Circular Economy Infrastructure Will Build Value For All Americans
May 03, 2021
The circular economy is becoming big business in America. For example, just one piece of the circular economy, the recycling industry, generates over $100 billion in economic activity, nearly $13 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue and supports over 500,000 jobs annually.
On a more personal level, as global supply chains began to crack during the COVID-19 pandemic, our domestic recycling infrastructure saved us from major shortages of critical consumer products — like toilet paper. But that is only a fraction of the value the circular economy can provide on both a local and national level.
A policy known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), now being introduced at the state and federal level, would create a massive investment in local recycling and circular economy infrastructure. Through a fee paid by consumer goods companies, thoughtfully-constructed EPR will save billions of dollars spent annually in landfill disposal fees. It would create hundreds of thousands of local jobs and provide consumer goods companies a reliable and cost-effective alternative to their current dependence on limited raw materials, which generate enormous amounts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions during extraction.
In the past, advocating that companies take responsibility for the sustainable management of their products was the sole domain of environmentalists. But we are now seeing multiple stakeholders, including CEOs, politicians, customers and shareholders align on the view that when brands invest in local recycling and circular economy infrastructure to protect the environment, it creates value for businesses too. In New York this January, State Sen. Toddy Kaminsky (D) introduced an EPR bill that has gained broad support, and similar legislation has been introduced or is being considered in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state.
A select group of CEOs of major consumer goods companies have recognized that what happens to a product after its initial use poses a risk — but when managed properly, can be an opportunity to secure long term value. Mark Schneider, the CEO of Nestlé, wrote recently, “[B]old and meaningful action in this space can become a competitive advantage, contributing to improved market share and growth.” Former Unilever CEO, Paul Polman, saw the opportunity to meet consumer demand years ago and trailblazed with sustainable business practices and products. During his decade-long tenure as CEO from 2009-2018, Unilever’s stock price increased by 290 percent. Investors took notice. Alan Jope, Unilever’s current CEO, has continued to expand Unilever’s commitment to sustainable business practices.
Three considerations are key to make EPR successful. First, stakeholders should gain consensus on the goal for EPR and incentivize brands to achieve it. Second, we should update the definition of “recyclable” to ensure that only products that are profitable for municipal recycling programs are designated as recyclable. Third, we must allocate funds from an EPR program directly to municipal recycling programs and empower local leaders to invest the funds in the infrastructure required to achieve their waste reduction goals. Styrofoam is an example of a packaging material that is challenging to recycle and has a limited market, while aluminum is infinitely recyclable and has a strong market.
For true accountability, all parties should set a goal for the policy and decide how to measure progress. Experience shows us that the best objective would be a recycling rate percentage well above today’s average recycling rate of around 30 percent, and a percentage of post-consumer recycled content used in the manufacturing of a product or packaging. EPR fees charged to consumer goods companies should not be viewed as the goal, but as a means to achieve the goal of a fully circular production system, where reliance on natural resource extraction and landfills is limited. Therefore, incentives for brands — fee waivers, designation to consumers and public recognition — are key for products to achieve a high recycling rate and use of recycled content. Where it’s not possible for producers to currently meet such goals for a particular product due to technical or economic limitations, this system and waiver could help incentivize producers to switch to recyclable or compostable materials or adopt reusable packaging models.
Which brings us to the next: a clear definition of what “recyclable” means. Recyclable has traditionally been defined as the ability of a product or material to be collected and sorted by a recycling facility in the United States. This does not take into account the economics of the recycling industry and the municipal recycling programs that are expected to remain solvent and grow. The result: consumer goods companies claiming that a product is recyclable, while municipal recycling programs struggle to find profitable end markets for it.
“Recyclability” should be defined as “a product whose primary material is sold by a municipal recycling facility for a profit.” Therefore, in order to receive a designation of “recyclable,” a product should have a market value of above the processing cost of materials (paper, metal, glass, plastic) at municipal recycling facilities across the United States. This stipulation would encourage producers to be more rigorous from the outset regarding their packaging design, connecting the diverse pieces of the system, from designer to producer to recycler, so that all stakeholders are in agreement that a product has value in a circular system. The EPR fee structure should be designed to motivate brands to ensure that their product is recyclable (per the definition above), is recycled and uses all or mostly recycled content in manufacturing.
Third, we should allocate funds from an EPR program directly to municipal recycling programs, empowering local leaders to invest the funds in infrastructure and innovation. It is critical that legacy policies, such as bottle bills that conflict with municipal recycling collection programs, be phased out as EPR policy is adopted. There are a number of leaders that have accomplished amazing things with limited funding, showing that investments made directly in local municipal recycling programs and at the direction of local leaders will yield the best results.
While EPR won’t solve all of our waste issues, thoughtfully-constructed EPR will provide the foundation for the development of comprehensive recycling and circular economy infrastructure in the United States. And with thoughtful incentives, companies that strive to be leaders in reducing waste, will be recognized and rewarded.
We are a country that has demonstrated that when the interest of business aligns with the interest of policy makers and local communities, we can develop infrastructure that creates massive long-term value. Thoughtfully-constructed EPR has the potential to do just that.
Ron Gonen is the CEO of Closed Loop Partners, a circular economy-focused investment firm and innovation center and author of “The Waste Free World: How the Circular Economy will Take Less, Make More, and Save the Planet.”
Originally published in The Hill.
Closed Loop Partners Provides $2.6 Million Loan to Build and Scale First Curbside Recycling Program in the City of Broken Arrow to Accelerate Circularity
October 20, 2020
October 20 (New York) – Today, Closed Loop Partners announced a $2.6 million loan to finance new recycling and circular economy infrastructure and activities in the City of Broken Arrow, OK. The funds go toward recycling carts for single-stream curbside collection and recycling collection vehicles. Serving 35,000 households across the city, the program aims to increase the recapture of valuable materials in the City of Broken Arrow, helping to keep these materials in manufacturing supply chains and out of landfills.
Closed Loop Partners’ $2.6 million loan adds to a previously-awarded $390,000 grant by The Recycling Partnership to the city, which was provided by the American Beverage Association via its “Every Bottle Back” initiative. In total, the $4.5 million project comes at a key moment for strengthening recycling infrastructure across the United States, particularly in the Southwest, highlighting the importance of collaboration between the public and private sectors to catalyze capital and galvanize stakeholders that can scale impact.
Closed Loop Partners provided the funding through its project finance arm, the Closed Loop Infrastructure Fund. Launched in 2014 in partnership with 12 of the world’s largest consumer goods and retailers, the fund finances recycling infrastructure and innovations across the U.S. to advance the circular economy. With growing pressures from climate change, the need to build resilient local supply chains and mitigate environmental damages has come to the fore. The circular economy provides tangible solutions––lowering greenhouse gas emissions and redirecting waste from landfill, while generating significant economic benefits by keeping valuable materials in circulation. To fully transition to circular material flows, increasing access to strong and stable recycling infrastructure is essential.
Over the next 10 years, the initiative is projected to collect 124 million pounds of recycled material, including over 5 million pounds of new polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and 2 million pounds of new aluminum, creating strong feedstocks for eventual use in various manufacturing streams. The city will send the collected material to American Waste Control, an advanced Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Tulsa for processing. By ensuring that the pipeline of collected materials will be met by demand, the economic viability and long-term circular flow of resources is secured.
“We are thrilled to help bring this initiative to fruition for the City of Broken Arrow,” says Bridget Croke, Managing Director at Closed Loop Partners. “Opening access to and advancing recycling systems in Oklahoma is critical to building local and regional circular systems in the Southwest, and will have significant ripple effects to advancing the circular economy across the United States.”
“We are excited to begin curbside recycling in the City of Broken Arrow. We have already had great participation from our citizens, who are interested in the positive economic and environmental impact recycling will have on our city. The Broken Arrow Municipal Authority looks forward to this initiative to make our city more sustainable,” says Mayor Craig Thurmond on behalf of the Broken Arrow Municipal Authority.
The project officially launches in the fall of 2020, and marks the beginning of a cart-based recycling system for the City of Broken Arrow. For more information on this project, visit RecycleBA.com.
About Closed Loop Partners
Closed Loop Partners is a New York based investment firm comprised of venture capital, growth equity, private equity and project finance, as well as an innovation center focused on building the circular economy.
The firm has built an ecosystem that connects entrepreneurs, industry experts, global consumer goods companies, retailers, financial institutions and municipalities. Their investments align capitalism with positive social and environmental impact by reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions via materials innovation, advanced recycling technologies, supply chain optimization and diversion of materials from disposal.
About the City of Broken Arrow
Located in northeast Oklahoma, Broken Arrow is the fourth largest city in the State of Oklahoma, with an estimated population of over 113,000 people spread out over 61 square miles. Broken Arrow is also home to the third largest manufacturing hub in the state, with many employees working in the energy sector. Residents in Broken Arrow enjoy a high quality of life, characterized by low crime, high performing schools, affordable housing and easy access to many parks and recreational facilities. The City of Broken Arrow sets the standard by providing the best municipal programs and services.
Two Georgia-Pacific Recycled Paper Mills Open Opportunities for Paper Cup Recycling
September 15, 2020
ATLANTA, Sept. 15, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Georgia-Pacific announced today that it is now accepting mixed paper bales that contain single-use polyethylene (PE)-coated paper cups at its recycled paper mills in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Muskogee, Oklahoma. The development follows two years of partnership with the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI) and collaboration with the NextGen Consortium, a global initiative led by Closed Loop Partners with founding partners Starbucks and McDonald’s, to help open opportunities for paper cup recycling.
PE coatings, along with any remaining liquid and food left behind from use, have historically left single-use paper cups out of the recovery and recycling process. Georgia-Pacific, though, has proven through its extensive re-pulping trials that the Green Bay and Muskogee mills can effectively recapture valuable cup fiber from paper cups while screening out PE-coatings and reuse the fiber to make toilet tissue, napkins and paper towels.
“As single-use paper cups have grown in popularity in recent years so, too, has paper cup waste. As a leading manufacturer of paper foodservice products, we continually look for ways to consume fewer resources as part of our longer-term strategy to identify solutions that benefit society. Accepting mixed paper bales containing PE-coated cups at our Green Bay and Muskogee mills is a significant step in this direction,” said John Mulcahy, vice president of sustainability for Georgia-Pacific, which manufactures the Dixie® brand of paper cups.
Kate Daly, managing director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners, believes Georgia-Pacific’s new repulping capability will greatly benefit the foodservice industry and further advance the industry’s environmental stewardship. “We are heartened to see Georgia-Pacific accelerate paper cup recycling through its acceptance of cups in mixed paper bales. This acceptance will also benefit new non-polyethylene next generation cups, marking an important step forward for the industry as a whole, and we hope even more mills will follow this lead. Georgia-Pacific’s actions reinforce the value of the materials in paper cups and build critical markets for recycled materials. As the managing partner of the NextGen Consortium, we continue to work with leaders like Georgia-Pacific to engage, educate, and collaborate with stakeholders across the cup value chain in order to keep valuable materials in play,” she said.
Beyond its current repulping efforts, Georgia-Pacific is also collaborating with the NextGen Consortium to trial at its mills next generation paper cups that have replaced the PE-coating with materials that can be recycled and/or composted. As founding partners of the NextGen Consortium and strong advocates of reducing single-use paper cup waste, McDonald’s and Starbucks are supportive of ongoing collaboration with Georgia-Pacific and encouraged by the company’s current re-repulping efforts.
“Increasing and improving the recyclability of cups is a vital part of our work within the NextGen Consortium. We are taking a meaningful step forward with Georgia-Pacific toward our goal of reducing paper cup waste. We’re excited by this progress and look forward to our continued partnership with organizations that support our vision of a resource-positive future,” said Michael Kobori, chief sustainability officer at Starbucks.
Marion Gross, chief supply chain officer, North America with McDonald’s added, “Recovering, recycling, and reusing the valuable materials in our cups is an important part of our sustainability ambition and our work with the NextGen Consortium. By accepting and reprocessing single-use cups, Georgia-Pacific is not only enhancing recycling pathways but also generating a supply pipeline of recycled content critical to positively impacting the environment and achieving our goals.”
With its Green Bay and Muskogee mills now engaged, Georgia-Pacific is working with FPI to expand and accelerate single-use PE-coated paper cup acceptance in curbside recycling programs in an effort to increase the number of households that can recycle the paper cups. As the voice of the foodservice packaging industry, FPI is committed to reducing the impact of its products on the environment and to advancing recycling and composting. “We are thrilled to work with Georgia-Pacific in its effort to recover and reuse PE-coated paper cups, and we are excited to partner with new communities that previously didn’t have the capability to recycle them,” said Natha Dempsey, president of FPI.
About Foodservice Packaging Institute
Founded in 1933, the Foodservice Packaging Institute is the trade association for the foodservice packaging industry in North America. FPI promotes the value and benefits of foodservice packaging and serves as the industry’s leading authority to educate and influence stakeholders. Members include raw material and machinery suppliers, manufacturers, distributors and purchasers of foodservice packaging. For more information or to follow us on social media, visit www.fpi.org.
About NextGen Consortium
The NextGen Consortium is a multi-year, global 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, The Coca-Cola Company, Yum! Brands, Nestlé, and Wendy’s are supporting partners. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is the advisory partner and IDEO is the innovation partner. Learn more at www.nextgenconsortium.com.
Based in Atlanta, Georgia-Pacific and its subsidiaries are among the world’s leading manufacturers and marketers of bath tissue, paper towels and napkins, tableware, paper-based packaging, cellulose, specialty fibers, nonwoven fabrics, building products and related chemicals. Our familiar consumer brands include Quilted Northern®, Angel Soft®, Brawny®, Dixie®, enMotion®, Sparkle®, Mardi Gras® and Vanity Fair®. Georgia-Pacific has long been a leading supplier of building products to lumber and building materials dealers and large do-it-yourself warehouse retailers. Its Georgia-Pacific Recycling subsidiary is among the world’s largest recyclers of paper, metal and plastics. The company operates more than 150 facilities and employs more than 30,000 people directly and creates approximately 89,000 jobs indirectly. For more information, visit: gp.com.