The Recycling Partnership, Falls Church, Virginia, has released its "2022 Impact Report," detailing its work with communities, material recovery facilities (MRFs), materials manufacturers, brands and retailers and people. The report presents a future system where:
- all households can recycle;
- people know what and how to recycle;
- MRFs are fully modernized;
- stakeholders work together to overcome material-specific obstacles to recycling;
- packaging that enters the system is designed for or on a path to recyclability; and
- recycling has a sustainable public-private funding stream based on smart policy.
With regard to economic impact, The Recycling Partnership has invested $95 million to date, accumulating $241 million in total value creation, including:
- $163 million in capital and state investments in recycling;
- $24 million in new recyclables collected;
- $19 million in technical assistance to cities and states;
- $16 million in carbon savings;
- $13 million in avoided landfill costs; and
- $6 million in member consulting.
Solving with communities
The state of Michigan, which established the goal of increasing statewide recycling from 14 percent in 2019 to 45 percent by 2030, is receiving assistance from The Partnership. The Partnership has provided support with contributions such as carts for curbside recycling, improved drop-off recycling, enhanced MRF operations and the Feet on the Street program to improve the quantity and quality of material captured. In the first year of this collaboration, contamination in curbside collection programs was reduced by 35 percent, while contamination in drop-off programs was reduced by 26 percent and participation across most involved communities increased by 10 percent.
In Orlando, Florida, The Partnership focused on access to recycling for multifamily communities, which the organization says are among the most underserved in the U.S. The Partnership conferred a grant to the city that funded a full-time city employee to serve as a multifamily recycling project manager. Overall, the city added recycling services to 21,500 multifamily units in the first year of this four-year project. Increased participation in the city’s recycling program led to an additional 2.2 million pounds of recyclables diverted from landfills in the program’s first year.
A $10 million-plus public-private partnership between Baltimore and The Recycling Partnership delivered nearly 200,000 free curbside recycling carts to households in the city. The report says this is the largest partnership to modernize recycling to date and enables safer and more efficient collection while minimizing waste in waterways. The amount of recovered recyclables is expected to increase by 80 percent, generating more than 40 million new valuable recyclables every year.
The report notes the Recycling Inclusion Fund, a dedicated funding stream created by The Partnership that focuses on adapting the recycling industry through research, infrastructure and education and leadership opportunities in the Black, Indigenous and people of color, or BIPOC, community.
Solving with MRFs
To tackle aluminum can sorting problems, The Partnership launched an aluminum beverage can capture MRF grant program to invest in eddy-current separators, robotic sorters, other equipment and process improvement to capture more cans during the sortation process. Five grants were made to MRFs across the U.S. in 2021.
Overall, the equipment installed at MRFs from the five 2021 can capture grants will result in an 71 million aluminum cans recycled every year, the report says. According to the Can Manufacturers Institute’s impact calculator, this will lead to an additional $1.15 million of revenue generated for the U.S. recycling system and energy savings that could power more than 28 million U.S. homes for one hour.
The Partnership’s Polypropylene Recycling Coalition, founded in July 2020, has made more than $6 million in grants for sorting equipment at MRFs and consumer education programs in communities. These funds, the report says, will impact nearly 18 million Americans and improve curbside polypropylene recycling access for nearly 7 percent of U.S. households.
Solving with materials manufacturers
The Partnership leads three material-specific coalitions: The Polypropylene Recycling, the Film and Flexibles Recycling Coalition and the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) Recycling Coalition, formed in 2022. Advancing the recyclability of one material type improves the system for all by increasing the amount of material captured and reducing contamination, the organization says.
Orange County, Florida, began to work with The Partnership in light of a nearly 40 percent contamination rate in its curbside recycling program. The program reduced contamination by 29 percent, improving material value by 23 percent and generating 40 million pounds of recyclables annually. Materials processed at the county’s MRFs increased tenfold from 2020 to 2021 as well. Based on the report, the program with the county has the potential to recover $3.6 million in recycled material value when implemented countywide.
Solving with brands and retailers
The Residential Recyclability Framework, a part of The Partnership’s Pathway to Circularity for Packaging that provides users a step-by-step process to assess packaging recyclability, was opened for public comment in August 2021. The Partnership received more than 750 individual comments from 70 organizations, which were incorporated to establish the Circular Packaging Assessment Tool, an interactive version of the framework.
Another tool presented in the report is Plastic IQ, a free digital strategy-building tool that allows U.S. companies to discover ways to make their packaging more circular. Plastic IQ scores company strategies for effectiveness and provides a detailed summary of results for users. According to the report, Plastic IQ has gained 1,000 users in its first year.
Solving with people
The Partnership is launching the Center for Sustainable Behavior & Impact. The Center will focus on expanding research on barriers and sentiments toward recycling, testing solutions to improve recycling behavior and creating a playbook and accompanying online tool to make best practices and key insights widely available.
The report concludes with a three-year plan focused on transforming the U.S. recycling system and accelerating circular packaging systems of the future.
Additional goals include:
- recovery and collection of more than 1 billion pounds of new recyclables each year;
- improved consumer participation and trust in recycling and improved recyclability claims and labeling;
- creation of new scalable and systematic approaches to recyclability for currently hard-to-recycle items;
- initiation of effective and efficient policy that improves recycling system performance; and
- transformation of thousands of packages to recyclability and reduction of tens of millions of pounds of packaging through improved designs.