This Is Plastics: United States Leads Revamp of Global Recycling Systems


United States Leads Revamp of Global Recycling Systems

The United States is leading the charge in a worldwide movement to solve plastic waste challenges and create a truly circular economy.


In November 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its first ever “National Recycling Strategy,” paving the way for a domestic recycling revamp, as well as providing a blueprint for the international community on how to better prevent plastic waste, boost recycling rates, and increase end markets for recycled content.

At the same time, the United States also announced support for efforts to codify an international agreement to curb plastic pollution, building off of the momentum from federal policies that were signed into law over the past year. These announcements help bring new focus to the importance of plastic waste management and they are indicative of how the United States is leading the charge in a worldwide movement to solve plastic waste challenges and create a truly circular economy.

U.S. recycling strategy will modernize domestic waste systems

The National Recycling Strategy’s key goal is to increase recycling rates to 50% by 2030 and sets five main objectives to do so: improve markets for recycled commodities, increase collection and improve materials management infrastructure, reduce contamination in the recycled materials stream, enhance policies and programs to support circularity, and standardize measurements and increase data collection. Together, these tenets form a holistic vision for effectively tackling plastic waste streams and embracing the elements of a circular economy.

The EPA also recognizes that the solution to plastic waste is not exclusionary and identifies advanced recycling, also known as molecular or chemical recycling, as key to making this strategy a reality. The EPA’s recognition of advanced recycling is vital to modernizing U.S. recycling infrastructure and also confirms stakeholders’ longtime claims of the importance of these technologies. However, partnership with industry will be key to bringing this new strategy to fruition. Companies, including Chevron Phillips Chemical and Dow, have already announced plans to invest billions in ongoing and planned developments to scale up and commercialize advanced recycling projects that will increase recycling rates in the United States, and the world. By approaching the challenge of plastic waste with new tools and stronger partnerships, the United States is charting a path that other countries can follow in the global fight against plastic waste.

Why invest in advanced recycling?

Mechanical recycling is a proven solution to plastic waste and has been vital to our recycling systems for decades. However, as our technologies become more advanced, so are the materials that serve us every day. Complex plastics, like candy wrappers and packaging, need more advanced solutions to recycle them. Enter advanced recycling. These technologies use heat or chemicals to break post-consumer plastics down into their original polymers so they can be infinitely reused. And it’s not just the U.S. government that is paying attention to these new solutions.

Closed Loop Partners, a firm that invests in the development of the circular economy, recently released a report focusing on the creation of a plastics circular economy and found that advanced recycling has the potential to support downstream material recovery and create a circular and safe future for plastics. By utilizing advanced recycling, the United States can bridge the gap between supply and demand for high-quality recycled plastic, which is vital to meeting environmental goals and solving the plastic waste challenge. With advanced recycling, the United States’ waste management and recycling system will become more sustainable.

U.S. recognizes the need for global solutions

In December 2020, Congress passed the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act, which enhances global engagement to tackle plastic pollution in the ocean, and formalizes foreign policy on international cooperation to work with other countries to ensure that plastic is being disposed of and recycled properly. In a parallel action, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) set aside $2.5 billion for the Ocean Plastic Initiative, which supports government partnerships with industry to pursue cross-border collaborations that invest in recycling and waste management infrastructure abroad.

Most recently, the U.S. Infrastructure bill, passed in November 2021, includes $350 million for solid waste and recycling grants, which will further bolster domestic recycling infrastructure, while paving the way for a more efficient, safe, and effective recycling system that will serve as an example for the global community.

As the United States continues to lead other countries in the effort to reduce plastic waste, industry will be crucial to any success. The good thing is that industry is already leading the way by investing billions of dollars into much needed recycling infrastructure. These innovations will be key to updating and revolutionizing domestic and international waste solutions and creating a recycling system for the 21st century.

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