vessel would be something with rare earth metals that could then be mined. Further, the higher the concentration of a rare earth metal, the easier it is to recover.