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Blog September 2022 Updated May 2024

Sustainability and Circular Economy. Thought Leadership Q&A with Mikhael Metauro, Cascades

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Conor Dowd

AMCS Global Head of Marketing

Thought Leadership Q&A with Mikhael Metauro, Senior Director, Sustainability and Operational Efficiency at Cascades.

About Mikhael Metauro 

Mikhael Metauro has been a proud member of the Cascades Family for over 8 years. In his role as Senior Director Mikhael is focused on creating a world where all materials have a positive end of life in a truly Circular Economy.

About Cascades:

Cascades is a Canadian company that produces, converts, and markets packaging and tissue products mainly composed of recycled fibres. Cascades employs approximately 10,000 people in nearly 80 operating units in North America. It was founded in 1964.

Cascades is the 18th most sustainable company in the world according to Global 100. It is a pioneer in the circular economy and has been making products from recycled materials for over 60 years. Cascades is currently implementing a Sustainability Action Plan, entitled Driving Positive Change that contains several targets to reduce its environmental footprint.

To what extent does Cascades view the sustainability agenda and circular economy as an opportunity?

It represents a significant opportunity given that Cascades is involved in every aspect of the supply chain of our clients. If we focus on core fibres, Cascades is a supplier, consumer, collector, processor, and we re-introduce recycled products back into the marketplace. So, it is an interesting vantage point for us to have and the question is how we can make the most impact?

Our focus is to maximize the life and value of these products at every stage of the supply chain. This approach brings benefits for our business and our partners. We engage with major global brand owners on innovations to make their packaging more circular and sustainable. We first apply the eco-design principles, then we collaborate to make their packaging more circular by integrating as much recycled content as possible and by ensuring the packaging products are recyclable in traditional recycling channels (i.e. curb side collections, recovery centers, depots, etc). So, sustainability and the circular economy represent a huge opportunity for Cascades to drive change.

What steps that you are taking to position yourself for the opportunity that you think are unique to Cascades?

These opportunities are both internal within Cascades and external with our strong customer base. We manufacture a range of sustainable packaging for major brand owners across North America. We are constantly looking at new ways to achieve circularity within our own supply chain; for example, we are looking at various aspects of PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) and plastics to understand what we can do, as a company, to develop a circular supply chain. We have over 45 scientists, 34 innovation team members and roughly $32 Million in budget directed at Research & Development for sustainable packaging and hygiene solutions. Cascades has the knowledge, expertise, and scale to collaborate with major brand owners on sustainable and circular packaging initiatives.

What is Cascades involvement in plastics recycling?

We collect and sort/process plastics for many brand owners across North America. Our goal is to make sure the materials we collect are processed and ready to be sent to a downstream processor where they can be converted back into useable feedstock for recycled packaging. At that point, Cascades uses recycled plastics to create its packaging solutions.

Is there any kind of legislative framework in North America that would favor the use of recycled plastics over virgin polymers in plastic production?

We have coined the term ‘circular integrity’ cost to reflect the consideration of the costs of virgin versus recycled plastics – it is not always a level playing field. Pricing for virgin and recycled materials continue to fluctuate and when virgin is more favorable it does not provide much of an incentive to buy recycled – especially when you are buying large volumes of feedstock. How do you level that playing field? This must remain a focus if we want to continue to drive the use of recycled materials in our packaging. For the circular economy to really take off, a certain percentage of recycled content should be required in products. This is where legislation would be valuable. Couple this with Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and hopefully we will continue to see positive change within the industry.

What role is technology, if any, playing in how you want to position yourselves to exploit this opportunity.

New technologies are entering the industry at a fast pace. Whether its new ERP systems or the use of Blockchain to understand flow through the supply chain, the industry is changing, and this is providing more insights and data to make better decisions. Data on material flow through the network are key so you can track and trace material through the supply chain. It is difficult to build the future state when you do not have benchmarks to compare to. Cascades uses digital technology to become a data partner and innovation collaborator with our clients. This data can drive transparency across the value chain and this in turn will lead to more accountability and positive change.

Are your customers looking for more transparency and data?

Yes. Cascades has always been a very transparent partners with our customers and this engenders mutual trust and understanding. For example, when the National Sword policy of China eliminated many foreign outlets for mixed fibre, our customers saw the true costs of recycling and wanted to understand the dynamics and what measures could be taken to mitigate comparable price shocks in the future. Educating our customers on the vagaries of the recycling market is a key task for Cascades.

Are there any recent significant government policies that are helping your approach that are making your recycling initiatives easier?

EPR holds a lot of promise but it remains to be seen as to how it will work in practice. I see it as an important foundation for the circular economy. Hopefully EPR can also create more consistency in terms of what can be collected for recycling nationally across Canada; inconsistency can create confusion for companies and households. When you have certainty and consistency in legislation and rollout timelines, then industry can make the necessary investment in processing capabilities to support this type of change.

In the context of the circular economy could you see Cascades offering a ‘packaging as a service’ offering where you always owned the packaging?

Cascades has the mindset that when we produce new innovative low-environment impact packaging for our partners, then we are looking at the full lifecycle of the packaging so that it can be re-used or returned to us for recycling. This is true circular thinking and EPR could drive this value chain if there is consistency in collections and rules nationally.

The Paper and Plastics Recycling Conference is taking place on October 19th and 20th in Chicago. Come and visit AMCS at Booth 2. Contact us to book a pre-book a meeting.

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