Collaboration
New Program Aims to Expand Plastic Film Recycling Capacity in US

The joint effort from WM and Dow aims to provide a solution to make it easier for households to recycle the film while the companies explore new options to reuse it. When fully implemented, the program is expected to prevent 120,000 tons of plastic film from reaching landfills each year.

WM and Dow are working together on a new program targeting one of the hardest to recycle materials: plastic film. The new effort is designed to keep thousands of tons of the material out of landfills while enabling US residential customers to recycle plastic film directly in their curbside bin or recycling cart.

According to a 2021 report by The Recycling Partnership (TRP), the average US household generates between 42 and 122 pounds of plastic film waste annually. Plastic film is key for packaging all kinds of items from electronics to food; but according to TRP, with 99 percent of US residences having no recycling options for the material, the vast majority ends up in landfills. The joint effort from WM and Dow aims to provide a solution to make it easier for households to recycle the film while the companies explore new options to reuse it. When fully implemented, the program is expected to prevent more than 120,000 tons of plastic film from reaching landfills each year.

“By providing residential customers with a simple, curbside option for recycling plastic films, we will not only help our customers more easily manage their used plastic film products, but also meet the rising demand for recycled content products,” WM president and CEO Jim Fish said in a statement.

Current issues with plastic film recycling

Plastic film is big business: The Flexible Packaging Association estimates sales of flexible packaging in 2021 hit $39 billion, and a good portion of that comes in various forms of plastic film — a lightweight and durable way to transport and maintain the safety of various goods. There are a few different kinds of plastic film used for most consumer applications — not to mention plastic pallet wrapping, furniture film and more used in commercial settings.

However, up until very recently, most companies weren’t considering what happens to that plastic once it reaches its final destination. According to the TRP report, there is very little comprehensive data available on how household generation of this film translates to the responsible capture and recycling of the most common films found in the trash.

A circular pilot program

The WM and Dow effort aims to build new infrastructure using each company’s expertise in environmental solutions and material science, respectively; to create new, circular infrastructure as it pertains to the US value chain.

The first phase of the launch is a pilot program in Hickory Hills, Ill — which will allow 3,500 households to recycle a variety of common plastic films curbside. A secondary part of the program includes community connectivity and education from TRP about the requirements and specifications of what is and isn’t recyclable.

“We recognize that to continue to meet and exceed our sustainability goals, we need to continue to expand our circularity solutions. We see tremendous untapped potential to recycle and reuse plastic film, which many of our residential customers struggle to dispose of properly,” Fish says.

Building on existing recycling work

Earlier this year, WM announced that it has agreed to purchase a “controlling interest” in Natura PCR, LLC — an independent company into which the assets relating to the US post-consumer resin (PCR) business of circular analytics provider Avangard Innovative's will be contributed. Natura PCR expects to produce 400 million pounds of PCR pellets per year in five years. In simpler terms, this means more recycling pathways for commercial-use plastic film such as pallet stretch wrap, grocery bags and potentially food & beverage shrink wrap.

Through 2025, WM expects to invest more than $800 million in recycling infrastructure improvements — including specific technology for plastic film sorting. Within that same time frame, the company also expects plastic film recycling to reach 8 percent of US households.

The win-win relationship aims to support Dow’s broader commitment to deliver three million tons of circular and renewable solutions by 2030.

“Enabling a circular economy requires broad stakeholder collaboration, innovation and investment throughout the value chain to continue to more rapidly develop and advance solutions at scale,” said Dow chairman and CEO Jim Fitterling. “Through our collaboration with WM, we’re determined to launch new programs that grow recycling infrastructure and access nationwide, creating a more comprehensive system where films and flexible plastics form a key pillar of our circular product offerings.”

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