This Is Plastics: Five U.S. Cities Encouraging Plastics Recycling in Innovative Ways


Five U.S. Cities Encouraging Plastics Recycling in Innovative Ways

Learn how cities throughout the United States are furthering the circular economy by promoting plastics recycling in innovative ways.


From educational initiatives to financial incentives, cities across the country are investing in creative programs and strategic waste collection methods that encourage residents to recycle more plastics. With these continued investments, city leaders can help residents understand the importance of traditional and advanced recycling methods that give plastic products second lives as new products, turning old bottles and wrappers into furniture, shoes and other items and building a more circular economy.

Houston, Texas

Houston, Texas aims to increase their rate of plastics recycling and improve both traditional and advanced recycling capabilities through a revolutionary new partnership between industry leaders and the city government. The Houston Recycling Collaboration is working to decrease the amount of plastic waste sent to landfills by expanding access to recycling infrastructure, improving collection and sorting capabilities and collaborating with other organizations to provide community-focused solutions. The initiative will also support educational campaigns to better equip residents with the information they need to improve recycling in all types of households and businesses.

The Houston Recycling Collaboration is made up of plastics industry leaders, such as ExxonMobil, LyondellBasell, Cyclyx and FCC Environmental Services. Each company brings a unique perspective and set of resources to improve traditional and advanced recycling systems and sorting capabilities in Houston. To complement the Houston Recycling Collaboration, ExxonMobil, LyondellBasell and Cyclyx recently announced their commitment to invest $100 million into a new plastic scrap sorting and processing facility in Houston, a groundbreaking investment for the city. The new Houston Recycling Collaboration and recent industry investment will help elevate Houston as a leader in plastics recycling.

Seattle, Washington

Seattle, Washington has become an innovative leader in plastics recycling by providing accessible information and unique waste collection services for all residents. In 2018, Seattle launched the “Recycle It” smartphone app to help residents learn the days on which recycling will be collected and what kinds of products are eligible for collection. By equipping consumers with the information necessary for effective participation, Seattle residents can ensure that a variety of plastics are properly disposed. Seattle’s recycling bins are also significantly larger than their waste bins, a strategic decision to help promote residential recycling. Additionally, households are charged for waste collection while recycling services are free, creating a financial incentive for proper waste management. Seattle’s innovations have kept recyclable materials, like plastic bottles and household items, out of landfills. The city now recycles 60 percent of all waste, which includes plastics, and aims to recycle 72 percent of all waste by 2025.

Boise, Idaho

Boise, Idaho has transformed the city’s plastics recycling landscape and encouraged more residents to be conscious of their waste disposal through a partnership with Hefty, a plastic bag and household goods manufacturer. As an innovative way to separate materials and promote recycling, the Hefty EnergyBag program provides Boise residents with specialized bags to collect plastics that are not accepted in traditional curbside recycling, such as plastic bags, food coverings and wrappers. These more complex plastics are then transformed into energy and fuel, rather than sent to a landfill. Since implementing this program, Boise has collected more than 1,000 tons of Hefty EnergyBags, equivalent to recycling more than 32 million candy wrappers. Boise not only promotes plastics recycling through this innovative program but also provides educational videos and informational resources to help residents learn how to properly sort all types of plastics and other materials.

Portland, Oregon

The innovative educational programs and financial incentives for recycling in Portland, Oregon encourage residents to be more conscious of their waste disposal, enabling the city to increase recycling by more than 80 percent of all waste in 2018. Portland offers resource conservation and recycling education programs for children in elementary school through high school. Through educational guides, community events and internships, children in Portland learn about the importance of recycling and how to recycle materials like plastics from a young age, encouraging a lifelong commitment to recycling. Portland also offers low-cost curbside recycling through a public-private partnership. The state of Oregon also incentivizes residents to recycle plastic bottles by offering collection refunds that can be linked to college savings accounts. Efforts are clearly paying off: in 2021, Oregon successfully recycled 773 million plastic, glass and metal containers.

Phoenix, Arizona

Through a comprehensive program to improve the city’s recycling capabilities, Phoenix, Arizona has invested significant funds in educational programs, waste recovery facilities and public-private partnerships, encouraging sustainable waste management and effective recycling methods. In 2019, Arizona State University launched the Resource Innovation and Solutions Network (RISN) business incubator with support from the city, providing support and funding to 19 companies working to promote new advances in recycling. Recyclops, a participating business, expanded its efforts with state support and recycled more than 6 million pounds of plastic, cardboard, aluminum and glass in 2021.

Additionally, Phoenix offers a soft plastics recycling program in grocery stores throughout the city that provides an easily accessible way for residents to recycle plastics that can be transformed into new bags, lumber and furniture. Six grocery store chains in the city collect more than 1,300 tons of plastic bags annually, equivalent to keeping nearly 200 million plastic bags out of landfills each year.

While the United States still lacks a federal recycling standard, metropolitan leaders in cities across the country are  working to invest in plastics recycling and waste management to ensure consumers are equipped with the tools necessary to help divert municipal waste from landfills. Continued investment in unique incentives, and advanced and traditional recycling infrastructure at both state and federal levels, can ensure that the United States continues building a circular economy and maximizing the potential of plastics.

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