Plastic PET recycling
PET plastic bottles collected for recycling.
Photo by Brian Taylor.

WM, advocacy group and asset manager agree on study

Waste Management agrees to recycling infrastructure study recommended by Trillium Asset Management and As You Sow.

February 26, 2020

Houston-based Waste Management Inc. (WM) has agreed to conduct a study to identify gaps in recycling infrastructure as a way to help boost the plastic recycling rate in the United States. The study came about after “in-depth engagement” between WM, Berkeley, California-based advocacy group As You Sow and Boston-based Trillium Asset Management, according to an As You Sow press release.

WM has committed to publishing a report being designed to identify gaps in the recycling infrastructure, and discuss how many of its own processing facilities have been upgraded to boost plastic recycling yields, says As You Sow.

As envisioned, the study will provide overlay maps and data highlighting WM’s marketing of three resins commonly used in plastic packaging: polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP).

This data being requested will show material flows between regions by polymer, and categories of current end market uses for these materials. “WM will identify actions it believes will help address the gaps identified in the report — both possible company actions and broader recommendations,” states the As You Sow press release.

The hauling and recycling company also will provide an updated statement on its position on extended producer responsibility (EPR), which As You Sow calls “a strategy that requires consumer goods producers to finance collection and recycling of their packaging, currently paid for by taxpayers.” Trillium and As You Sow advocate EPR policies as a way to provide adequate funding to collectors and processors to be able to take a range of actions needed to improve recycling rates.

As You Sow and Trillium have withdrawn a prior WM shareholder proposal in response to the company’s commitment to the report. “We are pleased to have been a driving force behind this new action from WM, and we hope this report will provide a meaningful addition to the industry’s understanding of plastic recycling challenges in the U.S.,” says Allan Pearce, a shareholder advocate at Trillium.

“This report will provide deeper insight into plastic material flows once they leave consumers’ hands, and should be an invaluable resource to stakeholders working to increase recycling rates,” says Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president of As You Sow.

WM also has agreed to provide information on the number of its materials recycling facilities (MRFs) that are equipped with recently upgraded processing equipment or are slated for near-term upgrades that can improve recycling outputs and yields, plus those that have not been upgraded.

China’s 2018 ban on most plastic scrap imports vastly decreased end markets for some collected recyclable plastics.