Tuesday, November 17 — Today, Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy released their U.S. and Canada Recycling Infrastructure and Plastic Waste Map, as part of their broader Advancing Circular Systems for Plastics and Packaging Initiative. The comprehensive visual tool brings to light the diversity of plastic waste and the volumes and flows by country and state, highlighting critical opportunities to recapture valuable plastics and re-incorporate them into manufacturing supply chains.
The analysis shows that the U.S. and Canada are sending 11.5 million metric tons of plastic packaging to landfill every year, with the recycling system currently only capturing 18% of packaging. This comes at a time when demand for recycled content is growing rapidly, with over 250 brands and retailers in the U.S. publicly committing to increase their use of recycled content in products and packaging. Yet, the supply of recycled content to meet this fast-growing demand is missing. Closed Loop Partners found that the current supply of recycled plastics meets just 6% of demand for the most common plastics in the U.S. and Canada.
Enhancing the transparency of supply chains and better measuring and understanding the current flow of materials are essential first steps to improve plastics recovery. Closed Loop Partners published the U.S. and Canada Recycling Infrastructure and Plastic Waste Map to identify the magnitude of the plastics waste challenge, the key infrastructure gaps and the opportunity areas. By increasing visibility across the plastics value chain, we can drive collaboration among diverse stakeholders––from policymakers and brands, to plastics manufacturers and materials recovery facilities.
The analysis also highlights the diverse formats, applications and end-of-life markets for plastics, demonstrating the need for multiple solutions to stem plastic waste. Mechanical recycling in the U.S. and Canada recaptures the value of 2,557 million metric tons of plastic packaging after final use per year, primarily from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles kept in circulation. But, mechanical recycling is not an end of life solution for many other forms of plastic waste, like apparel, construction plastics, automotive applications and more, where there may be an opportunity for advanced recycling to fill this gap and solve for these hardest-to-recycle plastic-based products. However, these solutions still cannot serve all materials and markets perfectly or in perpetuity, and we must also deploy and scale reuse and rental systems, among others, to help extend the life of materials and reduce the overall volume of virgin plastic entering the market. Current strategies to address plastic waste are complementary, but taken alone they will be ineffective at producing a circular system for all plastics. Without a multi-pronged approach, plastic waste in all forms, from various industries, will continue to grow.
“To efficiently and effectively tackle all plastic waste, we must first understand the volume and types of plastic flowing through our economy,” says Kate Daly, Managing Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “Using plastic packaging as a starting point, this analysis helps investors, brands, entrepreneurs and policymakers understand the diversity of plastic waste in our system and make data-driven decisions. This tool helps galvanize stakeholders to accelerate our collective journey toward a circular economy for plastics through multiple plastic-waste mitigation strategies, and we call upon additional industries to share their data on plastic waste streams to shed light on the additional opportunities.”
Closed Loop Partners embarked on this study to map the volume of plastic packaging and containers specifically, but this is far from the only plastics that must be solved for. The plastics growing in landfill are diverse, including plastics from car parts, healthcare and textiles. The firm is working with organizations across the U.S. and Canada to leverage additional data on other plastic materials and add to this dataset to drive greater transparency and better understanding of all types of plastic waste flowing through current systems. The firm calls upon industry to look beyond packaging and collect data on all plastic waste to create a circular future.
“Foundational to effective action and investment is an informed understanding of where, how much and what quality of plastic waste is being generated in the United States and Canada,” says Anne Johnson, Principal and Vice President of Global Corporate Sustainability for Resource Recycling Systems (RRS). “Packaging waste only scratches the surface of the plastic waste problem. Polyester textiles contribute to 13.4 billion pounds of landfill waste in the U.S., and require both traditional and new advanced recycling platforms to recapture their value after use. This data visualization tool can be built upon to shine a light on the full spectrum of plastic waste in existence today, providing much-needed transparency and collectively advancing a circular economy for plastics.”
“We are excited to see this U.S. and Canada Recycling Infrastructure and Plastic Waste Map from Closed Loop Partners,” says Peylina Chu, Executive Director for the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council. “As the healthcare industry looks for circular solutions for the millions of tons of clean healthcare plastic, this map helps set a precedent for collaborative efforts along the plastic value chain that can help efficiently identify and leverage synergies between healthcare plastics and other valuable scrap plastic streams as we all add data and share insights on this global waste challenge.”
A more robust understanding of the status quo, strengthened by investments and policies that fill opportunity gaps highlighted by the current waste flow, will increase capacity to process more used material across the country, deliver feedstock for both mechanical and advanced recycling, create demand pull, generate additional jobs, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and advance the transition to a circular economy.
About Closed Loop Partners
Closed Loop Partners is a New York-based investment firm comprised of venture capital, growth equity, private equity and project finance, as well as an innovation center focused on building the circular economy. The firm has built an ecosystem that connects entrepreneurs, industry experts, global consumer goods companies, retailers, financial institutions and municipalities. Investments align capitalism with positive social and environmental impact by reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions via materials innovation, advanced recycling technologies, supply chain optimization and landfill diversion. Learn more here.
About Advancing Circular Systems for Plastics and Packaging Initiative
At Closed Loop Partners, we envision a waste-free future for plastics. We launched our Advancing Circular System for Plastics and Packaging Initiative understanding that there is no silver bullet solution to solve complex global waste challenges. Ending plastics waste will require a combination of approaches such as design innovation, reuse and advanced recycling to accelerate the transition to a circular economy for plastics. Our Center for the Circular Economy partnered with Target Corporation, Bank of America, Colgate-Palmolive, 3M, The American Chemistry Council and Sealed Air to produce the U.S. and Canada Recycling Infrastructure and Plastic Waste Map. Our technical partners on this project included Resource Recycling Systems and The Recycling Partnership. Learn more about our investments, collaboration and research here.