Climate Confident

Waste Not, Want Not: Ingenium's Blueprint for Sustainable Business

September 27, 2023 Tom Raftery / Heather Johnson Season 1 Episode 138
Climate Confident
Waste Not, Want Not: Ingenium's Blueprint for Sustainable Business
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Show Notes Transcript

Hey, Climate Confident listeners! 🎧 Today's episode was such an eye-opener! I sat down with Heather Johnson, the CEO of Ingenium, a company revolutionising the way we look at waste.

We delved deep into how waste, especially hazardous waste, can be an untapped goldmine. Imagine your waste, not just as a discard but as a valuable resource to another company? Ingenium is doing just that! Matching waste producers with companies that need these very resources. Not only does this have cost-saving implications, but the environmental benefits are staggering. It’s the very epitome of sustainability.

Heather shared how Ingenium has been making waves, particularly with large public companies, in turning waste into a repurposed asset. With California pushing businesses for waste reduction and sustainability becoming a worldwide focus, the scope of this industry is immense. 🌏

But as Heather pointed out, challenges abound. With the rising waste, diminishing incineration facilities, and increasing regulations, there's a dire need for forward-thinkers and innovators. And that's where Ingenium steps in, aiming to be at the forefront of waste management for decades to come.

One key takeaway? It's crucial to partner with a reputable waste management company. Heather highlighted the "cradle to grave" concept - you're responsible for your waste till the end. So ensuring it's in trustworthy hands is paramount.

Want to delve deeper into Ingenium's groundbreaking approach to waste management? Head to their site as mentioned in our chat.

And check out the video version of this episode on YouTube

Until next time, keep those climate vibes high and stay confident! 🌱

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Credits
Music credits - Intro by Joseph McDade, and Outro music for this podcast was composed, played, and produced by my daughter Luna Juniper

Heather Johnson:

If your chemicals are in good condition and you just no longer have a use for them, the first thing we try to do is find somebody else. In fact, we have a program that we call our Orphan Chemical Program, and that is exactly what we're talking about. So, Tom, You're disposing of these chemicals and I've got somebody else who can benefit from using these chemicals. I'll just transfer your inventory over to them

Tom Raftery:

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, wherever you are in the world. This is the Climate Confident podcast, the number one podcast showcasing best practices in climate emission reductions and removals, and I'm your host, Tom Raftery. Don't forget to click follow on this podcast in your podcast app of choice to be sure you don't miss any episodes. Hi, everyone. Welcome to episode 138 of the Climate Confident podcast. My name is Tom Raftery. And before we kick off today's show, I want to take a quick moment to express my gratitude to all of our amazing supporters. Your support has been instrumental in keeping this podcast going and I'm really grateful for each and every one of you. If you're not already a supporter, I'd like to encourage you to consider joining our community of like minded individuals who are passionate about climate. Supporting the podcast is easy and affordable, with options starting as low as just three euros or dollars a month, which is less than the cost of a cup of coffee, and your support will make a huge difference in keeping this podcast going strong. To become a supporter, simply click on the support link in the show notes of this or any episode, or visit tinyurl. com slash climatepod. Now, without further ado, with me on the show today, I have my special guest, Heather. Heather, welcome to the podcast. Would you like to introduce yourself?

Heather Johnson:

Sure. Thank you, Tom, for having me here today. My name is Heather Johnson and I am the CEO of Ingenium. Ingenium is a hazardous waste transportation and management company. We focus on sustainability, finding more sustainable solutions for disposing of hazardous waste.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, fantastic. And Heather. Talk to me a little bit first about the genesis of Ingenium. How, what made you decide to start this company dealing with hazardous waste?'cause it's not an obvious one I would've thought.

Heather Johnson:

It's not an obvious one. Absolutely not. I actually had an opportunity with several other folks in the industry to start Ingenium 17 years ago. We've all worked together in this space. I've been in this space for 27 years now. My partners even longer, over 30 years. And we just decided that we thought we could do it better and we wanted to start our own company focusing on hazardous waste disposal.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And what has the journey been like?

Heather Johnson:

It is been interesting. Hazardous waste is, it's a highly regulated industry and people don't really think about it. But I, I would say um, for Ingenium back in 2008, we had been in business for, about two years when the markets crashed and we just started to see a lot of waste of good products because companies were going out of business. And so typically you don't dispose of things that can still be used. But in that case, when they went out of business, all of their product became waste and it really started our focus then on sustainability. Historically, we, we just looked at either burying or burning waste. And that's typically what you do. But when you see so much inventory now having to be disposed of, we thought there must be a better way. And honestly back then, sustainability, I don't even think it was a buzzword yet. We're talking 15 years ago. And now you see it's on the forefront of everything.

Tom Raftery:

And what, what made you decide, I mean, why didn't you just go along with everyone else and just landfill or get rid of the waste? What made you decide to go down the sustainability route?

Heather Johnson:

I honestly, I think it was just painful to watch this amount of material being wasted. I mean, it, it makes good money for us. Obviously we're business of disposal, but just seeing this, you know, massive amount of chemical waste what else can we do? Just starting to ask those questions and, know, think differently.

Tom Raftery:

And what kind of waste are we talking about?

Heather Johnson:

We're talking about in that case, we work with a lot of biotech and pharmaceutical companies. So in their research and development, they use a lot of different reagents and compounds. So nasty, toxic chemicals really, but nonetheless reusable or, or we could continue the use of these items by repurposing them between, you know, one business that was going out of business and another, you know, maybe a startup company that didn't have a lot of cash and they could benefit from taking advantage of these chemicals. But

Tom Raftery:

Okay.

Heather Johnson:

do this with um, manufacturing companies that have larger volumes of solvents or paints, you know, things that somebody can benefit from continuing the use of before disposing them as hazardous waste.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, so it's, is it mostly chemicals we're talking about then?

Heather Johnson:

Yes. Yes. When I think of hazardous or when I speak of hazardous, it's mostly chemicals. Thank you for clarifying.

Tom Raftery:

No worries, no worries. And . . Talk to me a little bit then about the journey from 2008 to where we are today, 2023. What has that been like? What are you doing now that you weren't doing then?

Heather Johnson:

Now we are looking, we're constantly looking for better technology. So since 2008 there's been more focus on sustainability across, you know, all industries, but with waste. And you know what, not even with waste, but with packaging of chemicals. So, you know, how can we be more sustainable with our packaging and how can we be more sustainable in all areas of business before we get to waste, before we have something that needs to be disposed of. So we've seen a lot of pressure upstream on suppliers, but when it does become a waste, just, you know, what else can we do with it? What technology is out there? Can it be recycled? Can it be reused, before it has to go into the ground or be burned?

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And so talk to me then about the typical journey for a customer of yours. So, . . Let's say I'm a company that has a vat of chemicals that I want to get rid of. What happens and what do you do with that vat of chemicals, whatever they are.

Heather Johnson:

So if you call me and you say, Hey, I, I need help. I'm gonna come in and say, what do you, what do you have? What are you doing? And you're gonna tell me what you're doing. Most likely you have something in place, right? If you're, if you're a business that's been operating for a while, you understand regulation. Most businesses understand regulatory requirements around chemicals.

Tom Raftery:

Mm-hmm.

Heather Johnson:

If they're using them. And so if you were having a problem and you called me, I would wanna understand what your problem is, what are you trying to do? And then from there I would be able to help you understand what opportunities are available to you. So let's just say you've got a vat of chemicals and you have a sustainability goal and you don't wanna burn them anymore. And you say, Heather, please help me. I can't burn these. My boss is telling me that I have to do something better for the environment. What can I do? So I would look at your, your chemicals and I would be able to determine what options are available to you. Now, some things there are nothing you can do with them besides burn or bury, but a lot of things we can do better with. So just, just looking at what you have and saying ok, here are your options. Now, one other thing to consider is it's not always cheaper to go the route of being greener more sustainable. So you have to weigh that with your goals in terms of, okay, I'm gonna spend more, but I'm gonna accomplish what I'm trying to do here.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And what are typical things that can be done with chemicals if we're not burning them or destroying them, or not burying them or whatever?

Heather Johnson:

So if your chemicals are in good condition and you just no longer have a use for them, the first thing we try to do is find somebody else. In fact we have a program that we call our Orphan Chemical Program, and that is exactly what we're talking about. So, Tom, You're disposing of these chemicals and I've got somebody else who can benefit from using these chemicals. I'll just transfer your inventory over to them. If you have things that are inherently waste like and we cannot viably give it to somebody else for continued use and we have to dispose of it, then there are, depending on what the chemicals are, we have options like waste to energy, which is a technology that you know, takes the waste and burns it, turns it into energy. In a lot of instances you can power the grid with your waste, which is kind of cool. But there's regulatory requirements around those companies and facilities and they can't waste to energy everything. There's a technology called fuels blending, and this is where we can take things with heat value, solvents and other chemicals, and they're used as a secondary fuel in a cement kiln. So instead of natural resources that you're burning, you can take waste, chemical waste and use it as a secondary fuel or an alternative fuel. And then there are other technologies, distillation, which is where we can clean up a solvent, put it back on the market. We've got some opportunity to take things, combine 'em, and turn 'em into a product like a gun wash which is pretty interesting. So just depends on what the chemicals are. And what the regulatory requirements allow to determine what we can do.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And amongst those different alternatives what do I as the person, as the owner of the chemicals, what do I get? I mean, you mentioned sustainability goals that my boss has do you you know, enable me to report on that in some way. Are you passing back data on that, that allows me then to report in my sustainability report or whatever it is?

Heather Johnson:

That's a great question and yes, we absolutely provide you with the data. You would start with a baseline and then over time we would be able to show you how much waste you've either reduced or put into more sustainable solutions. And your boss loves that data. pre presenting that stuff to the shareholders. Public companies especially are interested in this stuff

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And is there a difference then between hazardous waste versus hazardous materials?

Heather Johnson:

So from a regulatory standpoint, once it becomes a waste, meaning you decide, you no longer have a use for it. Then you're bound to time restrictions and limitations on how long you have to hold it before you have to get rid of it and document it's called a manifest, where you're, you know, documenting what you're disposing of, where it's going. There's time constraints on you to receive proof of disposal all that kind of stuff. While it's a material, you do have regulations, I think, with the fire code and different agencies to know that you've got these materials in your building, but once they become waste, it's a whole nother ball game.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. Okay. Fair enough. Now. I mentioned at the outset that a lot of companies are looking into the idea of going zero waste and in the prep for this, you mentioned that this is something that you are helping companies achieve. So can you talk to me a bit a bit about that zero waste initiatives that you've come across or ways that you're helping companies to go zero waste?

Heather Johnson:

And I just wanna clarify, there's something called zero landfill and then there's zero waste. And so zero landfill means getting all of your waste out of a landfill, finding other things to do besides put it in a landfill. And zero waste is a little bit more stringent because landfill isn't an option. I'm sorry. Waste to energy isn't an option whereby just zero landfill waste to energy would be an option. So what Ingenium is doing is we call it a dumpster dive. We're literally getting into your dumpster and we're starting with a baseline providing data on what exactly is going into your trash now. So, this would be separate from hazardous waste. This would be inclusive of every type of waste coming out of a company. So you've got trash cans at individuals desks. You've got trash cans in lunch rooms around your facilities, and all of that stuff is being consolidated into your dumpster. What is it? In a lot of instances there's commodities, like cardboard, there's plastics, there's aluminums, and so we, we pick through there, we send people out and physically get into the dumpster and start collecting data, and then we present and say, here's what you have the gamut of all the different items going into your trash. Now what can you do with this stuff to ultimately rehome it into, you know, more sustainable places as opposed to that stuff all goes to the landfill, right? Your, your trash collection company comes, they take your dumpster. And they might pull out a few things that have value to them, but otherwise it's, it's being buried. And so, once we provide you the data of what you have, then we can provide you with options on what else you can do with it.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, so you're, you're putting those trash companies who come around collecting trash outta business, hopefully

Heather Johnson:

Hey, don't tell them that they, they, they'll have to pivot just like the rest of us when business conditions change.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, cool, cool. And talk to me then about some of the technologies that you're using to do this. Because obviously if you're burning the, some of the waste that potentially can give off you know, pollutants in its own right. So we're trying to move away from that. Right.

Heather Johnson:

Yes. Yeah. So again, I think it just comes down to what it is, and what options are available. And again, as I mentioned, the waste to energy for that reason of the pollutants is not necessarily the best technology for the zero waste for the zero waste certification people seek. But it is better than just putting things into the landfill.'cause at some point we're outta space in this earth bury things

Tom Raftery:

Yeah. And the, the zero waste regulations that you're referring to is this California specific, 'cause we didn't mention it at the start, but you're based outta California. Is it California specific? Or is it more, is it a federal legislation or where does it come from?

Heather Johnson:

It's, it's program that to be honest with you, I'm not sure that it's a regulation, but it's a certification, so,

Tom Raftery:

Okay.

Heather Johnson:

A little bit different from a regulation, but to get the certification, you have to do things a certain way.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, and where are you operating? Is it just California or is it across the lower 48 or is it all 50 or is it all of North America or is it? Heather Johnson: Yeah, no, We actually do that nationally. Because the certification it, it's the same across the country. We've actually been asked to come international to several countries where some of our customers here in the states have operations globally, we haven't done any of that yet. But nonetheless, I think everybody's paying attention to this. It's, it's important for people to look at what they're doing and understand what they're doing and what else they can be doing. So they call on us to help them. Okay. And with that certification, is that something that your customers approach you to try and get, or you approach your customers and say, you know, you could go for this, or is it a, is it a mix or how does that work?

Heather Johnson:

At this time, it's mostly us reaching out. and educating people on this as an opportunity. So our marketing efforts are, are trying to get to the masses and help them, you know, again, back to people not knowing what they don't know, helping them understand what available to them. And so we started promoting this about I think it's been about two years already now, it's getting a lot of traction, mostly with big public companies because they have initiatives and they have sustainability reports. And so it's, it's really important to them. They've got plans on waste reduction I'll tell you, in the state of California, I think it's been, I don't know, 15, 20 years ago when the state imposed on businesses they had to come up with plans to reduce their waste over time. And so businesses had to report to the state how much waste they were gonna reduce over what period of time, and by when they were gonna have, you know, waste reduction at X percent. So,

Tom Raftery:

Right.

Heather Johnson:

and And that's, that's continuing as a trend across the country.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. Okay, cool. And where to next for Ingenium? I mean, you've, you've come this far, you, the last, I think you said 17 years. So what, what is the next 5, 10, 15 years hold for you? Where do you see things going?

Heather Johnson:

It is gonna be a challenge, I think with the waste industry. I will tell you that on a side note with incineration, there are major capacity issues. There's a lot of captive incinerators in this country that have shut down. So there's limited capacity, and yet more and more things are being regulated. And required to be managed as hazardous waste. So, we've got greater volumes, less options. What are we gonna do? So we've got, you know, we've got a team of innovators that are looking forward, paying attention to new technology on the horizon what's available, what's coming down the pipe, and wanting to be the thought leader in what we bring to the market in the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And do you see any particular technologies or any particular trends coming along that people should be aware of?

Heather Johnson:

I don't see any trends in the near future other than just looking for better ways to manage things.

Tom Raftery:

Mm-hmm.

Heather Johnson:

It's been a trend for us for a while and it's now trendy. yeah.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And the, the, the matching of waste, so that waste from one company becomes a source of goods for another company. How is that progressing?

Heather Johnson:

That, that's actually a, a wonderful program in the sense of it's a cost saving opportunity. If you don't have right now with the economics and people trying to save money, it's got a dual advantage. It's always had a dual advantage, but generally speaking, if we can present an inventory to somebody and they can take advantage of it, it's a win-win situation. I should say that it takes it out of the waste arena entirely. So there's this whole reporting requirement based on your generator status. The more waste you send, the more chemicals you dispose of, the more regulated you are in terms of how long you can hold things, documentation, reporting, all of these things. That goes away if they find somebody who can take their inventory in lieu of disposing it. So there's tons of advantage for both the donor and the recipient in that program.

Tom Raftery:

Nice. Nice. And I mean, it, it, it, it seems as well that . I, I'm, I'm assuming here that if I want to dispose of some chemicals, I'm going to have to pay a company like yourself, a waste company to come take them and destroy those chemicals. Whereas if you are finding someone to take those chemicals off my hands, it sounds to me like the model is you take a finder's fee and they pay for the inventory, so instead of it becoming a cost, it becomes a potential, maybe not profit center, but a way at least of my not having to pay for waste disposal and making some money as well.

Heather Johnson:

Yeah. And, and it's less expensive at the end of the day. So, the waste disposal gonna cost the donor more money and the recipient is gonna pay for new chemicals. So we just manage the transaction and it's beneficial to everybody. So, profit center for us? Yes, absolutely. But we're providing value on both parties.

Tom Raftery:

Of course. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And, the value for the planet at the same time. So better again, . Cool.

Heather Johnson:

yeah. So much benefit to repurposing chemicals in lieu disposing of them.

Tom Raftery:

Super, super. Heather, we're coming towards the end of the podcast now. Is there any question I haven't asked that you wish I had or any aspect of this we haven't touched on that you think it's important for people to be aware of?

Heather Johnson:

I do, and it just, it just occurred to me as you talked about having to have a professional company like Ingenium. It's really important due to the regulated nature of the business that you have a reputable company picking up your chemicals, whether they're disposing of them repurposing them or otherwise, you know, finding better technology. There's, there's so much regulation for you as the generator of the material to understand where the waste is going and ensure it's being properly managed because there's this concept called cradle to grave, and you're ultimately responsible for your stuff, to the end. So you've, you may have seen news stories pop up occasionally where they've, you know, dug up drums of some waste that somebody improperly managed and now the company that thought their waste was being handled appropriately has to pay a second time for disposal and then typically a lot more cleanup. So, it's really important to understand who you're working with and that they have the proper credentials to take your waste.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. Nice, nice. Great. Heather, it's been really interesting. If people would like to know more about yourself or any of the things we discussed in the podcast today, where would you have me direct them?

Heather Johnson:

I would direct them to our website at www dot pure ingenium, p u r e i n g e N I u m.com/podcast.

Tom Raftery:

Superb. They could

Heather Johnson:

find me there as well as everything about the business and anything else they might be interested in for hazardous waste.

Tom Raftery:

Fantastic. Heather, that's been really interesting. Thanks a million for coming on the podcast today.

Heather Johnson:

Thank you for having me, Tom.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about the Climate Confident podcast, feel free to drop me an email to tomraftery at outlook. com or message me on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you like the show, please don't forget to click follow on it in your podcast application of choice to get new episodes as soon as they're published. Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast. It really does help new people to find the show. Thanks. Catch you all next time.

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