When asked why recycling is so important, my response is simple: it is integral to business. Recycling is a fundamental requirement to uphold competitiveness and reputation as responsible and innovative companies.
For decades, companies and their respective trade associations have invested in various recycling initiatives aimed at recovering their own used packaging and printed paper products. While initially such efforts reaped measurable recovery benefits, very little progress has been made in the past 10 years. We, too, have seen firsthand the benefits of a carton-specific voluntary approach through our own efforts and that of the Carton Council. However, future carton recovery progress relies on addressing the infrastructure, promotional, and harmonization needs that affect the recovery of all packaging and printed paper materials.
Discussion is ongoing among brand owners, packaging manufacturers and other “producers” regarding how to substantially increase material recovery and recycling in the United States via cross-sector collaboration. While it has not led to much action to date, the forums for discussion have kept the conversation alive and have succeeded in elevating the knowledge and awareness level of all stakeholders through the process. The dialogue exposed the risks of inaction as well as the opportunities inherent in a robust recovery system.
Discussions have also led to extensive research conducted by multiple organizations to develop an understanding of the nuances that impact recovery success. AMERIPEN, for instance, has collected data and developed findings regarding what works best to dramatically improve recovery in cities across the US. AMERIPEN’s study combined with other research efforts have laid the groundwork by defining what needs to be done. It is now clearly understood that effective recovery requires a comprehensive set of best practices – optimized infrastructure, effective promotion and education, incentives, policies aimed at boosting recycling participation, and sustainable program funding. Implementing best practices in all of these areas is unreasonable to ask of local governments and is more than any one material sector can bring about on their own.
Forums like Alcoa’s Action to Accelerate Recycling and AMERIPEN have primed stakeholders for collaboration bringing the right people to the table and raising the right questions to facilitate action.
The New Ask
Industry is now rallying around a new call to action: create an organized coalition(s) of private and public sector representatives to create a scalable but phased systems approach to recycling. Building upon past learnings, this approach will leverage pooled resources and use a combination of tools to strategically address priority opportunities as opposed to a series of discreet pilot programs and projects.