Disc Golf Deals USA's Exclusive Interview with Trash Panda - Disc Golf Deals USA

Disc Golf Deals USA's Exclusive Interview with Trash Panda

Our Interview with Trash Panda

Want to learn more about Trash Panda? Disc Golf Deals USA gives you an exclusive interview with Jesse Stedman, founder of Trash Panda! Our talk with him gives you insight into how their team has designed their current line-up, thoughts on the future of that line-up and why recycled disc golf discs are so important! 

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DD: Where and when did the idea for Trash Panda come from and was there ever an incident with a raccoon? 

 TP: Unfortunately, there was no incident with a raccoon. I’m still waiting for my moment though. 

I don’t remember a specific moment, but the idea for Trash Panda developed slowly over a decade of playing disc golf. I found the sport in 2008 and, as many would resonate with, quickly dove in head first. Over the years, I just remember having a recurring curiosity about wondering why there wasn’t more recycled plastic in the sport. So after 12 years of playing and still seeing very little, I decided to do something about it. 

DD: What is the first disc that made you fall in love with disc golf discs? 

TP: The 12x Climo Wraith. 

DD: Looking at your bag now, what type of molds do you gravitate towards and has this had an influence on what molds Trash Panda produces? 

TP: I absoooolutely gravitate towards our lineup at this point because I am 100% biased (lol). There’s just something about throwing your own creation. I highly recommend it. 

At this point, I basically throw our discs exclusively, and if the shot doesn’t resemble their flight path, I simply change my form or the angle to manufacture something that works. Of course I have discs in the bag that fill other slots (headwind, distance, overstable approach, etc.), but I lean heavily on our lineup. 

In terms of a single disc, it’s our putter. The more discs we release, the more I find myself falling in love with the Inner Core. 

The influence on our current lineup actually had nothing to do with what was in my bag. It actually started with the dream of “sustainable starter sets” - which I feel we’ve accomplished with the Inner Core, Dune, and Ozone. 

Moving forward, it’s still not about what’s in my bag. The design constraints are things like: a) what gaps do we have in our lineup, b) what recycled materials do we have on hand and what types of discs would they make well (i.e., baseline vs premium, flexy vs still, etc.), and c) what slots are our team interested in pursuing.

I really don’t care what we make next. Whatever it is, I’ll bag it and eventually we’ll have a full bag. My focus is on diverting as much plastic as possible from landfills through our discs. 

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DD: Run us through what the process was like in making your very first disc and was making the second any easier? 

TP: I will never forget how hard it was to make the Inner Core. 

Making discs at the beginning was such a massive learning curve and trying to make them to scale presented itself to be even more challenging. 

The short version is that it took over 2 years and included things like building a DIY injection molding machine in my garage, investing in a $25,000 mold, and making 1,000 mistakes. (The long version is chronicled on our YouTube channel!) 

Making the second (the Dune) was absolutely easier for a couple of reasons, but we were still early on the learning curve so there remained too many lessons learned to count. 

DD: How has Trash Panda’s process evolved since the creation of that first disc? 

TP: There are likely a hundred ways. The single most important step in our evolution came earlier this year when we got our very own industrial 225 ton injection molding machine. Today, we make discs in house whereas with the Inner Core and Dune we partnered with a local manufacturer. This has been a huge change but the best step we could have taken, because using 100% recycled plastic is an extremely complex endeavor. 

DD: Are there limits in your 100% recycled production process that standard disc productions don’t necessarily face?

TP: Discs are an increeeedibly complex product to make. At face value they look easy, but the type of plastic, the design of the mold, the performance requirements of the part, and the consistency of the final product desired by disc golfers all result in discs being near impossible to manufacture. 

And that’s with virgin plastic. With 100% recycled plastic, it’s 

Exponential. Injection molding is a game of consistency, where every variable is isolated and dialed in to create a repeatable process. All of that gets thrown out the window when using 100% recycled plastic - because it’s an inconsistent feedstock. 

Beyond molding itself, sourcing recycled plastic is another complex issue as well.

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DD: Are there plans to evolve beyond your current manufacturing process in the future? 

TP: At the moment, we’re laser focused on making high quality discs made from 100% recycled plastic in house. Our capacity hasn’t quite been able to keep up with demand, so expanding our capacity is definitely on the horizon. 

DD: How did you make such a straight flying midrange in the Dune? 

TP: honestly don’t know. We learned so much in our first 2 years and applied many of those lessons to the Dune design, but there were still a handful of educated guesses and “stabs in the dark” if you will. I’m immensely proud of the decisions that Chris (our head of R&D) and myself made because they turned out to make the exact disc we were going for. 

DD: You’ve produced a putter, a midrange and a fairway driver with the Ozone so far. Should we expect a distance driver next? 

TP: Who knows?! 

DD: Where do you source your recycled plastics from? 

TP: Our recycled plastic comes from several different sources, from our disc recycling program to local recycling facilities. Currently, we’ve recycled plastic from the automotive, medical, agricultural, and sporting goods industries. 

DD: Why is recycling discs so important? 

TP: Why is recycling anything so important? I think about it in the simplest, most fundamental way: there are usable materials ending up in landfills. We should use those! 

Recycling starts with knowing the plastic type. When it comes to discs, many have no idea because they aren’t labeled with “TPU” but rather “Star” or “Champion.” Unfortunately, this means the discs that end up in a recycling bin or at a local recycling facility are likely to move through to a landfill, even though they are recyclable. 

For discs to actually be recycled, there needs to be a centralized program with insider knowledge that can collect, sort, clean, and shred discs into a usable raw material. We do exactly that. 

Additionally, it creates full circularity for our own lineup. Once you’re finished with a Trash Panda disc - whether you beat it up for years or your dog snuck of with it - you can send it back and we’ll recycle it! 

DD: What does growing the sport sustainably mean? 

TP: We’re all investing in the future - whether we realize it or not. Growing the sport sustainably, to us, is about investing in the right direction. 

One thing we can all agree on is that we all love to get out and throw. We’re in the business of making sure future generations can enjoy it too. 

DD: Can you talk about some of the difficulties you and your team have faced in the process of building the Trash Panda brand to where it is now?

TP:While our product is unique, our challenges are not. Just like any small business, there is a massive learning curve. It’s about constantly improving, iterating, learning, and - at times - just going for it! 

DD: What keeps you going every day and can you discuss some of your goals for the brand? 

TP: Our mission is bigger than just us. It’s pretty easy to get going every day when there’s a purpose and a reason beyond yourself. 

Our single biggest goal for the future is in pounds of plastic recycled. Every 2.5 minutes of operation means another pound of plastic diverted from landfills. We’re incredibly proud to have crossed the 25,000lb mark, and have our eyes set on the 100,000lb mark. 

You can check out our impact report (releasing on June 14th) for some of our other goals. 

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DD: Are processes from the larger brands like Discraft (Recycled ESP), Dynamic (Bio) and MVP (R2 Neutron) as sustainable as Trash Panda’s recycling process?

TP: If other companies weren’t recycling their own manufacturing waste, it would end up in a landfill. So it’s extremely important! 

DD: Do you view the large brand’s entry into recycling discs a good sign for the future of sustainable disc golf? 

TP: ABSOLUTELY! We are massive fans of other disc manufacturers using recycled plastic. As we like to say, “It’s not about someone doing everything, but everyone doing something.” 

DD: You and your team are obviously doing your part in making the disc golf course and the world a better place to live. How can a regular disc golfer help out? 

TP: Everyone has the power to make change. 

Maybe it’s picking up one piece of trash on the course or using a reusable water bottle. Whatever it is, just do something! 

And then, maybe just maybe, do something again.

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