Obstacles to Circularity
Several obstacles exist to meeting the goal of 100 percent of plastic packaging repurposed by 2040. There is a bit of a “chicken and egg” quandary: should we collect all plastic packaging and hope there are markets for it… or should we pledge to create products from materials that are not yet collected? Increased supply and demand must be harmonized to be successful.
While the Roadmap to Reuse lays out the steps necessary to achieve circularity for plastic packaging, below are some of the obstacles that will need to be surmounted.
To create materials for consumption by companies, an adequate and reliable supply of plastic materials must be collected, sorted, and processed into recycled content materials. These responsibilities typically have been the duties of communities and their recycling stakeholders, including residents, trash/recycling collectors, material recovery facilities, and materials processors. To date, the systems established by these stakeholders have not been adequate to collect and process substantial amounts of plastic packaging. New partnerships and technologies will be needed to dramatically ramp up this process.
Once collected, used plastic packaging needs to find a home. While there are companies already are using recycled plastics in their products and packaging, today there is not enough demand to provide a market for all used plastic packaging if collected. Increased demand for products made from repurposed plastics is essential to meet the goal of 100 percent recycled plastic packaging by 2040.
The glue required to hold together supply and demand is infrastructure: public participation, collection, transportation, separation, processing, distribution, and consumption of materials made from use plastic packaging. Today, this infrastructure is inadequate to handle all used plastic packaging. A robust infrastructure of local, regional, and national players is essential to meet recycling goals.
Today’s technologies for collecting, sorting, and processing used plastics are inadequate to achieve circularity for plastic packaging. However, emerging technologies are expected to enable communities and companies to collect and reuse all plastic packaging by 2040.
A simple Internet search for “which plastics are recyclable?” will reveal a panoply of conflicting answers. To meet recycling goals, the public, communities (and their recycling stakeholders), and companies will need a reliable source of information on plastics recycling – and consistent communications.