At Austin Resource Recovery in Texas, styrofoam is densified so it can be recycled. While hot, the gooey substance looks like octopus arms squeezing out of a machine.
“From here we take these, and we ship them out to recyclers who take these and turn it into a reusable product," Austin Resource Recovery Director Ken Snipes said. "It could be a picnic table in your backyard, a parking block in the parking lot.”
It's a method that unique to Austin. Director Ken Snipes says Austin Resource Recovery is trying to share this knowledge with other cities and states across the country. That’s why they joined the U.S. Plastics Pact.
“We’re able to process a lot of plastics that otherwise get thrown away or landfilled so those might include things like plastic film and also styrofoam,” Snipes said.
Snipes says it takes raw materials to produce plastics, and at the end of use, they’re typically thrown away. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans threw away 27 million tons of plastic in 2018. And this graph from Our World in Data shows plastics can take decades if not centuries to decompose.
“It’s actually a symptom of our inability to manage waste meaning we don’t have the appropriate resources in certain communities or with some plastics, they’re just hard to recycle so our goal is to reduce the alliance on single-use plastics, and the U.S. Plastics Pact will help us do that”
The U.S. Plastics Pact was formed in August of last year. Executive Director Emily Tipaldo says it’s one of 11 pacts across the globe right now. The ultimate goal is to create what’s called a circular economy.
“The simple way of thinking about it is keeping materials in a loop so not having waste and being able to keep the things that we use in a loop so we can reuse them, or recycle them, or compost them so they’re going back into the greater cycle to provide value,” Tipaldo said.
Tipaldo says the pact will offer national leadership to drive those circular economy efforts and everyone involved will be held accountable through annual reporting. Nearly 100 organizations make up the U.S. pact.
“It includes material suppliers like those companies that are making plastic. It includes plastic packaging manufacturers or converters. It includes consumer goods companies of all shapes and sizes from startup companies to really big multi-national brands that operate all over the world,” Tipaldo said.
Nonprofits and academic institutions are also involved. Collectively, they hope to achieve big accomplishments like reducing overall plastic use and making all plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable all by the year 2025.
“Very short, very aggressive, but definitely lighting a fire under everyone,” Tipaldo said.
Tipaldo says no organization will be singled out. It’s a collaborative effort. Snipes says that collaboration and accountability will be essential to finally make some long-lasting changes in the plastic industry.
“I think my hope going forward is that we’re all able to come together and commit to doing our part to reduce the impacts of plastic waste in our environment and our community," Snipes said. "That way we leave a better future for tomorrow and beyond.”