Industry Case Study
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How Partnerships Between Advanced Recyclers and Material Recovery Facilities Are Strengthening the Plastics Recycling System

In November 2021, Closed Loop Partners released its latest report on molecular recycling, Transitioning to a Circular System for Plastics: Assessing Molecular Recycling Technologies in the United States and Canada. As part of this study, our team released a series of case studies meant to highlight best practices and lessons learned from molecular recycling companies advancing these technologies on-the-ground. 

As advanced recycling develops as a circular solution for hard-to-recycle plastics, partnering with materials recovery facilities can strengthen the plastics recycling system as a whole

A circular system for plastics does not rely on one type of technology to process the material at end-of-life; rather, it employs distinct, yet complementary circular solutions that can drive value to one another. To achieve this, stakeholders across the plastics value chain must collaborate with one another. Yet, many plastics processors today, across advanced recycling and mechanical recycling, work in silos, creating a disjointed system that is unable to capture the full value of plastics. Understanding the different roles of stakeholder within the plastics value chain, as well as their relationships with each other, can enable collaboration instead of competition, and create value for all––from materials recovery facilities (MRFs), to advanced recycling companies, to retailers and consumers. 

How to Align Incentives 

Today, MRFs often receive piles of mixed waste, some of which can be processed by their machines, and others that cannot. To effectively recycle the latter, advanced recycling technologies often need to step in. However, for MRFs to send these materials to advanced recycling companies, they typically have to pay a tipping fee. Furthermore, advanced recycling companies are not guaranteed that the material they receive is at the quality they need.

Unless the tipping fees charged by advanced recycling companies are significantly less than those charged by landfill companies, or unless policies mandate private MRFs to recycle, there is little incentive for MRFs to transition material pathways from landfill to advanced recycling processes. As a result, excess material from MRFs is often sent to landfill, where the value of these materials is forever lost. 

To address these waste challenges, best-in-class advanced recycling companies must ensure that they:

  1. Partner with materials recovery facilities that are supportive of advanced recycling, are willing to explore new opportunities for various material classes, and are financially and operationally sound;  
  2. Test their technology to identify the plastic feedstock that can be processed by their machines and develop detailed specifications that correspond to these; 
  3. Build flexibility into the collaborations, as the market and policy landscape shifts rapidly. 


Brightmark’s Solution

Brightmark, one of the largest pyrolysis facilities in the United States, strategically capitalized on a confluence of supportive policies and dearth of recycling infrastructure, to incentivize better plastics sortation and demonstrate the important role conversion technology plays within the plastics recycling system. 

Based in Ashley, IN, Brightmark operates in and around two of the 13 states that recognize advanced recycling as a manufacturing process: Indiana and Illinois. Coupled with the lack of robust recycling supply chains in Chicago, Brightmark saw an opportunity to strengthen their material inflow. Taking on a partnership approach, Brightmark’s business model incentivizes other plastics processors to send them plastics that the latter are unable to process. Through detailed material specifications and structured contracts, they also incentivize materials recovery facilities to sort and remove non-target plastics, like oxygenated PET or PVC, from their bales, ensuring the optimal material mix for Brightmark’s technology. With these contracts in place, Brightmark buys these pre-sorted bales from the MRFs––rather than having the MRFs pay a tipping fee––differentiating themselves in the market. The materials received by Brightmark undergo in-plant shredding and pelletizing to convert the material into desired outputs. 

When Brightmark went about forming partnerships with MRFs around the Chicago area, the advanced recycling company first demonstrated its ability to adapt to changing market conditions as an off-taker. When selecting which MRFs to partner with, the company evaluated finances and operations, track record of sorting material for value, and safety of operations. The 12 MRFs selected not only passed these criteria, but supported advanced recycling, and invested in creating new markets for low-value materials. Together, Brightmark and these MRFs collaboratively explored opportunities to extract value from the MRFs’ material flows, proving that advanced recycling can provide value to mechanical recycling stakeholders, while increasing the volume of plastic diverted from landfill.

Beyond materials recovery, Brightmark’s collaborations with MRFs drive value in other ways. Their partnership with Indianapolis-based RecycleForce is for both feedstock and employee recruitment. “’They process a lot of electronic waste,’ said Bob Powell, CEO of Brightmark. ‘We’ll be taking plastics that otherwise would have been landfilled from them.’ RecycleForce also runs a training and development program that Brightmark will tap into. ‘They’re an Indiana partner that hires formerly-incarcerated individuals and provides training and employment services. We’re mission-oriented, and we seek partners who share our mission.’” (1)

Brightmark has also formed partnerships beyond MRFs. In July 2020, they completed a pilot collection program for boat wrap, with a marine services dealer location near the company’s Ashley, IN facility. Supported by the Northeast Indiana Solid Waste Management District (NISWMD), Brightmark proved the viability of using boat wrap––which is made of hard-to-recycle contaminated linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE)––as feedstock to produce transportation fuel and wax.

To ensure that the feedstock they receive through partnerships is optimal for their processing capabilities, Brightmark spent nearly a decade testing various combinations of post-use plastic, as part of their technology commercialization process. Today, their plastics renewal process accepts co-mingled, single-stream plastics, which they can transform into fuel and wax. The company landed on a specification for input material that was both robust and forgiving, building in flexibility that enables them to process ever-changing co-mingled streams, while producing a predictable hydrocarbon liquid output. That specification is embedded in their supply agreement, and informs their pre-qualification process for new suppliers and new material streams. 

By purchasing and receiving on-spec material, Brightmark reduces sorting costs on their end, ensures that their pre-treatment process runs safely and efficiently, and only feeds their machinery high-quality material that can be optimally sorted by pyrolysis technology. The less additional sorting required, the better their process’ uptime and throughput as a continuously operated conversion technology. As a result, they can create high-quality paraffin wax, fuels and naphtha that can be sold at a premium through offtake agreements. Brightmark prides itself on having one of the strongest financial performances in the advanced recycling space. 

Brightmark has ambitious goals to divert 8.4 million tons of plastic waste from landfills and the natural environment, and to offset 22 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, by 2024 (2). Moving forward, the company plans to grow their Plastics Renewal Platform, through established supplier relationships, as well as potential new partnerships. They also aim to identify strategies to economically and logistically work with brands on the post-consumer side of the value chain.

Call to Action

Advanced recycling companies must collaborate with existing recycling infrastructure to align on needs and capture material that would otherwise be sent to landfill. The plastics recycling system will only be optimized if every stakeholder across the value chain is aligned on their complementary roles, and the shared value of plastic. Economic incentives must complement mechanical recycling and address the gap in the plastics recycling system, to divert plastics from landfill, deliver economic value across stakeholders, and enable companies to derive value for themselves. Advanced recycling will scale only if they align with stakeholders across the plastics system––from collection facilities, to MRFs, to reclaimers. On a broader scale, policymakers must introduce legislation that incentivizes private MRFs to recycle more, diverting plastics from landfill and keeping the materials flowing within the plastics value chain.


[1] Forbes.

[2] Forbes.