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U.S. plastic resin producers set goal to recycle or recover all plastic packaging by 2040

It’s ambitious, yet achievable—realistic—a true “stretch goal.” Steve Russell ACC 

This week ACC’s Plastics Division announced three new goals to guide and accelerate the capture, recycling and recovery of plastics packaging. Although we and our members have supported a variety of programs to increase plastics recycling, we want to be clear about where we’re heading, and we want to get there faster.

The first two goals share a vision of the future we want for plastics packaging, and they are that:

  1. 100% of plastics packaging will be re-used, recycled or recovered by 2040, and that
  2. 100% of plastics packaging will be recyclable or recoverable by 2030.

Those who follow plastics recycling know this is a tall order: These are truly ambitious, stretch goals. They’ll require our industry’s best thinking, working with stakeholders across several value chains, and new ways of looking at materials and systems for capturing and reusing them. But given the rate of innovation in technology, deployment, and systems development, we believe they’re achievable.

In addition to accelerating our own progress, these goals are designed to support major brands and retailers, many of whom are making their own commitments, and we want to help them achieve their goals. In many cases, we’re already working together to increase consumer access to recycling, explore new technologies, and fund infrastructure. We believe that setting and sharing these goals will help to focus and better align these collaborative efforts moving forward.

This is important because ongoing innovations in plastics packaging—and how we manage packaging after use—are essential to improving living standards across the globe while enabling populations to live more sustainably.

Plastic packaging keeps the things we rely on fresh, sanitary, clean, and in some cases, even sterile. Often, plastics can provide these benefits using significantly fewer resources and with lower environmental impacts than alternatives. And while plastics already contribute to sustainability, we recognize more must be done to increase recycling, recovery and reuse of plastics under a circular economy framework.

This will include working with innovators to develop new products designed for greater efficiency and recycling, continued work to develop technologies and infrastructure that better separate materials, and development of systems that break down used plastics into their basic chemical building blocks, extending the life and value of these molecules as raw materials that can be manufactured into entirely new products, including virgin plastics, among other things.

In addition to our recycling goals, U.S. plastics resin producers will strengthen their systems to contain plastic pellets by committing to achieve Operation Clean Sweep-Blue status across their U.S. operations by 2020 and all of their North American operations by 2022.

OCS is a system of best practices for containing plastic pellets at all stages of production, shipping, handling and use to help minimize accidental releases to the environment. OCS-Blue is a higher standard that includes providing performance data that will be publically reported in aggregate over two- to three-year increments. Containing pellets throughout our North American operations will help advance our vision of a circular economy by keeping raw materials in use and out of the environment.

These goals are a first step, and we will adjust them going forward as we better understand how quickly new technologies can be implemented. We’re currently working to establish measurements and milestones to share on a regular basis. Achieving a more circular economy for plastics will enable society to continue to harness plastics’ essential benefits while optimizing how we use resources, and help to protect and restore the environment for future generations.

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