Recycling reduces climate pollution and fossil fuel extraction, and is an important part of the solution to reduce plastic production and build toward a Zero Waste circular economy.
But we cannot recycle our way out of the plastics pollution crisis. AMBR is dedicated to improving recycling policies and infrastructure investments to rebuild credible, transparent recycling systems. Our efforts are focused on the following major elements:
- Eliminate Problematic and Unnecessary Plastics from Production
Some plastics will never be recyclable, and we should not seek recycling solutions for them. There is growing global consensus to phase out these problematic and unnecessary plastics. Earlier this year, the U.S. Plastics Pact, a multi-stakeholder coalition across the entire plastics supply chain, released the first-of-its-kind list of 11 plastics to eliminate by 2025. The list marks the first time plastic manufacturing companies have acknowledged responsibility for the items they produce.
AMBR’s founding members, Eco-Cycle, Eureka Recycling, and the Ecology Center, are members of the Pact and promote this initial list of problematic plastics as an important step forward to break down the myth that all plastics can, or even should, be recycled.
- Promote Truth in Labeling: Remove the Chasing Arrows from Non-Recyclable Plastics.
Plastics producers and consumer brand companies have purposely misled the public about the recyclability of plastics for decades by putting the chasing arrows symbol on products that have never been recyclable. There are several high-profile efforts to update this labeling, including a new labeling law in California, a truth-in-labeling study from Oregon, and a potential update of the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides on how products must be labeled. AMBR is advocating for state and federal policy change to mandate truth in labeling.
- Provide Convenient Recycling to All Residents and Businesses
For recycling to work effectively and to scale up as a solution to reduce fossil fuel use, every home, apartment, and business should have convenient access to recycling for all materials. Unfortunately, many communities lack basic recycling infrastructure, with only half of Americans having automatic access to curbside recycling. This is why AMBR is advocating for Extended Producer Responsibility policies to improve investments in local recycling systems. Across the US, there is the capacity to double the recycling rate for PET and HDPE plastics just by collecting more materials that are currently going to landfills.
This year, AMBR member Eco-Cycle championed a transformative new policy to provide free, convenient statewide recycling to all Colorado residents under the Producer Responsibility for Recycling law. In California, AMBR member the Ecology Center supported California’s Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act, which established one of the most ambitious EPR programs with notable goals to increase plastics recycling and reduce or single-use plastic packaging.
- Improve Plastics Recycling Facilities and Processes
While recycling common plastics reduces overall air and water pollution compared to virgin plastic production, there are still emissions, toxics, and microplastics generated during the collection and processing of plastics for recycling, and more work is needed to limit these impacts and further clean up these facilities. In plastics recycling, just like most recycling processes, manufacturers cannot recycle 100% of the material. There are caps, labels, adhesives, and other materials that are not recycled during the process. For example, plastics reclaimers are only able to recover about 60 to 70% PET from an average load of PET bottles. Process loss is common in recycling for all materials but is by far the most pronounced with plastics. In addition, plastics degrade in quality each time they are recycled, unlike glass, steel, or aluminum, which can be recycled indefinitely.
- Scale up Reuse and Refill Solutions
Reuse and refill solutions are the most circular approach to managing packaging yet these strategies are often underfunded and overlooked. Model policies to support reuse and refill solutions include:
- Updating state procurement policies to give preference to reuse/refill programs;
- Setting reuse/refill and waste reduction goals in state solid waste plans, aiming for 10% by 2024 and 20% by 2028;
- Regulating retail sectors that sell products in single-use formats and setting a reduce/reuse target for each retail product sector;
- Requiring reusable foodware for on-site dining;
- Reducing single-use accessories in take-out and delivery by requiring companies to offer these items only upon request; and
- Introducing charges for take-out disposables.
- Refute False Solutions
AMBR firmly opposes the use of plastics-to-fuel technologies and urges state and federal legislators to reject any policies to support these false solutions. Instead of pursuing these unproven and risky technologies, there is an abundant need for state and national policies to reduce problematic plastics and invest in proven mechanical plastics recycling. Learn more about Refuting False Solutions.
- Innovate new circular solutions in packaging, reuse, and recycling.
New packaging design, new materials, reusable solutions, and improved recycling technologies are all needed to scale up a truly circular, sustainable, and regenerative economy.