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Cal Dooley, President and CEO of the American Chemistry Council.
Cal Dooley, President and CEO of the American Chemistry Council.

The global plastic industry is responding to the market demands for environmental sustainability by adopting circular business models. How the U.S. plastic industry is progressing to promote circular economy? How can the collaboration of the value chain help to move toward a circular economy?

CPRJ China Plastics & Rubber (AdsaleCPRJ.com) recently conducted an interview with Cal Dooley, President and CEO of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), to discuss on this hot topic.

Cal Dooley is President and CEO of the American Chemistry Council. Since joining ACC in 2008, Dooley has enhanced member value and strengthened the competitive position of U.S. chemical manufacturers by advocating for a business and regulatory climate that drives innovation, supports job growth and enhances safety. In Congress, he represented the 20th District of California as a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 to 2004.

CPRJ: How is the current development of the U.S. plastic industry? What are themajor challenges that the industry is facing today?

Dooley: The U. S. chemical and plastics industry is strong and continues to grow. Thanks to affordable domestic supplies of natural gas and natural gas liquids from shale formations, the industry has invested more than US$200 billion in new facilities and capacity expansions.

These projects could support 786,000 jobs and lead to US$292 billion in new chemical and plastics industry output annually. As our industry grows, we know that we must work to make our business models more circular and work with the global value chain to end plastic waste.

CPRJ: How does the U.S. plastic industry support the realization of circular economy? How can the value chain collaborate to promote circular economy?

Dooley: The plastics industry actively collaborates with leading companies in all parts of the value chain (i.e., producers, converters, brand owners, and recyclers) to develop partnerships and programs that will foster more efficient use – and reuse – of plastics.

In some cases, this means rethinking the way we design packaging to make it lighter or incorporate more recycled materials or even to introduce new formats and distribution systems, such as concentrates or refillables.

In other cases, it means investing in solutions to reuse our plastics, such as improved sorting and recycling technologies. In addition to the Alliance, which we’ve already talked about, here are some of the many exciting initiatives that are already underway and helping us move toward a more circular economy:

  • Brand owner commitments: A number of major brand owners have made public commitments to use more recycled content in their packages, which will significantly boost demand for recycled plastics. Plastic makers are already working in partnership with others in our value chain to improve recycling in several ways to help meet this demand.

  • Optimizing traditional recycling: Traditional recycling systems for plastics will continue to play an important role in our move to a circular economy. We’re working with government and national nonprofit organizations to share best practices, tools and resources that will help optimize existing programs and infrastructure. We’re also expanding programs and technologies that collect and recycle polyethylene film, which requires a separate stream from rigid plastics.

  • Expanding advanced recycling: We’re supporting the development and wider adoption of advanced recycling and recovery technologies, also known as chemical recycling. These technologies have the potential to revolutionize the way we use, reuse, and recover plastics.

Many of these technologies can accept a wider range of inputs than traditional recycling, including many different types of plastics—even mixed plastics—and they can produce a much wider range of high-value outputs, including transportation fuels, chemical feedstocks, and monomers that can become new plastics with near-virgin properties.

A number of recent announcements show how chemical recycling is helping to speed up the move toward circularity. For example, Unilever is using Tacoil feedstock from SABIC to make certified circular polymers for consumer packaging; a refinery owned by Delta Airlines is purchasing feedstock made from used plastics and sold by chemical recycler Agilyx to make jet fuel; BASF is using post-use plastics to make syngas and oils; polystyrene maker Americas Styrenics is buying monomer from Agilyx to make virgin plastic; and we’re seeing more announcements like these all the time.

CPRJ: What is your view on plastic waste pollution?

Dooley: Everyone agrees that plastic waste does not belong in our ocean, or anywhere in the environment. Companies, governments, NGOs, and consumers all have an important role to play in helping end plastic waste in the environment. Despite the many benefits of plastic to health, safety, sustainability and convenience, plastic waste has become a challenge because it is not managed properly.

CPRJ: What is the future development of the U.S. plastic industry?

Dooley: Demand for plastics (and other materials) is expected to grow for the next three decades, and the industry is positioned to grow along with this demand. The United Nations predicts the world’s population will reach nearly 10 billion people by 2050, and, at the same time, greater percentages of people will migrate into urban areas.

This means we’ll have to transport more food safely from agricultural areas into cities, and we’ll need lightweight, efficient packaging to do that. We’ll also have to get more clean water to those same people (with plastic pipe). And we’ll need more lightweight cars and trucks to move people and products around. That will mean using more plastics and plastic composites to help increase vehicle fuel efficiency. And, of course, all of these people will need safe, energy-efficient, affordable homes, which will require lots of plastic insulation (for energy efficiency) and durable home building products.

There are so many ways plastics help us to live better, and studies show that plastics often help deliver these benefits more efficiently than alternatives. At the same time, we must solve plastic waste by learning to treat our used plastics as resources for new manufacturing.

CPRJ: In which application segment do you see the biggest growth potential?

Dooley: I’m proud to see industry leading the way in end-use applications for recycled and recovered plastics. For example, Dow and other companies are incorporating recycled plastics into the asphalt used to pave roads and parking lots, and multiple companies are looking into using wallboards made with recycled plastics for roofing materials.

Additionally, I’m excited to see the growth in new recycling and recovery technologies that can convert post-use plastics into fuels, naphtha, chemical feedstocks, and new plastics. New advanced recycling and recovery technologies are helping to make the applications for post-use plastics nearly limitless.

CPRJ: How do you see the collaboration between the U.S. and the Chinese chemical industries, especially in the plastic sector? What are the potential collaboration opportunities?

Dooley: Like the U.S. chemical and plastics industry, the Chinese chemical and plastics industry wants to see a world without waste. By working together in global forums such as APEC, we can find and scale solutions to end plastic waste. By sharing best practices, solutions and technologies demonstrated in one part of the world can be applied, adapted and used elsewhere.

CPRJ: Do you have any message for the industry players?

Dooley: This is an exciting time for the chemicals and plastics industries as we innovate and collaborate to move toward a circular economy. Now is the time for us to demonstrate leadership. No other industry contributes to global sustainability the way we do.

Companies that make chemicals and plastics are providing the building blocks and the vision that are allowing us to do more with less and to pave the way for future generations to live better, healthier and safer, and with a smaller foot print than ever before.

ACC facilitates value chain collaboration

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) represents a diverse set of companies engaged in the business of chemistry. An innovative, 
US$553 billion enterprise, ACC works to solve some of the biggest challenges in the world.

ACC’s mission is to deliver value to its members through advocacy, using member engagement, political advocacy, communications and scientific research. ACC is committed to fostering progress in its economy, environment and society.

In addition, ACC brings together all players in the value chain to collaborate on new initiatives. A recent example is the creation of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. This year more than 40 global companies joined together to provide resources, leadership and expertise to help develop more circular systems for using and reusing plastics.

Members of the Alliance, including Sinopec, have committed more than US$1 billion over five years to invest in waste management systems, accelerate innovation and infrastructure, and engage in education and cleanup.

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