Development of a circular economy will require significant investments in U.S. recycling systems.

A number of trends are emerging and combining today to create the perfect conditions for scaling a circular economy in the U.S. This could mean keeping valuable recyclables in supply chains and out of landfills.

That’s why Closed Loop Partners and The Recycling Partnership are collaborating on a roadmap for the future of the U.S. recycling system. Our goal is an accelerated transition to a circular economy in which materials are kept in circulation.

This work will be funded in part by the American Beverage Association’s “Every Bottle Back” initiative, which is investing $100 million through our organizations to improve recycling and support a circular economy in the U.S. One of our goals is to leverage this funding to generate an additional $300 million in public- and private-sector investment to reduce plastic in our environment, modernize community recycling and support a circular plastics economy.

The beverage industry is taking a lead, but we need all of the companies involved in the supply chain to participate in order to achieve a comprehensive solution.

Keefe Harrison

Initiatives like “Every Bottle Back” are a much-needed step in the right direction in an environment in which almost half of the municipalities in the United States remain without comprehensive recycling service. The most significant value of comprehensive service is that it enables communities to avoid costly landfill disposal fees. In addition, a number of recyclable products and packaging that come from these municipal recycling systems are valuable commodities in the recycling industry.

The dollars invested from “Every Bottle Back” will build new recycling infrastructure, increase access to recycling and roll out consistent resident education campaigns to increase recycling of all materials, including plastics. This is the type of collaboration the industry needs now more than ever. Consumers are calling on brands to lead when it comes to preventing plastic waste, and regulators are no longer willing to accept that taxpayers should be burdened with the cost of landfills.

Ron Gonen

Businesses, communities and consumers are aligned that it is in our collective economic and environmental best interest to ensure that products are manufactured using recycled material. Our current linear take-make-waste economy has a time limit in a resource-constrained world.

Crossing the bridge

As public pressure continues to increase on companies to ensure that products are both recyclable and recycled, demand for recycled plastic will increase. The Recycling Partnership’s recent report, “The Bridge to Circularity,” finds that in order to reach published corporate pledges to use more recycled content in packaging, our country will need to collect and recycle three times the current amount of PET. That translates to every person in the U.S. recycling 100 additional PET bottles annually.

With partnership, education and investments like “Every Bottle Back,” we are a step closer to reaching that goal.

Once fully optimized, the “Every Bottle Back” initiative is projected to create an additional 80 million pounds of recycled PET per year. The result will be millions of dollars saved in avoided landfill disposal fees, less reliance on virgin materials, more local jobs, and cleaner waterways.

The investment will also help to model and scale the best-in-class operations at materials recovery facilities, the factories that sort community recyclables. It will deploy best practices to increase access and optimize quality collection programs while minimizing contamination.

From robotic arms to chemical recycling technologies that bring plastics back to their molecular level in order to continually recycle plastics to educating Americans about what they can and cannot recycle, we know there are innovations and practices that have been proven to increase recycling by as much as 71 percent and decrease contamination by as much as 57 percent in communities. They just need to be made more readily available to the recycling programs that so desperately need them.

We need to work together to mobilize and catalyze the development of the circular economy in the U.S., beginning with significant investments like these in our recycling system. We are talking about transforming the way we design, manufacture, consume and recycle goods.

Join us. We’re all in this bin together.

Ron Gonen is the co-founder and CEO of Closed Loop Partners. Keefe Harrison is CEO of The Recycling Partnership.

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Plastics Recycling Update. Subscribe today for access to all print content.