Can a $100 Million Fund Revamp America’s Failing Recycling System?

Some of America’s biggest brands have come together to help improve the nation’s poor recycling efforts. Americans recycle just 34 percent of their garbage, a rate that drastically lags behind other developed nations, according to the EPA.

To turn things around, eight corporations, including Walmart and Coca-Cola, have created a $100 million Closed Loop Fund that offers zero or no-interest loans to cities and recycling companies looking to make improvements.

While the fund is a first-of-its-kind, some wonder if a program like this is enough or if there’s a better solution.

The Closed Loop Fund has already received 70 requests totaling $170 million since its inception in October of last year. Proof there’s a demand for recycling infrastructure improvements.

If approved for a loan, profits from selling recycled materials and money saved from not hauling garbage to landfills is used to repay the note.

If there’s no profit, the loan isn’t repaid. All the more reason the fund’s advisors are selective, making sure the applicants have a solid plan in place to “reduce significant tonnage from landfills.”

Three projects are already underway. Two of the loans will move cities in Ohio and Iowa to a single-sort system, and the third project helps build a new recycling facility in Baltimore that can sort and recycle plastics that typically end up in landfills. The plant will handle plastics like yogurt containers and iPhone cases, which can’t be processed by most recycling plants.

The mounting problem with recycling

The loan program is a step toward addressing America’s garbage problem, but some say it’s not enough.

There are many problems at play. The nation is full of patchwork recycling plants, each one with different rules. The profit earned from selling recycled materials is dropping, so cities aren’t recouping the money needed to keep plants open. Currently, the price to use recycled goods to make products is the same, or in some cases, more expensive than making products from virgin materials.

While $100 million can make a difference in small pockets, industry analysts say $1.25 billion is needed to overhaul the entire recycling infrastructure.

An alternative solution to recycling

Offering to improve America’s broken recycling system is one option, but what if there was a different path?

A path that offered a zero-waste solution that could significantly reduce the need to recycle in the first place.

Such a solution does exist. Rather than recycling containers, consumers can refill them. Consumers can refill products like their favorite laundry detergent, hand soap or mouthwash.

Retailers simply set up a counter-top refill station and consumers bring their empty bottles to the station, set them inside and select the product they want refilled. In seconds the machine cleans, refills and seals the bottle for the consumer to take home.

Think about the number of laundry jugs, soap containers, shampoo bottles and cleaning containers you buy on a yearly basis. By refilling the bottles, there’s no need to throw them out or recycle them. You use the same bottle again and again.

While the technology exists, it’s not available to consumers yet. Retailers worry that consumers won’t use it. Given the problem the country faces with recycling, it’s time to send a message to retailers. Tell them #WeWantRefill.

Take a minute to sign the petition below to encourage your local retailer to offer refill stations.