Big Brands should consider buying plastic scrap themselves. Here’s why.. Here’s how..
It’s a debate worth having. A great way to significantly expand plastic recycling is by expanding circular economies with circular supply chains that include Big Brands focusing on economic and environmental sustainability.
A circular economy will help ensure plastic scrap materials maintain economic value, have consistent markets, and importantly, a recollection process for used plastic products and packaging once they reach end of use in the market.
GearedforGreen works with many private and public recyclers across the country who want to get more involved in stronger circular collaboration with end user markets. In an eco-supply chain, recyclers collect consumer and industrial plastic scrap materials on a local level, which get sold to regional processors and compounders who convert scrap into hi-quality plastic resins (sustainable raw materials), then sold to national manufacturers making all kinds of new plastic products, looped back again to recyclers at end of use. From start to end everyone involved in the circular eco supply chain is connected.
Eco-supply chains enable local, regional and national businesses involved in recycling and sustainability to collaborate stronger and transparently working together rowing in the same direction. Scrap is connected to raw material, connected to new products, connected to consumers, looped back connected to recyclers in a continuous process.
Without circularity, companies involved in collection, processing and compounding “go it alone”, struggling with up and down plastic scrap prices, lack of markets for many kinds of plastic materials, and an over reliance on export markets. Circularity gets everyone in the supply chain teaming up together and helps maintain pricing and cost transparency which benefits the supply chain as a whole.
We can minimize these challenges and increase & improve plastics recycling markets when Big Brands take lead, connecting in circular eco supply chains. Big Brands are themselves the biggest consumers of plastic raw material. Big Brands across markets like Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Ford, Nike, Budweiser, L’oreal, Gillette, and so on, should stop selling off their own plastic scrap they generate in their own operations, and instead do an about face, connecting in circular eco-supply chains and becoming significant plastic scrap buyers instead.
Why ??? Big Brands make lots of plastic products and use lots of plastic packaging, hence they buy lots of plastic resins to make products. Big Brands consume hundreds of millions of pounds of new virgin plastic resins including polyethylene, polypropylene, polyester, and other grades, purchased through non sustainable supply chains from producers like Dow Chemical, Exxon Mobil, Sabic, BASF, Chevron Phillips, and so on, made from petroleum and natural gas.
By shifting to buying plastic scrap and participating in a more sustainable circular eco supply chain, scrap becomes a more prominent part of the plastic raw material stream for Big Brands.
Here’s how.. Instead of paying Exxon Mobil etc. for virgin resin, Big Brands buy plastic scrap direct in the open market and pay Processors and Compounders to produce recycled grade plastic resins. Today recycled plastic resins can be made to many specifications, even FDA compliant. By approaching plastic scrap and raw material sourcing from the top down, Big Brands can help increase plastic recycling rates, manage raw material cost, and take greater responsibility for products they make by creating closed loop circularity.
Big Brands carry big leverage because of supply demand. Supply demand dictates the more plastic products we make and sell, the more demand there is for virgin or recycled plastic resins. It’s a matter of choice which kind of raw materials we buy.
A modest shift reducing virgin resin consumption and increasing recycled resin consumption can make a tremendous sustainability shift for several reasons.
1st, it creates larger more consistent markets for recycled plastic resins which creates demand, which helps moderate pricing and adds more pricing transparency down the line which ultimately helps increase recycling rates.
2nd, it creates an environment ripe for innovation and investment. As Big Brands get more involved in circular eco supply chains collaborating with recyclers, processors and compounders, everyone will invest more resources which leads to greater innovation, improved processes, higher quality, etc.
3rd, it creates the closed loop infrastructure necessary for Big Brands to ultimately take greater responsibility for products they make once they reach end of use in the market. It also facilitates increased consumer engagement and participation in recycling contributing to increase recycling rates. When Big Brands integrate consumer sustainability incentives with education, consumers start to take ownership of their sustainability efforts which creates even stronger bonds between Big Brands and consumers, which can also equate to increased sales.
It’s a debate worth having, but from our perspective, circularity and eco supply chains will enhance sustainability and increase plastic recycling rates down the line.