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Episode 181: Sustainable Collaboration Across the Public/Private Sector -- Common Goals & Aspirations

In our latest episode of NothingWasted!, we bring you a dynamic session from WasteExpo 2022: Sustainable Collaboration Across the Public/Private Sector – Common Goals and Aspirations. The discussion centered on the idea that, while many companies and organizations may have their own sustainability strategies, it is through collaboration that the most good can be achieved. A program in Baltimore, Maryland, was highlighted as an example of a successful public-private partnership that has helped increase recycling rates.

Liz Bothwell

January 30, 2023

In our latest episode of NothingWasted!, we bring you a dynamic session from WasteExpo 2022: Sustainable Collaboration Across the Public/Private Sector – Common Goals and Aspirations.  

The discussion centered on the idea that, while many companies and organizations may have their own sustainability strategies, it is through collaboration that the most good can be achieved. A program in Baltimore, Maryland, was highlighted as an example of a successful public-private partnership that has helped increase recycling rates.  

Here’s a sneak peek into the conversation:

Oldendorf started off by discussing the long-running need for city-issued curbside recycling carts, “especially with lids.” She noted that Baltimore’s recycling collection has always been performed by the city and that residents don’t have to sign up or pay a separate fee for service—but a lot of people were not aware of it, and the fact that people had to use their own containers created an array of problems. Residents felt that there was a lack of accessibility for recycling. Oldendorf also noted that, as a waterfront city, there is great importance in keeping litter and pollutants out of the storm-drain systems and waterways.  

Thanks to help from TRP, the city’s Civic Fund, Dow, the American Beverage Association Closed Loop Partners, and Rerhig Pacific, Baltimore was able to go from zero curbside recycling bins to 100% curbside recycling bins—nearly 200,000—in 2021. Specifically, the first-of-its-kind collaboration involved a $3.6 million investment from The Recycling Partnership (consisting of $1.65 million from the beverage industry), a plastic resin donation for the recycling carts from Dow, and large, lidded rollout recycling carts manufactured by Rehrig Pacific. This was all bolstered by a $3 million investment from Closed Loop Partners’ Infrastructure Fund, which finances projects that grow and strengthen recycling and circular economy infrastructure in the United States.  

Ronk spoke about how Dow has always tried to find opportunities for “plastics with purpose.” In the past this included donating trash bags to organizations doing litter collection. Donating resin for trashcans is, she acknowledged, more complicated, but by partnering with Rehrig Pacific, Dow was able to do so first in Milwaukee and then in Baltimore. It is meaningful to the company, she notes, because “carts with lids are important,” to keep materials from escaping into waterways. And, “Frankly, we want to sell more recycled plastic—and if we’re going to have the feedstock that we need, we need everybody to have recycling to get that back.” 

Ronk went on to talk about Dow’s 10-year sustainability goals, which the company has been setting since 2005. In addition, last year it created “breakthrough targets: to stop the waste, close the loop, and protect the climate.” The “stop the waste” goal, Ronk noted, included that Dow’s investments would help 1 million metric tons of plastic be stopped from going to the environment or landfill by 2030.  For “close the loop,” Dow wants all of its resin sold into packaging applications to be recyclable by 2035. 

Oldendorf went on to discuss how the program was executed in the middle of the Covid pandemic and how important the Civic Fund was in being able to pull all of the donation packages together “and be our financial partner in this.” The city handled the logistics and operations, but “we really needed the Civic Fund partnership and everyone’s generous donations to pull it all together.”  

The speakers went on to discuss the complexities of in-kind donations; the various finding mechanisms required to execute public-private partnerships; ongoing initiatives from TRP, and more. As a closing thought, Ronk summed things up well by saying how important it is to look for “new and different kinds of collaborations.”  

Listen to the full episode above.  

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About the Author(s)

Liz Bothwell

Head of Content & Marketing, Waste360

Liz Bothwell is head of content and marketing for Waste360, proud host of the NothingWasted! Podcast, and ghostwrites for others to keep her skills sharp and creative juices flowing. She loves family, football, her French bulldogs, and telling stories that can help to make the world a more sustainable place.

Follow her on Linkedin or Twitter

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