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With specific investments, partnerships and innovations all directed at the various steps of the plastics system, Dow’s approach provides a blueprint for how industry can build a foundation for a circular economy and the reduction of
The fracture of the global supply
under the pressure of the COVID-19
pandemic provided a
stern reminder for just how interconnected our planet and systems are today.
Likewise, the IPCC has
that unprecedented climate change impacts are now being experienced in every
region of the planet, a finding illustrated by the wave of natural
we saw across the globe this past summer.
Mitigating global problems such as these requires global solutions. At
business leaders, politicians, NGOs and more are discussing the need for rapid
and considerable reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).
Sustainability and industry veteran Nelson
Switzer — who is working
to build up the decarbonization market with the growth-equity fund Climate
Innovation Capital (CIC) — is following
the tone, commitments and outcomes of the conference. Switzer understands that
the private sector, while not the main actor at the meeting, plays a critical
role in identifying the technological
across sectors that will allow governments to push forward meaningful emissions
reductions. One of the clearest pathways to get there is the building of a
decarbonized, circular economy.
The term “circular economy” has become more widely used in the last few years,
but it is not yet widely
Simply put, a circular economy is one that connects every element and step in
production systems — from pre-production to the end market — to keep materials
at their highest value for as long as possible.
Transforming the way we make, use and reuse products has the potential to
eliminate a significant portion of the GHG emissions associated with
manufacturing and waste. Research from the Ellen MacArthur
that a switch to renewable energy will lead to a 55 percent reduction in
emissions globally. The remaining 45 percent, the result of how we make and use
products, could be halved by the application of a circular economy.
Switzer, who has dedicated his career to discovering and funding the
technologies and enterprises turning the dial on decarbonization and
sustainability, understands how central the private sector’s role is in
achieving this. A recent Waste 360
highlight’s Switzer’s approach to decarbonization investments, and underscores
how circularity-first companies are unlocking innovation and industry potential
for other players to take action on climate.
Dow, a materials science company, is taking on this
responsibility by putting circularity at the center of its path toward reducing
emissions 30 percent by 2030, achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and helping
others do the same.
Dow’s Global Sustainability Director, Jeff Wooster, spoke recently at SB’21
San Diego —
outlining how Dow is designing for circularity in plastic production, use and
reuse for a low-carbon world. He also called attention to the fact that while
plastics are most commonly produced from natural gas and other fossil
they often use less energy to
and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than alternatives such as glass and
cardboard. For example, the environmental impact of alternatives to using
plastic in consumer good applications is 3.8 times higher than plastic
With specific investments, partnerships and innovations all directed at the
various steps of the plastics system, Dow’s approach provides a blueprint for
how industry can build a foundation for a circular economy and the reduction of
Production: Dow announced
in early October to build the world’s first zero-carbon ethylene and
polyethylene production complex. The complex will convert emitted gases into
clean hydrogen fuel and capture and store CO2 emissions.
Collection: Dow is a key circularity partner in The Recycling
which is expanding access to effective recycling and improved collection
infrastructure in cities across the US. This year, recycling carts are to be
donated to every eligible household in Baltimore, where recycling rates
fell to just 18.2 percent in
This project is expected to increase recycling in the city by an estimated
20,000 tons per year.
Recycling: Dow funds the Recycling For a
project, which expands training, equipment and administration, and builds
strategic support models for waste picker cooperatives in Brazil. This
project improves the lives of workers, as well as limiting plastic waste,
and increasing recyclability and reuse through a blend of training and
education for waste workers and access to new equipment and
professionalization of operations. Within months of the project’s launch,
productivity climbed to 70 percent, sales increased by up to 50 percent, and
average monthly salaries rose from R$700 (~US$125) to R$2,000 (~US$357).
End market: Alongside Circulate
Dow has partnered with
— an Indian recycling company, to develop polyethylene (PE) film solutions
using post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics in India. This project loops
hard-to-recycle plastic films into reuse for packaging, limiting waste in
the country and expanding circularity.
The variety of technological innovations that are increasing circularity and
decreasing emissions being developed today is astounding. Many of these
innovations are the focus for Switzer and his partners at CIC. Likewise, the
growth of digital twin
across sectors is increasing companies’ ability to identify, test and implement
paths toward circularity and emissions reductions.
As the private sector expands these technological tools, it is critical that
they consider the ways they could be utilized in other sectors and areas of the
value chain. This breadth will allow the impact of these innovations to be
scaled, making the transition to more sustainable systems a less daunting
prospect for both companies and the governments working to create new
for the circular, low-carbon future.
For more insights into Dow’s low-carbon, circularity playbook, tune
in to Chief
Sustainability Officer Mary Draves’ talk at
at Climate Action’s Sustainable Innovation Forum — November 9th at
Published Nov 5, 2021 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 12pm GMT / 1pm 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.