Visit a municipal waste facility in the United States, and you’ll likely see a lot of plastic that might otherwise have been recycled. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the total amount of plastics combusted in municipal solid waste (MSW) facilities was 5.6 million tons in 2018, the most recent year data are available. That represented 16.3 percent of all MSW combusted that year.
Total U.S. plastics generation was 35.7 million tons in 2018, representing 12.2 percent of overall MSW generation. Of those 35.7 million tons, only about 3 million tons were recycled – a rate of about 8 percent.
You don’t need a degree in environmental science to know those numbers could use improvement. The good news is some major players in the plastics industry aim to do something about it through a collaboration with Closed Loop Partners, a New York-based investment firm.
Closed Loop Partners has brought together three of the nation’s leading plastics and material science companies – Dow, LyondellBasell, and NOVA Chemicals – to form the Closed Loop Circular Plastics Fund, which will invest in scalable recycling technologies, equipment upgrades, and infrastructure solutions.
The Fund was established in May with an initial investment of $25 million. The idea is to involve businesses across the plastics value chain to advance the recovery and recycling of plastics in the U.S. and Canada, with a goal of eventually deploying $100 million through a combination of the Fund’s founding investors, additional corporate investors, and financial institutions.
Once the Fund is fully scaled up, its investments aim to recycle more than 500 million pounds of plastic over the Fund’s lifespan. The Closed Loop Partners website notes that the commitment of Dow, LyondellBasell, and NOVA Chemicals is a critical part of the plastics industry’s move toward a more sustainable future.
“Historically, they have been key players in unlocking the value of resources, through research, development, and innovation,” the website said.
The three companies are not only leading players in the $4.7 trillion global chemical industry. They also have considerable clout with others in the industry – from manufacturing facilities and supply chain networks to end markets – which means they can help facilitate the process of transitioning to a new, more circular system.
The Fund’s main focus will be on financing projects and companies that increase the amount of recycled polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) available. The ultimate goal is to meet the demand for high-quality, recycled content in both products and packaging from consumer brands.
The Fund will invest in the following strategic areas:
Access: Increasing the collection of targeted PE and PP plastics by advancing current and next-generation material collection systems, including transportation, logistics, and recycling sortation technologies and infrastructure;
Optimization: Upgrading recycling systems to more efficiently aggregate, classify and sort the targeted plastic resins to increase the total amount of high-quality plastic – including food-grade and medical-grade plastic – sent for remanufacturing;
Manufacturing: Investing in facilities and equipment that manufacture ﬁnished products, packaging, or related goods using recycled content, including recycled PE and PP.
Among the recent steps taken by Closed Loop Partners was joining the Recycling Partnership, which also includes Dow Packing & Specialty Plastics, the Baltimore Civic Fund, Rehrig Pacific, and American Beverage’s Every Bottle Back initiative. In June, the City of Baltimore announced that the partnership is working to greatly expand Baltimore residents’ access to safe, effective recycling and improved collection infrastructure.
The Recycling Partnership will invest $3 million in the project, which is being matched by a $3 million investment from the Closed Loop Partners Infrastructure Fund. The collaboration will help Baltimore provide free recycling carts to 190,000 households to collect and process beverage bottles, cans, and other recyclables.