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Plastics recycling stakeholders will gather online this week for insight and networking. | DC Studio/Shutterstock

Hundreds of plastics recycling and sustainability professionals are taking part in this week’s virtual Plastics Recycling Conference, which is offering discussions on policy, markets and more at a time of sector uncertainty.

The 16th-annual Plastics Recycling Conference, taking place April 7-8, has drawn over 820 registered attendees and more than 80 sponsoring and exhibiting companies. The online gathering is happening as legislative proposals at both the state and federal levels are aiming to reshape some of the economic foundations of plastics recovery. Meanwhile, stakeholders throughout the chain continue to react to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among those offering insight to conference attendees this week is U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Mich., who announced in a pre-recorded video interview that in the coming weeks she will be reintroducing the Plastic Waste Reduction and Recycling Act, a bill that seeks to increase government support and coordination around plastics recycling technologies and infrastructure.

The conversation with Stevens, one of seven 30-minute interviews available on-demand to conference attendees, is part of a conference agenda that has a particular focus on policy developments.

A panel today, April 7, will bring together voices from New York, Maine and California to unpack extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging proposals active in those states. Under EPR models, product makers are mandated to fund and/or manage recovery of the materials they put on the market. No U.S. state has yet passed such a bill for packaging, but a number of proposals are currently in play in different regions of the country.

On April 8, a follow-up discussion will feature Kate Bailey of nonprofit recycling facility operator and education provider Eco-Cycle and Craig Cookson of the American Chemistry Council. Those two industry veterans will put the wider policy talk into context, offering their thoughts on the way legislation might complement (or complicate) voluntary recycling commitments, processing innovation and wider societal trends pushing against the use of plastics.

The Plastics Recycling Conference kicks off this morning with a look at the state of the industry as a whole.

Led by moderator Steve Alexander of the Association of Plastic Recyclers, the conversation will feature Nina Butler of consultancy Stina Inc., Jon Powell of industry funding group Closed Loop Partners, and Cherish Miller of film processor and manufacturer Revolution. These speakers will be offering up data points and analysis, helping to highlight how the sector has been affected by the pandemic and also detail opportunities and challenges on the road ahead.

Other sessions will dive into shifts in global markets caused by changes to the Basel Convention, the strategy for the recently launched U.S. Plastics Pact, the ongoing trend of prime plastics producers investing in recycling, and the ways COVID-19 has changed realities on the ground at processing facilities.

In addition, analysts from IHS Markit are offering their annual look at the factors influencing resin pricing.

Aside from the session agenda, the online conference is offering attendees chances to connect with a virtual trade show hall and networking options utilizing video chat.

The 2020 conference was held in mid-February last year. It was one of the final industry events to take place before COVID-19 upended the plastics recycling sector – and virtually every other element of U.S. society – in unprecedented ways.

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