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How Quickly Can We Double Our Plastic Packaging Recycling Rate?

Plastic makers have made some important commitments over the past few years.

  • Some of the world’s largest plastic makers have set goals to produce significant amounts of recycled plastics by 2025 or 2030 using advanced recycling technologies.
  • Many have identified specific dates to achieve carbon neutrality, recycle varying tons of plastics, and/or make their products reusable/recyclable.  
  • And collectively, America’s plastic makers set a goal for 100% of plastic packaging in the U.S. to be reused, recycled, or recovered by 2040.

Meeting these targets will be challenging and require expanding and modernizing our plastic recycling infrastructure.

Including innovative recycling technologies. And on this front, we recently received some good news.

A new report from Closed Loop Partners (CLP), a New York City-based investment firm focused on building the circular economy, took a look at how advanced technologies could help us recycle more plastics than current systems can handle. These technologies break down used plastics into their building blocks that then can be used to make new products, including new plastics, in a circular loop.

As noted, there are multiple advanced recycling ventures planned or underway today, initiated by startups and multinational corporations. CLP calculated how quickly these initiatives could grow and scale over this decade. And they found we could double the recycling rate of plastic packaging in North America by 2030.

Double. In only nine years. Predominately due to advanced recycling initiatives.

Doubling the rate would go a long way toward reaching our goals and helping consumer brand companies use more recycled plastics (they’ve got their own commitments to meet, so this report should be good news to them, as well). And it also would help keep plastic resources out of landfills, incinerators, and our environment.

CLP’s recent report follows their 2019 report that looked at the economic opportunity of advanced recycling. Back then they found a $120 billion market opportunity for advanced recycling technologies in North America.

Good for the environment. Good for the economy.

To help turn this potential into reality, we’re championing policies to further boost plastics recycling and advanced technologies. In July we announced 5 Actions for Sustainable Change, five simple steps Congress can take to accelerate a circular economy for plastics through a comprehensive, national strategy (you can read more here).

The 5 Actions will make collecting and processing plastics more efficient and reduce confusion about which plastics to recycle. One of the 5 Actions: Create a modern regulatory system that encourages rather than hinders new technologies so companies can rapidly scale advanced recycling. Another Action: Require all plastic packaging in the U.S. to include at least 30% recycled plastics on average by 2030.

To enact these policies, we’re going to need the support of policy makers and brand companies, as CLP points out. In fact, we’re going to need support from up and down the entire plastics value chain… all the way to Americans concerned about our environment who collect their plastics for recycling.

CLP’s report is, indeed, very good news for everyone working to end plastic waste.

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About the Author

As Vice President of ACC’s Plastics Division, Joshua oversees strategic programs to advance a science-based policy agenda, national outreach, and sustainability initiatives on behalf of America’s leading plastics makers. He encourages better understanding of plastics’ advantages in key markets, such as automotive, building and construction, and packaging, and innovations that are helping to address some of our world’s greatest sustainability challenges. Joshua also leads industry initiatives and fosters multi-stakeholder dialogue around helping to end plastic waste by creating a more circular economy.

He previously led public affairs at the American Beverage Association (ABA), where he oversaw the launch of a new plastics sustainability initiative and helped advance community-based recycling projects.

Prior to joining ABA, Joshua served as a managing director at Marathon Strategies and senior vice president at DDC Public Affairs. In both capacities, Joshua directed strategy and implementation of multi-channel issue advocacy and public affairs campaigns on behalf of Fortune 100 companies and leading trade associations. In 2018, Joshua led the defeat of the Border Adjustment Tax on behalf of the retail industry, which was recognized as PR Week’s 2018 global crisis campaign of the year.

He began his career working on Capitol Hill for former U.S. Representative Heather Wilson and as the National Coalitions Director for U.S. Senator Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Joshua has a Master of Arts in Government and Political Communications from The Johns Hopkins University and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Texas Tech University.

American Chemistry Council

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) represents the leading companies engaged in the multibillion-dollar business of chemistry. ACC members apply the science of chemistry to make innovative products, technologies and services that make people's lives better, healthier and safer. ACC is committed to improved environmental, health, safety and security performance through Responsible Care®; common sense advocacy addressing major public policy issues; and health and environmental research and product testing. ACC members and chemistry companies are among the largest investors in research and development, and are advancing products, processes and technologies to address climate change, enhance air and water quality, and progress toward a more sustainable, circular economy.

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