Dr. Joanne Brasch on Creating a sustainable future.

Dr. Joanne Brasch, Ph.D., is the Special Project Manager at California Product Stewardship Council aka CPSC, a nonprofit organization established in 2007 in Sacramento, CA. On a mission to shift California’s product waste management system from one that focuses on government-funded and ratepayer financed waste diversion to one that relies on producer responsibility, CPSC has been relentlessly working at reducing public costs and driving improvements in product design that promotes enhanced environmental sustainability. It aims to educate and advocate for improved material recovery systems through sponsoring legislation, hosting regular calls/updates, projects, and speaking engagements.

It all started when the State banned mercury thermostats, without providing a properly funded plan to support the safe disposal of the banned item. Hence, several cities and counties collaborated and funded the launch of CPSC to educate & advocate for industry engagement in waste problems. As the local governments could not be relied on to add more source-separated material streams without increasing the garbage rates to residents, the industry resorted to industry funding as it was found to be a prudent way to solve complex problems associated with the materials and products.

A leader in its domain, for the last 14 years, CPSC has been tirelessly working towards achieving its goal of enhanced environmental sustainability. Willing to do whatever it takes, it mentors local government, businesses, and residents to address hard-to-manage waste streams by engaging the industry to address complex solutions. Facing every challenge with an iron will to succeed, CPSC has been trying to break the glass ceiling with its ambitions and its innate desire to create a change.

A dynamic leader eager to make her contribution towards environmental sustainability, Dr. Joanne also has two state appointments and is currently Chair of the Carpet and Mattress recycling advisory committees for CalRecycle. Additionally, Dr. Joanne sits on the board of the American Association of Textile Colorists and Chemists (AATCC) and leads working groups for the Ocean Protection Council’s policy goals for ocean litter prevention. Dr. Joanne regularly publishes written book chapters and presents at international conferences with updates on CPSC’s work in California. She has authored many enlightening knowledgebase articles with her recent press being CPSC Textile Recovery Policy Report & One-Page Summary– CPSC, 12/15/21 and Coalition letter supporting DTSC’s listing of PFAS treatments for textiles as a priority product– CPSC, 11/8/21.

Below Dr. Joanne discusses challenges and opportunities associated with waste management.

Dr. Joanne Brasch

“People often don’t realize that solid waste and recycling is the 5th most deadly job in the US, according to the Labor Bureau. The tail end of the circular economy isn’t pretty and material management is expensive, if creating a new source separated stream and sorting for specific end-markets.”

Aspioneer (A): Why are you working in this industry? How is your business contributing to the industry?

Dr. Joanne (J): “CPSC is the state’s leader educating and advocating for specific policy types of extended producer responsibility (EPR) and product stewardship. We have sponsored and supported precedent-setting legislation that has global impacts on diverting materials from landfills into a circular economy with so much reuse potential.”

(A): Who are the industry’s leading players? What is it about them that you admire? What are the business trends that they are advancing?

(J): “The wonderful world of waste has so many characters and stakeholders. The best part about the people in our network and our project partners is the shared enthusiasm to implement impactful programs that protect humans and the earth from harmful pollution coming from the products in the waste streams.”

(A): Tell us what is disrupting your industry?

(J): “Greenwashing- Brands putting new “green” materials on the market that have no end-of-life program in place, nor do they have proven safe processing shown. For example, new mushroom leathers and other cellulosic fabrics do not disclose their chemical content, nor are they recyclable or compostable in post-consumer commercial settings, so the new fabrics with takeback programs in place make textile recovery even more complicated than it already is.

There are other disruptors. A positive one is the resurgence of repair and upcycling and bringing back skills that strengthen the community’s resilience by reducing reliance on imported new materials. If we can divert the materials already existing in our market into reuse, repair, and upcycling, there is a great opportunity to increase domestic manufacturing and small businesses specializing in textile recovery, which many already exist in our communities and need help now more than ever.”

(A): What are the biggest challenges facing business leaders today in your industry?

(J): “The biggest challenge today is the industry lobbying to keep the status quo.”

(A): How do you keep up-to-date on new technologies and trends in your industry?

(J): “Through multi-stakeholder engagement and educational outreach. CPSC participates on many boards and working groups.” 

(A): What are the common myths/misconceptions about the industry?

(J): “People often don’t realize that solid waste and recycling is the 5th most deadly job in the US, according to the Labor Bureau. The tail end of the circular economy isn’t pretty and material management is expensive, if creating a new source separated stream and sorting for specific end-markets.”

(A): How has COVID-19 impacted your industry?

(J): “There is more trash generated now than ever with the proliferation of single-use plastic and food takeout. All reuse efforts were halted, and faced public health challenges to ramp back up.”

(A): In what direction do you see your industry going in the next 5/10 years?

(J): “I think investments in material recovery and the circular economy will incentivize a renaissance of artists and creators influencing domestic manufacturing to make California a global market center for sustainable textiles, and other products.

Everyone who is trained in sewing, 3-D printing, and other craft skills already has the knowledge needed to recover the materials in our communities and divert into perpetual reuse, repair, and repurposing.”

Aspioneer Magazine, 20 under 40 issue