In this episode of NothingWasted!, we chat with Joshua Baca, VP of plastics at the American Chemistry Council (ACC). ACC is the U.S.’ largest trade association representing the leading companies engaged in the business of chemistry; it aims to deliver value to its members through advocacy and scientific research. We spoke with Baca about why now is the time for action on plastics, the importance of collaboration, the role of advanced recycling, and more!
Here’s a sneak peek into the discussion
Waste360: Can you tell us about what ACC does, and your role in it?
Baca: It’s a great question—and I don’t even think, before I came here, that I fully appreciated the depth and breadth of the ACC. In Washington-speak, there are a lot of associations for a lot of things…[but] this one falls into the category of wanting to do big things. We represent chemical manufacturers across the U.S.—a $500 million+ industry—and we focus on a variety of issues in that space. I lead the division that focuses on the manufacturers who make plastic resin. Our job is to lead on issues of advocacy and collaboration. I view what my job is, in particular, as being an ardent advocate for our member companies and the great work they are doing; making sure we lead on some really big problems and solutions that the world faces; and that we’re at the forefront of defining what some of these solutions are.
Waste360: As you know, plastics is really on the world’s radar now, more than ever. What do you think of this additional attention being paid to plastics?
Baca: I think it’s a very important issue, and our organization and industry would be the first to admit that there is a plastics waste challenge. That doesn’t necessarily mean we have a ‘plastic problem,’ and we work every day to implement solutions. It’s a solvable issue that requires a tremendous amount of collaboration, and no one industry alone can solve it. We have a role to play; governments have a role; waste management companies; consumer brands; consumers; the plastic value chain… We try to bring these diverse stakeholders together. We should absolutely be appalled by the plastic-waste issue, but we’re making a tremendous amount of progress.
Waste360: What are your thoughts on the current state of recycling in our country?
Baca: I think there’s certainly room for improvement here. But recycling isn’t broken; it just needs improvements and needs to be modernized to reflect the 21st century economy. …And we would actually call on the government to help make this better.
Waste360: What do you see as plastics’ role in the circular economy?
Baca: I think we have made clear what our goal is. By 2040, we want all our plastic packaging to be reused, recycled, or recovered. This will require collaboration to get to that goal. And we’ve outlined a set of guiding principles for the sorts of policies that will be needed to get there. Our companies have made well over $5 million in investments to modernize mechanical recycling and implement advanced recycling technology. And we, as an industry, are working on a host of solutions to help achieve the 2040 goals. We need to use more recycled plastic in our packaging, and we need policies reflective of that. A producer responsibility model is also going to be needed. Again, there is a level of collaboration that is needed.
Waste360: Are you seeing more brands using more recycled plastic, and what do you think is most effective in getting them to do so?
Baca: I think right now, consumers are demanding this and have been pretty clear. And a variety of consumer brands—I think well over 400—have already made commitments to use recycled content or recycled plastic in their containers. Our job is to ensure that we can help brands meet those commitments. That’s already happening, and I think everyone has widespread agreement on the need.