In case you haven't noticed, recyclables are kinda badass.
From our curbsides, they’re launched into an odyssey of tumbles and churns along miles of conveyor belt.
In the end, they emerge anew, transformed from crushed empty vessel to resilient post-consumer material. (A smart choice for the eco-conscious manufacturer!)
It's magical, I know.
Sadly, recycling is not the fate of the majority of our blue bin soldiers.
Two-thirds of our recyclables here in the U.S. never make that final turn in the loop. Instead, they meet early graves in earth, sea, and even air if they’re incinerated.
It’s not for a lack of demand. Companies are fiending for green manufacturing alternatives.
“Big companies ... hoping to burnish their environmental credentials, can’t get their hands on enough of it,” wrote The New York Times.
The problem is we're not equipped to feed the beast. We need more advanced recycling infrastructure, but how do we pay for it?
Enter: Corporate America.
In 2014, Ron Gonen, New York's former deputy recycling czar, started the Closed Loop Fund, a $100 million venture capital — sorry, social impact — fund with its eyes on the green. Two greens, actually: sustainability and money.
The investors are a roster of companies we wouldn't usually deem friends of the Earth, including, among others, Walmart, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Keurig, and Goldman Sachs.
Maybe you're thinking, "Wait ... now corporations want to make money cleaning the messes they create?"
The answer is yes. Yes they do. (That's capitalism for ya.)
But it doesn't appear to be as vulturous an endeavor as we might imagine.
Their game plan includes zero interest loans to cities and below market loans to private companies that want to build and modernize recycling facilities. That doesn't sound so bad — assuming they're not playing gotcha! with the fine print.
Their goal is simple: They want to prove recycling can be profitable.
Closed Loop Fund is investing in projects with the potential to divert massive tonnage of waste from landfills.
Their pilot investment was in a Baltimore-based facility that's getting harder-to-recycle plastics ready to sell in post-consumer plastics markets.
They're also funding upgrades to dated recycling plants in Ohio and Iowa, converting them into more efficient single-stream systems.
Gonen told The New York Times they're also looking to invest in a company that would turn mixed glass into paving and building materials.
Can we increase recycling without making wealthy corporations even wealthier?
Yup. And we needn't look any further than the largest investor of all: the government.
If private companies want to invest in recycling, they should be our guests. But protecting the environment is really all our responsibility. As voters and taxpayers, we should expect more public investments, too.
And it should start with a national recycling mandate which, believe it or not, does not currently exist.
Recycling rates have stagnated in recent years. But we can change that by making it a national priority and giving everyone the means to do it.
It might cost us on the front end, but hey — consider it an investment.