BERKELEY, CALIF.—Waste Management Inc. has issued a “Report on Recycling” as the result of a dialogue earlier this year on boosting U.S. plastic recycling rates. China’s 2018 ban on plastic waste imports exposed the fragility of parts of the U.S. recycling collection and processing system. Media reports suggest significant gaps in U.S. recycling markets due to historical reliance on China for processing plastic, underdeveloped domestic markets, and low prices offered for recovered plastics.
Following the filing of a shareholder proposal and in-depth engagement earlier this year, the company agreed to provide a report that would identify gaps in recycling infrastructure, disclose the types of plastic collected by the company and the markets for them, provide an assessment of the effectiveness of its material recovery facilities (MRFs), and convey updated policy and advocacy positions on recycling. Waste Management hopes this report will serve as a valuable first step in a broader conversation with regulators, packaging producers, and consumer brands about policies and practices required to rapidly increase the amount of plastic recycled in the United States, especially those for which there are existing markets.
The report looks first at data on total national and regional generation, collection, and end markets for the three predominant types of plastic collected curbside: polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high density polyethylene (HDPE), and polypropylene (PP). The company then discloses the volume of PET, HDPE, and PP plastic processed at its MRFs and sold to recyclers in 2019, and where the materials ended up. The report discusses the status of each MRF in terms of utilizing advanced sorting equipment that can increase post-consumer packaging yield and reduce contamination in bales of recycled material. It also discusses other actions the company is involved in to increase domestic plastic recycling and clarifies its plastic export policy.
Waste Management invites all stakeholders involved in improving recycling—regulators, consumers, materials collectors and processors, brand end users, and advocacy groups—to review the report and provide feedback to As You Sow and the company.
To learn more about As You Sow’s work on waste, click here.