Innovation

Plastics producers and consumer brands lead the charge toward a circular economy

The plastics industry and consumer brands work together to ensure that consumer products are easily recovered and recycled.

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The plastics industry is dedicated to ensuring that consumer products are easily recovered and recycled, even those that are produced using harder-to-recycle plastic inputs. By supporting ongoing curbside collection and traditional recycling systems, coupled with innovations in advanced recycling technologies (ARTs), industry is leading the way in keeping all plastics in the economy and out of the environment.

Plastics producers are also working with consumer brands to ensure that it is easy for consumers to participate in recycling programs, encouraging action at every step in the plastics economy. This is how we create solutions and a circular economy.  

Boosting Recycling Systems

Curbside recycling programs help communities collect hard-to-recycle plastics and are often carried out in collaboration with local government leaders and through utilizing existing recycling programs. For example, through the Hefty EnergyBag program, Dow and Reynolds Consumer Products collaborate with municipal leaders and waste management service providers across the country to expand local curbside recycling programs that complement existing recycling efforts.

Investments in advanced recycling help turn these curbside collected plastics into new products. Chevron Phillips Chemical (CPChem) supports the Marlex Anew Circular Polyethylene project, which utilizes an advanced recycling technology (ART) to convert hard-to-recycle plastics, many of which are used to make every-day consumer products, into new, high-quality products. CPChem also recently entered into a long-term agreement with Braven Environmental to receive pyrolysis-derived feedstock made from used plastics to produce new consumer products. Efforts like these create an end market use for recycled post-consumer products and contribute to a circular plastics economy. That’s why the company recently received the Re|focus Sustainability Leadership Innovation Award. With increased support for both traditional and advanced recycling projects in tandem with curbside collection programs we can ensure that all plastic is recycled and reused.

Reimagining Old Materials

Recycling makes it easy to convert consumer plastic products into something new. Ultra-Poly, for instance, is working with the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) to collect and recycle automobile bumper covers, which could divert about one million pounds of plastic from landfills annually. This post-consumer recycled plastic has also been found to have up to 90 percent of the flexibility and elasticity found in virgin plastic, making it the perfect content for new products. Ultra-Poly has also been active in supporting the use of recycled content in new products across sectors, from automotive to food packaging to consumer goods. With initiatives like this, industry is ensuring that plastics stay out of the trash and in the economy in the form of new products.

Utilizing Low-Impact Inputs

Industry is using Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs), which evaluate the impact of a given product at every step of its life cycle, to ensure that their products have environmental advantages over alternative materials. Niagara Bottling, for example, uses PET plastic, which has a lower environmental impact than glass, aluminum, and bio-based plastics. Niagara’s PET bottles are also easily recycled and are used to make new bottles, fleece jackets, or egg cartons, contributing to a growing plastics circular economy.

Easing Consumer Access

Understanding that variation in recycling programs can pose a challenge to consumers, programs like How2Recycle have created an easy-to-identify recycling label program that helps reduce unnecessary waste. Companies and brands, including Target and Ziploc have partnered with How2Recycle to provide clarity and empower consumers to make smart waste management choices.

Several consumer brands bring easy recycling to consumers by offering mail-in or store drop-off options at frequented, everyday stops, like your favorite brick and mortar stores. Kroger, for example, recently teamed up with TerraCycle, which specializes in recycling flexible plastics and hard-to-recycle items, to offer customers a free and simple way to recycle flexible plastic packaging. This new program allows customers to ship flexible plastic packaging to TerraCycle using a prepaid shipping label. TerraCycle works with a number of other consumer brands companies to ensure that products can be mailed in to be cleaned, melted, and remolded to make new products from recycled materials.

Building an Even Better Future

Industry is committed to a future without plastic waste and is dedicated to helping us get there. The Plastics Industry Association’s reports on consumer brands show how plastics improve every day products but also package them in plastic materials with the lowest environmental impact.  

In addition, dozens of consumer brands have set ambitious plastic waste goals over the next several years. For example, Mars and Unilever, the company behind the brands Dove, Axe, Lipton, and more, have pledged to make all plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. By that same year, Unilever has also promised to increase its use of recycled plastic to 25 percent (compared to 11 percent used in 2020), while Mars has committed to reducing its virgin plastic use by 25 percent. As these brands turn towards recycled plastics, investments in mechanical and advanced recycling infrastructure will become even more important to supply these needs.

Ignoring Plastics’ Recyclability Doesn’t Solve Waste Issues

Plastic waste is not an issue of whether plastic is recyclable or not—oftentimes, it stems from poor recycling infrastructure and inadequate education for consumers. Moves to omit the “recyclable” label when describing plastics ignores ongoing, active efforts by consumer brands and plastics producers to create a zero-waste society. Ultimately, increased focus and investment on consumer education and innovative technologies will ensure that no plastic ends up in the trash.

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