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From Purpose to Action: Building a Sustainable Future Together
Better Recycling Helps Build More Sustainable, Circular Cities

Long-standing, effective recycling systems are right at our fingertips, waiting for their full potential to be realized. Let’s reinvest in mechanical recycling to blend tried-and-true science with enhanced systems to reimagine how sustainable cities can operate and make them a reality.

For many households in the United States, there is an “out of sight, out of mind” relationship with trash and recycling — toss it in the bin and that’s that. But, for an estimated 34 million rural homes and 16 million apartments — or 40 percent of households in the US — that approach is impossible, as they lack easy access to recycling where the process begins: collection.

Unfortunately, limited collection is not the only issue we face when it comes to recycling in the US: There is a huge disparity in the number of recyclable materials used and the amount that ends up being recycled. In 2018, only 69.9 million tons of the 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) (~24 percent) produced in the US were recycled. The rest ended up in landfills.

This disparity is particularly baffling given we have the tools needed to limit this waste. Mechanical recycling, the process by which plastic is broken down into its original components and then reused to create new products, is an incredibly effective way to reduce plastic waste. Think peanuts being broken down to be turned into peanut butter — it’s the same for the collected plastic in your bins. However, the reuse potential of plastics that are optimal for mechanical recycling — such as #1 PET plastics (Polyethylene Terephthalate) that make up water bottles and other everyday items — are often lost due to the deep-rooted infrastructural challenges impacting our collection systems, supply chain economics and product manufacturing limitations.

From recycling tools to enhanced collection schedules: Improving local infrastructure

The reality of this can be seen clearly in Baltimore, where recycling rates have consistently fallen below the national average, coming in at 18.2 percent in 2020. The city’s government reports that while 90 percent of their constituents have access to recycling, more than half of them still don’t do it. What’s more, emerging from the pandemic, Baltimore faces complex challenges as it tries to reimagine urban life; and population shifts are decreasing government revenue for sustainability investments. Despite these challenges, the city also provides a case study for how these issues can be addressed through collaboration between the public and private sectors.

Dow is a key circularity partner of The Recycling Partnership — which works in Baltimore, Milwaukee and other metropolitan communities across the country to address these issues. Working with private-sector funders and local governments, The Recycling Partnership provides hands-on training and education campaigns for the Baltimore community to decrease contaminated waste and increase the availability of viable materials for reuse.

This year, recycling carts will be distributed to every eligible Baltimore household, free-of-charge. This initiative is expected to increase recycling in the city by an estimated 20,000 tons a year, or nearly 200 pounds per household. Programs like this allow for citizens to take part in scalable environmental action while improving the health and cleanliness of their communities. With the right investments in infrastructure and manufacturing, as well as public-private collaboration, areas such as Baltimore demonstrate the role sustainable cities play in a circular economy.

Closing the loop: How public-private partnerships can enhance infrastructure and get supply back into the value chain

Dow’s vision for vibrant, sustainable cities is impossible without the kind of collaboration between public and private sectors occurring in Baltimore. Platforms such as the Closed Loop Circular Plastics Fund offer local governments an opportunity to springboard entrepreneurial concepts and pilots into scaled public systems that may otherwise go unnoticed under strained resources.

Earlier this summer, Closed Loop Partners, Dow, LyondellBasell, NOVA, Sealed Air and SK Global Chemical came together to deliver this new $100 million commitment to tackle waste, aiming to recycle more than 500 million pounds of plastic.

The Closed Loop Circular Plastics Fund will support mechanical recycling in three areas: access, organization and manufacturing. Through a combination of the Fund’s founding investors, additional corporate investors and financial institutions, the group is working to catalyze even more capital from organizations and investors across the world to turbocharge solutions to plastic waste at all stages of the recycling process.

Strategies will focus on upgrading recycling systems to more efficiently collect, classify and sort targeted plastics to increase the amount of high-quality plastic sent for remanufacturing. With the Circular Plastics Fund, Dow and partners have built a runway for further investments and opportunities for collaboration with new partnerships that will ripple across the value chain.

Where Dow comes in: Material science innovation to invest in mechanical recycling infrastructure

REVOLOOP, born out of Dow’s commitment to enable mechanical recycling to meet global environmental needs, supports cooperation and technology-building to improve local recycling value chains and bridge the plastic waste gap. Our innovative partnerships are also making progress on sustainable packaging and superior post-consumer resin (PCR) products to uplift the entire market to a new standard.

Dow’s RecycleReady Technology is another example of a creative approach to mechanical recycling. The RecycleReady products combine the needs of the packaging industry with the needs of the environment to develop high-quality packaging with higher rates of recyclability. For the many other types of plastics, advanced recycling can complement mechanical recycling and is ultimately a more sustainable solution that contributes to a circular economy and the responsible use of resources.

Implementing the tools for change

Globally, we continue to use resources at an astonishing rate, far outpacing the world’s ability to replenish itself. In the wake of the IPCC’s groundbreaking new report, outlining the now unavoidable realities of climate change, all eyes are on nations and industries to turn the tide. To do so requires us to utilize the tools we have to prevent the worst-case scenario of the climate crisis.

At the forefront of those tools are recycling and the enhancement of an inclusive, circular economy — like that underway in Baltimore — that will allow us to enhance the collection of plastics, optimize recycling infrastructure and enhance sustainable manufacturing.

Long-standing, effective recycling systems are right at our fingertips, waiting for their full potential to be realized. Let’s reinvest in mechanical recycling to blend tried-and-true science with enhanced systems to reimagine how sustainable cities can operate and make them a reality.

Recycling and adequate waste management is something everyone, everywhere should have access to. To learn more about how Dow is optimizing mechanical recycling, and the ways your brand or city can do the same, take a look here.

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