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The supply of recycled plastics must be more robust to meet global demand. A mix of mechanical and advanced recycling technologies can provide tangible solutions, create efficiencies and increase scale.
Several recent global convenings — climate COP27 in Egypt; biodiversity
COP15 in Montreal; and most recently, the World Economic
in Davos — have adjourned with at least one shared takeaway: We must do more
to act on climate, and fast.
Plastics have been a key discussion point in many of these important climate
conversations. On January 17 in Davos, for example, a panel of speakers
including Kristin Hughes
— WEF’s Global Plastic Action Partnership director — spoke on the pressing need
to end plastic pollution on a global scale. The Global Plastic Action
Partnership is driven by the WEF and
funded by global brands including
and the governments of the UK and Canada.
These meetings have made clear that creating a circular economy for
in which we transform plastic waste into valuable
instead of sending it to landfills or
is one vital step toward curbing climate change. Research
shows that if we can double
circularity, we can reduce climate emissions nearly 40 percent by 2032.
As leaders search for new and better solutions to end plastic waste, they must
not lose sight of the valuable solutions already available today. Mechanical
and a combination of the two known as hybrid
are all established methods; and I’ve seen that when combined strategically,
they can help improve the circularity of plastics significantly.
Experts predict that plastic demand will
considerably as companies grow their products and innovate to meet the needs of
the earth’s growing population, now over 8
Under a business-as-usual scenario, the Organization for Economic Co-operation
and Development (OECD) predicts that demand for plastic is expected to
increase from a 2019 level of 460 million tons per year to 1,231 million tons
per year by 2060. As demand increases, there will also be greater pressure from
customers, investors and regulators for more and more of these products to be
derived from recycled plastics as companies move forward with sustainability
commitments. According to KPMG’s 2022 global Survey of Sustainability
96 percent of the world's top 250 companies report at least some information on
However, the supply of recycled plastics must be more robust to meet these
demands. Currently, recycled plastics account for only 6 percent of total
globally, according to the OECD. For companies, failing to address the gap could
not only mean missing climate targets, but also losing valuable business: One
study from Trivium Packaging revealed that 57 percent of all
surveyed were less likely to buy products in packaging they considered harmful
to the environment.
This is where a mix of mechanical and advanced recycling can provide tangible
solutions and a path forward, particularly when used to create efficiencies and
increase scale. At Dow, we strongly believe in the value of recycled plastic
waste; and we have been investing in and enabling recycling solutions to combine
these methods and support our path to net-zero emissions by 2050 and to meet our
2030 Transform the Waste
Advanced recycling is one critical element in increasing the supply of
post-consumer recycled plastics. Its ability to process hard-to-recycle food-
and medical-grade plastic films that would otherwise be incinerated or sent to
landfills is key to growing a circular economy. A 2022 report from the City
College of New York Grove School of
detailed the analysis of 13 completed lifecycle assessments on advanced
recycling processes. The products made from hard-to-recycle materials through
advanced-recycling technology had smaller carbon footprints across their
lifecycles and helped contribute to plastics circularity.
For Dow, investing in advanced recycling is a part of our broader plan and why
we recently expanded the Mura Technologies
to build Europe’s largest advanced recycling facility at our current site in
Böhlen, Germany. This is part of our goal to build multiple advanced
recycling units across Europe and the US, adding as much as 600,000 tons of
recycling infrastructure capacity by 2030.
Nonetheless, I believe that relying on advanced recycling alone, as a silver
bullet, would be shortsighted. Mechanical recycling still has value that can
combine with advanced recycling to lead progress toward circularity. And
although advanced recycling currently has a higher carbon footprint than
mechanical, the industry is racing to lower it. As markets exist for both
mechanically recycled and advanced recycled materials, using both methods where
applicable is the best path forward.
In France, Dow has joined forces with
to build the country’s largest hybrid-recycling site — bringing advanced and
mechanical recycling into one processing location. This is how industrial
ecosystems are built; and the next step for us is to nurture and scale them to
create products that not only fit into the supply chain, but also add value to
the circular economy for customers.
In addition to partnerships with Mura and Valoregen, Dow is collaborating with
many other like-minded experts to advance circularity. In Brazil, Dow is
working with Boomera
on ways to transform disposable materials into plastic resins to offer more
sustainable options to the packaging industry and, in turn, help companies play
a greater role in furthering circularity.
At Dow, our sustainability targets have recently shifted to reflect an increased
focus on circularity. In late 2022, we announced that we have accelerated our
by expanding what was previously called the Stop the Waste target to the
current Transform the Waste target. This underscores our focus on restoring the
value of discarded plastics — transforming plastic waste and other alternative
feedstock into 3 million metric tons of renewable, circular solutions each year.
To reach our target, we are committed to building industrial ecosystems —
including mechanical, advanced and hybrid facilities — to collect, reuse and
recycle waste using the most suitable and sustainable methods. While demand for
recycled plastics continues to grow, we are focused on scaling our solutions
portfolio to meet it.
As leaders around the world discuss solutions to our pressing climate issues,
they must keep circularity in focus. I believe that without establishing
reliable and scalable ways to reuse material and add value back into the
ecosystem, we will continue releasing harmful emissions, miss out on
opportunities to transform waste into new sustainable feedstocks for plastics
production and not meet our sustainability targets. Strategically investing in
recycling infrastructure and industrial ecosystems is critical to circular
Published Feb 23, 2023 10am EST / 7am PST / 3pm GMT / 4pm 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.