What does it take to achieve a circular economy? Can waste be viewed as a valuable resource to fuel new products? How do you catalyze a shift in the global system that is equally attractive for industries, consumers, and the world at large?
The National Geographic Circular Economy Forum, which was sponsored in part by Milliken, addressed these questions as more than 400 thought leaders gathered to discuss solutions that eliminate waste plaguing our global system—from food waste to discarded plastics.
During a CEO panel on leading disruption, Milliken’s president and CEO Halsey Cook joined Waste Management CEO Jim Fish and Alliance to End Plastic Waste CEO Jacob Duer to discuss barriers and enablers to achieving a circular economy. This conversation, which centered on plastic waste specifically, spanned collection challenges at the beginning of the recycling process to sorting, selling, and then using the recycled plastics to manufacture new products.
Here are three actionable steps gleaned from the discussion to help build a circular economy.
1. Communicate the value of waste. Various forms of waste can become valuable inputs for new products and purposes. More and more products are being made with recycled content. Increasing the use of recycled content, however, requires an understanding at the household level that waste does indeed have a value. This way people see a purpose in their individual recycling efforts.
2. Champion scientific-driven solutions. Technologies creating materials like useful packaging, food storage, and healthcare products have moved faster than our ability to deal with the waste associated with the end of life for these items.
Just as science was key in introducing plastics, science plays a key role in developing more sustainable plastics and circular solutions. Cook noted that as materials science experts, scientists at Milliken have been pivoting, asking how Milliken can facilitate and enable a large-scale recycling effort. As a result, Milliken has been curating a portfolio of solutions that assist with incorporating recycled plastics of all types into new consumer goods over and over again.
3. Ask for and purchase products made with recycled content. Economic considerations drive business, with supply-and-demand principles being chief among them. When customers ask for new products or new features, businesses rise to the occasion and introduce those things. The same holds true with eco-conscious products—when consumers show they are willing to pay for smarter, more sustainable products, businesses are encouraged to invest in those solutions.
Cook further highlighted that many consumer-oriented companies are “making big declarations regarding recycled content, and that is going to create opportunities in the future for more recycling.” When consumers in turn continue to push for this, it will help result in more recycling streams. “The economics change when the consumer says this is important enough for me that I’ll pay a higher price for the product,” Cook continued. “Consumers are demanding this needs to change.”
This National Geographic Forum galvanized our belief that these critical conversations will lead to sustainable solutions to better our world. As Halsey Cook said, “Closing the loop on waste requires a holistic plan and the courage to act.”
As a company, we are taking up the mantle and investing our energies into helping the plastics circular economy develop and thrive through big ideas, smart innovations, and mindful actions. We hope you’ll join us in this important endeavor.