Creating Demand for Recyclables
As part of our commitment to supporting sustainable demand for recyclables, WM committed to the Association of Plastics Recyclers (APR) Demand Champion Program, pledging to increase the use of post-consumer resin (PCR) in products we purchase, starting with our residential carts. We partnered with Cascade Engineering to test and purchase EcoCarts, which are made with 10% PCR. This innovation helped earn a Design for Recycling Award from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries in 2021.
Expanding upon this, in 2021 WM announced the nationwide debut of employee uniforms made from recycled PET plastic. One of the largest purchasers of PET from WM’s MRFs is Unifi, a company that uses PET to create a textile fiber known as REPREVE. Together, WM and Unifi have recycled more than 20 billion bottles into new products such as shoes, clothing and bags. These garments will be available to over 20,000 WM drivers, helpers and post-collection employees in 2021.
Making Clothing Circular
We are working to develop a promising new market—the recycling of end-of- life textiles. According to the U.S. EPA, only 14.7% of used textiles are donated or recycled today. The rest are sent to landfills, due to a lack of convenient options for consumers, as well as a lack of awareness regarding the textile industry’s environmental impact.
This represents an opportunity for WM. Our existing collection and processing capabilities could potentially be adapted to the needs of textile recycling. WM’s Corporate Development & Innovation (CD&I) group built internal teams, assembled a portfolio of supply chain partners and tested the market through a variety of pilots to help encourage the growth of end markets for post-consumer textiles.
We’ve helped customers develop programs and solutions for recycling uniforms at end of use, including upcycling uniforms into different products and de-branding them for sale in new markets. Three municipalities now use WM’s Tracker mail-back program to manage the certified destruction and recycling into new fiber of their uniform apparel. WM is also a founding member of EON’s ConnectFashion initiative, a collaborative partnership that could help further improve the management of textile waste.
Emerging Sources of Demand
Over the past several years, domestic markets for many materials collected in curbside recycling programs have grown. This has helped stabilize recycling across the country.
One type of material that has seen robust end-market demand is post-consumer paper, or more specifically carboard and mixed paper. Our reliance on these materials became clear during the pandemic.
U.S. paper mills rely on recyclable paper to make the products and packages we rely on every day. Without this supply, these mills could not produce the tissues, paper towels and cardboard packaging for medical and grocery items that have been essential to fighting the virus and keeping individuals safe at home. WM worked with regulators and municipal customers to emphasize the importance of maintaining this critical supply chain, and with mill customers to ensure the supply of clean, recyclable materials to manufacture key products throughout the pandemic.
As the economy began to recover from COVID-19, the markets for many types of plastics began to improve. This is primarily due to the commitments that manufacturers have made to using post-consumer content in their packaging. By mid-2021, pricing for #1 PET (water and soda bottles), #2 HDPE (milk juts) and #5 PP (yogurt and cottage cheese containers) reached an all time high. Demand for these materials exceeded the supply of material collected for recycling. These robust market conditions have supported significant investments in recycling infrastructure, further strengthening recycling programs in North America.
Legislation can also help drive demand for other types of recycled materials. At the 2020 America Recycles Summit, the U.S. EPA announced a goal of increasing the national recycling rate to 50% by 2030, recognizing the importance of strengthening the markets for recycled materials in achieving this objective. Many states are considering minimum recycled content laws for certain products, which will further encourage businesses to make the shift.