How a South Carolina paper mill started recycling your paper coffee cups: A spotlight on Sonoco and its recycling tests with the NextGen Consortium
September 26, 2023
In July 2022, Sonoco announced it would accept paper cups in bales of mixed paper at its paper mill in Hartsville, South Carolina. The NextGen Consortium supported cup trials with Sonoco. Below, we discuss with Scott Byrne, Director, Global Sustainability Services at Sonoco how the organization made this decision and what considerations companies might want to take when exploring the recyclability of different types of packaging.
This work represents part of a forthcoming report on paper cup recovery in the United States intended for release in late fall.
Scott Byrne, Director, Global Sustainability Services at Sonoco
1. Who is Sonoco and what are you focused on?
Sonoco is a South Carolina-based global packaging company with more than 20 mills worldwide. Among our packaging products, we manufacture rigid paper cans, steel cans, thermoformed plastics and other packaging formats. Sonoco is uniquely positioned as a leading recycler, paper mill operator and paper packaging converter, in addition to other formats, to help push the industry to look towards future innovations and grow end-of-life solutions across the entire paper value chain.
2. How do you typically approach recycling of new products at your mills?
After validating that our mills could recycle rigid paper cans in residential mixed paper, we decided to further demonstrate the ability to recycle other similar polycoated fiber-based containers through the post-consumer mixed paper stream.
3. Where do you currently accept paper cups?
Hartsville, South Carolina. and we are exploring other Sonoco mills as well that use residential mixed paper.
4. What are some of the steps you took to determine that accepting cups wouldn’t create new challenges for your mill?
With support from the NextGen Consortium, we conducted two main activities to assess how cups might behave. First, we conducted lab-based testing of both single- and double-sided poly-coated fiber cups. Second, and after we were confident that the cups would not pose any issues to our equipment, we ran a large-scale trial whereby we dosed in nearly 20 tons of cupstock and cups into our pulper alongside other mixed paper, increasing the volume relative to other materials to test the system and upper bounds of materials we’d anticipate receiving if we accepted cups. Based on those results we felt confident that cups could be included in our accepted materials list and we were thrilled to have the mill listed alongside others on Foodservice Packaging Institute’s end market map of mills that accept cups.
5. What about your other paper mills?
Before we broadly accept cups at more of our mills, we’d want to distill our findings from the Hartsville location and consider any additional steps those mills would need to take to feel confident in accepting cups. This might include additional lab-and mill-based trials.
6. Any advice you’d give to other mills considering including cups?
Every mill is slightly different, from their equipment to operating conditions to inbound material mix. Testing to those conditions is a key proof point in determining what might work best in that location.
7. What’s next for Sonoco in its efforts to improve polycoated paper recycling?
Sonoco is a founding member of the Polycoated Paper Alliance that kicked-off in March 2023, which aims to increase widespread end-market acceptance of polycoated paper packaging products. We are collaborating with like-minded member brands and industry leaders on developing improved and harmonized data, updated design guidelines, expanded end market acceptance and upgraded mill specifications, among other initiatives.
How AI Could Change the Way We Think About Recycling
September 11, 2023
Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy and the NextGen Consortium launch a new study with AI technology company Greyparrot to analyze the composition of polypropylene in recycling streams
Behind the walls of recycling facilities across the U.S., a sea of materials moves through hands and machines working hard to get them to the end of the line––and the beginning of their next life. A critical balance of manual labor and automation enables the sorting and recovery of these materials in a closed loop system. Yet despite a multi-step sortation process, it is difficult to track what flows through the system at all times. It’s a challenge that results in many recycled materials losing potential value, in addition to millions of dollars worth of valuable material being sent to landfill unintentionally.
Among the diverse materials flowing through the recycling system are the yogurt containers, and iced coffee and fountain beverage cups many of us use on a regular basis. These are just a few examples of products made of one of the most commonly used resins in foodservice packaging today: polypropylene (PP). PP is a valuable material that should be kept in circulation to reduce waste and meet corporate commitments to use more recycled content in foodservice packaging. With that said, very little mechanically recycled food-grade PP actually cycles back into food-grade applications. Most end up in nonfood-grade applications that limit their value and the number of times they can be reused. To create a more circular path for food-grade PP, we must first answer the question: what is in the PP stream today, and how much of it is food-grade or clear food-grade PP?
The NextGen Consortium is a multi-year industry collaboration addressing single-use foodservice packaging waste by advancing solutions across material innovation, reuse and recovery infrastructure––and it’s working to answer that question. In the fall of 2022, the Consortium partnered with Resource Recycling Systems to examine PP bales in two materials recovery facilities (MRFs) to learn what was inside. While only a snapshot in time, the results were enlightening.
On average, nearly half of the PP bales (48%) were presumed food-grade, and more than a quarter of the bales were clear food-grade (26%). Clear beverage cups represented 14% of the bale on average. The high percentage of food-grade PP suggested that there is untapped value in the PP stream. A better system is required to ensure food-grade and/or clear food-grade PP is properly sorted into a separate bale at some point in the value chain if we are to retain its highest potential value.
This year, the NextGen Consortium is diving even deeper, launching a first-of-its-kind study leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze the composition of the PP material stream well before it ends up in a bale. Together with its managing partner––Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy––the NextGen Consortium is working with Greyparrot, a leading AI waste analytics platform for the circular economy. The collaboration aims to track and categorize objects in the PP stream, and determine the volume of valuable food-grade material passing through the system. AI is on the rise as one potential means of increasing visibility into the recycling process. Today, more technologies are needed to handle an increasingly mixed stream of collected materials, including plastics, electronics, textiles and food scraps––and to enable the recovery of clean, high-quality materials.
“Ensuring that recovery infrastructure can keep pace with a rapidly growing and diverse material stream is critical to advancing the circular economy, alongside solutions such as material innovation, reduction and reuse,” said Kate Daly, Managing Director and Head of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “An important part of our work in the NextGen Consortium is identifying opportunities for data collection and analysis that can advance the circularity of foodservice packaging, and drive greater value for stakeholders across the system, including brands, innovators, infrastructure operators and consumers.”
As part of this project, the Greyparrot Analyser units will be installed above the PP recovery conveyor belts at four leading U.S. MRFs: Balcones Recycling, TX; Cougles Recycling, PA; Rumpke Recycling, OH; and Eureka Recycling, MN. Greyparrot’s AI-powered computer vision system uses cameras to capture images of objects in the PP stream, aiming to quantify and qualify the materials flowing through the MRFs. Their AI model will look to categorize each object based on material, format, financial value and brand, as well as distinguish food- and nonfood-grade material, using those images. Their units will then send that data to an analytics dashboard in real-time. Through machine learning, the flexible vision systems can help improve their package recognition and classification over time.
“We use artificial intelligence to gain continuous and reliable visibility into recycling streams,” said Ambarish Mitra, Co-founder and CPO of Greyparrot. “This helps us improve recycling operations by placing waste intelligence into the hands of the people who are recovering, redesigning and remanufacturing the objects we throw away. We are thrilled to work with our U.S. partners towards our vision of a future where every piece of waste is valued as a resource.”
The collaborative project––a first of its kind in North America––will run for more than six months. During that period, it will gather data on the composition of PP bales over time, while accounting for seasonality. That insight can help determine the potential untapped value in these streams, and identify other materials that might be coming through unintentionally. This data can also help shed light on the presumed volume of food-grade material being captured in the system, along with opportunities for recovery and separation into distinct value chains. More broadly, this can advance a circular economy for valuable materials, improve material quality delivered to recycling facilities, and enhance the value of recyclable commodities shipped to U.S. end markets.
“A lot is unknown about the curbside polypropylene stream today. Filling these knowledge gaps can increase the pace of development for material recovery. Understanding the composition of the stream in a large-scale study highlights potential, reduces risk for pioneers and accelerates better design implementation. This study will be the catalyst to developing much larger-scale recycling of polypropylene,” said Curt Cozart, President of Common Sense Solutions and Technical Advisor to the project.
PP cup recovery––alongside material innovation, reuse and fiber cup recovery––is a critical focus for the NextGen Consortium. According to The Recycling Partnership, more than 2 billion pounds of PP are generated every year by single-family households in the U.S. If just 30% of this material were recovered, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 300,000 metric tons, providing over 600 million pounds of valuable raw material to companies with recycled content commitments for their foodservice packaging, both voluntary and mandated.
The NextGen Consortium has been actively involved in PP recovery since 2021, when it joined The Recycling Partnership’s Polypropylene Recycling Coalition as a Steering Committee member. Through this initiative, the group helps to fund equipment grants for MRFs so that they can effectively capture PP packaging, and improve community recycling access rates. In addition to improving recycling access, the NextGen Consortium is committed to driving recycling rates by supporting the recovery of post-consumer recycled content (PCR) that can be re-incorporated into packaging.
This collaboration with Greyparrot and MRFs across the U.S. is one critical step toward achieving the NextGen Consortium’s goals. As more data about the PP material stream is captured over the next six months, the Consortium will analyze the new data, identifying opportunities to improve PP sortation and recovery into higher value, new food-grade applications and areas where more research is needed. The NextGen Consortium continues to invite additional MRFs to participate in the project, to gain a better understanding into what is flowing through their material streams and identify ways to drive more value to the system.
About the NextGen Consortium
The NextGen Consortium is a multi-year consortium that addresses single-use food packaging waste globally by advancing the design, commercialization, and recovery of food packaging alternatives. The NextGen Consortium is managed by Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy. Starbucks and McDonald’s are the founding partners of the Consortium, with The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo as sector lead partners. JDE Peet’s, Wendy’s and Yum! Brands are supporting partners. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is the environmental advisory partner. Learn more at www.nextgenconsortium.com.
About the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners
Closed Loop Partners is a New York-based investment firm comprised of venture capital, private equity, project-based finance and an innovation center. In 2018, Closed Loop Partners launched its innovation center, the Center for the Circular Economy, which unites competitors to tackle complex material challenges and to implement systemic change that advances the circular economy. Closed Loop Partners brings together designers, manufacturers, recovery systems operators, trade organizations, municipalities, policymakers and NGOs to create, invest in, and support scalable innovations that target big system problems. Learn more about the Center’s work here.
Making reuse an everyday reality: 3 things we must consider before scale
September 06, 2023
Reuse is now at a critical stage of development. A plethora of innovation has expanded the realm of possibilities, but what will it take to get to the point of industry-scale disruption?
Earlier this year, seven winners of the highly anticipated 2023 Reusies were announced on stage at GreenBiz’s Circularity23 Conference in Seattle. The winners encompassed corporate and community initiatives, and B2B and B2C reuse innovations across food & beverage, consumer packaged goods and fashion & apparel. Together, they provided a window into the best and brightest developments in the reuse space. Indeed, hundreds of start-ups and large corporates are working on making reuse an everyday reality for consumers, with applications as far-ranging as closed system solutions for corporate campuses and events, to software companies supporting reuse-as-a-service, and refill applications in retail or in commercial, industrial and event spaces. The potential for reuse to reduce waste has catalyzed much innovation and brought conversations to a fever pitch.
Reuse is now at a critical stage of development. A plethora of innovation has expanded the realm of possibilities, but what will it take to get to the point of industry-scale disruption? Making reuse a far-reaching and everyday reality––where reusable items are consistently and efficiently reused to make a significant difference and reduce environmental impact––requires continued testing, collaboration across the value chain, investment and supportive policy.
At Closed Loop Partners, reuse systems are an integral part of our vision of a transition away from the take-make-waste economy and toward a circular economy. When products that have historically been single-use are able to be used two, five, ten or one hundred times, and the proper recovery infrastructure is in place for their eventual end-of-life, that can make a meaningful difference on reducing valuable materials sent to landfill––and on the embodied carbon, water and materials required to produce the item in the first place.
But to get to this next horizon, a number of factors must be considered to ensure that reuse does not result in unintended consequences and instead serves a truly circular economy:
1. Closed or semi-closed reuse systems are a key starting point, especially at early stages of adoption. On-premise reuse unlocks higher return rates which can make reuse systems profitable––or at least breakeven. In open systems, as consumers use and dispose products away from point of adoption, more complex collection networks and communication strategies are needed to drive returns. For this reason, closed systems can operate with lower upfront capital expenditures and lower recurring operating expenditures until the time at which consumer behavior has shifted to be more amenable to open systems (see #3!).
2. Reuse is a hardware-first business, and requires capital and collaborations to build localized infrastructure––including collection, sorting and washing. There continues to be a shortage of washing infrastructure needed for reuse solutions, and traditional waste management players are not currently set up for the type of collection and sorting needed for reusable products that are intended to stay in circulation for more than one use. Many software-only solutions still require partnerships with washers and logistics providers. There is an opportunity for founders, corporates and municipal governments to build out these partnerships to enable reuse and share in the funding that will be required to build this new infrastructure.
3. Broad consumer adoption starts with meeting customers where they are today. There are still many customers that have yet to be onboarded into the reuse culture. As we’ve seen in our work through the Beyond the Bag Consortium and the NextGen Consortium, we need to design solutions with current behaviors in mind and support customers as they build new habits. Advancing reuse won’t happen overnight; cross-industry and cross-company collaboration, a range of solutions, clear messaging and consistent regulatory frameworks are required to effectively support consumers in adopting reuse within their communities, as the industry addresses complex waste challenges. Importantly, in-market testing plays a key role in unlocking what works effectively in the market and meets customer needs. Today’s market is complex, with diverse customer demographics and shopping habits, different operations across retailers, a range of reuse packaging materials and more that need to be considered.
We see experimentation as a critical precedent to scale. Reuse is no simple feat, and testing market fit and operation alignment is an important step to expand reuse responsibly and mitigate unintended consequences that can happen without a measured examination of new systems. But isolated, small-scale experiments will not get us there. Closed Loop Partners runs multi-brand reuse tests through its Center for the Circular Economy to identify tactics that are proven and ready to scale, as well as models that require further tweaking and iteration to deliver the expected environmental and financial outcomes. While we work to scale proven solutions, we continue to de-risk systems that need refinement. Our in-field deployments intentionally mimic large-scale, cross-brand implementation, but in a controlled manner. The insights and data gleaned from these tests are key stepping stones to new rounds of implementation and scale. Most recently, the Beyond the Bag Consortium’s largest multi-brand reusable bag pilots tested a range of reuse solutions to understand what it will take to effectively drive reduction of single-use plastic bags. Next year, the NextGen Consortium will go back into market to test the viability of reusable cup systems across multiple brands. These tests unlock important insights on what it will take to build a culture of reuse and will serve as the foundation for identifying scalable initiatives.
With all these developments, we believe we’ll get there. There are tremendous tailwinds supporting the development of reuse and a multitude of communities, innovators and corporations committed to seeing the shift through. To do so, the next five years are critical to pivot from bespoke solutions to shared frameworks, from ad hoc consumer engagement to a consistent drumbeat, and from in market tests to truly scaled solutions. We are excited to be working to advance the transition from innovation to scaled solutions that can replace single-use. Join us!
This article represents perspectives from across Closed Loop Partners, including the Center for the Circular Economy and Closed Loop Capital Management. Special thanks to Kate Daly, Carol Lobel, Danielle Joseph, Aly Bryan and Anne-Marie Kaluz for sharing their thoughts for this piece.
How Closed Loop Partners’ Multi-Million Dollar Investment in LRS Is Expanding Recycling Infrastructure and Access in Chicago
August 16, 2023
This is Closed Loop Partners’ third loan to LRS, which will support the Exchange, its newly constructed materials recovery facility, accelerating materials circularity in the third largest city in the U.S.
When Closed Loop Partners provided its first loan to LRS almost 10 years ago, the leading recycling company was already making waves to advance materials circularity in the Chicagoland area. Operating in the third largest city in the U.S., home to 2.7 million people, LRS has faced significant opportunity to recover valuable materials and expand recycling access at scale, and has been at the forefront of this work, strengthening the recycling infrastructure needed to advance the circular economy. Over the last several years, LRS made critical advancements in its growth, supported by catalytic capital from circular economy investment firm, Closed Loop Partners. Today, LRS, the largest recycling company in the Chicagoland area, has reached another pivotal moment of growth: a newly constructed materials recovery facility (MRF) in the heart of Chicago, the Exchange. Supporting the newly constructed MRF, and the innovative technology housed within it, is a multi-million dollar loan from Closed Loop Partners’ Infrastructure Group.
The Closed Loop Partners team at LRS’s ribbon cutting ceremony; photo credit: Closed Loop Partners
Pictured left to right: Jennifer Louie (CLP), Kate Krebs (CLP), Ray Hugel (CLP)
The state-of-the art MRF is now operational and expected to divert 224 million pounds of recycled material per year. It will house cutting-edge system components, including new artificial intelligence (AI)-powered equipment and other technologies to advance efficient materials sortation and recovery in the Chicagoland area. The loan is closing at a critical time, as infrastructure upgrades and innovative technologies are needed to handle an increasingly mixed stream of collected materials, including plastics & packaging, textiles and food scraps. AI and automation play an important role in improving material sortation and reducing contamination across different material streams, enabling the recovery of clean, high-quality materials. The AI-powered sortation technology to be integrated at the Exchange will enable LRS to sort polypropylene (PP) plastic for the first time in the Chicagoland area, including cold to go cups and yogurt containers. The new automated technology is also expected to mitigate labor risks at the facility, as well as add new jobs to manage the new equipment––increasing job quality and safety.
LRS Exchange Facility – LRS employees celebrate the grand opening of The Exchange materials recovery facility, which created 50 new full-time jobs in the city; photo credit: Sean Kennedy/LRS
This is Closed Loop Partners’ third loan to LRS, building on a robust track record between the two entities. The investment firm’s first and second loans to the recycling company contributed to the growth of their operations at a critical moment, helping enable them to win the collection rights of recyclable materials in three additional Chicago Blue Cart recycling zones. This new loan, provided by three catalytic funds within Closed Loop Partners’ Infrastructure Group––the Closed Loop Infrastructure Fund, Closed Loop Circular Plastics Fund and Closed Loop Beverage Fund––helps expand LRS’s capacity, as the Exchange will process recyclable material collected from all six of Chicago’s Blue Cart zones, sorting material for approximately 430,000 households, encompassing over one million people. The Exchange’s expanded capacity will also enable LRS to collect material from other areas surrounding the city, reducing landfilling and providing recycling access for more communities.
“This is a key moment of our expansion, as we extend our reach and impact across the Chicagoland area,” says John Larsen, chief operating officer, LRS. “This loan to support our new facility helps us serve even more households in the area, and sort and process more valuable materials––including polypropylene, for the first time in the region. Closed Loop Partners has been a key part of LRS’s meaningful growth over the years and we are proud to work with their team again in this work to recycle even more valuable materials and reduce waste.”
Ribbon cutting ceremony for LRS’ new $50 million materials recovery facility (MRF) in Chicago, IL; photo credit: Sean Kennedy/LRS
Pictured left to right: Emily Olsen-Torch (LRS), David Fass (Macquarie), Department of Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Cole Stallard, Rich Golf (LRS), Chief Operating Officer John Larsen (LRS), Cook County Commissioner John Daley, Executive Vice President John Silwicki (LRS)
Over the last nearly 10 years, Closed Loop Partners’ Infrastructure Group––the investment firm’s catalytic capital group––has played a key role in identifying and advancing novel technologies and infrastructure development to help private companies and municipalities keep more materials in circulation and out of landfills. Funded by many of the largest consumer goods, technology and material science companies, the catalytic strategy aims to accelerate further investment into materials circularity and drive net positive environmental and social outcomes. To date, the Closed Loop Infrastructure Group has helped keep approximately three million tons of material in circulation across 30 private loans and 15 municipal loans.
The loan to LRS is a milestone for Closed Loop Partners’ catalytic capital funds participating in the financing:
Aligned with the Closed Loop Infrastructure Fund’s goal to improve efficiencies in circular economy infrastructure, the loan to LRS will significantly expand processing capacity in the Chicagoland area;
Further aligned with the Closed Loop Circular Plastics Fund’s goal to advance the recovery and recycling of plastics, the new equipment at the Exchange will capture and separate PP from the stream, with an expected rate of 650 tons of PP collected per year;
Finally, as the Closed Loop Beverage Fund, in partnership with the American Beverage Association, aims to improve the circularity of PET, a critical plastic to the beverage industry, the loan will help reduce LRS’s residue rate in the Chicagoland area, which will enable an increase in other salable commodities annually, including PET for bottle-to-bottle applications. This investment is part of the beverage industry’s Every Bottle Back initiatve, an integrated and comprehensive partnership between America’s leading beverage companies––The Coca-Cola Company, Keurig Dr Pepper and PepsiCo––to reduce the industry’s use of new plastic. The loan is expected to unlock at minimum an additional 150 tons of PET per year.
“One of our industry’s highest priorities is to create a circular economy for our bottles and cans. We are taking action at every step to make sure they are remade as intended,” said Kevin Keane, interim president and chief executive officer of American Beverage. “Chicago is a great and innovative American city. It is exciting to partner on a significant project that will serve to enhance its beauty, environment and quality of life. America’s leading beverage companies are carefully designing our bottles to be 100% recyclable and investing in modern recycling systems to reduce our plastic footprint and keep plastic out of nature. We are excited to continue that work here in Chicago and thank everyone who made this investment a reality.”
“As the circular economy grows across North America, companies that are vital to its development require access to financing to upgrade technology and expand capacity. Closed Loop Partners’ Infrastructure Group is proud to support leading private and public organizations advancing material circularity through upgraded infrastructure and innovative technologies,” says Jennifer Louie, Managing Director of the Closed Loop Infrastructure Group at Closed Loop Partners. “LRS has been a leader in developing the infrastructure needed to accelerate materials circularity in the Chicagoland region. We are thrilled to be working with their team to advance circularity in one of the largest cities in the U.S., keeping more materials in circulation and serving more communities.”
As LRS enters its next phase of growth, Closed Loop Partners will work closely with the LRS team to integrate new technologies into the facility and bolster potential end markets for materials recycled by the facility, helping establish more robust circular systems in the region.
Learn more about Closed Loop Partners’ catalytic capital strategy here.
The testimonials provided are from current clients and Limited Partners of Closed Loop Partners. No compensation was provided for the statements, and the statements do not present any material conflicts of interests.
What is chemical recycling, why does it have so many different names, and why does it matter?
August 15, 2023
Closed Loop Partners spent 18 months investigating the environmental impacts and financial viability of several types of molecular recycling technologies (sometimes also called advanced recycling or chemical recycling) to understand how and if these diverse technologies can fit into a circular future for plastics. Here’s what we found.
- Molecular recycling is a diverse sector that can be categorized into three distinct technology categories: purification, depolymerization and conversion.
Figure 1: Molecular Recycling Technology Categories and Their Outputs
Molecular recycling is a broad umbrella term – also referred to as chemical recycling or advanced recycling – that encompasses dozens of technologies that use solvents, heat, enzymes, and even sound waves to purify or break down a wide range of plastic feedstocks to create polymers, monomers, oligomers or hydrocarbon products so that they can re-enter manufacturing supply chains, instead of going to landfill.
In other words, molecular recycling technologies can break down plastic waste into its constituent building blocks, which can then be used to create new plastic products. These technologies are only circular when their supply chains produce a final product. Converting plastics to fuel is not recycling or circular. Molecular recycling is a group of technologies that can complement mechanical recycling and help widen the aperture of plastic waste that we can recycle today.
- Molecular recycling is only one part of a suite of solutions to address plastic waste; both upstream and downstream solutions are needed, including design and reuse, as well as mechanical and molecular recycling, and policy.
Figure 2. The suite of solutions needed to reduce plastic waste
Molecular recycling is part of a suite of solutions needed for a circular plastics economy. It is not a silver bullet but plays an important role in creating a waste-free future for our hardest-to-recycle plastics which include the 41 million metric tons of textiles and approximately 2,000 wind turbine blades expected to go to landfill in the U.S. every year.
- Expanding the scope of plastics that we recycle is important given the diversity of plastics in our economy. We will not achieve a waste-free future unless we scale solutions that address all plastics.
Figure 3. Common Plastics Without Commercial Recovery Solutions, Typically Sent to Landfill every year
The “plastics waste crisis” has been defined in the public and policy discourse as created by single-use plastics. Yet, two-thirds of plastics put into use in the U.S. today are used for purposes other than single-use packaging. These types of plastics are equally visible and challenging to recover and reuse.
- Molecular recycling can expand the scope of plastic waste we can recycle, helping to preserve the value of resources in our economy.
Figure 4: Inputs and outputs for mechanical, purification, depolymerization and conversion technologies from input to output.
Plastic is as ubiquitous as it is diverse. Our current mechanical recycling system is designed to address only a small fraction of plastics in the market – namely, plastic water bottles (PET), milk jugs (HDPE), and in some markets, yogurt cups (rigid polypropylene). Plastic packaging, like plastic film (LDPE) and clear boxy packaging that many salad mixes are sold in (PET thermosets) are sometimes downcycled into plastic lumber. Textiles and durable plastics are recycled in lower quantities or not at all because there is less consistent demand for these recycled plastics. As a consequence, most plastic waste ends up in landfill.
Molecular recycling technologies can widen the aperture of plastic waste that we can recycle today beyond packaging. Purification technologies can process electronic waste and films. Depolymerization technologies, which largely focus on PET and polyesters, are a critical recycling solution for synthetic textiles including carpets and athletic clothing. Conversion technologies like gasification can even take mixed waste, breaking down feedstock to basic carbon and hydrogen atoms.
- Conversion technologies like pyrolysis and gasification can process the highest volume of plastic packaging and can accept mixed plastic packaging feedstock.
Closed Loop Partners evaluated nine different technology processes across the three technology categories. When evaluating the total packaging volumes across the United States and Canada, we found that the conversion technologies could accept 82% of all plastic packaging produced, which is more than mechanical, purification, or depolymerization technologies could address alone. These types of technologies also can process mixed plastic waste, while purification and depolymerization requires a sorted and single-resin feedstock. Because feedstock can be mixed, conversion technology companies are often paid to take feedstock rather than paying for feedstock.
Figure 5. Percent of US and Canadian Plastic Packaging that Closed Loop Partner’s Cohort of Molecular recycling Technologies could Address
- When considering downstream solutions, a critical metric of success is the amount of recycled plastic (PCR) that each technology solution can produce. The less a polymer is broken down through molecular recycling process, the more recycled plastic will be produced.
Each molecular recycling technology category has a distinct supply chain. For example, purification technologies produce finished recycled plastic. Depolymerization technologies produce monomers which would be sent downstream to be easily repolymerized back into plastic. Conversion technologies have the longest route back to becoming plastic. A pyrolysis technology company will produce pyrolysis oil which would be sent and processed by a steam cracker to produce monomers, which are then sent downstream to make plastic again.
Closed Loop Partners calculated how much plastic resin would be produced by each of the three main molecular recycling technologies discussed in this series (e.g., purification, depolymerization and conversion) if we were to put 1,000 kilograms of plastic feedstock into the technology reactor. Purification yielded the highest amount at 88% of material processing efficiency. Conversion technologies yielded the lowest amount of recycled plastic with a 42% processing efficiency. The capacity to move away from virgin plastics requires the recycling sector to be as efficient as possible.
Figure 6: Average mass yield when 1,000kg of plastic waste is put into each technology process
- From an environmental perspective, purification and depolymerization technologies have a smaller environmental footprint, on average, compared to conversion technologies.
Closed Loop Partners also analyzed the energy, greenhouse gases and water impacts of individual technology processes, and the systems-level impact of producing different polymers via purification, depolymerization and conversion technologies. On average, purification was the best performing category across all environmental measures, yielding 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to the virgin plastics supply chain. Depolymerization had an average greenhouse gas reduction of 12%, while conversion technologies reduced carbon emissions by 7%, on average. Decarbonizing the plastics supply chain requires prioritizing the solutions that help to meaningfully improve the status quo.
Figure 7: Summary of environmental impacts to produce recycled plastic by technology category
- The less a polymer is broken down through molecular recycling process, the fewer virgin petrochemical inputs are needed to make plastic again – which can reduce the human health impacts of plastic production compared to virgin plastic production.
Several chemical inputs are used to produce plastic. We’ve pictured the chemical tree to make PET which is the plastic used in water bottles. Because plastic can be recycled by many types of molecular recycle technologies, our team wanted to understand the potential human health impacts of different technologies. While qualitative in nature, our findings strongly suggest that the less a polymer is broken down through a molecular recycling process, the lower the human health risk because fewer chemicals and processing are
required to build back the polymer. In the illustration below, depolymerization technologies have an advantage over conversion technologies that can also process PET because depolymerization displaces more of the virgin supply chain to create an equivalent amount of plastic.
Figure 8: Summary of environmental impacts to produce recycled plastic by technology category
- The economic viability of molecular recycling technologies varies depending on several factors, such as the cost and accessibility of feedstocks and the market demand for the recycled products.
Analyses conducted by Closed Loop Partners over the course of 18 months across nine technology companies found that at least one technology company was financially viable in each category. Specifically, seven of the nine technology companies evaluated had a positive internal rate of return (IRR) ranging from 6% to 62% in the 2021 base case. It is also noteworthy that two-thirds of the technology companies in our study had positive IRRs, given that our base case assumes that these technologies are expected to sell their outputs at market commodity prices without a premium. Figure 5 above summarizes the expected rate of return across three scenarios: 2021 market pricing, 2019 market pricing, and the expected output pricing cited by the technology companies themselves.
Figure 5: Expected Internal Rate of Return (%) Ranges for Each of the Three Molecular Recycling Technologies
- There are tradeoffs to each molecular recycling technology category and type. The viability of one solution depends on those metrics that matter most to a brand, investor, or community.
The molecular recycling sector is incredibly nuanced and diverse. Not all technology groups are at the same level of development. Their tolerance for mixed plastics or other contamination varies company to company, just like their performance across environmental impact metrics like energy, water and greenhouse gas emissions. Due diligence prior to investing in strong performing technologies is critical. Closed Loop Partners has summarized the results when observing the category averages between purification, depolymerization, and conversion in the table below. This summary is based on our review of nine technology companies between 2020-2021 and should only serve as a point of data, not a definitive source on the state of the sector at large. The opportunity for consumer brands, policymakers, and investors is to collaborate to develop a vision of success for this sector.
To read our full report on molecular recycling technologies, including a list of more than 100 questions that investors and brands should ask when considering investing in this sector, visit Closed Loop Partner’s website.
How Today’s Single-Use Habits Can Inform the Direction of Reuse Systems of the Future
April 24, 2023
To build successful reuse systems, we need to make reuse a natural choice for customers.
With around 250 billion single-use cups used globally each year, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and lost resources, there is a significant opportunity to reduce our waste by learning from the journey of everyday materials, like cups, that are part of many people’s daily routine. Understanding customer motivation, preference, and behavior is a critical step in advancing a circular economy, where materials are kept in circulation and designed with their next life and use in mind.
Over the past two years, our NextGen Consortium has surveyed thousands of customers on how they buy and consume beverages on the go, and what they do with their cups after they are done. We examined survey results* across three types of cups for: 1) hot coffee, 2) iced coffee, and 3) fountain soda. These findings inform not only how to improve recycling and composting outcomes for cups today, but also how to optimize for reusable cup systems in the future.
What we learned:
1) Lives are busy, and people sip on the go.
- Most customers purchase drinks in single-use cups during busy, on-the-go moments, and drink them in their car
- Most people finish drinking within 30 mins to one hour, but hold on to their cup for an hour or more––except for hot coffee drinkers, who generally dispose of their cups in less than one hour
2) Nearly half of all cups finish their journey at home.
- The most common cup journey starts in a drive-thru, is consumed in a vehicle, and then is placed in the trash at home
- Few customers dispose of their cup at a coffee shop/restaurant, including in the parking lot
- Most cups end up in waste streams at home, work or school
3) Reusing a cup is more common than it may appear.
- This is especially true for convenience/gas station purchases and among customers with lower income
- Customers are significantly more likely to bring their reusable coffee cups to convenience/gas station vs. other restaurant/coffee shop settings
4) Once customers embrace reuse, they tend to stick to it.
- Of customers who typically reuse their cup, half say they “almost always” bring a refillable cup with them
5) There is a desire to cut down on waste if it is convenient.
- Customers express an interest in different disposal methods, but don’t want to go out of their way to do so
- While the majority of customers prefer to reuse or recycle their cups, the say-do gap is real, and the process to recycle or reuse needs to be seamless for people
- Given the choice, customers say they would rather recycle their cup than throw it in the trash
Gaining a better understanding of how customers use and dispose of single-use cups today helps to inform the optimal design of reusable cups and cup sharing systems. As we test these new systems and think through what it will take for reusable cups to become part of our cultural norms and daily habits, these survey findings can help us meet customers where they are instead of expecting new behaviors. These findings also prompt important questions, such as:
- How can we make it easy for customers to borrow reusable cups in drive thrus and return the cups on the go and/or from their homes or place of work?
- How do we continue to strengthen multi-brand partnerships to build dense networks of restaurants and coffee shops participating in collaborative returnable cup programs?
- If customers are still not clear on where to dispose their single-use cups, how do we educate them when a fourth bin of reusable cups is added to the equation? And how do we design reusable cups for recoverability when they do end up in a recycling bin?
- For beverages consumed in the car, how might we encourage the use of more durable and insulated reusable options that replicate the performance benefits of styrofoam, a much less sustainable option?
- Since the overwhelming number of cups are disposed of at home, the office or at school, can we explore residential or commercial reusable cup collection services that make participation as easy as disposing a cup in the trash or recycle bin?
Bottom line: To build successful reuse systems, we need to make reuse a natural choice for customers. If we make it easy for customers, as part of their busy daily routine, we can make reuse the top option for millions of people.
Our customer research findings are critical inputs to the NextGen Consortium’s broader strategy to accelerate the transition to reuse. We’ve been researching and testing reusable cups since 2018 and will continue to iterate and advance in 2023 and beyond with in-market tests and other studies, such as financial modeling and environmental impact analyses on reuse. If you would like to be a part of our upcoming studies and pilots, get in touch with us at [email protected].
* To explore customer behavior related to single-use cups, the NextGen Consortium conducted three, quantitative surveys with 2,500 U.S. respondents each focused on 1) hot coffee cups, 2) iced coffee cups, and 3) fountain soda cups over a period ranging from two to three weeks in 2021 and 2022. We examined how customers buy and consume beverages in single-use cups as well as what happens to the cup after purchase. In these studies, “customer” refers to respondents who purchase hot coffee, iced coffee, or fountain soda out of the home regularly, at least once per week.
How Personalized Home Delivery Models Could Spur Successful Reuse Systems
March 23, 2023
Georgia Sherwin, Senior Director at Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy interviews Bruno Ballester, ROYAL CANIN Individualization Senior Product Owner. ROYAL CANIN® offers customized pet food and home delivery in reusable packaging to meet the diverse needs of pet owners and in the process has generated interesting learnings about reuse adoption.
- In a nutshell, can you describe the reusable packaging system implemented by ROYAL CANIN and how it works?
Since June 2022, ROYAL CANIN®, a brand of Mars, Inc, has been partnering with reusable packaging innovator RePack to offer a sustainable solution for home deliveries of ROYAL CANIN IndividualisTM pet food refill orders in France, representing thousands of orders per month. ROYAL CANIN® IndividualisTM is an on-demand, individualized nutritional program created to answer every pet’s unique health needs. Pet owners receive their ROYAL CANIN order in returnable RePack delivery packaging. Once empty, the RePack packaging can be returned through the postal system for free, after which it is cleaned and reused. The packaging can go through this process up to 20 times. The reuse delivery packaging guarantees intact quality of our products at delivery.
After 20 cycles, analysis shows that RePack packaging results in only 0.1kg of waste and 0.9kg of CO2 emitted, compared to 3kg of waste and 4.4kg of CO2 for a cardboard box. The process represents a reduction of 80% of CO2 when comparing the lifecycle of a RePack bag to disposable packaging. We are now exploring potential opportunities to expand this project to the rest of Europe and North America.
- Why did you decide to implement a reuse model for ROYAL CANIN®? What factors contributed to it?
ROYAL CANIN® is committed to furthering sustainability across all our operations, knowing that reuse, recycling and upcycling packaging are key contributions in alleviating the impact of our activity and helping create a healthy future for pets, people and the planet. We also signed the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, which encourages responsible behavior and calls for collective engagement to ensure a common vision of a circular economy for plastic, in which it never becomes waste or pollution.
We feel that reuse habits have been lost to today’s dominant single-use, disposable culture, but we think reuse is a trend that is coming back and could become the norm.
This opt-out model for reuse has helped ensure momentum.
- How has customer adoption evolved over time since the launch of the program?
Customer adoption of the reusable RePack packaging program has been a great success. Importantly, while we leave the choice to our customers to ask if they prefer to switch back to the previous packaging approach, after several thousand orders, no customer has asked to change. This opt-out model for reuse has helped ensure momentum. We also inserted a QR code to collect feedback after each order and the overwhelming feedback from customers was positive. The program received a Net Promoter Score of 76, which indicates that the majority of customers are satisfied and would recommend the approach. In fact, a lot of customers noted they were surprised this type of solution isn’t being deployed more widely and becoming the norm.
A couple of great customer quotes about the reusable packaging system worth highlighting include, “I think it’s an excellent idea, congratulations to the inventor”, “I love it”, “a perfect solution”, “it is a very good initiative. I hope that many companies will follow this”, and “I find this idea great and very practical.” This kind of feedback is really encouraging for us to continue to push the bounds of sustainability initiatives. Beyond our net promoter score increasing, which indicates positive customer satisfaction, we’ve also saved time from an operations perspective by packing parcels with RePack vs. cardboard boxes.
- What’s been the biggest challenge for the program?
There are many different considerations when it comes to reuse. We usually ship our premium pet food in protective cardboard boxes to preserve the quality and the health benefits of the finished product up to the point of final consumption. Therefore, we had to ensure RePack packaging was strong enough to guarantee intact quality at delivery. It was also important for us to monitor and measure the feasibility of the program: how can we offer reusable packaging for each customer each month without increasing the costs? Should this solution cover several countries, or should we select one single country? And we kept a constant eye on customer satisfaction––are customers willing to return the packaging each month?
- What did it take to get the program off the ground? What key stakeholders and resources were involved?
ROYAL CANIN® ran a test over two months with 15 pet owners and sent them their refill order in a RePack packaging. They agreed to share their experience during individual interviews. This first test was very successful and received, on average, a rating of 4.8/5. Customers reported that RePack was: 1) Easy to use 2) Sustainable 3) A good solution for e-commerce. This valuable feedback helped us scale the reusable packaging project, whilst also recognizing what information was most relevant to French customers.
We also organized a workshop in our warehouse in France where all ROYAL CANIN® Individualis™ orders are prepared, packed and shipped. We met with the RePack team to review the order preparation as we were kicking off the first orders for the small pilot.
The product packaging size can vary significantly depending on if it is for a cat or a large dog for example, and therefore we usually need three sizes of cardboard boxes. The three sizes of RePack allowed us to meet our packaging needs perfectly. We tried RePack’s different sealing methods to find the most efficient and secure one for us. We tested the solidity of the packaging with a test and validated an International Safe Transit Association (ISTA) certification certifying that RePack packaging protected the pet food during transport.
Global Corporations Join Brookfield to Invest Nearly a Billion Dollars in Closed Loop Partners’ Operating Company, Circular Services, the Leading Developer of Circular Economy Infrastructure
March 16, 2023
NEW YORK, March 16, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — In late 2022, Closed Loop Partners and Brookfield Renewable (“Brookfield”) announced the establishment of Circular Services, a leading developer of circular economy and recycling infrastructure in the United States. Today, Closed Loop Partners announces that six leading companies, Microsoft, Nestlé, PepsiCo, SK Group, Starbucks and Unilever, are joining Brookfield to invest in scaling circular economy infrastructure and services. Commitment in Circular Services now reaches nearly a billion dollars, building on investments from Brookfield, as well as from the Closed Loop Circular Plastics Fund and the Partnership Fund for New York City, marking a significant milestone in the transition to the circular economy, as more institutional and corporate capital is catalyzed to advance circularity at scale.
Circular Services is the largest privately held recycling company in the United States, focusing on a wide range of recycled commodities across packaging, organics, textiles and electronics. It owns and operates facilities across the U.S. and seeks to help municipalities and businesses eliminate the hundreds of billions of dollars spent annually on landfill disposal costs by ensuring that valuable commodities are recycled and reused in domestic supply chains. The companies investing in Circular Services, each one committed to advancing the circular economy, are collectively demonstrating the power of both collaboration and targeted investments to accelerate the transition from a linear to a circular economy.
According to Esi Eggleston Bracey, President of Unilever USA, “Scaling best-in-class circular infrastructure can help increase the supply of recycled plastic, which is key to making circular supply chains a reality. Our investment in Circular Services is an important step in increasing the feedstock needed to achieve Unilever’s 2025 plastics goals for recycled content in our packaging and our goal to collect and process more plastic packaging than we produce. These types of investments are critical for addressing plastic waste, which will take action from all of us across industries.”
Michael Kobori, chief sustainability officer at Starbucks adds, “Now is the time for bold action to transform the recycling infrastructure in the U.S. Starbucks is excited to join with Microsoft, Nestlé, PepsiCo, SK Group, Unilever, Brookfield and the Partnership Fund for New York City to help generate nearly a billion dollar investment in Circular Services. This builds upon our long-standing work with Closed Loop Partners, whose NextGen Consortium has made significant strides in advancing sustainable packaging, including bringing hot cup recycling to more communities.”
Circular Services’ focus on packaging as a key material for recovery is spurred by a growing need to increase recovery rates for packaging. Currently, recovery rates for packaging and food-service plastics are reported to be as low as 28% in the United States.
“To create a world where packaging never ends up in landfill or as litter, recycling capabilities must evolve, and investing in the infrastructure and circular systems that can help collect, sort, reuse and recycle is a critical step,” said Molly Fogarty, Head of Sustainability, Corporate & Government Affairs, Nestlé North America. “This investment will help upgrade recycling infrastructure in the U.S. and expand the availability of recycled content, as well as bolster packaging materials collection. We’re excited to work alongside other leading companies to advance Circular Services and help chart a path to a circular economy.”
In addition to the focus on packaging recovery, companies investing in Circular Services are bolstering efforts to recover electronic waste, one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world. Today, over six billion mobile phones alone are circulating in the global economy. Yet, less than 20% of electronics broadly are collected, refurbished or recycled worldwide––translating to a lost value of more than $50 billion each year.
“With our third investment in the Closed Loop Partners ecosystem we look forward to being part of this new venture to build circular systems that can help our industry achieve our sustainability goals,” said Brandon Middaugh, senior director, Climate Innovation Fund at Microsoft. “We have begun testing e-waste recycling in Denver with Circular Services and look forward to exploring additional areas of potential collaboration.”
Todd Squarek, CSO, PepsiCo Beverages North America adds, “We have been partnering with Closed Loop Partners since their earliest days and are invested across five of their funds. When the firm established Circular Services, we knew we needed to be an active partner in this business to drive impact and get access to more rPET for our bottles. Closed Loop Partners is a trusted ally with a proven track record and we look forward to continuing our work with them to help transform the packaging supply chains of the future.”
“Building a circular economy for valuable materials, including plastics, takes a concerted effort across industries. We are proud to work alongside Closed Loop Partners and other leading companies to support the infrastructure needed to enable these systems,” said Jongho Yeo, vice president of SK geo centric. “As we work toward shared goals of reducing material waste and advancing resource circularity, supporting the necessary infrastructure through Circular Services can help accelerate the circular economy at scale.”
Across the United States and beyond, leading corporations are committing to increased recycled content and waste reduction goals, in alignment with broader climate commitments. “Expanding access to recycling and reuse services will enable cities and businesses to avoid the cost of landfilling products and packaging and achieve their sustainability goals,” said Jessica Long, Chief Strategy Officer of Closed Loop Partners. “Circular Services continues its work to accelerate a circular economy, an economic system that invests in the continual use of materials, reduces the reliance on natural resource extraction and landfills, and advances a waste-free future.”
About Closed Loop Partners
Closed Loop Partners is at the forefront of building the circular economy. The company is comprised of three key business segments: an investment firm, innovation center and operating group. The investment firm invests in venture, growth equity, buyout and catalytic private credit strategies on behalf of global institutions, corporations and family offices. The innovation center, the Center for the Circular Economy, unites competitors and partners to tackle complex material challenges and implement systemic change to advance circularity.
The operating group, Circular Services, has twelve recycling facilities in operation today, and provides holistic, circular materials management to close the loop on valuable materials for municipalities and businesses throughout the United States. Employing innovative technology within reuse, recycling, remanufacturing and re-commerce solutions, Circular Services improves regional economic and environmental outcomes by building resilient systems to keep food & organics, textiles, electronics, packaging and more, in circulation and out of landfills or the natural environment.
Closed Loop Partners is based in New York City and is a registered B Corp. For more information, please visit www.closedlooppartners.com.
About the Closed Loop Circular Plastics Fund at Closed Loop Partners
The Closed Loop Circular Plastics Fund provides catalytic financing to build circular economy infrastructure and improve the recovery of polypropylene and polyethylene plastic in the U.S. & Canada, returning plastics to more sustainable manufacturing supply chains for use as feedstock for future products and packaging. Investors include Dow, LyondellBasell, NOVA Chemicals, SK geo centric Co., Sealed Air, Chevron Phillips Chemical and Charter Next Generation. Learn more about the Fund’s investment criteria and apply for funding here.
The Fund’s goal of optimizing recovery infrastructure is one part of Closed Loop Partners’ broader initiative of Advancing Circular Systems for Plastics. This initiative prioritizes scaling reuse and refill models and reducing material usage in design, while bolstering the recovery infrastructure to address plastics waste.
To learn about the Closed Loop Circular Plastics Fund, visit Closed Loop Partners’ website.
Photo Credit: Michael Anton
Closed Loop Partners Releases Playbook of Tangible Single-Use Plastic Bag Reduction Solutions for Retailers
March 14, 2023
Playbook highlights tried and tested solutions from partners in the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag that can drive near-term, positive environmental impact and cost savings
NEW YORK, March 14, 2023 — Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy and its Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag released a new playbook to provide near-term single-use bag reduction wins that can be implemented by any retailer–– from small local stores to large national brands. The resource highlights effective solutions to reduce the number of bags needed by retailers and encourage the use of reusable bags customers already have at home. Key insights from the playbook are based on research, interviews, surveys and learnings from 17 of the world’s leading retailers across four key categories: communications, employee training, bag and fixture design, and customer incentives.
The playbook highlights 25 strategies across these four categories that cater to retailers who are at different stages of their journey. These strategies include detailed guidance on how best to prompt customers to bring their own bags, where to place reusable bags, items retailers can skip bagging, which customer incentives can be deployed and other strategies. The playbook insights are the product of a first-of-its-kind collaboration among Closed Loop Partners and many of the world’s leading retailers, including 14 retail partners in the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag and three external retailers. Experts from Closed Loop Partners led the creation of the playbook, supported by retail consultancy, McMillanDoolittle, who performed quantitative and qualitative surveys and deep-dive interviews with retailers, supplemented with secondary research and analysis.
Reducing the number of single-use bags that retailers use across their stores can make a tremendous difference. Even a 1% bag reduction has a significant impact on our global waste footprint––in the U.S., that is equivalent to 1 billion fewer bags used and discarded. Beyond driving progress toward sustainability goals, using fewer single-use bags can also help retailers reduce costs, address challenges in stocking bags, engage employees, support customers, and build brand reputation and loyalty.
“Our new playbook walks retailers through strategies they can implement today to get teams and customers on board with reducing single-use bags in stores and encourage shoppers to reuse their own bags,” said Kate Daly, Managing Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “This tool is for retailers who are looking for quick wins and those seeking innovative, new approaches. We hope these insights serve as an inspiration to retailers looking to reduce their plastic footprint and deploy bag reduction solutions.”
The Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag has been working to reimagine the retail bag in the store and across emerging channels like local delivery since its launch in 2020. The last three years have shown significant progress––growing from five retail partners to 15, and deploying more than 6,000 iterative tests, surveys and pilots across markets to help accelerate learnings and the development of sustainable bag solutions. This year, the Consortium will go back into market on a larger scale, testing different complementary strategies to reduce single-use bags. This work will build on the Consortium’s different workstreams––innovation, customer research, policy and infrastructure––and efforts to date. There is no silver bullet to addressing a global plastics waste challenge, and the diverse in-market efforts represent the multi-pronged holistic approach of the Consortium.
In Spring 2023, Consortium partners will test multiple strategies from the Playbook simultaneously in two cities in Arizona and Colorado, launching signage, marketing and customer prompts across stores. The goal of these tests is to enable a broader cultural shift towards customers bringing their own reusable bags from home. The Consortium is inviting other retailers––from mom-and-pop shops to large brands––to join and test the same prompts, signage and marketing materials in order to have the broadest reach with customers and to create ecosystem-wide impact.
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, where there is legislation banning single-use bags in certain stores, the Consortium will test a “returnable bag service” model in which customers are “borrowing” a bag onsite, reusing it before eventually returning it at the same or different retailer’s store to be washed, redistributed and reused by additional customers. This offers a solution for when customers forget to bring their own reusable bags.
Interested retailers can email [email protected] to inquire about joining the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag to gain access to useful research, insights and continued in-market experimentation as well as potentially participate in pilots in Arizona and Colorado.
Learn more at http://beyondthebaginitiative.com/
About the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners
The Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners unites competitors to tackle complex material challenges and to implement systemic change that advances the circular economy. Adept at navigating every step in the value chain, Closed Loop Partners brings together designers, manufacturers, recovery systems operators, trade organizations, municipalities, policymakers and NGOs to create scalable innovations that target big system problems. The Center’s first initiative, the NextGen Consortium, assembled leading food and beverage companies, including McDonald’s and Starbucks, to identify and commercialize a widely recyclable, compostable and/or reusable cup. 12 winning cup solutions were selected and the Consortium is supporting the testing of these new solutions as well as conducting select pilots to accelerate their path to scale. Learn more about the Center’s work here.
About the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag
The Beyond the Bag Initiative, launched by the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag, aims to identify, pilot and implement viable design solutions and models that more sustainably serve the purpose of the current retail bag. Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy launched the initiative with Founding Partners CVS Health, Target and Walmart. The Kroger Co. joined as Grocery Sector Lead Partner, DICK’S Sporting Goods joined as Sports & Outdoors Sector Lead Partner, Dollar General as Value Sector Lead Partner, TJX as Apparel & Home Goods Sector Lead Partner, and Ulta Beauty as Beauty Sector Lead Partner. Ahold Delhaize USA Brands, Albertsons Companies, H-E-B, Hy-Vee, Meijer, Wakefern Food Corp., and Walgreens are Supporting Partners, and Conservation International and Ocean Conservancy serve as Environmental Advisory Partners. Learn more about the Consortium here.
Contact: [email protected]
Apkudo Secures $37.5 Million in Series C Funding, Accelerating Growth of its Circular Industry Platform for Connected Devices
February 15, 2023
The Apkudo Circular Industry Platform enables supply chain efficiency and transparency across the lifecycle of connected devices, supporting smart decision making and strengthening repair, resale and recycling markets
Baltimore, MD — February 15, 2023—Apkudo, the leader in supply chain automation for connected devices, announced today that they have closed $37.5 million in Series C funding in an oversubscribed round co-led by Closed Loop Partners’ Leadership Fund and Piper Sandler Merchant Banking with the participation from new and existing investors including MissionOG, Harbert Growth, Grotech Ventures, Lavrock Ventures, and Point Field Partners. During 2022, Apkudo continued its rapid growth and doubled revenue as industry players increasingly looked for ways to simplify and optimize their forward and reverse logistics for connected devices like mobile phones, tablets, laptops, wearables and other products. The company will use the funds to further expand their commercial and technical operations, as well as their international presence.
The Apkudo Circular Industry Platform solves for complexities in the connected device supply chain, delivering process efficiencies via a single operating system that manages the lifecycle of these devices, from launch to end of life. Already, Apkudo has connected and optimized the device supply chains for some of the world’s largest manufacturers, network operators, insurers, retailers, logistics providers, repairers and traders. Customers like FedEx, T-Mobile and Asurion have more transparency, security and connectivity across the supply chain for connected devices.
The Platform leverages both hardware and software technology purpose-built to maximize value from resale, repair and reuse while eliminating e-waste and improving profit margin and agility. Instead of relying on extensive labor, disconnected systems and limited reuse options, Apkudo provides a fully integrated diagnostic, dispositioning and marketplace solution that gives customers real-time visibility into global demand for their used devices. This comprehensive solution has saved a large mobile carrier over $100 million by improving inventory visibility and, for a global logistics company, reduced warehouse processing times by 30%.
More than six billion mobile phones alone are currently circulating and this number is expected to grow rapidly with increasing connectivity and consumption across the globe. These electronic devices are made of valuable resources, from the rare earth metals contained in their batteries to their individual electronic components. Yet today, less than 20% of electronics are collected, refurbished or recycled worldwide, which translates to a lost value of more than $50 billion each year. Furthermore, these devices contain several hazardous materials and when not managed properly at end-of-life, pollute air and groundwater at an alarming rate. Apkudo’s technology creates greater transparency and resiliency across the electronic device value chain, empowering businesses to make smart decisions regarding their devices, from launch, to forward logistics, to return, reuse and recycling at a device’s end-of-life.
“Velocity, accuracy, and transparency are required attributes of efficient, effective circular supply chains,” said Josh Matthews, CEO and Co-founder of Apkudo. “The Apkudo Circular Industry Platform is transformative in its approach to connecting industry participants and optimizing these outcomes for each and every device that moves through it.”
“There is so much value within the connected devices already in the market today. Increasing their useful life and keeping these valuable materials in circulation, and out of landfills and the environment, is a critical part of accelerating the circular economy,” said Martin Aares, Head of Asset Management at Closed Loop Partners. “Apkudo is helping build a circular future for connected devices––one that is more transparent and agile. We look forward to working with the Apkudo team as they accelerate the systems change needed for a waste-free future.”
“It’s actually a simple question – what should I do with this device, right now?”, added Seth Harward, managing director, Piper Sandler Merchant Banking. “But it took Apkudo to recognize all the pieces needed to answer that question, then build the solution that customers needed, and then finally make it easy for companies to use. This additional investment will help Apkudo get their solution to companies all over the world looking for a better way.”
Headquartered in Baltimore, MD with offices around the world, Apkudo helps companies managing connected devices to maximize device value, minimize labor costs and reduce e-waste. Apkudo’s Circular Industry Platform provides a full suite of decision-support and operating tools: automated testing and grading systems, device lifecycle management and resale market integration. As a result, Apkudo customers always have the answer to the question, “What should I do with this device, right now?”
About Closed Loop Partners
Closed Loop Partners is at the forefront of building the circular economy. The company is comprised of three key business segments: an investment firm, innovation center and operating group. The investment firm invests in venture, growth equity, buyout and catalytic private credit strategies on behalf of global institutions, corporations and family offices. The innovation center, the Center for the Circular Economy, unites competitors and partners to tackle complex material challenges and implement systemic change to advance circularity. The operating group, Circular Services, has twelve recycling facilities in operation today, and provides holistic, circular materials management to close the loop on valuable materials for municipalities and businesses throughout the United States.
Closed Loop Partners is based in New York City and is a registered B Corp. For more information, please visit www.closedlooppartners.com.
About Piper Sandler Merchant Banking
Piper Sandler Merchant Banking (PSMB) is the growth equity investment arm of Piper Sandler Companies (NYSE: PIPR). Our team strives to partner with founders and CEOs of growing, commercial stage businesses that can benefit by leveraging Piper Sandler’s knowledge, experience, capital and relationships to build market leading enterprises. PSMB provides investment advisory services through the affiliated registered investment adviser, PSC Capital Partners LLC. Learn more about Piper Sandler Merchant Banking.