U.S. Plastics Producers Aim to Recycle or Recover 100% of Plastic Packaging by 2040

Three new goals to enhance the circular economy for plastics and reduce packaging waste have been announced by leading U.S. plastic producers including BASF, Dow, DuPont and Braskem. Together as part of the American Chemistry Council (ACC)’s Plastics Division, 15 leading resin manufacturers and an affiliated trade association have strengthened their commitments to capturing, recycling and recovering plastics.

The announcement follows recent news that 42 consumer packaged goods (CPG) giants have committed to eliminate plastic packaging waste under the new UK Plastics Pact. Around 8 percent of current fossil fuel dependency is attributed to plastic production, and much of the world’s plastic is used just once and then thrown away – resulting in 95 percent of the value of plastic packaging, worth up to $120 billion annually, being lost to the economy. Trucost has estimated that the environmental cost to society of plastic use by the consumer goods sector alone is around $75 billion, and that scaling up the use of sustainable plastic could deliver environmental savings of $3.5 billion.

“We are embracing the drive toward a circular economy for plastics because it helps demonstrate our overarching commitment to sustainable materials management,” said Steve Russell, the ACC’s vice president of plastics. “In setting these goals our industry is publicly affirming our vision of the future we want for safe, sanitary plastic packaging and our intention to get there quickly.”

Specifically, the goals are:

  • 100% of plastics packaging is re-used, recycled or recovered by 2040.
  • 100% of plastics packaging is recyclable or recoverable by 2030.
  • 100% of the U.S. manufacturing sites operated by the ACC’s Plastics Division members will participate in Operation Clean Sweep - Blue by 2020, with all of their manufacturing sites across North America involved by 2022.

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Operation Clean Sweep (OCS) is a voluntary stewardship program designed to help facilities that handle plastic materials achieve zero pellet, flake and powder loss. Led by the ACC and the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS), OCS commits members to report on amounts of resin pellets shipped and lost, as well as to brief all relevant resin-handling employees, provide OCS program education as part of employee onboarding and for shipping contractors, share best practices with other members, and more. Companies join by making an annual pledge as an OCS member, and companies excelling within the program can apply to become an OCS Blue member. Only one of the ACC’s Plastics Division members is currently an OCS Blue member, Shell Chemical.

The other two goals will likely be more challenging to achieve. The resin producers plan to focus on six key areas:

  • Designing new products for greater efficiency, recycling and reuse;
  • Developing new technologies and systems for collecting, sorting, recycling and recovering materials;
  • Making it easier for more consumers to participate in recycling and recovery programs;
  • Expanding the types of plastics collected and repurposed;
  • Aligning products with key end markets; and
  • Expanding awareness that used plastics are valuable resources awaiting their next use.

“Our industry has a long history of leading on stewardship initiatives, such as Responsible Care®, and supporting recycling through research, technology, infrastructure, and education,” said Rick Wagner, global sustainability manager at Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, another of the ACC’s Plastics Division members. “Today’s announcement marks the next step in this critical journey.

“Plastics resin producers are accelerating their commitments by building new coalitions and forging new business models that will help optimize a range of environmental, economic and societal outcomes,” he added. “Some of these involve turning used plastics back into their basic building blocks so we can create new plastics.”

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