Colleen Litkenhaus Tague
Published 1 month ago.
About a 6 minute read.
Image: L-R: Steven Pedigo, Signe Kongebro, Keefe Harrison and Colleen Litkenhaus Tague | Dow
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At the recent WRLDCTY event in October, a rich panel discussion explored how a
systems approach can help realize a more circular future — using cities as a
In an increasingly urbanized world, cities have become epicenters for
circularity improvements. Their advanced infrastructure, resources and diverse
populations drive the development and implementation of innovative practices;
and municipal governments can collaborate on sustainability efforts in newer
ways — they can set ambitious climate targets, try new things and work closely
with local businesses and organizations to achieve sustainability goals.
So, can cities provide a platform for realizing the true circularity of
materials? Could an ecosystem of recycling and reuse of used materials —
including plastics — thrive in a city setting and make that city even more
resilient? Yes! Cities are already demonstrating this — and the interconnected
components of a city teach us valuable things about how to scale for circularity
At the recent WRLDCTY event in October, I
participated in a panel (“Make the Invisible Visible: Getting to Net Zero”)
with moderator Steven Pedigo,
Professor of Practice at the University of Texas’ Lyndon B. Johnson School
of Public Affairs; Signe
Kongebro, Global Design Director of
Urbanism at Danish architecture firm Henning
Larsen; and Keefe
Harrison, founder and CEO of the
Recycling Partnership (The Partnership).
Together, we explored how a systems approach can help realize a more circular
future, using cities as a backdrop.
Much of our discussion focused on the pressing need to increase recycling access
in urban areas. If we’re going to achieve a circular economy for
it’s crucial that we have good collection and recycling methods in place to
capture used materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill or
The Partnership is one NGO on a mission to transform the US recycling
by expanding equitable access to recycling and improving recycling
Dow works with The Partnership as a steering committee member of its Film &
As Harrison pointed out during our event: “There is a strong interest in
recycling as a means of advancing a circular economy. But there are 40 million
American families that don’t even have access to recycling; and there are 9,000
different recycling programs in the US. They all rely on local decision-makers
to decide what to recycle, how to market it and how to communicate it. That’s a
challenge when it comes to budget. So, when you ask communities whether they are
excited about resiliency, they say ‘yes.’ When you ask whether they know it’s
critical for navigating climate change, 100 percent say ‘yes.’ But do they have
the funding to do [what is necessary]? No — that’s where NGOs come in.”
Companies such as Dow are piloting programs across the country to increase
recycling accessibility; for example, we have collaborated with WM to
introduce the first major residential plastic film recycling
in the US. Not only does this bring a new type of recycling directly to
residents’ doors (and curbs), but the program also incorporated The
Partnership’s approach to recycling education, which will allow Dow and our
partners to better understand which educational tactics best inform residents
and produce the best recycling results.
On the panel, we agreed that current regulations — in most parts of the world —
are not well suited for a thriving circular economy. Outdated regulations
support the old, linear, take-make-dispose model versus the circular model we
need to move to as a society to maximize resource efficiency. Keefe points to
— a policy approach that makes the producers of a product the responsible party
for what happens to that product at the end of its life — as a key tool for
cities to boost circularity. While the practice originated in Europe, this
is now being adopted in states including Maine, Colorado, California
The most impactful EPR systems are set up to incentivize the entire system, so
that manufacturers design for recyclability and consumers find it easy to
recycle — helping advance circularity.
At Dow, we talk about the role of EPR as part of our insights on the materials
— where we share our perspectives on how connected systems and people are
helping plastic waste reach its full potential.
As I shared during the panel, in Anchorage, Alaska — which has numerous
challenges in being separate from the rest of the US, not least the huge cost of
moving materials and the limited landfill space — there are many
to be learned as we address collected marine debris and develop reuse and
Of course, challenges remain for city-level circularity. But as the panel
concluded, community engagement coupled with appropriate policy intervention
will help to close the gap and accelerate the systems change required.
“I see companies agreeing that we need policy to make better
— policy that’s going to hold them accountable,” Kongebro said.
I agree. There’s plenty of energy focused on solving climate change, and more
and more people and organizations are understanding that circularity is a big
part of that. Consumers will continue to drive circularity; that trajectory is
not changing. And we’re going to continue to meet that demand — not just for the
sake of the climate but for our business, too.
During the panel, I touched quickly on how the materials ecosystem is developing
around plastic and organic
to deliver its total value. The materials ecosystem is a web of interrelated
technologies, processes and people that transform plastic waste and organic
waste — such as used cooking oil and agricultural
— into useful materials. The ecosystem includes consumers and stakeholders in
waste management, recycling, design, manufacturing, retail, brand ownership and
public policy. While in New York City for this panel, I was reminded more
than once that systems drive the progress of our world — on both a global and a
local level. This is definitely true for the management and transformation of
In navigating a city such as New York, for example, you see the prevalence of
recycling and the movement of waste — as well as the proliferation of reusable
materials in everything from fashion using recycled
that encourage reusable water
I look forward to continuing this conversation and experiencing the rise of
circularity within cities. Learn more by diving into
Dow’s insights on the Materials
View the entire panel here.
Published Jan 4, 2024 8am EST / 5am PST / 1pm GMT / 2pm CET
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.