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The Recycling Partnership Reveals U.S. Circular Economy Roadmap

The Recycling Partnership Reveals U.S. Circular Economy Roadmap

The Recycling Partnership announced the first-ever roadmap aimed at addressing systemic issues in the U.S. recycling system and catalyzing the transition toward a circular economy for packaging. The report, “The Bridge to Circularity: Putting the ‘New Plastics Economy’ into Practice in the U.S.,” is inspired and endorsed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, whose New Plastics Economy Global Commitment unites more than 400 businesses, governments and other organizations behind a common vision and targets to address plastic waste and pollution at its source.  

According to the report, there is no single solution to transition to a circular economy⁠—an economic system aimed at eliminating waste by design, keeping materials in use and regenerating natural systems. To build a bridge between the current system and an optimized circular system, The Recycling Partnership is calling for a set of concrete actions based on three distinct issues currently undermining the U.S. recycling industry: 

1. The speed of packaging innovation has outpaced the capabilities of recycling infrastructure. Most plastic packaging is either not being collected for recycling or is simply not currently recyclable. To meet the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment target that 100 percent of plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, brands, organizations and governments must align packaging with the realities of the current recycling system while also investing to advance the system.  

“Pathway to Recyclability:” The Recycling Partnership is initiating a more granular process detailing how to move a package from technically recyclable to commonly accepted for recycling with partners such as the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and the Association of Plastic Recyclers. Collaboratives are also being launched with the goal of optimizing the system for multiple materials and packaging formats, including but not exclusive to plastics.  

2. As it stands, the U.S. recycling system cannot deliver the supply of recycled materials demanded by the Global Commitment. In fact, the report uses the case study of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle recycling and finds an annual gap of more than 1 billion pounds between the current U.S. supply and projected demand for recycled PET in bottles, and that is just one packaging material type among many. It will be impossible for many companies to meet their ambitious recycled content commitments without significant interventions in the recycling system.  

“Unlocking Supply:” The Recycling Partnership will launch an industrywide $250 million residential recycling intervention to capture more than 340 million pounds of post-consumer plastics, in addition to more than 2 billion pounds of other packaging materials. The report identifies specific strategies to put the capital to immediate use to benefit U.S. communities. 

3. Intractable, underlying challenges create a difficult environment in which to develop a sustainably funded and responsive future recycling system. Bold innovation, supported by transformative policy, is critical to tackling the extensive issues within the current system. 

“Recycling 2.0:” This new initiative calls for $250 million over five years to design and implement the recycling system of the future by advancing technology, building more robust data systems and enhancing consumer participation. In addition, in early 2020, a new policy proposal will be launched to address the unique challenges in the U.S. packaging system with the goal of achieving a sustainably funded recycling system for all materials. 

“Our current recycling system is fundamentally underfunded and incapable of delivering a circular economy without dramatic evolution. With this report, we are providing the clear roadmap to create a new and improved recycling system of the future,” said Keefe Harrison, CEO of The Recycling Partnership, in a statement. “We’re providing actionable solutions to help current and future partners build a sustainable and effective recycling system in the U.S.” 

“To make this a reality, we’re calling for $500 million to fund these new initiatives,” added Harrison. “This will be the first step toward fully optimizing our nation’s recycling capabilities and ultimately building the bridge to a circular economy.” 

The report recommends that plastics packaging be used as the entry point to catalyze system change. However, it repeatedly stresses the importance of building an improved system for all materials, not just plastics.  

“Concentrating on plastics alone will not create a viable platform for a truly circular economy,” said Harrison. “Nor will recycling alone ultimately suffice.”  

"Tackling the global plastic waste and pollution crisis requires concerted action at a global and local level. We are delighted to see The Recycling Partnership translate the ambitious targets of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment into concrete and progressive actions to be taken in the U.S., urging businesses and governments in the country to step up efforts toward transitioning to a circular economy for plastics,” said Sander Defruyt, lead of the New Plastics Economy initiative at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in a statement. “Stakeholders in the U.S., as well as around the world, must address plastic pollution at its source, by eliminating the plastics we don’t need, innovating the plastics we do need and circulating them safely in the economy to keep them out of the environment." 

WM Faces Larger-than-expected Recycling Headwind in Q3 2019

WM Faces Larger-than-expected Recycling Headwind in Q3 2019

Houston-based Waste Management, Inc. (WM) reported revenues of $3.97 billion for the third quarter of 2019, which is up from $3.82 billion for the same 2018 period. Despite this positive, the company experienced a larger-than-expected recycling headwind that resulted in a revenue decline of $86 million.

According to John Morris, chief operating officer for Waste Management, the $86 million decline was partially due to the fact that the company’s blended average commodity price in Q3 2019 was just under $40 per ton, a decline of 40 percent compared to last year and a further 8 percent decline from the 10-year low reached in Q2 2019. “Despite this precipitous drop, the steps we're taking to improve the recycling business held year-over-year decline to operating EBITDA to $7 million and EPS decline to about $0.01,” he said.

Adding to Morris' comments, Jim Fish, CEO and president of Waste Management, said, "The good news is that the steps we're taking to transform the recycling business with restructured fee-based contracts and investments in technology will insulate the business from commodity price swings, and we're starting to see results. We saw a 320-basis point improvement in contamination rates at our single stream MRFs [materials recovery facilities] in the third quarter.

WM Faces Larger-than-expected Recycling Headwind in Q3 2019

On the collection and disposal side of the business, Waste Management continued to see positive results.

“In the third quarter, we continued to see our collection and disposal lines of business deliver strong revenue and earnings growth, particularly in the segments of our business that reflect the resilience of the consumer,” said Fish in a statement. “This strong operational performance led to growth in cash from operations of almost 9 percent.”

“Overall, our collection and disposal business has performed exceptionally well in 2019, overcoming headwinds in our commodity-sensitive businesses, recycling and renewable energy,” said Fish on a call with investors. “The results in our commodity-sensitive businesses, which make up less than 10 percent of our total revenue, have been below our expectations. We've discussed all year the historically low recycling commodity prices, but we've also seen a negative $18 million impact in our operating EBITDA plan through the first nine months of the year related to renewable natural gas credits.”

Waste Management has been investing in its renewable energy business to close the loop between its landfill gas and compressed natural gas (CNG) fleet, according to Devina Rankin, chief financial officer of Waste Management.

“Our capital expenditure guidance excluded the potential increase in renewable energy capital given the uncertain timing of the potential investments,” she said on a call with investors. “Because pricing for RINs [renewable identification numbers] declined significantly in 2019, we didn't make as large as an investment as we might have otherwise. Full-year capital spending for renewable energy plants is expected to be between $35 million and $40 million.”

Rankin added that Waste Management also made deliberate investments in its fleet, bringing the percentage of garbage trucks running on natural gas to about 60 percent and increasing the number of automated side loaders in the fleet by about 9 percent.

Waste Management also provided an update on the pending acquisition of Advanced Disposal Services, Inc., stating, “We continue to make progress toward closing this transaction, and we remain on track to complete the acquisition during the first quarter of 2020.”

Here are some additional key highlights for Q3 2019:

  • Total company operating EBITDA was $1.14 billion for Q3 2019, an increase of $60 million from Q3 2018. On an adjusted basis, total company operating EBITDA was $1.14 billion for Q3 2019, an increase of more than $30 million from Q3 2018.
  • Operating EBITDA in the company’s collection and disposal business increased $94 million, or 7.8 percent, in Q3 2019, compared to the same period last year.
  • Net income for the quarter was $495 million, or $1.16 per diluted share, compared with $499 million, or $1.16 per diluted share, for Q3 2018.
  • Organic revenue growth for Q3 2019 was driven by strong yield and volume growth in the company’s collection and disposal business, which contributed $198 million of incremental revenue.
  • Core price for Q3 2019 was 5.3 percent, compared to 5.4 percent in Q3 2018.
  • The continued decline in market values for recycled commodities, which were down 40 percent year-over-year in Q3 2019, drove a revenue decline of $86 million and presented a more significant headwind in the quarter than anticipated. As a result of continued efforts to advance a fee-for-service business model, the operating EBITDA in the company’s recycling line of business declined by $7 million, compared to the third quarter of 2018.
  • Operating EBITDA from the sale of renewable natural gas credits declined approximately $8 million from Q3 2018 due to lower market values.
  • Internal revenue growth from yield for the collection and disposal business was 2.6 percent for Q3 2019, versus 2.5 percent in Q3 2018.
  • Collection and disposal business internal revenue growth from volume was 3.3 percent in Q3 2019. Total company internal revenue growth from volume, which includes the company’s recycling line of business, was 2.6 percent in Q3 2019.
  • As a percentage of revenue, operating expenses were 61.5 percent in Q3 2019, compared to 62.1 percent in Q3 2018.
  • Net cash provided by operating activities was $952 million in Q3 2019, an increase of $78 million, or 8.9 percent, compared to Q3 2018.
  • Capital expenditures were $483 million in Q3 2019, a $79 million increase from Q3 2018, due to an intentional focus on accelerating certain fleet and landfill spending to support the company’s strong collection and disposal growth.
  • Free cash flow was $478 million in Q3 2019, compared to $480 million in Q3 2018. 
  • Waste Management paid $218 million of dividends to shareholders in Q3 2019
  • The company spent $76 million on acquisitions of traditional solid waste businesses during Q3 2019.
  • The company’s effective tax rate for Q3 2019 was approximately 19.4 percent.
  • The company was recognized as a sector leader on the 2019 North America and World Dow Jones Sustainability Indices for the second year in a row.
  • Providing an update on the company’s use of technology, Fish said, “On the technology front, we began running test material through our MRF of the future and are encouraged by the results. At multiple other facilities, we're testing robotics, advanced optical sorting technology and improving the screening processes. We continue to expect a meaningful operating cost savings from these advancements in technology, while also creating the best quality material for sale through positive sorting processes.”
  • On a call with investors, Fish gave a nod to Waste Management’s employees, stating, “I need to give credit to our 45,000 employees out there who work really, really hard every day … No one in this industry works harder than the employees at Waste Management … As an industry, not just Waste Management, this is such a hardworking industry. It makes me proud to be here.”
  • Commenting on labor inflation, Morris said, “We've talked a lot about turnover and the impact that that's had on the operation and our efforts around furthering our people-first efforts. The good news is we are starting to see some turnover moderate. Wage inflation is still higher than the average for overall inflation, but the good news is we're starting to see a little bit of moderation there.”

“We are pleased with the performance of our collection and disposal business through the first three quarters of the year, which positions us to achieve our full-year goals,” said Fish in a statement. “Our original 2019 guidance anticipated significantly higher contributions from our commodity-sensitive businesses than we have seen. The strong results from the collection and disposal business have overcome this impact, and we expect to achieve full-year 2019 results within our guidance range of adjusted operating EBITDA of $4.40 [billion] to $4.45 billion, free cash flow of $2.025 [billion] to $2.075 billion and adjusted earnings per diluted share of $4.28 to $4.38.”

“As we reflect on the year so far and develop our plans for next year, a couple of trends are starting to come to light, particularly in our collection and disposal business,” said Fish on a call with investors. “Our results across the solid waste business have been strong through the first nine months of the year, but they've been particularly strong in our lines of business that are driven by the consumer portion of the economy, commercial collection and MSW [municipal solid waste] landfill volumes. We have good visibility into these segments of our business and all indicators are pointing to continued strength.”

RTS Acquires Recyclebank, Enters Gamification Space

Waste360's Top 10 Stories of 2019

Recycle Track Systems (RTS) announced the acquisition of Recyclebank, signaling RTS' continued growth in the waste and recycling industry. This is the company's first acquisition since launching in 2015 and follows RTS' recent hire of Allyn L. Shaw, a banking and technology executive, as president and chief technology officer.

"This marks a major step forward in expanding RTS' technology offerings and further highlights our commitment to putting positive social impact into action," said RTS CEO Greg Lettieri in a statement. "The move not only aligns with our core values but underscores the company's commitment to modernizing the waste and recycling industry for everyone."

In closing on the sale of Recyclebank, a rewards platform that encourages individuals to recycle through an incentive program, RTS now expands into the gamification space. Users measure their recycling participation via online engagement, earning points by tracking their daily sustainability habits. The more users recycle and learn, the more rewards they earn that can be used to support local businesses, purchase green-friendly products or make donations to user-chosen charities.

This move also supports RTS' recent entry into the municipal sector by combining technology, analytics, educational programs and incentives at the individual level.

"Recyclebank is the only incentive program for recycling on the market," said Shaw in a statement. "Its approach to innovation, and the way Recyclebank leverages technology to improve waste diversion, naturally aligns with our model as we expand our capabilities to serve customers."

This deal will add value to RTS' current diversion tracking services, in which community officials and residents can use the platform to understand recycling habits, collectively send less trash to landfill and improve economics around waste.

Shaw also notes that RTS plans to utilize the Recyclebank platform to support other industries by encouraging effective recycling practices for businesses. "Legislation and regulation vary across cities, making it challenging for companies to educate their customer base—and even their own employees—on proper waste sorting, such as what can and can't be recycled," added Shaw. "By providing an interactive platform, users can stay up-to-date on compliance and use the helpful resources at their fingertips."

Recyclebank has 2 million members, serves 67 municipalities and tracked 1 billion pounds of recycled material through user engagement in 2018.

Need to Know

Colorado Legislators Propose Two Bills to Boost Recycling

Colorado Legislators Propose Two Bills to Boost Recycling

Colorado legislators have advanced two recycling bills to the state’s General Assembly this week in an attempt to help the state reach its goal to recycle 28 percent of its waste by 2021.

The state’s Zero Waste and Recycling Interim Study Committee advanced two of the five draft bills on October 22. The first would study how to use tax breaks to incentivize Colorado companies to help convert recycled items into new products. The second would require the state to create a proposal for a statewide composting management plan that would help improve soil quality and sequester more carbon, The Colorado Sun reports.

Colorado’s recycling rate was 17.2 percent in 2018, which was lower than the prior year and far below the national average of 35 percent.

The Colorado Sun has more:

Colorado lawmakers spent months deliberating ways to address Colorado’s abysmal recycling rate, but in the end, a special committee mostly agreed to keep studying the issue.

Two of five draft bills considered by the Zero Waste and Recycling Interim Study Committee advanced Tuesday. The first would study how to use tax breaks to incentivize Colorado companies to help convert recycled items into new products.

Read the full article here.

Colorado Politics has more information:

Legislators gave preliminary approval to two bills on Tuesday that would help make good on the state’s goal to recycle 28 percent of its waste by 2021.

The Zero Waste and Recycling Interim Study Committee advanced Bill 1, which would establish a center within the Colorado School of Mines to assist businesses that process recyclable materials and make them into new products. That assistance would include market analysis, identifying financial incentives, and advocating for pro-recycling policies at the state and local level.

Bill 1 would also require the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to study how to implement a program that would provide small refunds for glass bottles, and also to assess whether retailers and manufacturers should be required to accept their own products and packaging for recycling.

Read the full article here.

Need to Know

Circulate Capital Adds $15M in Funding to Combat Ocean Plastic

Documentary Highlights Global Plastic Waste Crisis

Circulate Capital, the investment management firm dedicated to incubating and financing companies and infrastructure that seek to prevent ocean plastic in South and Southeast Asia, announced that it expects to receive an additional $15 million in funding from Chevron Phillips Chemical Company LLC for Circulate Capital’s strategy to combat ocean plastic.

The company joins Circulate Capital’s founding investors, which include several of the world’s leading consumer packaged goods and chemical companies. Circulate Capital announced the launch of its fund in fall 2018 and expects to make its first investment by the end of 2019.

Circulate Capital’s investment strategy will focus on providing financing to companies and projects to build circular supply chains that can deliver and recapture resources at scale while preventing the flow of plastic pollution into the ocean in South and Southeast Asia. Circulate Capital’s investment model seeks to mobilize institutional investment capital by blending concessionary and philanthropic funds with market rate investment capital. Its objective is to mitigate risk and demonstrate that investment in turning waste into value can ultimately provide attractive financial returns. 

The news was officially announced at the Our Ocean conference in Oslo, Norway, where Rob Kaplan, founder and CEO of Circulate Capital, was joined by Miles Oberton, Asia region manager at Chevron Phillips Chemical.

“Chevron Phillips Chemical’s commitment to our investment strategy will significantly enhance our ability to advance the circular economy and cradle-to-cradle businesses more quickly by crowding-in capital for waste management and recycling solutions at scale that address the ocean plastic crisis in South and Southeast Asia,” said Kaplan in a statement. “We are grateful to our founding corporate partners, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development, for their commitment to support solutions to prevent ocean plastic. Over the last two years, together with my team on the ground, we have identified more than 200 investment opportunities across a range of industries and are eager to begin to put this generous funding to work.”

“Our company has a vision to help create a fully circular economy where every piece of post-consumer plastic ends up where it should be, finding new uses through recycling, reuse or repurposing,” said Jim Becker, vice president of polymers and sustainability at Chevron Phillips Chemical, in a statement. “Our investment with Circulate Capital plays an important role in ensuring plastics continue advancing the sustainable economy, amid growing product demand globally. In conjunction with Circulate Capital and so many other industry leaders, we look forward to identifying solutions with the potential for lasting change and achieving the goal of zero plastic waste entering the environment.”

Need to Know

SaaS Capital Provides $7M in Growth Funding to Leanpath

Pratt Foundation Donates $1M for COVID-19 Treatment

SaaS Capital, a credit provider to software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies, announced it has provided a $7 million line of credit to Leanpath, a global leader in food waste prevention technology.

“Leanpath exists to fight food waste. We know daily measurement is the critical step to vanquish food waste, and we’re committed to providing foodservice operators with the best technology to track waste, discover insights and act to drive reduction,” said Leanpath Co-founder and CEO Andrew Shakman in a statement. “We’re delighted to partner with SaaS Capital. Their credit approach is perfect for a mature, scaling business as we grow with clients globally and continue to innovate.”

For more than 15 years, Leanpath has helped foodservice organizations cut their food waste by 50 percent or more. The company’s platform empowers frontline foodservice workers with technology to make an impact on the environment while also improving operational efficiency.

“SaaS Capital is pleased to announce that it has provided Leanpath with a new $7 million credit facility,” said Rob Belcher, managing director of SaaS Capital, in a statement. “The company, which has an impactful mission to reduce food waste around the world, is in an exciting period of explosive growth, landing new business and expanding with existing customers. We are pleased they have chosen SaaS Capital to fund the next stage in their history.”

Need to Know

Michigan Hires Private Lawyers to File PFAS Lawsuits

Michigan Hires Private Lawyers to File PFAS Lawsuits

Michigan’s attorney general has become the latest to hire private lawyers to file lawsuits over per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) contamination.

Legal Newsline reports that Fields PLLC of Washington, D.C., will lead the team, which is also representing the state of Ohio in opioid litigation against distributors. Additionally, Michigan has already created the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team, which established the Science Advisory Workgroup.

States have begun filing PFAS lawsuits and deciding their own toxicity levels. Michigan’s plan to sue over PFAS contaminants in drinking water was announced months ago.

Legal Newsline has more details:

Michigan’s Dana Nessel has become the latest state attorney general to hire private lawyers to file a lawsuit over chemicals known as PFAS, setting up a tiered system to pay their contingency fee.

Fields PLLC of Washington, D.C., will lead the team, which is also representing the State of Ohio in opioid litigation against distributors. The Michigan contract and a press release do not specify which companies will be sued over the presence of PFAS, but it would be a safe bet to assume 3M and DuPont will be among them.

Read the full story here.

Need to Know

SWANA Lawrence Lecturer Recognized at WASTECON 2019

SWANA Lawrence Lecturer Recognized at WASTECON 2019

The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) awarded Harvey Gershman, founder owner associate and co-founder of Gershman, Brickner & Bratton, Inc. (GBB), the 2019 Lawrence Lecture Award at WASTECON 2019 in Phoenix this week.

SWANA’s Lawrence Lecturer Award is presented to an individual recognized as a national or international industry leader and expert with substantial, significant and sustained contributions to the solid waste management field. Recognition can be for work in research, management, publications, teaching and/or political action.

“Harvey Gershman has been a leader in the solid waste industry, and in SWANA, for decades. Harvey is a consummate industry professional, with experience in a wide variety of solid waste systems and topics, and has certainly earned his legacy in the industry,” said David Biderman, SWANA’s executive director and CEO, in a statement.

With a passion for the environment that stems from the first Earth Day in 1970, Harvey co-founded solid waste management consulting firm GBB nearly 40 years ago and dedicated his whole career to the development of innovative solutions that resulted in sustainable, efficient integrated waste management systems accepted by GBB's communities and leadership. He has managed the preparation of long-term plans, market studies, feasibility analyses, technology reviews, procurements and project financing activities for a broad range of solid waste management, recycling, composting and waste-to-energy projects worldwide. 

Harvey is also a career-long active SWANA member. He was a past International Board member, helped launch SWANA’s Recycling Technical Division and led the development and teaching of the “Paying for Your Integrated Solid Waste Management System” SWANA training course.

“I am honored to receive this award and thankful for all the friends, mentors, colleagues, clients and organizations that made it possible to pursue my passion for the environment throughout my career. I hope the forthcoming generation of solid waste management professionals can move the needle much further toward zero waste to landfill in the U.S.,” said Gershman in a statement.

Harvey was honored at WASTECON 2019: Pathway to Innovation in Phoenix, where he gave his Lawrence Lecturer keynote presentation. He provided his firsthand take into the evolution of solid waste management since the ‘70s; lessons learned along the way; insight into key projects; words of wisdom; and some interesting anecdotes based on his extensive industry experience.

If You Could Wave Your Magic Wand and Fix Recycling

If You Could Wave Your Magic Wand and Fix Recycling

Some will argue that the birthday of recycling is Earth Day, but in reality, recycling has always been happening to some level, especially since World War II, so it’s hard to pin it to a specific start day. Not a big deal, really, except without a birthday, there is no cake, and without the cake, there is no chance to make a wish, and this happens to be one of those years when we could really use that magical wish.

While China’s National Sword policy has caused a series of near-disaster circumstances for all of us in the recycling industry, it has also brought with it what could be a significant and long-term silver lining. Thanks to the resulting unprecedented media attention on recycling, we have equally unprecedented attention from policy makers at every level. They are asking what we need to do to fix recycling, including what policy changes need to be made. This has created a pivotal point in recycling’s history—an opportunity to come together to turn our wishful thinking into a productive big ask that fixes the underlying challenges that have plagued recycling long before China’s policies rocked the boat.

First, let’s address why policy is needed. In a nutshell, we use public policy to address market failures, when the natural activities in the free market undermine overall social welfare. In reality, the free market has always been stacked against recycling, and that’s only increasingly clear these days with record low prices. Without intervention, the free market does not optimize recycling, or more importantly, waste reduction or reuse, and it will not drive us toward a circular economy on its own. This isn’t a concession that recycling doesn’t work; it’s a concession that the free market isn’t fair and balanced because of current subsidies on resource extraction and the lack of accounting for environmental and social externalities.

Next, let’s talk about the scope of our policy wish. The Los Angeles Times recently penned a provocative op-ed to the California legislature asking them to think bigger on plastics reduction policies. The article was in response to recent legislation that banned small single-use plastics at hotels. The Times basically asked, "is that the best you can do?" It's time to go big, because there is no going back to a home that doesn't have plastics in our oceans, in the food we eat and in the water we drink.

So, here we are, with the power to make a big wish and have a good chance of success, only we have never spent time as an industry in outlining this ask, and as a consortium of stakeholders, we are often hard-pressed to all agree. But times have changed, and out of this recycling crisis has come a massive opportunity to right the ship. Here are a few big ideas for our big ask. It doesn't have to be one or the other. Maybe it's some or all of them, and maybe some are missing. I’ve been asking experts around the country and here's what I’ve heard. I'd love to hear from you, too.

Remove All Subsidies on Virgin Material Extraction

If we start from the position that recycling doesn’t function correctly because economics are broken, then the logical answer is to fix the economics. This could mean two things. First, remove the subsidies to virgin production that make it cheaper to produce virgin materials so recycled feedstocks can compete in a fair game. Second, put a tax on the harms caused by virgin extraction, like a carbon tax (see next). These harms are well-known in economics as externalities, and it's long overdue that we include them in the product costs. Together, these economic corrections move us toward a system of full cost accounting, where we make more informed decisions based on actual impacts. Provided we can do the accounting fairly, products with the lowest overall impacts would be cheaper, so it would be easier for consumers to make sustainable purchasing decisions.

Carbon Tax

If we have only 11 years to dramatically curb carbon emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, then this should be on the top of the list. It’s been promoted by leading world economists as one of the best and most needed solutions to reduce emissions. It would base recycling and materials decisions on their carbon impact, not just on the diversion rate, so it would drive more environmental benefits. It also would strongly encourage waste reduction and reuse, since these activities keep materials in use and store the embodied carbon, and it would stimulate more composting as a tremendous solution to pull carbon out of the atmosphere.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

EPR legislation has exploded in the U.S. in recent years with 118 policies across 33 states. While progress so far has focused on products like paint and electronics, there is ballooning interest in EPR policies on packaging and how to translate the systems in the Europen Union and Canada to the U.S. market. Studies are underway in Maine, Oregon and Washington, and it's safe to say many states are waiting in the wings to follow suit.

This push for EPR closely aligns with a national trend of cities actively pushing back against big business for transferring the costs of their products onto local communities. We see lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for the opioid crisis and against fossil fuel companies for the climate crisis. Cities don’t have the funds to continue underwriting recycling programs, and they shouldn’t be the ones to foot the bill. EPR is the best proven strategy to shift the costs away from cities and general taxpayers and onto the direct producers and consumers. It’s not perfect—there are issues to resolve around which models work best, how to truly drive product redesign or waste reduction, how to maintain the integrity of local recycling operations, the role of waste-to-energy, etc.—but it’s time we agree to move forward and start tackling those issues in reality rather than just debating them in the abstract.

Minimum Content Standards

Brands are almost tripping over themselves to make promises to buy more recycled materials, a response to seeing their products littering our beaches and waterways. By increasing or requiring more recycled content in products and packaging, we ensure there is a market to sell recycled materials and directly stimulate more domestic reprocessing in the U.S. Stronger demand for recycled materials is a key solution for improving the economics of recycling, yet we need to ensure those goals are met, as we have heard those promises before and they have fallen far short. And, with news that virgin polyethylene terephthalate plastics are now cheaper than recycled plastic feedstocks, we are again facing an economic barrier to improving recycling that may undermine some of the promises we’re hearing. While some states have adopted minimum content standards in the past, there are lots of questions about implementation. California recently vetoed a bill to increase recycled content in plastics, citing administrative burdens. This suggests national policy may be the best option for this policy rather than creating cumbersome, overlapping systems in each state.

National Bottle Bill

The bottle bill may be the singularly most effective policy to increase recycling rates for beverage containers, yet it also holds the title as one of the most divisive policy issues. But bold times call for bold measures, and bottle bills are having a resurgence around the world with systems underway in Scotland, Australia, India, Romania and elsewhere. There’s talk of a U.S. bottle bill for glass containers as a possible starting point or going for the whole shebang to cover all beverage containers, while also revitalizing and creating incentives for reuse and refill systems. While this policy only covers some packaging types, it is an effective tool in conjunction with other policy levers that address the economics of the larger recycling system and all packaging types.

Plastics Tax

Leading investment firms are warning about the risks of investing in plastics given the current backlash and are also promoting the opportunities to invest in alternative solutions. This demonstrates that the market is responding to social and environmental pressures, at least in a small way, but countries are still looking to drive change faster. The U.K. is developing a plan to tax all single-use plastics that contain less than 30 percent recycled content, and a voluntary tax on plastics made without recycled content has been proposed in Australia.

Both solutions aim to create economic incentives for more sustainable packaging, encourage greater use of recycled plastic and help reduce plastic waste. While they only address part of the waste stream, it’s a welcome idea to use market forces to address one of the largest problems and could be complementary to several other solutions above.

Carpe Diem

This is our “chopportuntity,” the chance to shift our mindset from challenge to opportunity. None of these solutions are going to materialize overnight, so while no single one may be perfect, it’s time we set aside our fears about the details and get moving on a transition. Birthday wishes only come once a year, so let’s make the most of ours so we’re in a better place this time next year.

Kate Bailey is the policy and research director for Eco-Cycle and helps citizens, government staff and elected officials implement zero waste solutions.

Companies Make Construction Products from Recycled Materials

Companies Make Construction Products from Recycled Materials

A circular economy is aimed at eliminating waste and promoting the continual use of resources. Circular systems create a closed loop through reuse, sharing, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling. While many U.S. companies look for ways to implement circular economy systems, several are making construction and industrial products utilizing recycled materials.

GreenMantra Technologies, a clean technology company based in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, upcycles post-consumer and post-industrial recycled plastics—shopping bags and dried-up markers—into synthetic polymers and additives for industrial applications—asphalt and roof shingles.

“Our mission is to advance the circular economy by beneficially reusing plastics to create value-added products for industrial applications, thereby significantly reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills or our oceans,” says Jodie Morgan, CEO of GreenMantra.

The Canadian company utilizes a catalytic depolymerization process to create polymer additives and synthetic waxes from recycled plastic feedstocks. The additives function as performance enhancers and processing aids in the production of residential roofing shingles, commercial roofing membranes and waterproofing underlayments. The materials also are utilized in plastic composites for decking and profiles, as well as plastic products like industrial packaging, waste bins and storage containers.

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“Often, manufacturers must make sacrifices if they want to utilize post-use plastics in their formulations. GreenMantra’s polymers and polymer additives defy that model,” says Morgan. “In each application, our additives enhance performance, durability and strength of the end use product while also improving the operational efficiency and reducing overall formulation costs.”

GreenMantra products are utilized in a variety of end applications—roofing, roads, plastics and composites—and each has a specific set of fitness-for-use requirement. It has partnered with companies like Crayola to recycle spent plastic markers and convert them into additives that are used by Malarkey, a major roofing product manufacturer.

“GreenMantra translates these specific application requirements into defined physical properties for our products and then precisely manufactures each product to those defined physical properties and specifications,” says Morgan. “For example, GreenMantra’s products have the unique polymer structure to be compatible with asphalt used in roofing shingles and help to increase the durability and flexibility of the shingle so it is more resistant to impact (deformation) from hailstones and creates a longer-lasting product.”

Another company making a construction product from recycled material is Artis Wall, a brand of Waddell Manufacturing based in Grand Rapids, Mich. The company uses reclaimed barn wood planks for installation on walls. The planks are installed utilizing a Velcro system, which makes them reusable and will not damage the wall.

“When we reclaim the barn wood off of barns, we install a new plank behind each of the old planks,” says Will Kimmerle, creator of the Artis Wall by Waddell. “This restores the barn in the process of reclaiming the wood. We believe in maintaining the beauty and history of each and every barn.”

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As each plank is produced, it is stamped with a special code. The code can be entered on the company’s website and will display a picture of the original barn and history behind the barn where that specific plank came from. Additionally, the sawdust from the production process is sold and used as cattle bedding.

“We are adamant about using all waste. We are even encouraging employees to transition to electric vehicles by installing car chargers at our manufacturing facility,” says Kimmerle.

For GreenMantra, sustainability is the foundation of its business model. In 2019, the company commissioned a new facility that upcycles waste polystyrene (No. 6 PS, Styrofoam, foam cups, foam packaging, etc.) into performance polymers.

“The plastics industry is under mounting pressure to shift from a linear economy to a circular economy. This will require a paradigm shift in the attitudes of manufacturers, governments and consumers,” says Morgan. “GreenMantra’s technology is acting as a catalyst for this shift by demonstrating that companies do not have to sacrifice quality or margin to participate in the circular economy.”