A “Do-ers” Reflection on Stockholm+50 & the United Nations Ocean Conference
by Keefe Harrison (she/her/hers) , CEO, The Recycling Partnership
There is a palpable sense of urgency for environmental action. And it’s not just that we can feel it, we can see it.
The next generation is leading rallies passionately calling for change. Household brands are not only making sustainability goals but actually investing in their words. Cutting edge technology like AI and robots are leading innovation, allowing for more efficient recycling processes. And new-age recyclable packaging development seeks to further the use and reuse mantra we need to make a circular economy possible.
Conversations around a robust circular economy for people and planet were at the forefront of Stockholm+50. It’s energizing to be in the company of changemakers like the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate and ambitious and inspiring young leaders at the pulpit. Now, as we prepare for the upcoming United Nations Ocean Conference at the end of June, I’m struck by a clear realization:
We are at the table for a reason.
As a national NGO, The Recycling Partnership is strategic and has the proven experience to deliver system change directly to communities. Our organization is unique in that it works with stakeholders across the value chain – materials manufacturers, brands and retailers, community programs, policymakers, materials recovery facilities and people – furthering progress through data-driven tools, research, and outreach. Folks know we can get things done. In just the last few years we’ve launched tools such as Plastic IQ, challenging companies to rethink their packaging for the public good, and the National Database, which provides real-time, comprehensive information on thousands of U.S. recycling programs. Just in February, we launched the Recycling Inclusion Fund, which promotes equity and opportunity through investments in leadership and programming, chipping away at systemic racial disparities across the U.S. waste and recycling industries.
When it comes to tackling complex problems and big challenges, there’s no time to be timid. And we’re not just saying it, we’re doing the work. Our 2022 Impact Report shows that over the last eight years, our tactical efforts with 80 leading companies and thousands of communities have diverted 770 million incremental pounds of valuable recyclables from landfills, delivered 1.3 million new recycling carts, avoided 670,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases, and reinvigorated countless recycling programs. That doesn’t mean, however, that the system is perfect – it’s far from ideal. It’s 2022 and people are still confused about how and what to recycle. Recycling rates need improvement. There’s a global pollution crisis.
We must match the size of the solution to the size of the problem.
Working in siloes won’t bring the change that is needed – we need organized, measurable, and scalable action driven toward system – not step – change. We need to build, operate, and design for change through smart policy, data-driven tools, and blended capital investments to support community-driven projects. Going further, it’s imperative to have equitable representation throughout every step of circular system improvement – in government, nonprofits, manufacturers, industry and more – so that every voice and every experience is heard and accounted for. Our organization’s commitment to these goals shows we are up to the challenge.
At the end of the day, we are the “do-ers” in this space to accelerate progress. Looking to the United Nations Ocean Conference at the end of this month, we will once again have a seat at the table. We hear the alarm bells on the national stage, now we need to bring the action toward tangible, clear steps for the future.
We’re here to lead. Join us on this journey.