Communicating Ambitious Industry Commitments for Sustainability and the Circular Economy

November 5, 2018
ACC
Vice President, Plastics Division American Chemistry Council

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) and our members are committed to playing a key role in driving sustainability through chemistry and the systemic transition to a circular economy and sustainable development, in which resources and materials are continuously cycled to eliminate waste while creating value for all. Communicating those commitments is an integral component of our industry-wide sustainability initiatives, and will drive engagement, dialogue, and partnerships to help accomplish our goals.

As chemistry provides the building blocks for nearly all manufactured goods, our industry plays an integral role in reimagining the resources, products, technologies, and systems that will power a circular, sustainable economy. Progress should include not only responsible use of natural resources, but also enabling the reuse, repurposing, recycling, and recovery of the value locked in materials traditionally viewed as waste.

Communicating Public Commitments on Sustainability

For ACC and our members, our efforts to enable a circular and sustainable economy are articulated in two recent industry-wide initiatives.

Most recently, in June, ACC launched a set of Sustainability Principles, outlining the industry’s commitment to advancing safe, innovative, effective, and economically viable chemical products and technologies that are key to unlocking sustainability solutions. As part of this initiative, ACC launched a public website, www.sciencebehindsustainability.org, to enhance communication on the new goals and illustrate how chemistry is enhancing sustainability in nine key areas, derived from and prioritized by the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and stakeholder insights.

One key area focuses on reimagining resources to enhance circularity and facilitate a more circular economy, driven through collaboration with ACC’s Plastics Division. Strategic communications efforts regarding this commitment area have included the development of high-level narratives to provide a foundation for consistent communication with stakeholders in this space, including the supply chain, policymakers, consumers, and certifiers; supporting infographics and fact sheets; and featured industry case stories. Highlighting our industry’s ability to contribute to the science and systems that enable circularity is a core component of our communications efforts related to sustainability.

Communicating Our Plastics Goals

Earlier this year, ACC also announced the development and communication of a core set of goals for capturing, recycling, and recovering plastics. This ambitious endeavor marked the first time that members of ACC’s Plastics Division came together to make a public commitment with measurable goals to increase the recycling and recovery of plastic packaging.

They include:

  • 100% of plastics packaging is reused, recycled, or recovered by 2040.
  • 100% of plastics packaging is recyclable or recoverable by 2030.
  • 100% of the U.S. manufacturing sites operated by ACC’s Plastics Division members will participate in Operation Clean Sweep-Blue by 2020, with all of their manufacturing sites across North America involved by 2022.

In setting these goals, we are publicly affirming our vision of the future for safe, sanitary plastic packaging and our intention to realize that vision quickly. Plastics packaging provides important benefits, including reducing food waste, greenhouse gas emissions, and material use. In addition, the plastics industry has a long history of investing in recycling, including consumer outreach and education, providing “away from home” recycling options, research and development for new technologies, and more.

While those actions have had a positive effect, we realized we had not publicly articulated our vision for the future we want for plastics packaging where these materials are recovered and used again. These goals are a first step in that journey.

We are a data-driven industry and, going forward, we will add detail in how we will achieve those goals, including how we’ll measure and report on progress.

Making this announcement publicly was a key step for the plastics industry, and we believe that it will help to drive and align resin producers, packaging manufactures, brand owners, retailers, recyclers, and government to move recycling and recovery forward more quickly, and to work together to achieve common goals.

Communicating to Enhance Partnerships and Collaboration

Enhanced engagement and collaboration with stakeholders is also a core component of meeting our sustainability commitments and our plastics goals. In recent years, ACC’s resin producers have ramped up engagement through programs like the Recycling Partnership, which helps to increase community recycling; Materials Recovery for the Future, which is testing sorting solutions for flexible packaging; the Wrap Recycling Action Program, which partners with cities, states, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and retailers to increase plastic film recycling via store drop-off programs; and Recover More Plastics, which collects and converts non-recycled plastics into fuels and energy.

Communicating ACC’s sustainability initiative and related plastics goals are a first step in this journey. Successful communications will broaden collaboration with stakeholders to identify and drive solutions to sustainability challenges facing the world today, and facilitate the understanding of chemistry’s contributions to sustainability and circularity. Achieving a more circular economy will enable society to continue to harness plastics’ essential benefits while optimizing how we use resources and helping to protect and restore the environment for future generations. A sustainable future will require commitments from individuals, communities, governments, business, and industry. The chemical industry is committed to being part of the solution.