Recycling Pilots in Puerto Rico

The Closed Loop Foundation, in partnership with the Coca-Cola Foundation, looks to build the circular economy in Puerto Rico.

Using Puerto Rico as a case study, the Closed Loop Foundation conducted research focused on materials management challenges. Island nations in particular face acute challenges on the climate crisis frontline, including distance from recycling markets and coastline proximity which can lead to ocean plastic pollution if materials are not managed properly. It’s critical that we keep valuable materials in manufacturing supply chains and out of our oceans.

Puerto Rico faces a host of well-documented challenges in its recycling and waste management system, including a lack of or aging infrastructure and difficult disposal conditions whereby many of its 29 landfills are operating below regulatory standards. Recently, catastrophic storms (Hurricanes Irma and Maria) and political and economic upheaval have put further strain on action toward more sustainable materials management.  The confluence of these issues provided the opportunity to put circularity to the test.

As an island nation, uplifting the recycling system is critical

Quality recycling infrastructure yields environmental benefits (e.g., reducing leakage of plastics into the environment), preserves resources, and creates economic stability. Toward these goals, the Closed Loop Foundation (CLF) received a grant from The Coca-Cola Foundation to carry out a three-step approach to address recycling and materials challenges faced by Puerto Rico:

Conduct research and stakeholder outreach to understand the waste management system, material flows, available infrastructure, and bottlenecks to system improvements

Identify pilot-scale demonstration projects that can help fill knowledge gaps and address bottlenecks in the system

Identify actions that can substantially increase material recovery in the near and medium term

Ten different pilot projects were designed on the basis of the research and stakeholder outreach described earlier. We performed a decision analysis using the following criteria to narrow the list of projects:

  1. Scalability
  2. Executability
  3. Potential impact
  4. Sustainability (i.e., can the project sustain beyond the pilot period?)
  5. Budget

 

Based on these five criteria, the list of potential projects was narrowed to two:

Pilot 1: Recicla Más, Recicla Mejor

A digital outreach campaign in Guaynabo, a northern Puerto Rican municipality, to increase the quality and quantity of recyclables placed curbside.

This pilot was informed by our research and multiple stakeholder meetings that stressed the importance of educating the public to improve the quality and amount of recyclables collected curbside. Material characterization efforts indicated contamination rates of 50%+ being delivered from some municipalities.

The program was designed to (i) raise awareness of the recycling program, (ii) instruct residents to alter behavior to recycle more and recycle only acceptable materials, and (iii) uncover insights on behavior, sentiment regarding the recycling program, and related challenges.

Launched in June of 2019, the campaign targeted approximately 700 households across three Guaynabo neighborhoods. It included an all-digital ad campaign, a Facebook page, and mobile-enabled landing page.  Additional integrated resources included direct email outreach and a linked survey.

Pilot 2: Online Recycling Education Platform

The free tool is focused on a recycling curriculum and is targeted toward municipal recycling coordinators and directors in Puerto Rico.

After engaging with stakeholders, we learned that municipal recycling coordinators needed support to help carry out the critical functions that fall under their responsibility.  The aim of the pilot was to bolster institutional knowledge, development and retention of municipal recycling coordinators in Puerto Rico.

 

Creation of a new online learning platform was led by the selected pilot partner, Puerto Rico Science, Technology, and Research Trust. The platform integrates multiple types of curated online, on-demand content and includes a certificate program.

Topics include:

  • Key waste and recycling definitions, system components, and technologies
  • Waste management frameworks including the circular economy and the waste management hierarchy
  • Educational approaches for recycling programs

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Pro-Recycling Narrative

Closed Loop Foundation and its partners engaged M+R in a multi-phase effort to drive a positive narrative about recycling in the media.

In early 2017, Closed Loop Foundation and its partners engaged M+R in a multi-phase effort to drive a positive narrative about recycling in the media. During the first phase of work, M+R began with a discovery process and developed a message architecture designed to reach four key audiences: local government officials; investors, recycling business owners, and entrepreneurs; c-suite executives; and consumers. In the second phase of work, M+R built a communications plan and implemented an earned media strategy to amplify these messages and the stories of spokespeople in the recycling industry identified by the partners.

Recommendations for future iterations of this work include:

  • Continuing to cultivate spokespeople who can talk about complex issues in ways that are compelling and easy to understand for the general public; who feel comfortable delivering key messages; and who can stay cool under pressure and make themselves available for press opportunities;
  • Pursuing pitches that are timely, relevant to reporters’ interests, and offer information that is new and compelling. It’s also important to tap into larger media narratives and have an effective rapid response operation in place in order to capitalize on opportunities when they arise; and
  • Continuing to test a range of message frames including and in addition to the innovation messaging that worked particularly well during our engagement.

 

The coalition came away with some clear wins, which suggests that this work could be replicated in the future to even greater success. Here is a snapshot of key accomplishments:

  • Placed a letter to the editor in USA Today authored by Lakeshore Recycling’s CEO Alan Handley, highlighting the profitability of recycling;
  • Placed a letter to the editor in Governing magazine authored by Robert Knecht, public works director for the City of Memphis, emphasizing the benefits of recycling for municipalities;
  • Placed an op-ed in The Hill authored by Ron Gonen, co-founder and managing partner of Closed Loop Partners, focused on potential budget cuts to federal recycling programs;
  • Secured positive coverage of AMP Robotics and its mechanical sorting arm “Clarke” in numerous outlets in Colorado, including Boulder Weekly, ColoradoBiz, and Colorado Public Radio;
  • Proactive outreach in Colorado led to not only an increase in pro-recycling stories in the state, but also helped with the dissemination of positive messages about recycling as a means to counter the false narrative that recycling “doesn’t work.”
  • Local stories were also picked up organically by national outlets (for example, Engadget covered AMP Robotics after finding out about them through the Colorado Public Radio story). This shows that the message frames have the ability to break-through beyond the state and regional level.
  • Secured story in Bloomberg BNA about e-waste recycling, which included an interview with spokesperson John Shegerian, founder of Electronic Recyclers International;
  • Placed a letter to the editor in MinnPost authored by Keefe Harrison, CEO of The Recycling Partnership emphasizing the importance of Rep. Keith Ellison’s zero waste legislation; and
  • Placed a letter to the editor in The Daily Iowan by Kathy Morris, director of the Waste Commission of Scott County, IA, focused on the importance of recycling to help combat climate change.

 

Closed Loop Foundation 

 

Media Coverage

Investment Opportunities in Film Plastic Recycling

Closed Loop Foundation partnered with RSE on a national study to understand bottlenecks holding back recycling of post consumer LDPE film and multi-laminate film packaging recycling and where investment is needed.

Read the full report

Bags and wraps are frequently made of a single plastic type. Alternatively, flexible packaging is commonly made from several layers of different types of plastics bonded together, with each layer serving a function to protect and keep the contents fresh, which most often is food. Because different types of plastics are not compatible with each other when melted down together, this presents recycling challenges for flexible packaging because it is not currently technically possible or feasible to separate the materials in the different bonded layers.

The good news is that more than half of film is polyethylene film, which is recyclable today. Furthermore, the ability to recycle multilayer films that are primarily made from polypropylene with polyethylene layers is promising. For the other film types, changes in package design and continued research into new recycling technologies can minimize the quantity of films that are not yet able to be recycled.

  • There are a number of areas where the investment community can help to improve film recycling in the U.S. These areas include expanding reclamation capacity and growing recycled content product manufacturing.
  • A number of organizations have initiatives underway to improve film recycling, in some cases duplicating each other’s efforts, whereas in other cases no one is addressing other obstacles. Coordinating efforts among stakeholders will help to advance film recycling.
  • Film recycling loans, grants, and venture capital investments are all needed to overcome film recycling obstacles.
  • More than half of polyethylene film collected in the U.S. for recycling is exported, although demand from export markets has begun to decline and this is expected to be a long-term trend. Thus it is essential that the U.S. expand its infrastructure to sort, reclaim, and manufacturing products using recycled plastic PE film.
  • Reclaimers and markets for non-polyethylene film are virtually non-existent. There is a need to develop a recycling infrastructure and recycling markets for the polypropylene-based film portion at a minimum, in order for comprehensive film recycling to occur.
  • It is important for film manufacturers to design film products and packages for recycling so that the economics of comprehensive film collection and recycling programs can improve. This includes designing products that are compatible with the polyethylene recycling stream.

 

Closed Loop Foundation 

 

Media Coverage

Food Waste Solution Search

Solution Search for Food Waste Innovators

Closed Loop Foundation ran a solution search for food waste innovations to provide seed capital to support winning companies and their projects that have the potential to reduce food waste at scale.

Food Waste Solution Search Grantees

Full Cycle Bioplastics

Creates a circular-economy solution for food waste and plastic pollution by converting post consumer food waste into a compostable bioplastic.

Vermont Natural Ag Products

Recaptures renewable thermal energy created in its compost system to reduce energy consumption, time and therefore cost of creating the compost product.

Hold That Tray

Education, diversion, and combined anaerobic digestion/composting to highlight the value in food not served or wasted.

ALL IN Alameda

Comprehensive social enterprise to efficiently recover wasted food from retail

Renewal Mill

Harvests undervalued byproducts from current food production processes and upcycles them into high – value nutritious and wholesome products

BioWorks Energy/Flint, MI

Technology to make food waste into a sludge that can be incorporated into waste water digesters.

Georgia Tech

Add value to food waste nutrients by converting these nutrients into algal meal fish feed for aquaponic urban farming systems positioned at schools.

Indiana Recycling Coalition

Building a system solution for restaurant and retail composting by building a collection and processing system.

 

Closed Loop Foundation 

 

ReFed Report

Closed Loop Foundation is a leading supporter of ReFed, a report determining food waste solutions based on their ability to merge strong economic returns with optimal social and environmental benefits.

Every year, American consumers, businesses, and farms spends $218 billion a year, or 1.3% of GDP, growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of food that is never eaten. That’s 52 million tons of food sent to landfill annually, plus another 10 million tons that is discarded or left unharvested on farms. Meanwhile, one out of seven people in America are food insecure.

ReFED is a collaboration of over 50 business, nonprofit, foundation, and government leaders committed to reducing food waste in the United States. ReFED seeks to unlock new philanthropic and investment capital, along with technology, business, and policy innovation, which is projected to catalyze tens of thousands of new jobs, recover billions of meals annually for the hungry, and reduce national water use and greenhouse gas emissions. ReFED was formed in early 2015 to create The Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste, the first ever national economic study and action plan driven by a multi-stakeholder group committed to tackling food waste at scale.

Statistics

Food waste consumes 21% of all freshwater

Food waste consumes 19% of all fertilizer

Food waste consumes 18% of cropland

Food waste consumes 21% of landfill volume

ReFED’s Work

ReFED has identified 27 of the best opportunities to reduce food waste through a detailed economic analysis. The solutions were analyzed using the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy — which prioritizes prevention first, then recovery, and finally recycling — as a starting point. Additional filters of economic value and feasibility were incorporated to understand the potential for scaling solutions.

Prevention is the first step in reducing the amount of waste being produced
  •  ReFED identified 12 solutions in the prevention phase to reduce food waste including: standardized date labeling, consumer education campaigns, packaging adjustments, spoilage prevention packaging, waste tracking and analytics, trayless dining, smaller plates, cold-chain management, manufacturing line optimization, improved inventory management, produce specification standards and secondary resellers.
  • The prevention phase is where we see the highest financial benefits and total amount of water saved among the 27 opportunities to reduce food waste

 

Recovery is the second step in developing solutions for the redistribution of food to people in need
  • ReFED identified 7 solutions in the recovery phase to reduce food waste including: donation matching software, standardized donation regulation, donation liability education, value-added processing, donation storage and handling, donation transportation and donation tax incentives.
  • The recovery phase is where we see the highest number of meals recovered among the 27 opportunities to reduce food waste.

 

Recycling is the final step in developing solutions for the repurposing of food waste as energy, agricultural and other products
  •  ReFED identified 8 solutions in the recycling phase to reduce food waste including: centralized composting, centralized anaerobic digestion (AD), community composting, water resources recovery facility with AD, home composting, animal feed, in-vessel composting and commercial greywater aerobic digestors.
  • The recovery phase is where we see the highest amount of waste diverted and jobs created among the 27 opportunities to reduce food waste.

 

Closed Loop Foundation 

 

Film Recycling Solution Search

Solution Search for Film Recyclers

Closed Loop Foundation ran a solution search for innovators in the film recycling space. Drought Diet Products was announced as an awardee, using post-consumer film plastic feedstock in its irrigation piping products.

Food Waste Solution Search Grantees

Full Cycle Bioplastics

Creates a circular-economy solution for food waste and plastic pollution by converting post consumer food waste into a compostable bioplastic.

Vermont Natural Ag Products

Recaptures renewable thermal energy created in its compost system to reduce energy consumption, time and therefore cost of creating the compost product.

Hold That Tray

Education, diversion, and combined anaerobic digestion/composting to highlight the value in food not served or wasted.

ALL IN Alameda

Comprehensive social enterprise to efficiently recover wasted food from retail

Renewal Mill

Harvests undervalued byproducts from current food production processes and upcycles them into high – value nutritious and wholesome products

BioWorks Energy/Flint, MI

Technology to make food waste into a sludge that can be incorporated into waste water digesters.

Georgia Tech

Add value to food waste nutrients by converting these nutrients into algal meal fish feed for aquaponic urban farming systems positioned at schools.

Indiana Recycling Coalition

Building a system solution for restaurant and retail composting by building a collection and processing system.

 

Closed Loop Foundation 

Capital Landscape Study

Understanding the social, environmental and economic benefits of the circular supply chain model.

The Closed Loop Fund was created to catalyze investment through the deployment of catalytic capital to scalable public and private models and innovations within circular supply chains. Our unique approach is helping to grow innovations and scale successful business models in the circular supply chain.

Read the full report

 

Statistics

In the US, municipalities are paying more than $5 billion a year to landfill recyclables, food, clothing and electronics

$80-$120 billion of economic value from plastic packaging material is lost each year

$2 trillion in annual US revenues generated by circular manufacturing

 

Our Work

In 2017, Closed Loop Partners and Closed Loop Foundation conducted a study of the capital landscape supporting circular supply chains in North America. We looked at recent trends in investment activity, unmet demand, nearterm forecasts, and projections to achieve a fully circular infrastructure by 2030.

Through a series of surveys, interviews, and analyses of third-party data, we have gained several key insights about where capital is – and is not yet – flowing. Findings represent data from more than 130 municipalities, 440 private companies, and 260 investors, in addition to numerous experts who have advised us throughout this process. The research was conducted by Closed Loop Foundation with support from the Goldman Sachs Center for Environmental Markets and Wells Fargo Foundation.

The Cost of Linear Models

  • Linear supply chains cost us too much. In the US, municipalities are paying more than $5 billion a year to landfill recyclables, food, clothing and electronics. Globally, $80-$120 billion of economic value from plastic packaging material is lost each year.
  • Underpinning the linear economy is investment capital. In our research, we found approximately $10 billion a year in relevant deals, though much of it is supporting this linear infrastructure.

 

Linear Economy graphic

 

The Upside: Transitioning From a Linear to a Circular Supply Chain

We are missing a tremendous opportunity to unlock trillions in economic value and create a lasting positive impact on the environment. In our analysis, the upside of building a circular supply chain has dramatic social, environmental, and economic benefits, including:

  • 30 million more households with access to convenient recycling
  • 80 million tons of material recovered from residential single stream recycling – a lift of 4x
  • 250-350 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent reduced
  • $7 billion in new revenue opportunities from recycling for cities and recyclers
  • Innovation in processing technologies and business models
  • $2 trillion in annual US revenues generated by circular manufacturing

 

 

The Barriers to Investment and the Role to Catalytic Capital

With $10 billion a year in investment dollars supporting the old linear model, too much capital is waiting on the sidelines. Why? In more than 20 interviews of investors, fund managers and advisors, we heard several themes:

  • Private capital lacks sightlines across the system
  • The supply side is controlled by a few players
  • There is too much volatility in commodities markets
  • Capital seekers lack longer-term offtake agreements

 

Some mainstream investors have already figured out how to mitigate these risks and find value in circular supply chain opportunities. At the same time, “catalytic” concessionary capital can play an important role in de-risking investments, proving business models, and stimulating even more investment.Other supports, including subsidized R&D, long-term offtake agreements and price floors, loan guarantees, and green procurement or codes, can also help drive additional investment.

 

Closed Loop Foundation 

 

Used Electronics Recycling

Closed Loop Foundation commissioned a report to provide a view of the e-waste landscape within the United States in order to understand types and quantities moving into the waste stream today and in the future.

With the increased adoption and use of electronic and electrical devices has come the increased generation of used equipment as products are replaced by newer models and older technologies become obsolete or no longer meet the expectations of the consumer. Electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) no longer useful to its first owner may still have considerable value, so market solutions have evolved with the waste stream to capture this value.

 

Read the full report

The goal of this report is to provide a complete overview of the used electronics management landscape within the United States to understand:

  1. The types and quantities of materials that are currently and will be moving into the waste stream in the next five years;
  2. What type of programs are in place currently and how effective they are; and
  3. How changes in consumer desires and behavior, device technology, governmental regulation, and practices in the electronics and recycling industries will impact the effectiveness of recycling programs and demands in the next five years. This analysis is then used to identify the opportunities available, and provide solutions to address the challenges identified to support the development of a resilient used EEE management system.

 

Closed Loop Foundation 

Media Coverage

Cleaning the rPET Stream

A study, commissioned by Closed Loop Infrastructure Fund, to identify recycling system interventions that reduce the cost of processing post-consumer PET.

Less than 30% of the PET used in bottles and jars is recovered in the US, and just 6% is re-used as rPET in new bottles. Yet PET is the most common resin type used in plastic packaging and the most universally accepted plastic in US municipal recycling programs. Recycling infrastructure for post-consumer PET is also the most mature. How can we address the stark under-performance of PET recycling through investment in solutions that provide long-term benefits to the system overall?

Ideally, demand pull from end users would encourage the recovery and reprocessing of post-consumer recycled PET; yet the market is constrained by the ability of suppliers to offer rPET at prices that can compete with virgin PET resin. If we are ever going to be able to grow the rPET market, we need better solutions that drive efficiencies throughout the process, improve the cost structure of producing rPET, and enhance the material’s overall value.

 

Read the full report

Statistics

More than 6 billion pounds of PET bottles and containers are generated each year

Less than 30% of the PET used in bottles and jars is recovered in the US

6% is re-used as rPET in new bottle

Our Work

In an analysis conducted by Closed Loop Partners with RRS, we have identified a suite of interventions that would greatly improve the cost structure of rPET and benefit MRFs, reprocessors, and end-users.

If implemented nationally, we could increase the recycling rate of PET by 6% and close the loop on nearly 80 million pounds of PET bottles each year – without putting a single new cart on the street.

Focusing on bottle-to-bottle processes, we identified several interventions that effectively improve yield from residential curbside collection by more than 20% and lower costs of rPET processing by 10%.By targeting action and investment, MRFs, reclaimers, reprocessors, and end-users could realize value for themselves and across the system.

THE COST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RPET VS. VIRGIN PRODUCTION PROCESSES:

  • Virgin: Virgin material is produced at scale by combining raw material inputs (PTA, MEG) in a polymerization process. At the time of the study, the estimated average cost to produce virgin PET was $0.60-0.65 per pound.
  • RPET: Post-consumer recycled PET must travel from consumer to MRF to reclaimer/reprocessor to end user – at each stage there is potential for yield loss and inefficiency. At the time of the study, the estimated average cost to produce virgin PET was $0.52-0.56 per pound.

 

FACTORS THAT ARE DRIVING COSTS FOR RPET:

  • Quantity: Consumer access to, and participation in, convenient recycling determines supply of PET. Supply is not influenced by price or demand; rather, supply is a function of municipal and state policies that determine material recovery, and consumer behavior.
  • Quality and Yield of Pet Bales: In non-Bottle Bill states where PET is generally recovered through curbside collection, PET bales out of MRFs have sold for, on average, ~$0.17 per pound, national average (picked up). Bottle Bill bales typically command a premium of $.05 to $.15 per pound over curbside.
  • Cleaning and Sorting: Mechanical processing of the PET bale, and the subsequent conversion to flake, drives costs by an estimated average of $0.19 per pound. The many contamination / yield issues are partly a result of MRF inefficiencies in sorting, but also partly result from design decisions made by brand owners that are counter-productive to the recycling process.
  • Conversion of Flake to Pellet: The estimated average cost of this process is $0.10 per pound.
  • Inconsistency of Supply: In addition to inelastic (i.e., not affected by pricing) volume of material collected, the quality of rPET can vary with little warning. The variability can make it difficult for end users to maintain a consistent quality specification without adapting the process or blend of materials being used.
  • Volatility of Commodity Prices: RPET is typically purchased on the spot market. Price volatility prevents suppliers from being able to invest in capital expenses to keep up with the latest technology or expand capacity.

 

WE HAVE DETERMINED A NUMBER OF PROVEN INTERVENTIONS THAT WORK:

  • MRF Sorting and Quality Control: this includes installing optical sorters and robotics equipment, and implementing best management practices
  • Flake to Resin/Perform: installing equipment that would bypass the pellet stage, going from flake directly to blend with virgin resin or to perform.
  • Brand Commitment to APR Design Guidelines: implemented by end users/brand owners
  • Brand Procurement Strategies: this includes pricing to minimize volatility and long-term purchase agreements, negotiated between the end-user and reprocessor
  • Chemical Depolymerization: installing/operating new plant to produce like-vigin PTA and MEG monomers
  • Byproduct Market Development: for non-PETmaterials (e.g. PP, PE) would incentivize MRFs to improve quality of PET bales, and other commodities

 

Closed Loop Foundation 

Research and analysis

Glass Recycling Research

Investing in glass clean-up systems at material recycling facilities (MRFs) offers higher value commodities and significant savings for the entire system.

As more municipalities transition to single-stream recycling, glass is arriving at recycling facilities (MRFs) in larger volumes, taxing the limits of aging equipment. The resulting material is more contaminated, making it difficult for downstream processors and manufacturers to use. Glass prices are lower too, driving down profitability and offering few downstream options for MRFs. As a result, more glassends up in landfills.

Across the country, municipalities and MRFs are spending more than $150M a year to dispose of single-stream glass. The problem is likely to get worse as markets continue to decline. As a result, more municipalities and MRFs have chosen to remove glass from their recycling programs in recent months. If the trend continues, the system will recover less and less of the glass generated each year, despite the fact that manufacturers can save significant costs and energy using recycled glass. All stakeholders – from municipalities and MRFs to processors, manufacturers, and brand owners – need a more efficient and cost-effective solution to handle single-stream glass.

 

Read the full report

 

Our Work

Closed Loop Foundation’s glass study was conducted with support from HEINEKEN USA in July through December, 2016. Our research team interviewed industry stakeholders, including MRF operators, equipment providers, consultants, glass processors, and end users.

Additional data and research included in this report was obtained from interviewees, Glass Packaging Institute, RRS, and US EPA. Data on MRFs provided by Governmental Advisory Associates, Inc., 2016-2017 Database on Material Recovery Facilities and Mixed Waste Processing Facilities in the U.S., copyright 2016.

Closed Loop Foundation 

 

Media Coverage