The past two years have seen serious challenges to recycling collections in the United States, with municipalities across the country suspending or decreasing their curbside recycling schedules in response to short staffing which grew worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. The shortage of drivers with Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDL), supply chain challenges for vehicles and equipment, high fuel prices, and other factors have made it very difficult for both the public and private sector to keep up with the collection of recycling.
At the same time, many major brands have committed to including high percentages of Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) content in their packaging and products. This commitment will lead to a decrease in the production of new plastic produced from non-renewable fossil fuels and will support the principals of a circular economy. In addition to PCR commitments, some brands depend on the collection of certain materials to make their products, such as composite decking.
In order to reach these ambitious goals, the collection of quality materials is necessary to provide a consistent supply of PCR materials. Unfortunately, current recycling rates of PET, glass and aluminum are around only 30%.Learn more about resource efficiency and waste management
Recycling collection issues
Why is collection so challenging? There are several reasons related to staffing, budgets, infrastructure, and communications. The collection, processing, and recycling of materials is a very complicated landscape, so coordination between each step in the process is key.
Staffing is an issue, as the pandemic exacerbated pre-existing issues with filling challenging positions and those challenges are still ongoing. In addition, each municipality has its own collection model and range of materials accepted, which makes it difficult to coordinate and leverage partnerships. Due to the differences in what each recycling facility accepts, miscommunication about which items are recyclable, and news about recycling being ‘broken,’ consumers are often confused about what, how, and why to recycle. As a result, recycling often contains many items that are not recyclable or are not clean, and these high contamination rates make it more costly to sort and recycle items.
Some consumers do not recycle due to lack of recycling collection or skepticism about whether the items are actually recycled. Many businesses, tourist destinations, and special events, which produce large amounts of materials, do not always provide recycling, and instead send valuable recyclables to waste destinations. As a result, cities and states struggle to meet the recycling goals they have set, and companies struggle to source PCR needed for their packaging and products.
Reliable collections are increasingly important although the challenges to ensure collections continue to increase. Fortunately, there are many solutions available to support collections. Some brands are proactively setting up drop-off locations, establishing mail-in programs, setting up incentive programs, or utilizing reverse logistics. Other brands are working with local governments and non-profit organizations to support the collection of materials. There are also opportunities to join industry groups that are providing financial and technical support to communities and to recycling facilities.
In addition, there are opportunities to advocate for local and federal policies that support recycling, such as mandatory recycling laws, government funding for recycling infrastructure, extended producer responsibility (EPR), and more. The specifics of legislation can vary greatly in each jurisdiction, so it is important to understand the details of how each proposal can impact your operations and goals.Learn more about responsible sourcing and materials
How Anthesis can help
There are many options for companies to support recycling collections. However, they are not one-size fits all and many considerations that go into deciding which option or options will help achieve unique goals for unique materials. At Anthesis, we experience the unique range of challenges and solutions that companies face.
In order to find the most impactful and efficient solutions, companies need to:
- Set priorities and goals for sourcing materials, including quantities and types
- Identify gaps in local collections landscapes and opportunities to close those gaps
- Determine which strategies will be most effective to improve collection and processing of materials to improve their supply
- Analyze the policies that would support or hinder collection of targeted materials so they can support relevant policies
- Investigate the availability of partners to activate collections for targeted materials
- Create a roadmap for how to implement solutions to reach specific goals
Supporting collections is important to reach each client’s individual goals but is also important to improve the overall recycling landscape for all producers and consumers to improve environmental impacts.