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Filling the Gap: Unique Industry Council Aligns on First Milestone for Unlocking the Pathway to Circularity for Packaging

PRESS RELEASE FROM THE RECYCLING PARTNERSHIP
May 13, 2021

Falls Church, Va. (May 13, 2021) – The public is calling for more things to be recyclable but the path to cement that future remains unclear.  That is why The Recycling Partnership has convened the Pathway to Circularity Industry Council (the Circularity Council) to assess what actions must take place to help the U.S. recycling system accept more packaging.

Stakeholders from across the recycling industry have been calling for a much-needed transparent and inclusive process to assess packaging recyclability. With the Circularity Council (see full list of members here), The Recycling Partnership is answering that call by engaging 35 senior industry leaders representing various material types, brands, government, Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs), NGOs, retailers, and trade associations.  This group will address the missing and needed determinants for recyclability of packaging, initiating a national engagement around solution building.

“Packaging recyclability is critical to reaching a circular economy. Many companies are committed to delivering 100% recyclable packaging. Yet, the process to reach that goal has been unclear and at no point in the assessment of a package’s recyclability is the industry that is most impacted, consistently consulted,” said Sarah Dearman, Vice President of Circular Ventures at The Recycling Partnership.  “The Recycling Partnership brought together this first-of-its-kind Circularity Council in 2020 to address this challenge through a clear, inclusive process to improve the U.S. residential recycling system – and we are already seeing progress.”

Advancing a package to be commonly accepted for recycling is complex and ambiguous today. The Recycling Partnership set out to deliver clarity by collaborating with industry leaders to create an action-oriented and solutions-based framework positioned to resolve the industry’s unanswered questions through the Pathway to Circularity initiative. The Pathway to Circularity defines five building blocks – packaging fate, capture journey, design for circularity, package prevalence, and MRF and community adoption— to help brands successfully navigate current and future packaging and recycling system challenges, making circularity tangible. The initiative strives to deliver new depth to industry conversations and bring to light the interdependence of the varying factors that shape recycling and circularity.

“This is the beginning of a massive, system-changing concept, driving us toward a circular economy for all materials, but more stakeholder engagement is imperative for true industry adoption,” Dearman said.  “The councilmembers’ leadership to help set the course is invaluable. We are eager to engage even more stakeholders throughout the value chain to collaborate on and scale these solutions.”

Recently, the Circularity Council aligned upon the first of several much-needed thresholds for determining a package’s recyclability. The threshold the Council aligned on is for the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) Capture Rate, defined as the percentage of packaging or material that enters the MRF and is subsequently captured in the correct bale or bunker to be sent to market. The Circularity Council aligned that a new product’s packaging should not be considered recyclable unless the MRF Capture rate is 90%.  Setting a high recommended threshold rejuvenates trust in the recycling system and ensures residents can be confident that what they put in their bin is recycled and given a second life. This is one of several thresholds the Council will be aligning on which will be supported by significant stakeholder engagement to provide a forum for voices to be heard.

This milestone is an important first step toward bringing necessary clarity to the U.S. residential recycling system so that packaging producers have the information they need on their materials to ensure recyclability. With guidance such as this, packaging designers and brands will have clearer targets to help make products more recyclable.  As the Council continues to set further recommended thresholds, The Recycling Partnership will be further engaging the industry on how to integrate and embed into future guidelines.

As an initiative of The Recycling Partnership, the Circularity Council is a cohesive network with the ability to break down barriers and catalyze system change; it is aligned on the overarching framework and key challenges and is now working toward solutions. Swift action is needed to protect natural resources and abate climate change, and The Partnership stands ready to act and assist brands with their ambitious packaging sustainability targets.  However, reaching a circular economy is not possible without meaningful U.S. recycling system change and industry consensus.

In the 2019 "Bridge to Circularity" report, The Recycling Partnership provided a clear roadmap to transform recycling, one of many steps needed to catalyze a circular economy in the U.S. That transition from a linear economy requires systems change – and that’s what the Pathway to Circularity Initiative, with its Circularity Council, hopes to achieve. 

While "commonly accepted for recycling" is currently the focal point of the Pathway to Circularity initiative, attaining this status for different materials is not an endpoint, but a milestone.  Each material in the recycling stream will have its own unique path and challenges to advance its circularity. The Pathway to Circularity will provide a strategic assessment that informs efforts to address challenges at each step in a circular supply chain.

To learn more about the Circularity Council or our Pathway to Circularity, visit: recyclingpartnership.org/circulareconomy

About The Recycling Partnership

The Recycling Partnership is the action agent transforming the U.S. residential recycling system for good. Our team operates at every level of the recycling value chain and works on the ground with thousands of communities to transform underperforming recycling programs and tackle circular economy challenges. As the leading organization in the country that engages the full recycling supply chain, from working with companies to make their packaging more circular and help them meet climate and sustainability goals, to working with government to develop policy solutions to address the systemic needs of the U.S. recycling system, The Recycling Partnership positively impacts recycling at every step in the process. Since 2014, the nonprofit change agent diverted 375 million pounds of new recyclables from landfills, saved 968 million gallons of water, avoided more than 420,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases, and drove significant reductions in targeted contamination rates. Learn more at recyclingpartnership.org.

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