Partnerships Have a Place in Recycling—and Here’s Why

Since the 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has documented increases in the recycling of paper, plastics, glass, and more in the United States. Recycling hit a roadblock last year when policies effectively closed China’s import borders to much of the materials it once recycled—up to 50% of the world’s solid waste.

Solving today’s most pressing sustainability challenges can inspire unique and exciting responses. A South Carolina Department of Commerce (SCDOC) event—dubbed a Recycling Matchmaker event—brought together manufacturers and recyclers from across the state to explore ways to continue recycling trends by leading with state resources. In effect, the networking event encouraged a cross-section of manufacturing companies to see how material streams from one business could be incorporated into another company’s output process.

Chantal Fryer, SCDOC’s director of recycling market development, kicked off what will be the first of three meet-ups like this, aiming to creatively problem-solve together with the goal of deploying new avenues of and enhancements to recycling in South Carolina.

One company who participated shared that their PET, which is used in water bottles and soda bottles, creates a low-end byproduct that, until recently, did not have a further purpose. Now, that byproduct is incorporated into textiles. The power of partnership—of synergy among groups—only amplifies the tangible sustainable benefits for our world.

The connections fostered by the recycling matchmaking conversations were just one element of the day-long event. In a lunch keynote, Sustainable Development Manager for Milliken’s Chemical Business, Paul Kearns, shared Milliken’s work in broadening the scope of traditional recycling efforts. Through the vehicle of single-use plastic packaging, we are expanding the horizon of recycling to address a critical sustainability crisis through a holistic lens:

• By prioritizing circularity, we are creating innovations that improve the overall recyclability of plastics, returning them to almost virgin-like resin for new and varied uses.

• By prioritizing reuse, we are creating innovations that improve the durability and appearance of alternate-use plastics to lessen the reliance on single-use formats.

• By prioritizing biopolymers, we are creating innovations that enhance the performance and aesthetic properties of recycled and alternate-use plastics to make those a more viable option.

Enabling plastics to improve people’s lives while transforming the impact plastics have on the environment illustrates how a circular mindset unlocks and increases the impact recycling can have. The theme, in short, is that recycling can and should take a wide-reaching view, accomplished through many avenues and with cross-functional partners.

Hosted at Milliken & Company’s global headquarters, this event is one of many strides we are making towards our 2025 goals.