The Plastics Recycling Conference is the largest North American gathering of plastics recycling and sustainability professionals, annually bringing together more than 2,000 industry decision-makers. I attended the conference aiming to better understand the current state of the recycling industry in America and get a sense of where things are going between now and 2030. Here’s what I discovered.
Developing collection systems for used unwanted plastics of all types is critical if we are to have any chance at solving the global plastic pollution crisis. Regardless of the industry, supply chain stakeholders (brands, distributors and retailers) across the board must work together to develop material recovery programs to eliminate plastic waste. A radical systems change away from the traditional “take, make, use, dispose” way of doing things must happen, and it must happen fast! Part of the solution rests in understanding what materials are problematic but necessary, and figuring out how to deal with these materials in a sustainable, circular way. The other part of the solution is establishing collection methods that are simple, effective and affordable so that consumers find it easy to send plastics back into the circular economy for another life. The idea of waste itself needs to become outdated and obsolete. Mindlessly throwing things in the garbage, regardless of the material, must change and it must change fast. So, what are America’s major brands saying about all of this?
Companies like SC Johnson and Nestle have committed all of their brands to become more circular. Their targets and goals are in line with the Ellen McArthur Foundation and New Plastics Economy, to be 100% recyclable by 2025. The goal here is to get to a 100% landfill-free society. There are major challenges to overcome, including product and packaging development, collection and sorting. However, there are many innovative new technologies and solutions becoming available every day. Advances in chemical recycling, AI and robotics will help solve the problem. Chemical recycling answers a need that mechanical recycling can’t solve. The biggest requirement is that everybody must agree to implement strategies, programs and technologies that will lead us down the path of becoming a waste-free society.
US Government, both at the state and federal levels are ramping up legislation quickly to help America get on track. Major policy changes are happening. For once, Republicans and Democrats are on the same side of this issue. Advancing the circular economy creates jobs and is great for the environment. How we deal with plastic has a huge amount of mind share within US Government. It’s 10% of the total waste stream but getting 100% of the attention. There have been more hearings in 2020/2021 than in the past 20 years combined in US Congress.
One of the re-occurring concerns at the is the challenge of getting consumers to participate in the infrastructure that is being implemented. How do we educate the public to be more mindful of the waste they are putting into the environment? How do we get consumers to change their habits of throwing things of value in the garbage and believing it’s perfectly acceptable? Clearly it is not. Many companies are engaged in purposeful, mission driven work while inspiring consumers to participate. No one company, but all of them working together is required to get the message to consumers.
Eco-Train has set out to make a difference by creating a simple, effective and viable solution for industry stake holders and consumers to eliminate plastic waste from the wireless industry. Our program is working in Canada. Now is the time to bring the program to the United States.
Such an exciting time to be in the plastics recycling industry!