“Supply is not meeting demand, and that feeds to the recyclability problem,” Bandy said.
Some of the challenges to plastics recycling include supply contamination and the use of non-traditional resins in some plastics, which prevent otherwise recyclable products from being recycled. In addition, recycling sorting machines only have one second to determine whether or not an item can be recycled – and sometimes that means items that can be recycled end up in landfills.
Another recycling challenge involves consumer behavior.
“If 300 million Americans recycled just 1 t-shirt, we would recover 210 billion gallons of water and keep 1 million pounds of CO2 out of atmosphere,” Gilbert said.
Despite the environmental and economic benefits of recycling, the recycling rate in the U.S. remains at 34 percent. Lack of legislation, information sharing, and consumer and industry awareness of the need to recycle have stagnated positive behavior change around recycling.
To address gaps in our recycling systems and increase recycling rates across the country, business leaders launched the Closed Loop Fund, which funds scalable infrastructure projects and influences interventions that help spur the circular economy.
“Why should brands care about functioning recycling systems?” Croke asked. “Recycling reduces long-term price volatility of raw materials, reduces regulatory risk, and companies can’t reach waste-reduction goals without it.”
Even more, consumers care but are growing more confused with what can and cannot be recycled. The types of plastics out in the market and differences in recycling capabilities from city to city have made it a challenge for the average consumer to effectively recycle – which adds to the need for more innovative solutions, business models and partnerships of the type described in this workshop.