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Stay up-to-date and engaged with the latest industry-related news.
Around the globe, people are increasingly aware of the amount of
plastic in the environment. Governments. Businesses. Nonprofits. Everyday
citizens. Everyone seems to agree the problem is urgent, and many people,
including the Editorial
Board of the Washington Post, are naturally wondering: what are America’s plastic
makers doing to help solve the problem?
Our industry believes that we can—and will—help end plastic waste. Full
stop. Yes, plastics provide irreplaceable benefits that are critical to preserving
food, saving lives, and reducing our overall environmental footprint. At the
same time, we must continually challenge ourselves to make the most efficient
use of resources and to move toward more circular systems where resources are
used and reused to the greatest extent possible.
Achieving this vision, which many are calling a “circular economy,”
will require progress and collaboration across several areas, such as advances
in collection, sortation, and processing of used plastics. It demands more and
better recycling, including systems, infrastructure and participation; improvements
in technologies, changes in product design, and new business models to
repurpose plastics. And it requires strong partnerships and commitments between
material suppliers, processors, brand companies, recyclers, and governments around
Achieving a true circular economy, in which used plastics are routinely
recovered and systematically repurposed, will require game-changing initiatives
and coordination across all of these areas. Thankfully, these types of changes are
beginning to take hold, bringing with them both momentum and optimism. Below
are several promising examples.
Jump-starting Infrastructure Where
It’s Needed Most
A consortium of nearly 40 leading global companies has formed the Alliance to End Plastic
Waste. Representing brand companies, plastic producers and
processors, and waste management companies, the Alliance has set a goal of
deploying $1.5 billion over the next five years to help end plastic waste in
the environment. Many of their efforts will focus on developing the infrastructure to
capture and repurpose plastics in parts of the world where the majority of
waste is leaking into the ocean due to lack of waste management. The Alliance
is working across the globe to promote infrastructure, education and engagement,
innovation, and cleanup efforts.
More and Better Recycling, At
Home and Abroad
China and other Southeast Asian countries recently have stopped or
slowed the import of many recyclable materials, including plastics, from the
United States and other developed countries, forcing a largely global recycling
industry to rethink its existing systems and infrastructure. Several companies
are facing these challenges head on. Recyclers such as FCC, Green Tech
Solutions and others are adjusting to this “new normal” by investing in U.S.
infrastructure. In some cases, companies have announced new and more advanced
processing plants, including better sorting equipment, to produce higher
quality recycled plastics. And organizations such as The Recycling Partnership, which
has served nearly 1,100 communities and 55 million households, and Closed
Loop Partners, which is enabling significant investments in our
communities, are just a couple of examples helping to strengthen local systems
that Americans rely on to recycle everyday plastics. The learnings from these
initiatives can be adapted and potentially applied worldwide.
Technologies and New Business
So, what happens to plastics after we collect them? That’s where emerging
technologies come in. Recent advances are allowing companies—such as Agilyx,
Brightmark Energy, Golden Renewable, New Hope Energy, Plastic Energy and Renewlogy—to
convert used plastics into a range of products to meet a variety of market
needs. These innovators use processes that break down plastics into their basic
building blocks and then recombine them into various products, such as brand
new plastics, transportation fuels, and useful materials such as waxes,
lubricants, and chemicals for new manufacturing.
These new technologies are helping to bring about more circular
business models. Just a few publicly announced examples include Agilyx, which breaks
down polystyrene into styrene and sells
it to Americas Styrenics for the manufacture of new polystyrene, in
a potentially never-ending loop. Agilyx also creates jet
fuel and will sell it to Monroe Energy, a subsidiary of Delta
Airlines. Similarly, SABIC
will use chemical recycling processes to sell circular polymers to major brands,
such as Unilever and Tupperware. And Brightmark
Energy will sell ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel to BP.
These business models and the jobs associated with them didn’t exist
until recently. These companies are leveraging emerging technologies to create businesses
that 1) keep plastics out of the environment and 2) repurpose them into
In addition, many of the world’s largest brands—such as Coca-Cola,
& Gamble, Nestle
Waters, and Unilever,
to name a few—have committed to using large percentages of recycled plastics in
their products and packaging by 2025/30. These brands are recognized as leaders
in sustainability, and their commitments will help drive demand for recycled
plastics—a key component in ending waste.
Government has a role to play in achieving a
circular economy by encouraging continued development of these new technologies
and setting goals that all materials must meet, such as requiring all packaging
to be recyclable or recoverable by 2030. ACC has supported legislation that
would address the challenge of recovering foodservice packaging. We have supported
a fee of three-tenths of a cent per cup, bowl or plate be applied to all
materials to help develop this infrastructure. In addition, we have supported straw-upon-request
legislation like that in California, which would reduce unnecessary use of
straws. And we supported federal legislation to reduce plastic in the ocean,
including the Microbead-Free
Waters Act of 2015 and the Save Our
Seas Act of 2018, and we
currently support the Save
Our Seas Act 2.0.
Why Not Just Stop Making Plastics?
People overwhelmingly want to keep
the benefits of plastics that we all rely on. Lightweight car parts that create
safer, more fuel-efficient vehicles. Tough gear that protects our soldiers and
firefighters. Advanced sports gear that protects our children and enables us to
excel. Protective packaging that dramatically reduces food waste and the carbon
emissions that result from it. Medical advances that save lives.
In addition and very importantly,
a recent life-cycle study demonstrates that switching from plastics to
alternatives in consumer products and packaging would increase costs to the
environment nearly fourfold. Nobody wants that.
But at the same time, nobody wants
plastics in our environment or ocean.
America’s plastic makers have a
vision: all post-use plastics are recovered from the environment and repurposed
into new products.
So, we’re investing in solutions and working on
policies to help realize that vision. Emerging technologies together with
better recycling and new product designs are changing business models and
bringing a new era of energy and hope to the challenge of building a circular
economy. In collaboration with scientists, governments, and non-profits around
the globe, we believe these solutions promise to make possible a world in which
plastic waste is just a memory.
Science is essential to understanding the world’s most pressing challenges and to overcoming them.
A first-of-its-kind, leading economic indicator that helps anticipate and highlight potential trends in other industries in the U.S.