David Gelles, THE NEW YORK TIMES
The recycling industry has a dirty little secret: Much of the plastic that consumers diligently sort is never actually recycled. Instead, some of those yogurt containers, translucent takeout boxes and bottle caps are buried in landfills or incinerated.
The issue isn’t a lack of demand for this recycled plastic — specifically items with codes No. 3 through No. 7. Big companies like Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble, hoping to burnish their environmental credentials, can’t get their hands on enough of it.
Instead, the problem is infrastructure. Most recycling facilities simply aren’t sophisticated enough to collect, sort, clean and process these plastics and still turn a profit.
The uneven market for postconsumer plastics is just one of the handicaps of the recycling industry, which remains underdeveloped despite decades of public education and investment. Bigger obstacles include the absence of demand for mixed glass, and persistently low recycling rates for everything but paper.
But a new $100 million fund is aiming to move the needle on these issues, starting with those hard-to-recycle plastics.
Founded last year, the Closed Loop Fund provides no-interest loans to cities and below-market-rate loans to companies that want to build recycling infrastructure. What’s surprising is the source of the fund’s cash. Nine big companies including Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, 3M and Coca-Cola have committed $5 million to $10 million each. More recycling, the companies say, is in their interest too.