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US Plastics Industry Offers Congress a National Recycling Strategy

Image: Chones/Adobe Stock plastic bottles forming recycling symbol
Proposals include boosting recycled content in plastic packaging and enabling greater adoption of advanced recycling technologies.

Leading American plastics companies have developed a set of five proposals geared to helping the US Congress establish a comprehensive, national strategy for addressing plastic waste that will emphasize greater plastics recycling and reuse. The American Chemistry Council (ACC), Washington, DC, announced the proposals on July 13, 2021.

The proposals come in response to consumer demand and are designed to realign incentives within the recycling industry; boost investment in advanced recycling technology; and establish national guidelines for plastic recycling, producer responsibility, and use of recycled plastic.

The proposals encourage Congress to:

  1. Create a national recycled plastics standard that would require at least 30% recycled plastic content in all plastic packaging by 2030.
  2. Develop a regulatory system that would enable rapid scaling of advanced recycling while accommodating continued growth of mechanical recycling.
  3. Direct the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and US Department of Energy (DOE) to design a national recycling framework for plastics through the cooperation of municipalities and participants in the plastics value chain.
  4. Have the National Academy of Sciences conduct a study to compare the impacts of raw materials and to use the study’s results to develop future policies.
  5. Create an American-designed producer responsibility system for packaging of all kinds, including plastics, to raise funding for improving recycling access, collection, and education.

“It’s time to accelerate the circular economy for plastic packaging,” said Joshua Baca, ACC’s Vice President, Plastics, in a prepared statement. “We need Congress to act on a comprehensive national strategy that will capture the value of used plastic by engaging the entire plastics value chain, from plastic makers to brand companies to all Americans.

“We’re proposing a new way of looking at plastic waste that will lead to a circular economy in which plastics are routinely reused. These policies will divert plastic waste from landfills and our ocean, conserve natural resources, and help drive down greenhouse gas emissions.”

Achieving the plan’s first proposal — boosting recycled plastic content to 30% in plastic packaging — will require more use of advanced recycling. Studies conducted by Independent Commodity Intelligence Services (ICIS) Consulting indicate that a packaging recycling rate of only 16% can be achieved by 2040 with mechanical recycling. However, the 30% target for recycled content in plastic packaging could be reached by 2030 through a combination of chemical and mechanical recycling.

Increasing the overall plastic recycling rate would help brands that are already committed to using more recycled plastics in packaging to achieve their sustainability goals. According to ACC, more than 400 global brands are in this category. The organization also claims that advanced recycling would permit recycled plastics to be used more extensively in demanding applications such as food, pharmaceutical, and medical packaging

The plastics industry’s proposals align with consumers’ opinions on recycling. A survey commissioned by ACC and conducted in June 2021 by BCW, ACC’s communications agency, showed that 83% of Americans support the industry taking “big, bold steps to address plastic waste.” In addition, 82% of those surveyed are looking for solutions that enable plastics to be reused, and 84% support advanced recycling technologies that convert plastic waste into new plastics and products. The survey polled 1,412 American adults.

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