Dec 5, 2017 / by Sarah Brooks / In Guest Blog

A Conversation about Circular Economy with Keurig’s Marie-Anne Champoux-Guimond

This is the first in a series of conversations between The Natural Step Canada’s Circular Economy Lab (CEL) and members of industry, government, academia and the public. The discussions focus on the circular economy and its relevance to Canada.

Meet Marie-Anne Champoux-Guimond, Advisor, Sustainability and Strategic Partnerships with Keurig Canada, a leading Canadian beverage company and member of the Circular Economy Lab’s Champion’s Circle.

CEL: What does circular economy mean to you?

M-AC: For me, CE really means making the best use of the resources that are available and that are on the market to somehow prevent more resources being used or sold. It’s also making sure that we implement and develop the best solutions to ensure that these resources are used in the most efficient way. They should be used to their real end-of-life for it to be really circular. Circular economy is also about solutions and innovations that enable us to repair, reuse, or recycle things that we didn’t think could be. Finally, it requires working together to develop markets that were not there before for some types of resources.

CEL: How would you describe the state of the circular economy in Canada right now?

M-AC: Parts of it already exist. What’s missing are the links between these parts. For example, recycling already exists; repair already exists; but we need to connect all the stakeholders together who are involved in the life of a single product or resource. If we connect them all together, then we can ensure full lifecycle use.

It is also important that we innovate and find new ways of recycling things that were unrecyclable – to develop markets that were not there before. For instance, at Keurig we need to develop markets here in Canada to support a circular economy for recycling plastics. Stakeholders have been shipping the materials to China and buying it back afterwards as reconditioned resins, because we don’t have the plastic conditioners in Canada. We have not yet created this local or national market to be able to do all of the processing in Canada. But the demand is there, and there is tremendous potential to be able to create this and make it Canadian.

The most important piece is to try to find ways to connect relevant stakeholders.

CEL: Any examples from your company?

M-AC: We have developed a recyclability project to respond to customer demands for more sustainable solutions to single-use coffee pods and address our own concerns about the waste issues associated with our pods.

We worked with leaders in the recycling and plastic industries to develop a solution that would not only be recyclable but effectively recycled in today’s system. This is where it links with the circular economy: we wanted to have something that would work and consumers would recycle, but which also can have a second life. We needed a material that met our specific technical requirements while at the same time having value for recyclers and the potential to be turned into new goods afterwards. Based on our research and the advice provided by key partners and experts, we chose polypropylene as the material for our recyclable coffee pods, because it met all of those criteria. This does not mean we’ve fully entered the circular economy, but it is a good step forward.

CEL: So the challenges when you transitioned towards a new material included; changing technology; scepticism from key stakeholders along the way; and difficulty helping people to connect to a vision of where you’re trying to go. Is that a fair reflection of your story?

M-AC: Absolutely. When you are developing such a solution, making it work requires other stakeholders. If recyclers want to effectively capture Keurig pods, the equipment must exist; there is work required from all stakeholders. We also are dealing with behaviour change, which is a really big challenge. It’s a long process and we need to engage everyone and deploy considerable efforts to make sure we educate consumers – this is our responsibility.

CEL: What has helped you address some of these challenges?

M-AC: Collaboration. It has to be a two-way relationship. This is what we really tried to build with our recycling and plastic industry partners. They helped us figure out what was the best solution and we developed a really innovative testing protocol, which provides useful information to them. We conducted testing with our recyclable pods to understand how they would behave and if they would be captured effectively in their facilities, and this learning was crucial to their work. With this testing, we think that we can really improve the recycling of our pods, but also a much wider category of small items made of plastic.

Bringing such innovation into the partnership, something that our partners could use, is really what worked. And, we proactively reached out to recyclers ahead of introducing our new pods onto the market. We made them part of the process, not just the end of it. This made a big difference.

CEL: What would accelerate circularity for your industry?

M-AC: It always goes back to collaboration and the sharing of expertise. We need to think outside of our small personal arena – start sharing best practices, exchange ideas on how we can work together to connect and set up these markets that are missing in Canada. This type of collaboration is progressing but it’s still missing.

We need forums for exchange where we can talk to each other, and develop more research.

CEL: Final question: Would Keurig – and in your experience, others in your industry – be willing to sit down with whom they might not normally speak, in order to solve some of these value chain issues?

M-AC: For sure. There is a potential in exchanging and having these conversations.

author_chris_lindberg Sarah is a Senior Associate with The Natural Step Canada and Special Advisor, Systems Transitions, to the Circular Economy Lab.