Published 2 months ago.
About a 6 minute read.
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
time and time again.
According to the Ellen Macarthur
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Published Nov 27, 2023 2pm EST / 11am PST / 7pm GMT / 8pm 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.