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Sustainability Talks

Collaborating Across the Value Chain to Modernize Waste Infrastructure

Billy Hustace/Getty Images recycling facility
Over the past two years, I’ve witnessed our environment become even more fragile as cities across the country faced severe budget cuts to zero-waste services like recycling. This tenuous system of waste infrastructure was pushed to the brink over the past two years, as funding dipped, and frontline waste workers were exhausted. This does not have to be our reality. It’s time to invest in recycling that works.

I count myself lucky to live in one of the most vibrant regions of the world. At the literal crossroads of U.S. metropolitan behemoths – New York City, Boston and New Haven – my family and I have access from our suburban home to a vast wonderland of culture, nature and industry. Yet, at times when this wonderland is littered with debris, it can feel as though it’s part of our metropolitan surrounding. But it shouldn’t be.

Over the past two years, I’ve witnessed our environment become even more fragile as cities across the country faced severe budget cuts to zero-waste services like recycling. The United States is home to more than 10,000 decentralized recycling systems and an overall frayed infrastructure that has been given a C- on its report card by the American Society for Civil Engineers. This tenuous system of waste infrastructure was pushed to the brink over the past two years, as funding dipped, and frontline waste workers were exhausted.

This does not have to be our reality. It’s time to invest in recycling that works. It’s time to double down on our investments in U.S. infrastructure for waste and recycling.

One organization, Closed Loop Partners, a New York-based investment fund focused on building the circular economy, is leading the charge to realize a new future for our cities. With an eye towards the mutual home region of the New York tri-state area, Closed Loop Partners most recently invested in Sims Municipal Recycling, in order to help them modernize infrastructure to improve service and increase sustainability. Sims Municipal Recycling operates some of the highest volume recycling services in the country, with facilities servicing the New York-New Jersey region. Sims processes and markets over 200,000 tons of plastic, glass and metal collected in New York every year, the majority of which flows through the Sunset Park Materials Recovery Facility in Brooklyn – the largest dual-stream recycling facility in North America.

Closed Loop Partners’ investment is important, and it will allow Sims to increase their services and reroute even more valuable recyclables from landfills, returning them to the manufacturing value chain. What’s more, it also brings significant social and economic opportunities, such as job creation and limiting the costs related to transporting waste to far-away landfills. The partnership with Sims was made possible by investments from circularity luminaries such as Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, as well as the Closed Loop Circular Plastics Fund, a multi-million dollar fund set up in collaboration with Dow, LyondellBasell, & NOVA Chemicals.

Other cities across the country are seeing similar investments in an array of crucial areas in infrastructure that make recycling work. As a first step, cities should ensure that they have the basic infrastructure needed to maintain and increase recycling rates—this means getting carts and trucks on the road for collection. The City of Baltimore, in collaboration with The Recycling Partnership, Dow and several other partners, has undertaken impressive efforts toward scaling collection infrastructure, in addition to imperative behavior change and education programs to ensure that materials are clean and sorted for collection.

The best partnerships are often ones that deliver a proof-of-concept locally and are scalable globally. In addition to helping the New York region recover from the long shadow of the pandemic, Closed Loop Partner’s investment in Sims will go a long way in increasing the circularity and sustainability of one of the country’s largest recycling circuits. This is critical to change the current landscape: despite the fact that more than 35.7 million tons of plastic is generated in the United States every year, the current supply of recycled plastics meets just 6% of the demand for the most common plastics in the U.S. and Canada. We need to, and can do, better than that.

This status quo is unacceptable. If we are to limit the effects that our consumption and waste have on the environment and our daily lives, it’s time to double down on our investments in infrastructure. To my fellow business leaders: join us at Dow and support expanded investments in waste infrastructure to keep our communities clean and turn the tide on waste.

TAGS: Recycling
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