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Holding the Course: Domestic Reactions to Recycling Markets Spur Hope, Not Despair

By Liz Bedard

As an employee of both The Recycling Partnership and the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), I have the unique privilege of viewing the recycling industry from all sides. Suppliers, manufacturers, MRFs, haulers, residents, communities, corporations: you name the audience, I’ve talked to them about recycling.

From this vantage point, my main message to communities is this: Hold the course. Long-term recycling is sound and well-rooted. There is light at the end of the tunnel. You can – and should! – take heart in knowing that industry leaders and big-name corporations are investing in recycling solutions to help your programs thrive, both now and in the future.

First, let’s set the record straight about the value of recycling in the US economy. Recyclables are a commodity – as with any commodity, their value goes up and down over time. However, as an industry, recycling feeds the US economy by:

  • providing employment for over 470,000 US citizens, earning $30.8 billion in wages and benefits for truck drivers, sorters, manufacturers, and similar positions
  • creating nearly $117 billion in economic activity
  • generating approximately $4.95 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue and
  • producing $8.26 billion in federal taxes paid by the recycling industry and its employees
  • Statistics courtesy of ISRI’s 2017 Economic Impact Study

Now, it’s no secret that China’s National Sword policies have resulted in severe market fluctuations across the US, thwarting the economy and upending single-stream programs. However, the industry’s response to China’s National Sword policies are strengthening the field itself.

Did you know that The Recycling Partnership just received a $10 million dollar grant from PepsiCo to improve recycling access for 25 million families over the next 10 years? That’s in addition to The Partnership’s 40 funding partners whose dollars build recycling infrastructure, fight contamination and increase capture of recyclables. The Partnership isn’t the only organization doing big things in this space: Closed Loop Partners, via $100 million in funding from corporations such as Walmart, 3M, and Johnson & Johnson, is investing in every part of the recycling industry.

Furthermore, the recycling industry is investing it itself. The recycled paper industry alone has invested over $1 billion to expand capacity for domestic recycled paper which is coming down the pipeline in the next 18 months from Cascades, Green Bay Packaging, and Pratt Industries.

And APR, is celebrating the one-year anniversary of our Recycling Demand Champions program, in which companies commit to purchase new volume recycled plastic resin through “work in progress” durable goods or other applications, thereby playing a prominent role in expanding the market for residential plastics. This drives investment, increases supply and produces more, high-quality PCR into the market. Inaugural Demand Champions include Procter & Gamble, Campbell’s Soup, Target, Unilever, Nestle and Coca Cola North America, along with 20 others.

This domestic reaction to the recycling industry’s top issues should spur hope in the hearts and minds of recycling coordinators everywhere. So, don’t give up! These are a few examples of the people and dollars currently backing the recycling industry, investing in its future and the long-term success of your program. There is a light at the end of the tunnel…

Liz Bedard is the Senior Director of Industry Collaboration for The Recycling Partnership and the Director of the Olefins / Rigids Division for APR. She can be reached at ebedard @ recyclingpartnership.org.

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*Statistics courtesy of ISRI’s 2017 Economic Impact Study