FAQs: The Bridge to Circularity


The Recycling Partnership has released a report called “The Bridge to Circularity” to help catalyze a circular economy for packaging the U.S.. The report is inspired and endorsed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, whose New Plastics Economy Global Commitment unites more than 400 businesses, governments and organizations to address plastic waste and pollution. The report shows that the U.S. recycling system is unable to deliver on several core aspects of the Global Commitment in its current form, and it recommends three concrete areas of action to make progress.

What are the main findings of the report?

The report shows that the U.S. recycling system is unable to support organizations’ achievement of the Global Commitment recyclability and recycled content targets in its current form, and it recommends three concrete areas of action to make progress:

  • “Pathway to Recyclability”: The Recycling Partnership will initiate a more granular process detailing how to move a package from technically recyclable to commonly accepted for recycling. Collaboratives will also be launched to optimize and improve the system for specific materials and packaging formats. This will build on work done by APR, SPC, and others in this space, providing structure coordination and oversight.
  • “Unlocking Supply”: The Recycling Partnership will launch an industry-wide $250 million residential recycling intervention to capture more than 340 million pounds of post-consumer recycled plastic and over 2 billion pounds of other packaging materials. The report identifies specific strategies to put the capital to immediate use to benefit U.S. communities.
  • “Recycling 2.0”: This new initiative calls for $250 million over five years to use towards an innovation fund to design and implement the recycling system of the future by advancing technology, building more robust data systems, and enhancing consumer participation. 
    • In addition, a new policy proposal, designed specifically to address the unique challenges in the U.S. packaging system, will launch in early 2020 to achieve a sustainably-funded recycling system for all materials.

When and how did the report launch?

The report was officially released on Tuesday, October 22, 2019 at the Verge conference in Oakland. 

What is a circular economy?

A circular economy represents an aspiration to move away from a linear economy–one where we take resources, make stuff from the resources, and then throw them away to one where that stuff can be remade into new products. The goal is that we can continue to pursue economic growth and societal advancement without depending on the consumption of finite resources.

Why is recycling important in a circular economy?

A circular economy and recycling are not the same thing. Recycling can happen without a circular economy as the ultimate goal, but a circular economy (for packaging) cannot happen without recycling. Community recycling programs are currently the only consumer-facing, reverse logistics mechanisms available at scale for packaging in the U.S., providing both recovery infrastructure, and the means to create new material from secondary (as opposed to virgin) sources. In practical terms this makes the recycling system:

  • A cornerstone of a circular economy for packaging.
  • The last line of defense in a circular economy for packaging materials.
  • Consumers’ closest connection to a circular economy. 

There are so many reports coming out about plastics, why is this one different?

  • There have been several prior and related analyses that have focused on the plastic waste problem. However, The Recycling Partnership is proposing concrete solutions for what we can do about the problem.
  • In addition, many groups consider this to be a problem that is solely about plastics. However, a system that solves for plastics alone will not create a viable platform for a truly circular economy. All initiatives launched as part of this report will focus across the material spectrum. 

The report references “transformative policy”. What does this mean?

  • In 2019 The Recycling Partnership launched a policy initiative. As part of this, we promised that we would be undertaking transformative change and not just putting band-aids on the system, so this effort follows on from that commitment. We expect to launch a policy proposal in early 2020. Our goal is to catalyze the transition to a circular economy by making it as easy and affordable to recycle residential material as it is to throw it away. 

Who can I ask for more information?

Please contact us at info@recyclingpartnership.org and we will direct your inquiry as appropriate.