In the runup to the 2019 Resource Recycling Conference and Trade Show in New Orleans, we’re offering Q&As with a few of the industry leaders who will be taking the stage.
First up is a conversation with Kate Bailey, who helps lead Eco-Cycle Solutions, an organization that helps communities move toward zero waste and a more efficient use of materials. Eco-Cycle also operates a publicly owned materials recovery facility in Boulder, Colo. and has helped contribute to the strong materials recovery ethic in that area of the country.
Bailey, who has been outspoken about the recycling problems caused by some plastic materials, will be speaking on a session called Plastic Realities at the Municipal Level, set for the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 28.
Do you think the U.S. is at a turning point when it comes to recycling?
The U.S. has been facing mounting challenges with waste management for some time, but it took China’s import ban to finally create a crisis that has forced us to reckon with some of these fundamental issues. One of the biggest problems is that we have set up the notion that recycling has to be cheaper than landfills. We have to stop looking at just the end of the pipe and seeing this as “waste management.” We need to recognize that how we use resources and materials is connected to many of our environmental and social issues, and it’s a pivotal part of the solution to reduce climate pollution, protect our health, bolster local economies, and help reduce social conflicts.
What can municipalities around the country do to drive the recycling of more plastics?
Here in the U.S., change comes mostly from the ground up, so cities have a pivotal role to play to drive the recovery of plastics and reductions in plastics use. Here are several key strategies for municipalities:
- Use their tremendous purchasing power to eliminate their own purchasing of single-use, disposable plastics and push for reusable alternatives whenever possible. They can also give preference to safer, less toxic and more recyclable plastics.
- Make recycling options more accessible and convenient for all residents, including apartment dwellers, and for all businesses as well.
- Update their climate action plans and greenhouse gas inventories to include the climate impacts of consumption through consumption-based accounting. Currently, most cities don’t recognize recycling as a critical solution to address climate change because most of the impacts of our consumption occur outside of the cities’ boundaries. Recycling is one of the fastest, cheapest and most cost effective local actions to reduce GHG emissions now while we work on longer term changes to our transportation and energy systems.
“Some of these promises [by plastics stakeholders] have been made before and not fulfilled, so I think we have to find a way to hold these companies fully accountable for their impacts.”
What should the plastics industry do to support this effort?
Plastics companies have their backs up against the wall right now – no company wants their product littering the oceans and beaches. They are making a lot of bold promises to do more with recycled content, investing in recycling programs and setting goals to recycle all their containers. But some of these promises have been made before and not fulfilled, so I think we have to find a way to hold these companies fully accountable for their impacts.
In addition, I would suggest four strategies that would accelerate meaningful change: invest in new business models that promote reuse over recycling; commit to globally phasing out avoidable, single-use plastics most likely to cause marine litter, as currently being required in the EU and Canada; replace Nos. 3, 6 or 7 plastics with more recyclable, less toxic resins; and support efforts to include the full costs of their product in the price paid by consumers, so the externalized costs of production and disposal are no longer borne by cities and residents. These efforts could include a carbon tax, a plastics tax or producer responsibility policies.
Bailey will be speaking on the Plastic Realities at the Municipal Level plenary session Wednesday, Aug. 28 at 8:30 a.m. Other panelists include Michael Sangiacomo, president and CEO of Recology; Zeina El-Azzi, chief development officer and senior vice president at Brightmark Energy; and Tim Ponrathnam, material scientist in the consumer packaging division at Berry Global.
Head to rrconference.com for the full schedule of events and to register today!