Recognizing the limitations of the US waste management system, where only about one third of all municipal solid waste is recovered by recycling or composting, GreenBlue® released a report yesterday that assesses a variety of material-recovery systems around the world to better inform US policies and approaches.
Closing the Loop: Road Map for Effective Material Value Recovery provides a detailed systems analysis of international packaging-recovery systems, including successful collection, sorting and reprocessing technologies and infrastructures, as well as the waste-management policies that support or limit recycling.
Focusing on material recovery in several EU nations, as well as Australia and Ontario, Canada, the report presents snapshots of advanced packaging material-recovery systems and best practices that could improve recovery in the US. While much of the Road Map is focused on urban areas, it also includes a section on recovering materials in rural settings.
“Given today’s fragmented recycling landscape, it’s not enough to focus on single material types or recovery methods, incremental technology advances, or local policies,” says GreenBlue project mgr. Liz Shoch, who led the GreenBlue research and authored the report. “We need to radically increase the quantity of materials recovered and the demand for recycled materials. This report lays out a comprehensive framework for moving toward a true closed-loop system that effectively captures valuable materials for the next generation of products.”
The report is the culmination of GreenBlue’s three-year “Closing the Loop” research project—funded through a grant awarded by California’s Market Development Research Grant Program with additional support from GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition®—which promotes more effective material-recovery systems by connecting packaging designers with available recovery options.
Summarizing successes within various country, state and municipal systems internationally, the report identifies a number of emerging best practices that could be adopted within the US, such as:
- A harmonized approach for all packaging materials, formats and end-of-life options
- Four- or five-bin collection systems for clean, high-quality materials
- Investment in state-of-the-art sorting technology
- Clear and nationally-coordinated waste policies, including extended producer responsibility legislation
- Ongoing public-education campaigns encouraging recycling and composting
- “Hub and spoke” regional recycling in rural areas
Road Map for Effective Material Value Recovery is available free to download at www.greenblue.org/publications/road-map-for-effective-material-value-recovery
My Thoughts: As the report summarizes: “There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ recovery system. Every country or state is different, and there are many ways of achieving success in packaging recovery. However, the most successful systems have structural elements in common that provide a clear foundation on which to build a packaging recovery system – one that may be tailored specifically to meet the needs of its geography, culture, and population.”
While more government intervention into our daily lives is the last thing I’d want, I’m prepared to make an exception. I think the time has come to clearly legislate and mandate packaging recycling and materials recovery on a broader scale. Certainly 50 state-wide sets of rules and regulations is better than the 3,000 US counties’ worth of plans (at a minimum), if not even more for each municipality.