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To create a truly circular ecosystem for plastics, we need scalable innovations to close the gap between what consumers can recycle now and which plastics might become a regular part of a future recycling system.
US consumers are ready to recycle more; but current recycling infrastructure
is holding them back. According to a 2021 survey by SAP, Qualtrics and
the World Economic
94 percent of US adults support recycling and 74 percent say it should be a
priority. However, the country’s current recycling
is only 35 percent. To create a truly circular ecosystem for
we need scalable innovations to close the gap between what consumers can recycle
now and which plastics might become a regular part of the recycling system in
Many companies support this vision and are excited about a future circular
economy for plastics, where fewer materials go to waste and instead find new
value. Corporate demand for recycled plastic content in packaging is expected to
grow nearly 6 percent per
During one of the panel
at the November 16 Sustainability Next
hosted by Dow and Fast Company, a circular economy and the role
companies can play in improving recycling systems was a focal point. The
discussion included Dow Global Sustainability Director Haley
Lowry, WM Vice President
of Sustainability Tara
Hemmer, and Mura Technology Chief Commercial Officer Oliver
Participants focused on themes that have driven conversations on sustainability
in the US and around the world at events such as
and the upcoming World Economic Forum annual
in Davos, including recycling education and solutions, trends in recycling
and public attitudes toward the recycling system. Most importantly, the panel
highlighted a critical point for everyone to consider: The future of recycling
won’t come down to one solution or another — it’s an all-of-the-above
that will require innovations at every step of the plastics lifecycle.
Here’s how recycling collaborations are set to revolutionize how consumers
engage with sustainability in their everyday lives.
Bringing circular solutions together
In the United States, plastic recycling isn’t anywhere close to achieving its
full potential — the best still lies ahead. Some of the biggest opportunities
are in packaging for goods including
we use every day. According to a recent McKinsey & Company
less than 10 percent of certain plastic packaging materials such as
are recycled, mostly due to a lack of curbside recycling options. Through
expanded collection, there is an enormous opportunity to recover more of these
But the important work doesn’t stop with infrastructure. If materials-science
companies are going to develop recyclable materials and accept more types of
plastics, consumers need easy ways to
how to recycle these materials. WM is taking proactive
to educate consumers on recycling, including more
information about how recycled plastics
are used to create new products. These programs are helping close the gap
between consumers’ desire to recycle and the ease of inserting plastics into a
From aspiration to action: An all-in recycling system
Collaboration across the value chain — between producers and brands, consumers
and recyclers, and more — can help us move from aspiration to action on plastic
recycling, achieving a world where none of these valuable materials go to waste.
Dow and WM are putting this idea into action with their latest
which will allow consumers to recycle films and flexible plastics — such as
bread bags, cling wrap and dry-cleaning bags — directly through their curbside
Currently, less than 2 percent of US
have access to curbside film and flexibles recycling, which is holding many
consumers back from participating. Starting with four pilot cities in the US,
the collaboration between Dow and WM will address recycling infrastructure —
from curbside collection to sorting and pre-processing — ultimately creating a
recycling value chain for flexible plastics and packaging. On top of the
circularity benefits, this program provides a distinct economic opportunity for
WM and Dow to capitalize on the market demand for recycled plastic content. More
than 80 of the largest consumer packaging and retail companies have
to using packaging that contains at least 15 percent recycled plastic by 2025.
This type of innovation is going global, too. Dow is teaming up with
to construct multiple, world-scale, advanced-recycling facilities in the US and
Europe — including in Böhlen, Germany, where the largest facility of its
kind is under construction. These projects are expected to collectively add as
much as 600 kilotons per annum (KTA) of advanced-recycling capacity by 2030,
positioning Dow to become the largest consumer of circular feedstock for
polyethylene production globally.
What’s ahead for circularity
With so many global conferences setting the stage for a more sustainable world,
governments, brands and consumers are eagerly watching to see how plastic
recycling will be transformed — a feeling our panelists shared during the
Summit. They each predicted some of the most impactful developments they see for
the next decade:
Haley Lowry: New business models and manufacturing methods will define
the future of circularity. Circularity isn’t about just one technology —
it’s about how you build the system through a holistic approach.
Tara Hemmer: The stream of recycled materials is going to become much
more segmented. We’ll focus on how we can pull materials
and work with partners to create products that are designed for reuse.
Oliver Borek: Manufacturers, brands and recyclers will work together to
integrate new technology into the recycling systems, testing out different
ideas to optimize the amount of materials that are recycled.
Want to learn more about the future of sustainability? You can watch the full
panel and the rest of the Sustainability Next Summit