Sustainability | A Mindset of Value Creation
Waste & Recycling
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A MINDSET OF  

VALUE CREATION

We spoke with John opsteen Kimberly-clark's secondary materials program leader, about the innovations that are keeping waste out of landfills.

Why is recycling important to Kimberly-Clark?

In my opinion, there's really no such thing as waste. We see each byproduct as a valuable resource for either our own use or the use of someone else in the marketplace. If we don't need it, someone else does. So whether it’s the materials we put into products, the packaging, or the leftover material from manufacturing, we're always trying to get it into the highest value opportunity we can. What we don't want is for potentially valuable materials to end up going into a landfill or being incinerated. We don't really see anything as waste — only as opportunities not to be wasted. We actually have a dedicated team that is responsible for selling these materials just like other products.

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We’re now generating nearly twice as much revenue from the sale of material that was previously considered waste, than we spend on disposal.”

John Opsteen

Secondary Materials
Program Leader

What is Kimberly-Clark's point of view on waste and recycling?

We started talking internally about a zero-waste mindset as early as 1995. In the first decade, we were very focused on keeping manufacturing waste out of landfills but weren’t fully recognizing the value of these materials. Since then, we’ve come a long way toward realizing that value. By the end of 2015, we were diverting more than 95 percent of our manufacturing waste from landfill. And it’s not just about diverting waste from landfills but converting it into valuable opportunities. We’re now generating nearly twice as much revenue from the sale of material that was previously considered waste, than we spend on disposal.

Could you explain the zero-waste mindset?

It’s about recognizing the value of materials that go into our products and packaging. Whenever we can find ways to reduce, reuse and recycle these materials, we’re keeping them in circulation— and out of landfill. Even if they’re not being used by us, they can still be used by someone,somewhere. It's up to us to find out how.

By doing this, we’re creating value for the entire supply chain and giving these materials a second life. It’s really an evolution from the linear mindset where you take, make and then dispose of things. We’re creating a more circular business model that allows us to recapture materials for reuse.

Now what we’re trying to do is extend the zero-waste mindset to cover all forms of waste, not just the materials from manufacturing. We’re setting targets and tracking materials from all parts of the business including manufacturing, offices and distribution.

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"What makes this an exciting challenge for me is that I’m able to apply what I’ve learned in my career to help solve waste-related problems in developing parts of the world where waste systems are not as mature as they could be," said Opsteen, pictured above.


What does the zero-waste mindset mean for consumers?

It challenges us all to be more mindful of what happens to our products and packaging after use.The waste programs aim to help our business design products and packaging with smarter materials, produce them more efficiently and help them find a second life that preserves their value after use.

We’re also setting up programs to enable our customers to recycle products and packaging after use. For example, in New Zealand we have a program to convert diapers into compost. And in Costa Rica, we’re working to promote recycling drop-off stations across the country.There are many programs like these already, and we’re always developing more.

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What about you — how did you get into this?

In my family there were three generations of papermakers before me. When I went to college,I decided to study environmental science and urban planning. But then I too worked at a papermill through college and graduate school. I even spent a few months driving a garbage truck before finding my way into an environmental management role.

Today, helping Kimberly-Clark find a new life for secondary materials brings all of these experiences together in a way I never expected.

What makes this an exciting challenge for me is that I’m able to apply what I’ve learned in my career to help solve waste-related problems in developing parts of the world where waste systems are not as mature as they could be.

Creating more circular business models will have significant social and economic benefits for companies and countries.


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