We Rise Q&A: Carter Anderson on the Misconceptions of Recycling and Sustainable Design

As part of our 2030 goals, we are raising the bar for ourselves and evolving our corporate responsibility strategy to increase the scale of our work with others to create a more responsible, inclusive, and sustainable world, enabled by technology and our collective actions. We sat down with Carter Anderson, senior packaging engineer, to talk about leveraging new materials, how to build a sustainability message, and the need for more education on recycling practices.

 

 

Tell us about yourself and your role at Intel.
I’m a senior packaging engineer at Intel, where I’ve worked for about 14 years. I spent most of my life (and career) in the Midwest, but moved out to the Portland area when the opportunity at Intel came my way. The team I’m a part of is responsible for packaging, which includes more than just retail packaging, but business-to-business shipments as well. It’s funny because most people look right past the box and just throw it away, but there’s so much legal, ecological, and regulatory work that goes into every single box.

What got you interested in sustainability?
I really started getting passionate about sustainability when my colleagues and I began attending Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) conferences. Intel is one of those companies that followed sustainable practices long before “sustainable” was a buzzword. But while we were doing all these amazing things in the interest of sustainability, we really didn’t talk about it. Getting together at these conferences, we had a number of discussions that revolved around the idea of getting our message out there. So that’s what we’ve been doing … connecting the dots, creating goals, and letting the world know all that Intel does in the name of sustainability.

What is your team’s mission, and what were you focused on in 2020?
Over the past few years, we’ve built a strong foundation of messaging within Intel, and now we’re focused on how we can source new materials to make Intel products even more sustainable. Part of that is communicating our message externally and initiating conversations about how others, too, can be sustainable. The other part is working together to see how we can continue to innovate in our designs. A huge part of our work in 2020 has been exploring new sustainable options for our packaging. One key learning we discovered during this time is that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Many companies around the world have made great progress in developing new materials and methods to make packaging materials more sustainable. There’s so much creativity going on right now in the world of sustainability. Even a few years ago, most companies weren’t spending the time and money that they are now looking into sustainable practices.

What new material are you most excited about?
One material option involves something called chitin, which is a byproduct of shellfish. The shells themselves don’t degrade well over time, so people have figured out a way to grind them into a fine powder that can be injected into plastics. What’s so cool about that is they’re taking waste from one area and making it useful in another.

What’s the biggest challenge going forward?
I think one of the biggest challenges is educating people on how the recycling process really works. Many of us just dump our waste into a collection bin and don’t pay attention to whether it’s actually recyclable or not, or whether it’s going into the correct bin. For instance, if you’ve got a bin full of empty bottles and somebody happens to throw their half-eaten burrito in there with them, a lot of recycling collectors won’t take it because it’s contaminated. And now the whole thing ends up in a landfill. The same is true of paper recyclables that happen to get wet. In fact, because of contamination, less than 10 percent of the paper we put in our bins actually gets recycled. The good news is that chemical recycling, a technology that has been around for a little while now, is starting to get a lot of traction. Chemical recycling is a gamechanger in the world of plastic waste recycling, because it can take highly contaminated plastic—like plastic from our oceans or from a burrito place—and break it down entirely to its molecular level, and ultimately result in “new,” virgin materials. It does have the drawback of being more expensive than regular recycling, but the method is really picking up steam because it’s more than 80% efficient with only about 5% burnoff. And they’re even working on ways to utilize that 5% as well. So there’s a lot of promise there.

Do sustainability challenges differ around the world?
The cost element ties in really well with the global challenges we face. Each country has a different way of dealing with waste, both culturally and economically. For example, a lot of ocean plastics are coming out of Southeast Asian countries that may not have the infrastructure to utilize something like chemical recycling. A lot of smaller countries have found success in monetizing plastics—having their people collect the plastic they would normally just throw in the trash and then paying them for it. So it’s about looking at the unique challenges within individual communities all over the world and seeing how we can work together to solve those challenges.

What do you hope to achieve in the next few years on the road to Intel’s 2030 sustainability goals?
By 2022, our team’s focus will be on the recyclability and reusability of our packaging designs and material choices. As I mentioned earlier, we’re working to get our message out there so people understand that this is something Intel really prioritizes. A lot of people don’t even know what the symbols on their packages mean, so it’s very important we start bringing that to their attention.

What’s one thing you wish the general public knew?
I want people to be aware of how their city or community processes recycling, so they can work to make sure that what they recycle can be used again. There tends to be misinformation around ocean plastics, compostables, and biodegradable materials. I wish we could close the information gap and have clear PSAs to inform everyone in a way that allows them to take the right actions. People want to do the right thing. So my best advice is to educate yourself so that you can make sure you keep recyclable items out of the landfill.

 

Learn more about our RISE strategy and Intel’s 2030 goals here.

 

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