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Vision – A Circular Economy for Plastics

These and other initiatives embody a vision for plastics that leads to a circular economy, in which plastics are recovered and repurposed instead of disposed, keeping these valuable materials out of the environment.

Plastics provide a number of environmental benefits. Because plastics are often lighter than other materials, they allow us to use fewer resources to fulfill many of the same functions, and that often helps to reduce energy use, our carbon footprint, and even the amount of waste we generate. But all of us need to do a better job of collecting, reusing or repurposing plastics after we use them. And plastics makers are working to help change that.

Like other materials, the production and consumption of plastics has largely followed the linear model: “make, use, dispose.” The result: not enough plastics are being recovered or repurposed.

This old, unsustainable “make, use, dispose” model needs to be replaced with a sustainable, circular model in which used plastics are recovered and repurposed rather than disposed… a model that not only keeps plastics out of the environment but also harnesses their inherent value to create new products.

A Commitment to a Circular Economy for Plastics

To create a new, sustainable model that recovers and repurposes plastics, America’s Plastic Makers have pledged to reuse, recycle, or recover 100 percent of used plastic packaging in the United States by 2040.

It will not be easy. In fact, it will be very difficult. But it must be done.

Here’s the path forward.

Recover Plastics by Optimizing Collection

While some used plastics are collected for recycling and repurposing, far too many are not. We need to recover those plastics. Today’s plastics collection programs must be optimized to collect and sort more used plastics, which will help keep them out of the environment… and allow us to use to repurpose them in different ways.

Here’s a sampling of what America’s Plastic Makers are doing to optimize collection and recovery of used plastics in the United States.

  • Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF) – A research initiative that studies the potential to collect flexible plastic packaging through curbside recycling programs
  • Plastics Recycling Terms & Tools – A common set of plastics recycling terms to help communities collect and recover more plastics
  • Recover More Plastic – A program that provides tools and resources that enable communities to collect plastics at curbside that typically have not been recycled
  • Recycle and Recover Plastics – A web-based portal that makes it easier for recycling professionals and communities access tools that enable them to collect more plastics
  • Wrap Recycling Action Program – Collaborative community programs coupled with consumer information on how to collect plastic bags and wraps
  • Plastic Film Recycling – An online resource to educate consumers, recycling professionals, and retailers about how to recycle plastic bags, wraps, and film packaging
  • The Recycling Partnership – A non-profit organization dedicated to expanding access and improving curbside recycling programs across the United States through private-public partnerships
  • Public Policy – Advocacy for legislation to strengthen plastics collection

See what America’s Plastic Makers are doing globally to recover used plastics here.

Repurpose Plastics – Expanding Markets

Once plastics are recovered, they need robust, expanded markets. This will require growing access to traditional and emerging technologies that repurpose used plastics into multiple valuable products.

Once collected and sorted, used plastic packaging typically has been mechanically processed/recycled: cleaned, heated, and formed back into resin pellets (the basic plastic raw material). This recycled material is then reused to make new plastic products, parts, and packaging.

Beyond mechanical processing, innovative technologies today also can convert used plastics into multiple products, such as industrial chemicals/products, transportation fuels, and even raw materials to create new plastics. For example, some technologies break down plastics into their molecular building blocks to be repurposed into various valuable materials, including new plastics.

These technologies can significantly expand the markets for used plastics (both in the United States and globally), which will help keep plastics out of the environment and in productive use.

Here’s a sampling of what America’s Plastic Makers are doing to expand markets and repurpose used plastics in the United States.

See what America’s Plastic Makers are doing globally to repurpose used plastics here.

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