Every single person can make a tangible difference when they recycle. But what happens when we’re not sure what to recycle? That’s where people like Paul Benvenuti with Reynolds Consumer Products and the Hefty Energy Bag program come in.
Paul and his team are helping to reimagine recycling by simplifying the recycling process for everyday people, with the goal of capturing more materials for recycling instead of more plastic ending up in landfills.
We enjoyed sitting down with him for a quick interview, where he shares more about how each of us can make a difference by recycling:
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Torri Yates-Orr: We are speaking with Paul Benvenuti, a subject matter expert in plastics recycling. Paul has been with Reynolds Consumer Products for two years and is currently the Sales Director of the Hefty Energy Bag program. He’s responsible for the national expansion of this program, which is a collaboration between Reynolds and Dell to provide innovative collection and diversion of hard to recycle plastics.
To date the program has diverted over 2 million pounds of post-consumer plastics. Prior to joining Reynolds, Paul spent over 20 years in a sales role at a family owned recycling company, specializing in post-consumer and post industrial plastics. He served as the lead for NPE recycles in 2015 and 2018, helping them to achieve record recycling rates for the largest plastic event in north America.
So what is the most important change you’ve seen in recycling from when you began to now?
Paul Benvenuti: Probably the biggest change occurred 10 years ago when we had the Green Fence, which led into National Sword, which was China’s banning of plastic imports. This affected not only the United States, which supplied 40% of those recyclables, but the other 60% came from Europe and other places in the world.
So this really was a major impact in looking at where are we going to go with these materials and how are we going to handle them? The biggest spark that had for us in the United States was because now it became a problem that we had to take care of and can no longer ignore.
TY-O: So we see that that recycling and sustainability is coming into the corporate world, but what are some of the economic or environmental challenges for companies when diving into this world?
PB: The investment to the equipment: obviously these technologies exist, but they cost money.
There’s investment in change just to change packaging and to get things to be a more sustainable packaging, whether it’s compostable, whether it’s recyclable, whether it’s taking a material that’s more difficult or problematic in the recycling community—to make those changes is a cost. And we have to keep in mind what true sustainability means with that.
TY-O: Wow. This is a field that I feel just has so much innovation from what’s already there. What are the next steps in this innovation of sustainability and recycling?
PB: If I had a crystal ball, I would definitely be a billionaire, but I think the next step is capturing more materials, finding ways to make it easier for consumers to understand. We’ve made it very confusing for consumers, especially on the plastic side, of what can be recycled, what can’t be recycled. We have all these different municipal, county, and national recycling goals and parameters and laws. And I think the more universal we can make that is how consumers know what has value, what should be going into the recycling bins, what should be going to recycling drop-off centers, I think the better we have it.
TY-O: We’ve talked about corporate targets for sustainability and recycling, but what about recycled content?
PB: The question is where these materials are going to come from. A lot of companies are using their own regrinds and industrial commercial scrap that’s plastic that’s made into a part. The other thing is PCR. That’s the materials that we throw into the recycling bin and either gets chemically or mechanically made back into pellet.
So that that material can act like a virgin pellet, or close to, and put back into these packaging and materials. And there’s some different ways and innovative ways of doing it. There’s machines that even can multi-layer it. So the recycling layer goes between the outside and inside layer so that you have virgin plastic on the outside and the virgin plastic touching the product, and then there’s a recycled content layer between the two, which is really a neat innovation.
TY-O: Paul, I’ve learned so much today. Thank you so much for speaking with us and sharing your knowledge.
PB: Well, thank you so much for having me. I really enjoy talking about it. Obviously it’s a passion, not just for myself, but I think for the future.