Kelly Semrau, senior vice president of global corporate affairs, communication and sustainability at SC Johnson (SCJ), headquartered in Racine, Wisconsin, shared the company’s recycling goal for its Ziploc bags as well as other sustainability initiatives it has championed over the years. Semrau was the keynote speaker during the Re|focus Recycling Summit & Expo, April 25-27, 2016, organized by SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, Washington.
Semrau’s speech was preceded by a welcome from Patricia Long, SPI senior vice president of industry affairs, who said that through Re|focus, SPI is seeking “to shift the ecology of our industry to one that is inclusive of recycling and that also embodies it.” She added that the plastics industry needs to “move the needle” on plastics recycling and shift its thinking to incorporate sustainability.
Regarding the consumer products company’s sustainability initiatives, SCJ’s Semrau said it is “not easy to do what we do.” As a company that has been family owned for five generations, however, she said the concept is integral to SCJ’s operations because it is related to trust. “We need people to trust us to buy our brands,” Semrau said, adding that “responsibility and transparency” are SC Johnson family standards that help to build this trust.
She went on to detail some of the SCJ’s work in this area, which includes removing CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) from its aerosol products in 1975, sustainability reporting since the 1990s and the SC Johnson Greenlist process, which was introduced in 2001.
The company’s Greenlist chemical selection process is based on 100 criteria, Semrau said, with the goal of going beyond taking out “bad” ingredients and instead focus on choosing “better” options. SCJ says it continuously improves its formulas based on information about ingredients’ impact on the environment and human health. She added that, based on this process, SCJ won’t use more than 2,000 chemicals even though they are legal in the United States.
The same “good, better, best” rating system that applies to SCJ’s Greenlist ingredient selection process applies to packaging for its products, Semrau said.
SCJ’s sustainability initiatives also include using renewable energy. More than 31 percent of the energy SCJ uses is from renewable sources, Semrau said, which includes methane gas recovered from a landfill near the company’s Waxdale factory in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin.
She said one-third of the company’s plants are zero-landfill facilities. “That is quite an achievement in Baddi, India,” Semrau said, adding that innovation is key to realizing such a goal.
Semrau shared how SCJ led an initiative to bring aerosol can recycling to 5,400 communities across the U.S., enabling marketers to place “please recycle” on these containers per Federal Trade Commission Green Guides labeling standards. She added that this language “really drives consumer behavior.”
She continued, “We really work hard to put out products into the marketplace to spark a dialogue.”
The next conversation SCJ hopes to spark is around the recyclability of its Ziploc bags. Semrau acknowledged, “It is going to be a hard, uphill challenge. We know MRF (material recovery facility) operators don’t want a new product.”
However, she expressed optimism that the company would be able to figure out the challenge in collaboration with other stakeholders, such as MRF operators. Semrau said SCJ would have to “educate consumers, debunk myths and may need to create some markets.”
In the question-and-answer period that followed her presentation, Semrau said, “It is imperative that the end of life of our products is something we think about.” She added that for plastics, end markets can be a challenge, which would be a focus of the Ziploc initiative.
“The way the world changes is through partnering,” Semrau said. “One company can’t do it by itself.”
The Re|focus Recycling Summit & Expo was April 25-27 at the Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, Florida.