Earth911 Podcast: Emerald Packaging CEO Kevin Kelly on Plastic Use and Producer Responsibility

Earth911 Podcast Innovator Interview

Plastic pollution surged along with COVID-19 as the world’s human population raced to protect itself from the virus. We talk with Kevin Kelly, CEO of Emerald Packaging, one of the largest plastic bag makers in the country. Kelly shares how in-store recycling programs have been curtailed by fears about spreading infections and the continuing increase in plastic usage compared to previous years. Emerald Packaging is working to reduce its reliance on virgin plastic resins, as well as introducing recyclable and compostable produce packaging.

Kevin Kelly, CEO of Emerald Packaging

Kevin Kelly, CEO of Emerald Packaging

Kelly also shares his personal concern that American business has not fully understood the threat from climate change, which he describes as “existential” in scope. If, for example, sea levels rise, the consequences to Emerald Packaging will be disastrous because food supply chains will be interrupted at every port, reducing the sales of vegetables and other produce and by extension produce bags. Kelly urges business leaders and consumers to work to reduce plastic use and to recycle any plastic that must be used. We discuss the recent defeat of California Senate Bill 54, the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, which he opposed because it did not provide funding for recycling programs. Yet, Kelly is supportive of the California initiative that will attempt to put SB 54 into law at the ballot box since it will likely include a funding mechanism based in part on extended producer responsibility requirements.

That willingness to embrace producer responsibility, which requires companies to participate in collecting and recycling what they make, is encouraging. Earth911’s Mitch Ratcliffe asked Kelly what percentage of a company’s revenue should be allocated to recycling and got a concrete answer: 1%, which Kelly said was a quick estimate. If every business that makes a product that becomes waste at the end of its useful life were to contribute 1% of revenue to support recycling programs, it would go a long way toward revolutionizing the U.S. recycling system. If businesses refuse to shoulder that responsibility, Kelly said, they will eventually be driven out of business by the consequences of climate change.

Surprising and positive comments from a plastic manufacturer. Be sure to give this interview a careful listen.

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