Bringing a Group to SB'24? Explore Our Special Rates for 3 or More!

From Purpose to Action: Building a Sustainable Future Together
What Drives Sustainability? People With Passion

At Dow, Danielle Chatman-Moore develops recycling programs that capture hard-to-recycle plastics. We spoke with her about what led her to a career in sustainability and what drives her work now.

Many sustainability change agents today are working toward a common vision — a brighter future in which a circular economy upholds the value of material, keeps it out of landfills and the natural environment, and enables recycling and reuse time and time again.

According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, a circular economy has the potential to change the world significantly in less than two decades: By 2040, it could achieve an 80 percent reduction in the annual volume of plastics entering our oceans and a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Danielle Chatman-Moore is one trailblazer who believes in this brighter future. As the North American Sustainability Manager for Dow Packaging & Specialty Plastics, Danielle works to develop recycling programs that capture the hard-to-recycle plastics we can’t typically put into our curbside bins.

We spoke with her about what led her to a career in sustainability and what drives her work now.

How did sustainability catch your attention when you were growing up, and what led you to pursue it as part of your career?

Danielle Chatman-Moore: As a kid, I was interested in the life cycle of things. That thought process caused me to often ask questions about where things originated and where they went once we finished using them. For example, I would see litter, wonder where it came from and think about how we could do a better job disposing of it.

The thought process continued as I grew up. In undergrad, I studied international business and economics; and for one of my courses, I wrote a paper on corporate social responsibility. This was around 2009 or 2010, so the economic value of CSR and sustainability wasn’t yet well known. My professor questioned me on the business incentive to be socially responsible and implored me to push forward, but there wasn’t much proof around the concept. At the time, few companies were pursuing corporate responsibility or had sustainability commitments.

But I knew that it was important to me, and my passion never waned; I even sought ways to pursue it professionally. When I was interviewing at Dow, they asked about my interests and I said I really love sustainability — even though I didn’t yet know what that meant in a corporate environment. Looking back, I’m really glad I said that because now I get to work toward sustainability goals every single day. I wouldn’t change that for anything.

How has that passion changed over the years, especially as you’ve become a new parent?

DCM: My older child is a year and a half, and I’m learning something new every day — about parenting, being a human being, seeing another human develop. I am also constantly reminded that my son is watching me and internalizing my actions, even if he doesn’t fully understand what they mean yet. So, I’m dedicated to setting an example; and if I want him to pursue work that is meaningful and leaves the world a better place, I have to model that. That’s how becoming a parent has really changed what I focus on for my career. I will not pursue or even continue work that I don’t believe in.

Becoming a parent has also opened my eyes to integral plastics are in our daily lives. I hear a lot of people who are enthusiastic about removing plastics entirely, but I don’t think it’s a materials problem. I think it’s a waste problem — and we must solve for that first, while reducing carbon emissions, so we don’t continue heating up our atmosphere.

You often engage with Dow partners in your work. What kinds of exciting innovations are you seeing from them?

DCM: The Recycling Partnership is doing an amazing job. We’ve been extremely involved in their progress toward ensuring film and flexible packaging material are becoming more recyclable and widely accepted. They also have a new database coming out soon to advance consumer education and make it convenient for anyone anywhere in the US to understand what packaging can and can’t be recycled and where to recycle.

We also work with the Alliance to End Plastic Waste and its member companies that are deploying capital to bring forth unique technology to help transform waste. They’re creating more opportunities for smaller ecosystems in cities to advance their sustainability commitments when it comes to recycling access and infrastructure.

What are the most viable options today for bringing new value to hard-to-recycle plastics?

DCM: We have many solutions available today and varying stages of viability. What's important is that we think critically about the technologies that are available to us while accepting how far we have come.

For instance, it’s very easy to recycle a plastic water bottle because it’s made of homogenous material that can be easily converted and because of the mature technology available to do so. On the other hand, an item made of non-homogenous material — a trail mix bag, for example — is made of various layers, such as polyethylene, nylon, adhesive, dye, etc. The multi-layer item isn’t as easy to recycle with the same technology used to recycle the homogenous one.

That’s what we mean by “hard to recycle” — the materials aren’t easily captured post-use and aren’t recycled in the same way as traditionally captured items. I can put a plastic water bottle into a recycling process and turn it back into a water bottle; but it’s not as easy to turn a plastic pouch back into a plastic pouch. Instead, the available solutions to recycle that plastic pouch might be to grind it up, shred it into flakes, compress it and turn it into composite wood lumber for decking or fencing or something similar.

We must be able to accept this stage of evolution as much as we pursue and invest in making sure our advanced-recycling technologies can get to the point where we can make the pouch into another pouch. I think all these things together are going to be necessary to bring value to hard-to-recycle plastics.

What’s one final point you’d like to leave our readers with?

DCM: I hear stakeholders across different industries question the efficacy of store drop-off recycling as the materials are only going into compositive alternatives, concrete blocks, asphalt or paving.

It’s important that we remember those solutions are still making our world more durable, and they give a home to materials that would otherwise be wasted. So, saying yes to these alternative solutions is extremely valuable — while we continue advocating to advance other viable options, like advanced recycling, for bringing new value to current hard-to-recycle plastics.

This means we have to design packaging, and all materials, to be recyclable. It also means we need to make recycling more accessible for more households. We must bring flexible packaging recycling and collection curbside; and it must be a priority for our local governments — which are responsible for making decisions around waste, recycling, capture and disposal.

The many solutions we have under the umbrellas of mechanical and chemical recycling are all working together to help us reach a cohesive, collective goal: a circular economy.

Realizing a circular future for plastics requires every stakeholder working together. That's why Dow is taking an innovative systems approach to identify the gaps, connect the best partners and disrupt how the world values, sources, transforms and monetizes plastic waste.

Reducing Carbon Emissions
Learn how reusable and recyclable packaging can help close the loop.

Design for Recyclability
Dow is creating sustainable solutions for food packaging