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US Chamber of Commerce Foundation takes ‘Beyond 34’ to two additional cities

The program will work with local stakeholders in Austin, Texas, and Philadelphia to help make their recycling and waste management efforts more sustainable

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November 23, 2021

Austin, Texas, and Philadelphia are the next cities to join Beyond 34: Scaling Circularity for a Sustainable Economy, the multistakeholder initiative from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Austin and Philadelphia were chosen because of their commitment to sustainability and the opportunity that exists for significant economic and environmental impact through circular solutions, the foundation says.  

Exacerbated by the COVID-induced labor shortages, supply chain disruptions and shifting consumer patterns, America’s waste collection systems continue to face major challenges, with the U.S. recycling rate hovering in the mid-30 percent range in recent decades. To help address these issues, Beyond 34 provides a model for high-impact waste solutions that can be scaled for implementation in regions across the country, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation says. 

Beyond 34 was launched in Orlando, Florida, in 2017 with funding from the Walmart Foundation, Target, Republic Services and Walgreens in collaboration with Resource Recycling Systems (RRS), Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 2019 it expanded to Cincinnati and aims to demonstrate how to optimize recycling and recovery of high-value materials generated from commercial, industrial and residential sources. 

“For five years, the Beyond 34 initiative has helped communities improve their local recycling, reuse and recovery rates and provided a collaborative platform for the business community to lead in developing solutions that advance the circular economy in the U.S.,” says Marc DeCourcey, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber Foundation, which is based in Washington. “We welcome Austin and Philadelphia as the newest cities to join our movement and look forward to seeing the progress they achieve.”

The foundation says Beyond 34 helps communities and businesses build sustainable local economies by applying a three-phased model: engage stakeholders across the waste management value chain; conduct analysis to identify areas of greatest impact; and empower communities to implement solutions.

As one of the fastest growing cities in America, Austin is prioritizing sustainability as a path to prosperity. The city is working toward its goal of reducing the amount of trash sent to landfills by 90 percent by 2040 and has a number of programs that help residents grow the local circular economy. For example, Austin engaged zero waste “block leaders” to educate neighbors on recycling and composting, the plastics recycling system and more.

“We know our ambitious goals for a circular economy here in Austin can’t be reached alone. We need the support of our nonprofit partners, businesses who share our values, and other cities that can pass along their own wisdom--we’re all ears and we want to learn,” Steve Adler, mayor of Austin, says. “That’s why we jumped at the chance to be a part of the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s exciting work in the Beyond 34 initiative.”

Philadelphia is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and is working toward a goal to become 90 percent zero waste and litter-free by 2035. Philadelphia uses data through its SmartCityPHL program to help it become more efficient and improve the quality of life for its residents.

“We are working diligently to make ‘smart city’ an overarching planning paradigm in Philadelphia, much like the term ‘sustainability’ has become,” says Mark Wheeler, chief information officer for the city. “We need innovative tech, quality data and partnerships—especially partnerships like the ones through the Beyond 34 initiative—to achieve a local circular economy that will provide equitable job opportunities, create resilient communities and support global climate goals.”

The Chamber of Commerce Foundation says that through tools like Beyond 34’s Recycling and Recovery Resources Hub, cities across the country can learn from other regions that are addressing barriers and driving action toward waste elimination. 

Since its launch, The Coca-Cola Co., Coca-Cola Consolidated, Kroger Co., Dow, the Plastics Industry Association, Procter and Gamble, Republic Services, Target, Walgreens Boots Alliance and the Walmart Foundation have supported the Beyond 34 program, with Walmart.org and Walgreens funding the expansion to Austin and Philadelphia.

“The Beyond 34 model provides important insights and resources to cities and regions around the country,” says Chelsea Scantlan, sustainability program officer at Walmart.org. “The Walmart Foundation is proud to support the expansion of Beyond 34 to Austin and Philadelphia. Strong policy and public sector activities to reduce waste are critical supplements to private sector investments. Shifting to behaving and operating in a circular economy will require everyone to work strategically together—exactly the kind of systemic change we are working to enable at the Walmart Foundation.”

“Beyond 34 is a perfect way to bring like-minded problem-solvers together to deal with things like waste, recycling and problematic plastics,” John Kotlarczyk, senior director, waste reduction, Walgreens Boots Alliance, says. “By collaborating with members of the communities we serve and other businesses in those communities, we are certain that we can make an impact. By lending our support, we are not only doing our part but hopefully inspiring others to do their part as well.”