Screenshot of The Recycling Partnership's recycling database

At the recent Association of Plastic Recyclers member meeting, The Recycling Partnership presented on their packaging recyclability database. | Screenshot of video showing database in use.

At the June Association of Plastic Recyclers members meeting, speakers shared insights on policy, data collection and a shifting tone in how the sector portrays itself.

The meeting was held in Milwaukee on June 7, 8 and 9.

A desire for data

Aaron Burman, vice president of data and analytics with The Recycling Partnership (TRP), said in the opening session that his organization decided to do more research on the 9,000 different recycling programs across the country. TRP built a database that includes what each program accepts, who collects it, how often the bins are picked up and what kind of collection system is used.

The database “can now go back to all 9,000 of these programs with minimal human interaction to check if the data is still correct,” he said.

“We’re trying to hone some of this information,” Burman said, which could allow for analysis of what investments in communities and MRFs are needed.

The database also provides “hyper local ‘is this recyclable’ guidance” through a chat bot, Burman noted. He had participants try scanning a QR code on a yogurt container to access the chat bot, which asks for ZIP code information to determine if the object is recyclable in their community.

“This is the power of having this data in one place,” Burman said.

Steve Alexander, president of APR, said his organization is also planning to push to collect more data and was planning to make a “significant investment” to create a report with more recycling data.

“Data is critical,” Alexander said. “Without your input on this, we don’t have the data.”

Extended producer responsibility policies

Resa Dimino, managing principal at consulting firm Resource Recycling Systems (RRS) and managing partner with Signalfire Group, said she has been “seeing policy activity on all fronts.”

On the supply side, she said extended producer responsibility (EPR) bills have gotten a lot of focus. The recently signed Colorado bill will create the first conventional EPR program for printed paper and packaging in the U.S., a program modeled off of those found in Europe. The Maine and Oregon laws, which passed last year, take different approaches.

She added that even as this legislative session winds down, EPR bills were introduced recently in New Jersey and North Carolina.

“I think all those states that had activity this year will bring EPR back next year to try again,” Dimino said.

A well-designed EPR bill could provide exactly what the industry wants: consistent delivery, widespread recycling access, education so people know what to recycle and how to recycle it and investments in MRFs so they have the best sortation capabilities, Dimino said.

Other policy moves

Dimino said on the demand side, minimum-recycled-content legislation is gaining traction.

“I would expect this to continue into next year,” Dimino said, adding that she’s also seeing more of a combination approach to EPR and minimum-content standards.

Some states are working on market development and some have focused on single-use plastic bans, she added.

“It’s very complicated to fix the recycling system and it’s much simpler to say ‘I don’t want straws anymore,'” Dimino said.

She added that if the U.S. could harmonize the way each state approaches eco-modulation, it would be more powerful. Eco-modulation is a concept that uses a sliding fee scale to encourage companies to use materials that are more sustainable in a variety of ways. Producers of less recyclable or environmentally friendly choices pay higher stewardship fees, while choices to increase recyclability or reduce the environmental impact win companies lesser fees.

Media campaign

Alexander said APR is planning to step up its media presence, starting with an op-ed that was recently published in Plastics Recycling Update and has been sent to other publications, in response to a commentary in The Atlantic taking aim at the industry. The Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) owns Resource Recycling, Inc., publisher of Plastics Recycling Update.

“We’ve told you for years that we’re the voice of plastic recycling. We’ve been too kind,” he said. “We need to be much more aggressive and much more assertive going forward.”

He encouraged other APR members to share their perspectives to disseminate the views of the plastics recycling industry.

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