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A circular plastics supply chain is still in its infancy. So, how do we work together to create a viable marketplace for advanced recycling to thrive? Here
are a few strategies and approaches that show early promise.
We’ve heard the statistic that only a fraction of plastic waste is recycled, but
the root cause of this is far more complex than it appears on the surface — and
as such, deserves unrelenting attention. In addition to a system of disparate
in many countries, traditional mechanical recycling technology is unequipped to
process many household packaging materials, let alone those used in sectors such
as construction and agriculture.
But adoption of advanced
which enables the recovery of more types of plastic waste, is a key pathway to
achieving circularity — and it is now within our grasp.
Advanced recycling has massive, untapped market potential and can bring
sustainability and circularity to previously incompatible areas such as
and medical-grade packaging. This is because advanced recycling technology can
break down hard-to-recycle plastics that would otherwise be incinerated or sent
to landfills; so, the same material can be reused again and again, and create
the same high quality of entirely new plastic.
Yet, the circular plastics supply
is still in its infancy — waste processors with advanced recycling capabilities
are only starting up and, for some, their commercial facilities are not built
yet. So, how do we work together to create a viable marketplace for advanced
recycling to thrive? Here are a few strategies and approaches Dow and our
partners are exploring that show early promise.
Skeptics of advanced recycling are often blinded by the pursuit of a
for the reduction of plastic waste and increase in recycled products when, in
fact, a breadth of solutions will be required to achieve a circular
Outright critics often voice concerns regarding advanced recycling’s higher
energy intensity, which only emphasizes the importance of combining systems for
The necessary combination of solutions for circularity includes the
complementary and symbiotic nature of advanced and mechanical recycling
ecosystems. Both systems are vital to creating more efficient processes to
enable a full circular economy for plastics.
We are at a critical juncture for people and planet; and it is vital that we
utilize the tools and technologies that demonstrate tangible promise. There is
no “one solution that fits all” path toward reducing plastic waste, while
enabling quality of life. Instead, we must look at a suite of solutions —
including advanced recycling, mechanical recycling, design for recyclability and
waste access, which, when brought together, deliver scalable circularity.
That’s why Dow has invested in a partnership with the French
to build the largest hybrid-recycling site in France, marking an important step
in bringing together advanced and mechanical recycling facilities in one
processing location. This partnership will yield resins — the ingredients for
recycled materials — which Dow can apply to our
REVOLOOP™ recycled range of
products, which recently received certification for plastics recycling
traceability and content in Europe.
When certain types of plastic waste — such as plastic water bottles — work
within the mechanical recycling stream, these materials should continue through
the mechanical processing system. For other materials, such as “hard to recycle”
plastic films, these materials should serve as the raw ingredients for advanced
recycling. This way, the myriad of plastic products — from detergent bottles to
freezer bags — can all be recycled and reused into brand-new products.
Brands and consumers alike are increasingly demanding more circular solutions.
We see this consistently at Dow; so much so, it has become central to our growth
strategy. Recently, a coalition of consumer goods
signaled that there is significant and increasing demand for chemically recycled
plastic from corporations across Europe — at least 800,000 tons per year
across only 40 companies. Scaling advanced recycling technologies will be a key
pathway to accelerate product capabilities and post-consumer recycled supply to
meet this demand.
Demonstrating the option for scale will also be critical in carving out a
marketplace for advanced recycling as an industry-changing solution. We must
work to build the supply chains needed to increase the availability and
utilization of renewable and circular feedstocks. As a result, and as more
plastic becomes available as circular
feedstock, this will also drive
decarbonization and decouple production from fossil-based sources.
A July 2022 McKinsey
found that plastic solutions provided lower GHG emissions in 13 of the 14
applications where plastic was compared with alternative materials, such as
glass and steel. So, by enabling industry-wide advanced recycling, we can phase
out reliance on materials that may be easier to recycle within our current
infrastructure but are far more emissions-intensive in the mining process.
Dow’s partnership with Mura
is one of example of this and aims to construct multiple global-scale advanced
recycling facilities in the United States and Europe. The latest milestone
of this partnership is the development of a new advanced recycling facility in
— the largest of its kind to date globally. This and the other planned units to
be constructed across the US and Europe 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
As one of the largest polyethylene producers in the world, scale matters; so,
when bringing solutions to the market, Dow is focused on addressing the plastic
waste challenge at scale. This investment in Mura is an example of a
large-capacity tech solution that we believe is scalable. The new facility will
enable us to increase its capacity to use recycled plastics as a feedstock to
produce new, fully circular products that serve the needs of fast-growing
brand-owners, leveraging the most effective technology available to expand the
circular business model for plastics.
This partnership is just one facet of the work that will help create a circular
economy. You can learn more about how innovation in design, recycling and more
come to life here.
The Recycling Partnership — a collaborative
nonprofit solving for
— refers to the US recycling landscape as “a patchwork of recycling policies,
regulations and requirements.” Driving progress within such a disjointed
management system can feel like swimming upstream.
This disconnect between intent and execution can be felt down to the consumer
by The Recycling Partnership finds that 83 percent of US consumers view
recycling as a valuable public service, but only 59 percent have access to
on par with disposal. Establishing a consistent policy approach across the US
would allow for greater consistency in collection and processing across the
country, a more effective and efficient system and ease of compliance.
We need regulatory certainty for new technologies, including advanced recycling,
to give the industry and companies confidence to continue investing and scaling
these systems. Federal policy can instill unity and mobilize industry players
toward a streamlined pathway for standing up recycling capability.
One such policy proposal was outlined by The Recycling Partnership’s Accelerator
and provisions. Dow supports the approach, which incorporates public-private
engagement in a tailored method to extended producer
Achieving widespread adoption of advanced recycling technology and circularity
may be challenging, but it is far from impossible. We can create a circular
ecosystem with a mix of all the technologies and innovation our industry leaders
bring to bear; but this requires a significant commitment of resources that
hinge on greater regulatory certainty and acceptance of advanced recycling and
Through hybrid solutions, focus on scalability and regulatory engagement, our US
recycling system can realize the game-changing moment of which we are on the
On November 16, Dow and Fast Company will bring together sustainability
experts and value chain leaders for the Sustainability Next Summit — which will
further unpack the challenges and opportunities in this critical inflection
point for circularity. Continue this conversation with leaders from WM, the
Resilient Cities Network and Future Innovation Center by registering
Published Oct 27, 2022 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.
Everyone has a role to play in creating a more sustainable world: Dow is taking action to address the full scale of challenges, collaborating with partners to improve the industry’s processes and through innovation to help communities become more sustainable.