Paper Cup Recycling Hits New Milestone in the U.S. With Increased Cup Acceptance at Over 40 Paper Mills

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May 07, 2024

The NextGen Consortium and Foodservice Packaging Institute join forces to help more mills accept cups and reduce waste––with more on the way!

May 7, 2024, New York, NY — Today, the NextGen Consortium, an industry collaboration managed by the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners, joined the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI) in announcing a major milestone in paper cup recycling in the U.S. Multiple paper mills, from Georgia to Wisconsin, have announced that they will now accept single-use polyethylene (PE)-coated paper cups in bales of mixed paper or polycoat cartons and aseptic packaging. This brings the total number of North American mills accepting paper cups to more than 40, marking significant progress as demand for recycled fiber content grows in the U.S., amidst increasing sustainability commitments and policy tailwinds. The new mills to accept cups include Newman and Company, Inc., Philadelphia, PA; PaperWorks Industries, Wabash, IN; Resolute Forest Products, Menominee Mill, MI; Greif Mill Group in Austell, GA and Milwaukee, WI, among others listed in FPI’s end market map.

Every year, an estimated 250 billion cups are used globally—the majority of which end up in landfills after a single-use. Historically, paper cups had been deemed ‘unrecyclable’ because of their plastic lining, resulting in low recovery rates and valuable materials ending up in landfill. In recent years, as mills compete for diminishing supplies of newspapers and office paper in the recycling system, there has been growing interest in opportunities to recover material categories that contain high-quality fiber, such as paper cups. Many mills––especially new and retrofitted builds––have undertaken repulpability studies to determine whether they can successfully recover the valuable fiber from coated paper packaging, such as fiber cups, for use in recycled fiber products. Positive outcomes of the studies have led to higher acceptance of fiber cups at mills. According to FPI, the dozens of paper mills that now accept paper cups in mixed paper bales represent more than 75 percent of U.S. mixed paper processing demand.

By accepting recovered paper materials, including cups, and reprocessing them into new products, mills play a pivotal role in advancing the larger paper cup recovery process. As more mills effectively recover fiber from paper cups, cup recycling is incentivized further upstream in materials recovery facilities (MRFs) and communities looking to improve their waste diversion efforts. While only 11 percent of communities in the U.S. officially accept cups in their residential recycling programs today, the increasing number of mills that accept cups signals a greater opportunity to grow cup recycling efforts.

“Alongside advancing reuse and material innovation, strengthening paper cup recovery and recycling is critical to keeping cups from going to waste in landfills,” said Kate Daly, Managing Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “Paper mills play a critical role in strengthening end markets for cups. By pulling materials through the system, mills accepting cups can drive increased cup processing in recycling facilities and cup collection in communities. We are thrilled to see cup recovery reach this important milestone in the United States, moving us closer to a waste-free future.”

For several years, the NextGen Consortium and Foodservice Packaging Institute have collaborated to strengthen existing materials recovery and recycling infrastructure to recapture more paper cups. Both organizations have released critical reports and research to guide paper cup recovery and recycling, such as NextGen’s report Closing the Loop on Cups and FPI’s White Paper on the The State of Paper Cup Recycling. While the challenges are significant, collaboration among various stakeholders involved in paper cup recovery can help address its scale and complexity.

“We are thrilled to work with a growing set of mills in their efforts to recover poly-coated paper cups,” says Natha Dempsey, President of FPI. “Reliable and responsible end markets for cups catalyze new opportunities for community partnerships, especially in regions that previously didn’t have the capability to recycle them.”

“The mix of recovered paper we receive has changed dramatically over the last several years, now including much more plastic that we have to separate in the repulping process. Paper cups contain good fiber and are no more difficult to recycle than many of the other prominent packaging categories we see today. We look forward to the value it will bring to our outputs at our mills in Austell, GA and Milwaukee, WI,” said Jeff Hilkert, VP Paperboard Sales of Greif Mill Group.”

In addition to working with the mills that are now accepting cups, the NextGen Consortium and FPI continue to work with several other interested mills to run studies that can help determine the viability of paper cups in their system. Furthermore, they are also working with groups up and down the value chain––including brands, MRFs and communities––to ensure more cups can be recycled, especially where viable and robust end markets exist. This collaborative work is a key step forward in increasing the supply of recycled content to meet growing demand, and reducing the amount of valuable materials being sent to landfill.

About the NextGen Consortium
The NextGen Consortium is a multi-year consortium that addresses single-use food packaging waste 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

The Center for the Circular Economy is the innovation arm of Closed Loop Partners, a firm at the forefront of building the circular economy. The Center executes research and analytics, unites organizations to tackle complex material challenges and implements systemic change that advances the circular economy. The Center for the Circular Economy’s expertise spans circularity across the full lifecycle of materials, connecting upstream innovation to downstream recovery infrastructure and end markets. Learn more about the Center for the Circular Economy at closedlooppartners.com/the-center/ 

About the 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 plays an active role in advancing the recovery of FSP to support the circular economy. The association 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, visit www.FPI.org.

Closed Loop Partners Provides Financing to Olyns, a Technology Startup Advancing Collection of Food-Grade Recycled Packaging

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April 16, 2024

The catalytic loan will help scale production of Olyns’ reverse vending machines, increasing consumer access to recycling and advancing circular supply chains for consumer packaging.

April 17, 2024, New York, NY –– Circular economy-focused investment firm Closed Loop Partners announces the closing of a catalytic loan to Olyns, a technology and media company that engineered a new artificial intelligence (AI)-driven solution to improve the collection, sortation and recycling of consumer packaging. The financing from Closed Loop Partners’ private credit arm, the Closed Loop Infrastructure Group, will support the manufacturing of Olyns’ Cubes––AI-powered reverse vending machines that collect and sort packaging materials, including food-grade plastic, glass and aluminum––and accelerate the expansion of Olyns’ consumer recycling infrastructure across the U.S.

Founded in 2019 in Silicon Valley, Olyns is increasing access to consumer recycling with an innovative technology solution that makes material collection efficient and scalable through a self-sustaining business model. Olyns’ AI-powered Cubes are a new take on reverse vending machines, where people deposit eligible beverage containers and receive cash deposits back electronically. Not only do Olyns’ Cubes provide rewards to incentivize participation and include a screen that can display media, but their machines also leverage AI, enabling them to rapidly learn to recognize new deposited products sold by brands at retailers across the country, as well as track deposit rates by product and brand. This is especially relevant amidst growing policy around materials recovery, such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). Olyns currently partners with top retailers and consumer goods brands to locate their Cubes in high traffic locations such as major supermarkets, big box stores, pharmacies and gas stations, ensuring recycling is convenient and advertisements are effective. By operating as both a consumer recycling network and digital out-of-home media network, Olyns is changing the economics of recycling.

Source: Olyns

Olyns not only has the opportunity to collect millions of containers per year, but also to improve material sortation to maintain the quality of the recycled materials. By using AI to identify and sort containers at the point of deposit into separate bins, Olyns minimizes the co-mingling and contamination common to traditional recycling. This results in industry-leading material recovery rates and bale quality, ensuring that more containers deposited can be made into new containers. The vast majority of the rPET collected in Olyns’ Cubes is food-grade and can be used as material for recycled bottles.

“The material quality of aluminum, PET and glass beverage containers collected by the Olyns reverse vending machines is some of the highest quality material Ming’s facilities receive from our customers,” said Jeff Donlevy, General Manager of Ming’s Recycling Corp, a current processor of Olyns CRV material. “Mixed plastic material collected through co-mingled programs often can’t achieve the same quality standards, and significant amounts end up in landfill. Olyns’ technology minimizes co-mingling, and consistently achieves the food-grade quality material that plastic reclaimers want.”

As the Olyns network scales, it helps unlock a new supply of recyclable post-consumer plastic and aluminum, helping corporations meet their sustainable packaging goals and reducing their dependence on virgin plastic from non-renewable sources. As demand for food-grade rPET is anticipated to outpace supply by about three times by 2030, scaling solutions that can bolster supply of high-quality recycled content is critical. By expanding recycling access to more locations, Olyns’ Cube network collects and processes a growing portion of the estimated 4.6 billion pounds of unrecycled PET that would otherwise end up in landfill every year, closing the loop on food-grade PET and reducing carbon emissions that would result from the production of virgin plastic.

“Greater consumer access to recycling, more efficient material sortation and economically sound recycling systems are critical to recovering high-quality materials,” says Philip Stanger, Co-Founder and CEO of Olyns. “Since we installed our first Cube in California in 2020, user growth has been phenomenal, proving that when people have easy access to recycling, impact is magnified. While we started with collecting PET plastic, aluminum and glass beverage containers, we are looking to build our AI capacity to potentially expand collection for hard-to-recycle materials, such as films and flexibles. Closed Loop Partners’ financing will help us build the circular economy infrastructure that helps make recycling possible for more materials, and accessible to more communities.”

The Closed Loop Infrastructure Group has been providing flexible loans to projects that build out circular economy infrastructure and innovation in the United States for nearly 10 years. This includes robust recycling infrastructure equipment, as well as rapidly growing companies poised to scale circular solutions. The loan to Olyns underscores the potential of new innovative solutions and creates a significant opportunity to increase material collection in underserved areas, including states without deposit return schemes such as bottle bills. By producing a source-separated, clean stream of materials, Olyns also helps bolster the market for high-quality recyclables, looping more material back into the same or similar products.

“We see immense opportunity to finance rapidly growing technology innovations, alongside large-scale recycling infrastructure, to improve materials sortation and accelerate the circular economy in the U.S. Expanding the types of financing available in the market can help meet the distinct needs of innovators developing new circular solutions. Catalytic capital is a powerful tool, providing the foundation needed to accelerate further growth,” says Jennifer Louie, Managing Director and Head of the Closed Loop Infrastructure Group at Closed Loop Partners. “Closed Loop Partners’ Infrastructure Group is proud to finance scalable and replicable solutions and provide access to the Closed Loop Partners ecosystem to support their growth. We are thrilled to partner with Olyns, as they disrupt material collection and advance more circular supply chains for valuable packaging materials.”

Moving forward, Olyns looks to further scale its solution, partnering with key brands to expand to new locations and increase collection and recovery of more materials, reducing reliance on natural resource extraction and driving forward a circular economy.

If you are interested in learning more about Olyns, visit here. If you are interested in applying for funding from the Closed Loop Infrastructure Group, learn more about Closed Loop Partners’ catalytic capital strategy here.

About Olyns

Olyns innovates at the nexus of retail media and recycling, connecting people to recycling and brands to customers. Founded in 2019 in Silicon Valley, Olyns’ pioneering ecosystem includes the Cube, an AI-powered reverse vending machine that provides self-serve beverage container recycling to consumers and includes a 55-inch screen to display advertising. Olyns partners with top retailers and consumer goods brands to locate Cubes in high traffic locations such as major supermarkets, big box stores, pharmacies, and gas stations, ensuring recycling is convenient and advertisements are effective. By operating as both a consumer recycling network and digital out-of-home media network, Olyns is changing the economics of recycling. With its use of artificial intelligence (AI) to identify and sort containers at point of deposit, Olyns minimizes the co-mingling and contamination common to traditional recycling and unlocks a valuable new supply of food-grade recycled plastic.

Olyns is on a mission to inspire people to recycle, stop the depletion of the earth’s resources, and accelerate the shift to a circular packaging economy. Learn more at www.olyns.com

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: its investment arm, Closed Loop Capital Management, managing venture capital, buyout private equity and catalytic private credit investment strategies; its innovation center, the Center for the Circular Economy; and its operating group, Closed Loop Builders.

The firm’s catalytic private credit arm, the Closed Loop Infrastructure Group, provides a mix of flexible financing solutions to support a range of circular economy projects, companies, infrastructure and enabling technologies. The Infrastructure Group deploys catalytic capital, which seeks to accelerate and de-risk the development of high-impact projects and companies. Areas of strategic investment include: providing below-market rate loans to finance circular infrastructure, providing catalytic financing to increase recovery of hard-to-recycle plastics and PET bottles, and financing and deploying small-scale, modular materials recovery facilities (MRFs) to increase recycling in communities with no or limited access to recycling.

Closed Loop Partners is based in New York City and is a registered B Corp. Learn more at closedlooppartners.com.

 

This publication is for informational purposes only, and nothing contained herein constitutes an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy any interest in any investment vehicle managed by Closed Loop Partners or any company in which Closed Loop Partners or its affiliates have invested. An offer or solicitation will be made only through a final private placement memorandum, subscription agreement and other related documents with respect to a particular investment opportunity and will be subject to the terms and conditions contained in such documents, including the qualifications necessary to become an investor. Information provided reflects Closed Loop Partners’ views as of a particular time and are subject to change without notice. You should obtain relevant and specific professional advice before making any investment decision.

 

Circular Services Acquires Midwest Fiber Recycling, Expanding Services for Communities in the U.S.

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December 18, 2023

The acquisition of a leading Midwest recycling company expands Circular Services’ holistic materials management services to support more communities and companies across the U.S.
 

December 18, 2023, New York, NY – Circular Services, a leading developer and operator of circular economy infrastructure in the U.S., announced its acquisition of Midwest Fiber Recycling, growing the portfolio of materials recovery facilities under Circular Services’ recycling arm, Balcones Recycling. This marks Circular Services’ expansion into the Midwest of the U.S., to support existing recycling infrastructure and services in the region and increase the recovery of valuable materials into domestic supply chains.

Midwest Fiber began in 1990 when founders Ron and Linda Shumaker purchased the Decatur Recycle Paper Company. Since then, with sons Mike and Todd Shumaker, they have grown the company into one of the largest recycling operations in the Midwest, with facilities in Decatur, Normal, Urbana and Peroria, IL and Terre Haute, IN. Today, Midwest Fiber services residential single-stream and commercial properties via a dedicated collection fleet. In addition, Midwest Fiber provides document destruction and recycling services and has a recycled material brokerage arm that helps generators maximize value by marketing directly to end-users. Following the acquisition, Midwest Fiber’s management team will continue to run the company, partnering with the Circular Services team and leveraging its broader platform to continue its growth trajectory.

“Todd and I waited to find the right partner,” said Mike Shumaker, CEO of Midwest Fiber Recycling. “The singular focus of Circular Services and Balcones Recycling on advancing robust circular materials management, as well as their longstanding experience operating recycling infrastructure, made them a great fit. We look forward to working alongside their team, and leading our family business into the next chapter.”

The acquisition is taking place at a critical time as more cities across the U.S. prioritize zero-waste goals, due to the combined urgency of climate risks and increasing landfill costs. Similarly, many leading corporations in the U.S. are committing to keep more materials in circulation and incorporate more recycled content in their packaging, as part of their larger sustainability and net zero goals. According to the Circularity Gap Reporting Initiative, 70% of all global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are related to material handling and use, making circular economy infrastructure a critical part of the solution to the climate crisis. Expanding access to recycling and reuse services will enable cities and businesses to avoid the costs and emissions of landfilling products and packaging and achieve their sustainability goals.

Circular Services operates several companies to offer holistic circular materials management services, helping municipalities and businesses close the loop on valuable materials, including paper, metal, glass, plastics, organics, textiles and electronics. Among these companies is Balcones Recycling, Circular Services’ recycling company. Prior to this acquisiton, Balcones Recycling was already one of the largest independent recycling companies in the country, handling more than 1 million tons of recyclables each year through its operations in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Arizona and Arkansas. Following this acquisition, Balcones Recycling will operate 18 materials recovery facilities across the U.S., including five from Midwest Fiber.

“The Shumakers have built and led a great company with an excellent reputation as they served their surrounding communities for over 30 years,” said Tom Outerbridge, CEO of Balcones Recycling. “We are proud to join forces with Mike, Todd and their management team and leverage our collective expertise and growing portfolio of facilities to offer custom, effective recycling solutions to more municipalities, counties and small-to-large businesses.”

“We are excited to expand Circular Services and have Midwest Fiber Recycling be a part of our larger portfolio of infrastructure and services keeping materials in circulation—from paper, to plastic, organics, electronics, textiles and more,” said Amy Wagner, CFO & EVP of Business Development & Operations, Circular Services. “We look forward to expanding our services to the Midwest region of the U.S., and into commercial and brokerage services, providing more communities and companies with the infrastructure needed to reduce dependence on extraction and landfill, and advance a circular economy.”

About Balcones Recycling
Balcones Recycling is a Circular Services company. As a pure-play recycling company, Balcones is on a mission to recover all recyclables from the waste stream. As such, we design custom recycling programs focused on keeping resources away from landfills. We are known for building state-of-the-art facilities and fostering great partnerships with small-to-large businesses, counties and municipalities. We don’t stop at processing – we are active in key industry initiatives to increase the circularity of our materials and economy. We prioritize education and outreach initiatives to improve recycling participation. We love what we do and look forward to partnering with you to build a circular economy, one bale at a time. Learn more about Balcones Recycling at https://www.balconesrecycling.com/about/

About Circular Services
Circular Services is the operating group of Closed Loop Partners, a leading investment firm focused on advancing the circular economy. Circular Services 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 landfill or the natural environment. For more information, please visit https://www.closedlooppartners.com/circular-services/

 

New Report from the NextGen Consortium Shares Path Forward for Paper Cup Recycling in the U.S. 

By

November 01, 2023

Insights include solutions for paper mills, materials recovery facilities, brands and communities to increase recovery of paper cups and reduce waste to landfill

Read the full report

Nov. 1, 2023 — Today, the NextGen Consortium, a leading industry collaboration managed by Closed Loop Partners, with partner brands including Starbucks, McDonald’s, The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, JDE Peet’s, The Wendy’s Company and Yum! Brands, released a report with new findings to accelerate paper cup recycling in the U.S. The report, Closing the Loop on Cups: Collective Action to Advance the Recovery of Paper Cups in the U.S.assesses the role of each stakeholder across the paper cup recovery value chain––including paper mills, materials recovery facilities (MRFs), brands, consumers and local communities––and provides recommended actions to increase paper cup recovery opportunities and advance a more circular system.

Every day, millions of people around the world drink from paper cups. They’re safe, functional and convenient–– so much so that globally, more than 250 billion cups are produced each year. But convenience comes with environmental consequences: the majority of cups end up in landfill today. The NextGen Consortium has taken a three-pronged approach to address cup waste holistically: 1) Advancing reusable cup systems that keep materials in circulation for multiple uses, 2) Exploring material science innovation that enhances the sustainability and recoverability of cup materials, and 3) Strengthening materials recovery and recycling infrastructure that recaptures cups after use.

In this report, the NextGen Consortium focuses on the need to strengthen existing materials recovery and recycling infrastructure systems to recapture more paper cups. Recovering and recycling paper cups ensures the value embodied in paper cups—primarily comprised of fiber and a plastic liner—is recovered, rather than wasted in landfill. These cups contain high-quality fiber that is valuable to paper mills as other paper sources like newsprint and office paper decline. While the challenges for paper cup recovery and recycling are significant, collaboration among various stakeholders involved in paper cup recovery can help address its scale and complexity. The report highlights key challenges and opportunities, including:

  • Today, only about 11 percent of communities accept cups in their recycling operations. This poses a significant barrier to cup recycling, as residents have few options to properly recycle their used cups.
  • While only a handful of cities in the U.S. are officially accepting cups in their recycling programs, the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI) identified more than 30 paper mills that accept paper cups in mixed paper bales representing 75 percent of U.S. mixed paper demand, and an additional five mills accepting cups in carton bales. These mills are taking recovered paper materials, including cups, and reprocessing them into new products.
  • In 2023, the NextGen Consortium, in collaboration with FPI and Moore & Associates, identified more than 15 additional mills across North America that are interested in testing cup acceptance or that can process cups today. This new interest is a tremendous endorsement for the work that is taking place and can catalyze cup acceptance at MRFs and in new communities in the months and years ahead.
  • Each stakeholder in the value chain has an important role to play in improving paper cup recycling. The report outlines key calls to action, including calling on:
    • Mills to conduct recycling tests on paper cups to determine if the fiber can be captured without any negative operational impacts at their facilities;
    • MRFs to conduct material flow studies to determine where best to site interventions for cup sortation and to collaborate with mills and communities to expand acceptable recycling lists as more mills accept cups;
    • Communities to engage with MRFs and mills to evaluate feasibility of adding cups to accepted recyclables list;
    • Consumers to bring their own reusable cups when they can and to check local recyclability options and guidance when using disposable cups;
    • Brands to source recycled paper content when procuring their cups and other packaging, among other activities.

 

“The waste generated from to-go paper cups has become a highly visible representation of our disposable, take-make-waste culture. However, these cups also are a valuable resource with growing opportunities for recovery,” says Kate Daly, Managing Director and Head of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “We know that collaboration across stakeholders––from mills and MRFs to brands and cities––is going to be critical to solving this challenge and ensuring paper cups don’t end up in landfill or polluting our environment. The NextGen Consortium plays a key role in advancing the innovation, testing and partnerships needed to make this possible.”

Since its founding in 2018, the NextGen Consortium has taken a holistic and collaborative approach to addressing the challenge of single-use cup waste, advancing reuse models, exploring material science innovations and strengthening materials recovery and recycling infrastructure that recaptures cups after use. While material reduction and reuse are key pathways to reduce reliance on virgin resource extraction, end-of-life recovery pathways are equally critical to ensure that the value embodied in all types of cups, including single-use paper cups, is recovered, rather than wasted in landfill.

As the NextGen Consortium works toward its goal of eliminating foodservice packaging waste, it will continue to work to improve and align recovery and recycling infrastructure across the entire value chain, from collection and sortation to processing and strengthening end markets. Collaborative action, data-driven decision-making and iterative testing continue to be critical to closing the loop on a greater diversity and volume of valuable resources and avoiding unintended consequences. The learnings from this report aim to guide the industry towards a future in which reusing valuable materials in products becomes the commonsense norm, shaping a more circular economy.

About the NextGen Consortium

The NextGen Consortium is a multi-year consortium that addresses single-use foodservice packaging waste globally by advancing the design, commercialization and recovery of foodservice 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, The Wendy’s Company 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 at the forefront of building the circular economy. The company is comprised of three key business segments: Closed Loop Capital Management, the Center for the Circular Economy and Circular Services. 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.

Reuse

When Reusable Cups Reach End-of-Life: 5 Tips to Ensure They Don’t Go to Waste

By Anh Giang and Dan Liswood

October 18, 2023

We know reuse plays a critical part in reducing foodservice packaging waste. And we’ve seen progress and innovation across all types of packaging and foodservice venues, whether cup share programs, reuse at concerts and events, or even for food delivery services. However, for reuse models to be successful and impactful, they need to check a lot of boxes––they have to fit the lifestyle of customers and align with the reality of retail operations to ensure reusable packaging is sufficiently reused. They also have to be recyclable so that they don’t become waste when they end up somewhere other than the return bin at any point in their lifecycle. Whether a reuse program has a 95 percent (terrific!), 75 percent (needs improvement) or 25 percent (look out!) return rate, designing for recyclability is key, especially as more reusable packaging enters the ecosystem. Appropriate end-of-life management is necessary to maximize the intended environmental benefit that reusable products offer.

Since 2018, the NextGen Consortium has been leading efforts to identify the role reuse can play in addressing foodservice packaging waste, alongside material innovation and recovery [see: Bringing Reusable Packaging Systems to Life: Lessons Learned from Scaling Reusable Cups]. In addition to examining the realities of consumer behavior and retail operations when deploying reuse systems, one critical question we recently investigated is: what happens when a reusable cup ends up in the recycling system?

Reusable foodservice packaging is often designed for durability––both in how long it can be reused and how many times it can be washed––but not always for recyclability. As a result, when reusable cups are decommissioned, or end up anywhere but the reuse bin, they inevitably end up in our waste streams. From NextGen’s consumer research, we know that unless disposal options are convenient, these cups will likely end up as waste. Designing reusable packaging for both consistent reuse and eventual recyclability will help increase recovery opportunities and reduce waste to landfill and the environment.

How do we ensure reusable cups do not become waste when they can no longer be reused or end up in a recycling bin rather than a reuse bin?

Testing is key. There are excellent design guidelines, such as APR’s design for recyclability guidelines, to help suppliers ensure their packaging meets the stated needs of the recycling system today. But reusable cups also need to be tested within the recycling process to see if they can be successfully recovered. There are three critical stages of the recycling process:

  • Collection: how recyclable materials are collected in residential or commercial waste streams
  • Sortation: how a package will flow at a material recycling facility (MRF)
  • Reprocessing: how a package aligns with similar materials to be processed and remanufactured into new materials

 

In early 2023, the NextGen Consortium collaborated with Van Dyk Technology Center to test how a dozen different reusable polypropylene (PP) cups would sort within a MRF and see if they would end up in the correct material bale, in this case PP.

The test mimicked the flow of a typical MRF, followed APR’s sorting guidance and tested how size, compression, 2D and 3D sortation, and near infrared (NIR) sortation impact how well a cup can be sorted. The results were mixed and provide critical design insights for the companies who are manufacturing and deploying reusable cup formats.

The Results: the good, the bad and the unrecyclable.

When designed with recycling in mind, a reusable PP cup should successfully sort into the correct bale at a MRF. In our tests, the top four best performing cup models were sorted correctly more than 90 percent of the time. The test ran 50 samples of each cup through four separate runs so that each cup model ran through the facility 200 times. The results are no coincidence: successful sortability was driven by specific factors, including color, shape, opacity, thickness and material composition. The highest performing cups were typically opaque, thin and rigid but had some flexibility or bounce, and were all read clearly by the optical sensors of the sortation equipment. Cups that performed poorly, sorting less than 50 percent of the time (or sometimes not at all), often were more translucent than their successful counterparts. Overall, while only four of the cups achieved successful sortation (and a fifth cup was borderline), simple design corrections can improve the fate of the others.

Design Tips: Making recyclability a priority for reusable PP cups.

The Van Dyk sortation test gave a window into what happens to various types of reusable PP cups traveling through a MRF. However, this only assessed one step in the recycling process––sortation––and does not confirm compatibility with reclamation systems nor prove that the cup can be recycled effectively into a new package. Additional testing is needed to confirm assumptions that reusable PP cups are truly circular. For now, reusable foodservice packaging companies and suppliers can design with sortation in mind and improve end-of-life outcomes by considering the following:

  • Follow the design guidelines created by APR and other groups: There are many resources available online to help packaging designers/suppliers ensure greater compatibility with the recycling system. For plastic packaging, the APR Design® Guide is a great place to start.
  • Avoid all black plastics: While there have been technological advancements to help sort black plastics, most MRFs do not possess that technology. Both opaque and translucent black packaging is problematic and reusable cup manufacturers should design cups with today’s system in mind. If black is absolutely required, use an NIR sortable black colorant. Colorants that have passed APR testing can be found on APR’s website here.
  • Not all polypropylene is equal: PP is a wide class of material. PP sorters in the recycling process are designed to detect and separate PP that is common to single-use plastic such as tubs and lids; however, other PP grades may not be as easily identified.It is critical to engage with your cup suppliers and test if needed to confirm compatibility.
  • Mono materials (cups made of just one material) are best: A reusable cup that is multi-material (i.e., part plastic, part fiber, part silicone, etc.) is simply not compatible with today’s recycling system. Cups designed to be in a high-volume sharing system should be made of a singular material and avoid too many add-ons. Cups with ridges (i.e., a built-in sleeve) may also impede sortation; however, it does not appear that those design features are overly detrimental.
  • Think twice before adding tech: Tracking systems are typically needed to assess the impact of a reuse system and enable traceability, but features such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags need to be evaluated further for their impact on the recycling system. While an RFID tag is unlikely to hinder a package’s sortability, it might impact whether a material can be reclaimed or recycled. APR’s guidance lists RFID tags as “detrimental,” and the NextGen team is investigating the impact this technology has on the system.

 

When in doubt, TEST.

Despite widely available design guidance, reusable packaging that is not compatible with today’s recycling system continues to be manufactured. The conversation needs to be more nuanced and shift from only discussing designing for durability and the number of washes a package can withstand, to the realities of how the packaging will actually be used and travel through a system. Most reusable wares in an open system would be lucky to hit 40 reuses (which would assume a >95% return rate)! Sortation and recovery testing can help provide reusable foodservice packaging companies with additional peace of mind and ensure that their packaging has a better chance of staying out of landfill.

The NextGen team looks forward to continuing this journey to study and test optimal conditions for reusable packaging to succeed and achieve a positive environmental impact within a circular economy.

How AI Could Change the Way We Think About Recycling

By The Center for the Circular Economy and the NextGen Consortium

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  at the forefront of building the circular economy. The company is comprised of three key business segments: Closed Loop Capital Management, the Center for the Circular Economy and Circular Services. 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.

How Closed Loop Partners’ Multi-Million Dollar Investment in LRS Is Expanding Recycling Infrastructure and Access in Chicago

By

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. 

Molecular Recycling

What Is Chemical Recycling, Why Does It Have So Many Different Names, and Why Does It Matter?

By Paula Luu, Senior Director at the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners

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.

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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 thermoforms) 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.

 

  1. 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

  1. 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

 

  1. 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

 

 

  1. 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

 

  1. 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

  1. 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.

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

By Closed Loop Partners

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 Provides New Funding for Midwest Recycling Program

By Closed Loop Partners

December 19, 2022

The equipment upgrades will provide more than 1,600 tons of additional capacity and allow for the capture of an additional 900,000 pounds of materials each year

NEW YORK, NY—December 19, 2022—Closed Loop Partners announced Monday that its Closed Loop Infrastructure Fund (CLIF), together with its Circular Plastics Fund (CPF) and Beverage Fund (CLBF), closed a third loan to the Waste Commission of Scott County (WCSC) in Iowa. The $5 million loan will support equipment upgrades at the county’s materials recovery facility. WCSC will purchase three new optical sorters to increase and improve the facility’s sorting capacity.

The Closed Loop Infrastructure Group, which is responsible for managing and deploying capital from four different investment funds, including CLIF, provided financing to Scott County in 2015 and 2018 to support infrastructure improvements and purchase recycling carts now in use by the county’s residents.

“Investing in modernizing recycling infrastructure is critical to ensuring that valuable materials are pulled back into supply chains at end of life, and never go to waste,” said Jennifer Louie, Managing Director at Closed Loop Partners. “Scott County has made significant progress over the years to advance resilient recycling systems. We are proud to continue our support of their work, grow material recovery capabilities and strengthen local circular economy infrastructure.”

The new loan will help grow the processing of valuable recyclable materials throughout the region. When installed the equipment upgrades will provide more than 1,600 tons of additional capacity and allow for the capture of an additional 900,000 pounds of materials each year.

“Scott County is the third largest county in Iowa and WCSC’s service area reaches 75,000 households,” said Kathy Morris, Director of the Waste Commission of Scott County. “The new equipment helps us increase our tonnage and diversion rates so that we’re diverting more waste from the landfill and into efficient recycling systems.”

 

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 landfill 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 Infrastructure Fund at Closed Loop Partners

Established in 2014 and funded by some of the world’s largest retailers, corporate foundations, technology and consumer goods companies. The Closed Loop Infrastructure Fund provides below-market rate loans to finance projects that build out circular economy infrastructure in the United States. Investors include 3M, Amazon, Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson, BlueTriton, Keurig Dr Pepper, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Danone North America, Danone Waters, Starbucks, Unilever and Walmart Foundation. Learn more about the Fund’s investment criteria and apply for funding here.

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, Sealed Air and SK Geo Centric Co. Ltd. Learn more about the Fund’s investment criteria and apply for funding here.

About Closed Loop Beverage Fund at Closed Loop Partners

In partnership with the American Beverage Association, the Closed Loop Beverage Fund seeks to improve the collection of the industry’s valuable plastic bottles so they can be made into new bottles through investments in recycling and circular economy infrastructure in the United States. Learn more about the Closed Loop Beverage Fund here.