Near the end of 2019, we asked folks associated with the plastics industry what was on their wish list for the coming year, and they responded in droves. So, I thought it would be a good idea to repeat the exercise at the end of 2020, but in a more focused manner. Rather than ask an open-ended question and harvest answers that invariably would lead with the hope for an end to the pandemic, I asked what was on their wish list for the incoming Biden administration. Bad idea! I got only a couple of responses, which are shared below. My guess is that a combination of politics fatigue and an understandable reluctance to express even the most benign opinion in our polarized moment turned people off.
Nevertheless, a big thank you to Tony Radoszewski, President and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association, and Mark Costa, Board Chair and CEO of Eastman, for sharing their thoughts. Both of them make an appeal for collaboration — dare I say bipartisanship — to move society forward in a meaningful way. It’s certainly a message with which I wholeheartedly agree, but read on to find out what’s on my wish list for the new administration.
Support jobs of over one million plastics industry workers.
“Our wish from the Biden administration is to continue to support the jobs of over one million plastics industry workers and improve recycling infrastructure in the United States,” writes Radoszewski. “Supporting these jobs will provide innovation and economic growth. In addition, a number of important proposals in Congress will move our country in the right direction. We hope to see them become law in the next session. These include the RECOVER Act to improve collection and sorting of recyclable materials; the RECYCLE Act to fund public awareness of recycling options; and the Plastic Waste Reduction and Recycling Act to develop new recycling technologies. Through bipartisan cooperation and hard work, we can develop workable policy solutions that allow us to reach our sustainability goals,” concludes Radoszewski.
Build for a sustainable future.
Recycling is also front of mind for Eastman’s Costa. “My wish is for open lines of communication and collaboration that bring us together to reimagine recycling as we know it,” he writes. “Plastic is invaluable to feed the world and keep us safe. But the world has an urgent plastic waste problem. At Eastman we believe in reduce, reuse, and recycle, and are investing in technology to enable all three.” Costa notes that Eastman has established ambitious goals to recycle more than 250 million pounds of waste plastic by 2025 and 500 million by 2030 via molecular recycling technologies that, Eastman claims, have substantially lower carbon emissions. “The world needs advanced recycling solutions, like Eastman’s and those of our industry peers, to be part of the solution — it’s simply not possible to solve the global waste crisis otherwise,” writes Costa. “We also need a more robust recycling infrastructure and a change in consumer behavior, and the incoming administration can help provide the economics for that. We must all come together on the strategy for how to build toward a sustainable future.”
Build back even better.
At the top of my wish list for the Biden administration is a deep focus on infrastructure. It seems like every presidential candidate during my adult life has promised some sort of infrastructure program and then promptly ignored it once in office. It was a big part of candidate Trump’s platform, until the program devolved into a show-and-tell “infrastructure week” and ultimately became a running joke. Biden has pledged to make a sweeping infrastructure package a central legislative priority. Sure, we’ve heard it before, but hope springs eternal, and here’s why it could be a boon for the plastics industry and recycling efforts.
Advanced recycling offers a real solution to the plastic waste problem, but the technology is expensive. While industry and a number of startups have stepped up to the plate, a concerted public-private effort around comprehensive waste collection and a robust recycling infrastructure would create jobs and position the United States among the vanguard of nations implementing a circular economy.
More generally, plastics has a role to play in repairing and rebuilding our infrastructure, from bridges on the verge of collapse and makeshift roadways to aging water-management systems. PlasticsToday has published several articles highlighting the use of recycled plastic to pave streets, including this one about a pilot project in Los Angeles. The advantages of plastic pipes for use in water infrastructure projects and the sundry benefits of polymers in building and construction have been amply demonstrated over the years.
“Build back better” is Biden’s slogan. Even though the slogan itself could have been constructed with more flair — it doesn’t so much roll as stumble off the tongue — the intention is laudable. Now, all he has to do is follow through on his promise. A big ask, I know.