October 5, 2023
President, America's Plastic Makers™, American Chemistry Council
Tina Potuto Kimble
Director of Government Affairs, Global Strategy, Novelis
President, DSM Firmenich Americas
Vice President, Environmental Affairs and Sustainability, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
For many long-standing organizations, a circular economy hasn’t been a central aspect of their infrastructure. Yet, as emerging companies prioritize sustainability and champion the circular economy, they're pushing the boundaries of technological and infrastructural innovation.
The focus on recycling efforts, previously considered to be a state-by-state issue, has grown to gain federal traction. At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 2023 Sustainability and Circular Economy Summit, three industry experts — Ross Eisenberg, President of America’s Plastic Makers™ through the American Chemistry Council, Tina Potuto Kimble, Director of Government Affairs and Global Strategy at Novelis, and Hugh Welsh, General Counsel at DSM Firmenich Americas — discussed the growing importance of establishing a circular economy and increasing sustainability among businesses.
The Federal Government Is Lending a Hand to Create Circular Economies
For the first time, the federal government is making a significant investment in infrastructure to promote recycling, marking a historic shift in the U.S. approach to sustainability and waste management.
“I’m very excited by many aspects of not just the Infrastructure Act, but the Inflation Reduction Act, [and] the CHIPS Act,” said Welsh. “There are tremendous opportunities for us to transition from chemical synthesis … to using biotechnology and fermentation to produce things with much, much less waste.”
The collaboration between government and business is essential to achieving ambitious goals set by the plastic industry, among others, Eisenberg emphasized.
“Our industry has committed that by 2030, all U.S. plastic packaging will either be recyclable or recoverable,” Eisenberg said. “By 2040, 100% of all U.S. plastic packaging will either be reused, recycled, or recovered.”
To Develop Sustainable Solutions, Businesses Must Consider the Entire Product Life Cycle
While many companies and industries are on board to introduce changes to promote a circular economy, the path to total sustainability is far more complex. Potuto Kimble proposed a two-pronged approach to address this need.
“First, we need to increase recycled content in the goods that we make. [...] We’ve got about 60% … recycled content in our products, but we need to keep that going,” said Potuto Kimble. “The second prong is increasing the amount of recycled … material that’s available to us, and that’s where the infrastructure piece is extremely important.”
However, companies should note that switching from one product material to another can lead to an inadvertent carbon footprint increase. Therefore, in the hunt for sustainable solutions to achieve a circular economy, companies should consider the full life cycle of their products and packing, from creation to recycling or disposal, not just the end of the cycle.