Revival recycling market development plan touts power of creative business partnerships

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A strong market for recyclable materials is an important aspect of improving recycling and infrastructure, spokesman says Last week’s webinar Hosted by the Southeast Circulation Development Committee. They discussed how emerging and established market development programs can affect local recycling systems, and encouraged cities and states to consider creating their own market development programs.

Here are the three main points of the discussion.

Federal government’s new interest in recycling market may help launch new development program

AMERIPEN project manager Kyla Fisher said there was an “incredible opportunity” for the state and locality to kick-start new recycling market developments. It’s been five years since China’s “national sword” policy of restricting imports of most recycled materials, and the U.S. recycling industry is now boosting the domestic market.

The EPA also has renewed focus on how state market development programs can help the U.S. achieve the goals outlined in the National Recycling Strategy Achieving a 50% recycling rate by 2030. EPA Strategy Market development workshops, including rural and regional entities, are recommended to help create opportunities on a smaller scale.

The last time the EPA focused on this issue was in the 1990s, when the EPA launched its “Recycling Means Business” initiative centered on job creation in the recycling industry, which resulted in “some very strong programs,” Fisher said.

AMERIPEN has a recycling market development working group, as well as a Best Practice Guidelines For states and localities interested in launching such programs. There is no single way to create the right program, she said, as each region has different markets and opportunities.

“Focus on your organizational strengths, then find a partner to help you do the rest. You can’t do it all,” Fisher said.

Successful program and development agencies, such as the Goodwill partnership in Michigan and the market development team in South Carolina, have one thing in common: “You need to find out who in your state wants to support this work, or needs this type of work and probably don’t quite understand. Bring them to the table and have a chat,” she said.

South Carolina program prioritizes direct business relationships

South Carolina’s recycling market development program is notable in the United States because it has operated for more than 30 years as part of the state’s Department of Commerce. That gives it the advantage of being able to connect South Carolina businesses with the state’s many recycling companies, said Anna DeLage, recycling market development manager.

The program promotes the economics of recycling by encouraging businesses to use more recycled materials, educating residents about recycling practices, and connecting recyclers and processors with end markets.

Expanding the supply and quality of recycled materials available to businesses has been an ongoing process, she said. Back in 1993, the state had only a “few” processors. Today, there are more than 300 recycling-related businesses, including four recycled content paper mills.

Sustainability commitments from major brands like Volvo and Google are driving many of the state’s circular economy initiatives, and over the past 18 months companies of all sizes have begun to express interest in improving corporate sustainability, she said.

“When we talk to manufacturers, one of the questions we ask is, ‘Do you have any recycling needs? Are there any opportunities for you to improve your sustainability on site?’ And then pass those recommendations back to recycling The market development team, we can connect right away,” DeLage said.

Leveraging partnerships can turn frugal discoveries into new products

Donations to thrift stores that cannot be sold often end up in landfills. To reduce waste, Goodwill Industries in Western Michigan has partnered with several companies to convert hard-to-sell merchandise into new products, said business development director Nick Carlson.

Last year, Goodwill’s Muskegon, Michigan store took 69% of its donated materials to disposal, which means employees either sell items in stores or online, or find buyers elsewhere, recycling materials or otherwise repeating them use. The store is targeting an 80 percent diversion within the next two years, he said.

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