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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Dickson

#008 Jayden Klinac: on Regeneration, Waste as a Resource & Surrender as a Muscle

Is there really such a thing as the plastic mafia? How can waste truly be a resource? What is the difference between sustainability and regeneration? Big questions that we are deep diving into with Jayden Klinac. We talk about taking on the big food and beverage giants, and why vulnerability is one of the biggest strengths of a conscious leader.

Jayden Klinac started his sustainability journey in 2012 when he co-founded the Honest Coffee Company, becoming the exclusive New Zealand distributor of biodegradable coffee capsules. He then decided to tackle the problem of waste caused by discarded plastic water bottles, with For The Better Good. He didn’t stop there and created an entire ecosystem to support the full lifecycle of their products. And now he has launched a regenerative soil company too called Edible Earth.

In a funny turn of events, Jayden and I both wound up in the same mastermind group through a group we are both apart of called Top Tier Impact. I have deeply admired his calm sensibilities, deep self wisdom and conscious leadership style – so when the opportunity came to get him on the podcast it was a no brainer.

We chatted on the Live Wide Awake podcast, which you can listen to in full here, and below enjoy a few highlights.

On waste as a design flaw…

One of my biggest aha moments was during my second lecture at university studying design. I realised that everything we can see from cities to cars, down to menus, or clothes, everything has been designed. Therefore all the problems that we have in life, or things that aren’t working, are essentially just poor design. Anything negative can be turned into a positive if it’s designed properly. After university, I was pondering one day, about where all the coffee capsules went that my flatmates and I were going through. And then I stopped to think about how many were being used around the world and they were designed to be used for eight seconds before going to landfill. And I remember thinking – well that’s just poor design. Which is where the idea for my first company Honest Coffee came from. We produced the first compostable coffee capsules for espresso machines and distributed them around New Zealand and Australia.

On replacing vicious cycles with virtuous cycles…

It’s about turning the negative effects of products into positive effects. We look at the entire life cycle or a product, as opposed to just one aspect, and look at it holistically. More importantly, we go back to the start of the life cycle and where a lot of design gets broken and instead figure out how to change one thing to close the loop. Let’s look at the example of oil and plastics, it’s a vicious cycle. We start by taking oil out of the ground, which affects the wildlife, its toxic for human health and for the environment. We use it to make these indestructible products that are used once and then go on to last forever. All of these negative vicious cycles that are created from one poor decision at the start.

Instead, we started looking at different materials.

We put plants in the place of oil and then suddenly we came out with a product (water bottles) that was non-toxic. It didn’t need to be single-use, it could be reused over and over again. And then it had the ability to be composted at the end of life. So we designed a system to collect it back and compost it. To make the compost work you need food waste and green waste, so we diverted that from landfill – which was an added positive. Then with that nutrient-dense compost, we started growing organic food and feeding people. It became clearer and clearer that in society we have a lot of vicious cycles in the way we operate currently, but there is the potential to replace them with these virtuous cycles. And some of the positives that we’re seeing from our supply chains, we didn’t plan for, we weren’t trying to get them, they just naturally fell out, which has been really rewarding.

On biodegradable vs compostable…

It’s super confusing out there on this topic and there is lots of misinformation. A simple way to look at it is biodegradable will biodegrade, it will break down. That could be anything though, and it doesn’t really have a time limit on how long it will break down. Sometimes there are products that biodegrade which are made of nasty things, and while they will get smaller and smaller, they will also still persist in the environment just in smaller forms. Whereas composting, with our bottles for example, they will break down into smaller and smaller pieces as well. However, when they get small enough, the little microorganisms in the compost pile will actually eat what’s left and then what is left over after that is just CO2 and water. This is the extra step, where it can actually be consumed by nature. The nutrients can be recycled and then they can enter the environment safely again, as opposed to remaining in their original form in smaller (mostly toxic) bits.

On breaking down bioplastic water bottles…

For our water bottles, we actually built composting sites throughout New Zealand because there was a lack of infrastructure. It’s all completely natural. We have these boxes, they are made of steel and wood. We add food scraps that we collect from local businesses or local homes. And we add our carbon source, which is just mulched trees or dried grass. Then we add our bottles. And because we get our nitrogen carbon mix right, the compost get’s naturally hot up to that 65 degrees. And you can even run copper piping through these composts which can be free energy to create a hot water source if you want.

When it cools out you add the worms and then it’s ready to be used in the garden. For our bottles, everything we use is certified compostable and it breaks down to about 90-95% in around 180 days. But we also had it tested by an independent sustainability consultant and they brought down to under 27 days to be completely gone. Our bottles generally break down quicker than most are lemon and orange peels that break down in our compost.

On education and the eco-system…

We actually set up a whole refill network around New Zealand to help mitigate the need for people to buy single-use. We have had some customers who use our bottles for 6 months and others who just use it the one time, but we hope they return it to one of our points for composting. We can’t really follow people around with a whip to make them do the right thing, but we just try to educate as much possible and hope they do the right thing.

A lot of what we do is about teaching people anything that’s come from the earth isn’t actually waste, it’s a resource. And a lot of our problems stem from us using those resources wrong or trying to throw them in holes called landfills or whatever else we do with them. Currently, a lot of bioplastics, such as our bottles, need a specific composting environment, which is why we’ve built our own hot composts. But as materials develop we will get to the point where they can just break down where ever you have bacteria, for example, in nature or in people’s home composts. It’s a journey, that will continually get better. But as from where we started with oil, it’s leaps and bounds ahead.

On the plastic mafia…

In any industry, you enter, there are conglomerate giants who have been there and set it up. When I started, eight years ago, people didn’t even think plastic was bad and to most of the people we were talking to, it was a hard sell to convince them that they needed a better replacement. Now, we come up against places that are tied into 10 or 20-year contracts with certain brands.

The biggest contract we picked up was for a stadium, and we set up this amazing collection system, where we even had on-site composting. We had a 1-year exclusive contract. But after the first match there, we started getting these calls from the company, stressing out that they were getting pressure from shareholders and the previous brand who was there. And suddenly we got called into the CEO’s office and he said “look, we’ve been offered $250,000 to get rid of you guys and to bring these people back in and drop the contract. We’re a business, a commercial entity, I’m sure you understand, but the decision has been made. We were just calling you in to tell you.” And despite having a contract that’s said legally they couldn’t do that to us the size of these companies, we were never going to fight them. That’s just not how we do business, but it speaks to the realities to some of the situations and some of the battles that we come up against.

On the environmental cost…

Our planet is under so much pressure right now. We are so far over our comfortable capacity that it’s not going to be a choice anymore to keep operating without environmental costs being accounted for on the balance sheet. Right now we have a price for our product and that includes the end of life, it includes the environmental costs. The trouble is that all these businesses are currently able to sell without accounting for the effects they are having on the environment. But with the state of the world and the extremity of it, I don’t think that will last much longer just because it can’t. If it does, we all get wiped out, right? It will shift and consciousness is changing.

We are seeing big CEOs and big corporates now who actually are feeling the pressure and are wanting to do good. We found a lot of them are lost and just don’t know how to do it. What keeps me positive is knowing that consumers have so much access to information now and they can research and find the answers for themselves. And at the end of the day, businesses will do what the consumer wants. It’s only a matter of time before these guys actually have to listen and do something.

On sustainability vs regeneration…

Everyone’s been focusing on sustainability, it’s been a buzzword for quite a long time now. But all it means is the ability to sustain the cycles of life, and more simple terms, to stay where we are. We needed to go so far wrong, to find out what right is. It’s only up from here. If we lived as our grandparents did, I wouldn’t be excited about things like composting as it would have been normal. But its important we’ve seen the contrast. This will allow us to come back to a state of abundance, and that is regeneration – working alongside nature, designing in harmony with nature, to fix what we’ve done in the past. Then we can heal the environment, and start to heal ourselves. It’s exciting to know we have simple remedies to fix things.

We see it with composting. For example, if you compost on soil, that soil will start actually sequestering carbon, it will start reversing climate change. It’s not just stopping food waste going to landfill, but also by putting content into compost and putting it on the soil, the environment actually starts to heal itself. That’s regeneration. It’s a really nice cycle of where you get more back than you give. And then that means you can give more back again. As soon as we see that our waste is actually a resource, we can start to create quickly to shift into regeneration. And I think food waste and composting is the quickest way to do it.

On leading consciously…

I treat my team how I treat myself. If I think I need more freedom in my life or I want to control my calendar more or my hours of work – I don’t just hold onto that for me, it’s shared with everyone. I try to lead with my heart and not my head, which presents a lot of contradictions. For example, if you’re confronted with the situation, your head says “I know how to deal with this. You do this and this”. But then when I check in with other parts of my body or if I want to show up differently, it’s generally not the same and I have to be more intuitive. Recently we had the team in a circle and I told everyone “nothing you say is wrong and there’s no judgment, no one gets in trouble, but I want you to tell me what you don’t like about me. How do I frustrate you? Tell me, openly communicate and say how you feel.” It was a really good process and I think it built a lot of trust. When we show vulnerability to people that we work with, then they feel free to be vulnerable as well.

As a guiding light, I try to keep things light and playful and, while noticing my projections. It’s so easy to just to fall into the pattern of projecting and blaming your staff. If something goes wrong it’s easy to go into “well, who’s fault is it?” But we need to flip the script – not blaming your staff and not blaming yourself, but looking at “what lessons were there? What can we learn from this?” instead. It’s more enjoyable for you and your team to thrive in this kind of environment.

On surrender as a muscle…

I think I’ve had enough challenging times in my life to really experience and understand that everything does work out and it’s all just an unfolding. I’ve had so many times where I’ve been in these dark holes, where everything feels like its crumbling around me. I thought it would take us 6 months to get up and running, but it took 3-years to get to market. I felt like a failure that whole time. It’s hard to feel good about yourself when that’s going on, yet when it did launch, it was the perfect time. If it was any earlier, it might’ve failed. Surrender is probably the biggest lesson that helped me get me through and it is a muscle. The more I’m able to surrender and to let go, the more beauty comes out of it. But also in those challenging times, you don’t get so caught up in all the mental games and thinking of all these worst-case scenarios, you just accept it for what it is. And maybe even take it a little bit further, you can actually get a little bit excited for what’s actually going to come out of this bad situation. By surrendering and accepting it is what it is, an unfolding, and keep showing up every day, we really can’t go wrong.

Follow along with Jayden Klinac and the For The Better Good story and listen to the full podcast episode here.

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