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A Circular Economy: You’re Not in It Alone, So Why Go It Alone?

Image Credit: The Recycling Partnership

This is the second in a three-part series fromThe Recycling Partnershipon collaborating to drive effective engagement – and action – around recycling. Read part one.

Intent vs. action. It’s the difference between buying those new running shoes vs. completing a race. Same with setting 2020 sustainability goals vs. delivering a new version of the future. And when it comes to a circular economy, here’s a great example: designing for recyclability vs. ensuring the successful recovery of valuable materials.

The Recycling Partnership and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition both exist to drive positive change. Frequently that work focuses on ensuring that all those papers, cans, boxes and containers that efficiently make their way into the national landscape are called back into duty. It’s a core American value and a powerful tool.

But why? What’s driving that action? Sure, we’re saving the landfill, but is that the motivator? Nope.

Recycling exists to deliver feedstock to manufacturing. That demand-pull is the thing on which we must focus because it sets the tone for the rest of the process. In lieu of new resource extraction, we’re keeping valuable materials in the system, delivering positive economic and environmental impacts along the way: Circular economy thinking in action.

Work with Me, Already

In helping companies turn circular economy thinking into action, it’s common to encounter a phase of frustration. Product-focused brands are working hard to ensure stronger sustainability metrics but when they look beyond their product alone, they realize that world is a big place. The path to turning bold goals into results involves ensuring that decisions by thousands of community governments and hundreds of companies must be on board in order to make good on corporate intentions. Your brand is doing its part – but what about them? What are they doing to help you? Good news: Intent vs. action isn’t solved by us vs. them. You’re not alone, so don’t go it alone.

Through our organizations’ collaboration, ASTRX (Applying Systems Thinking to Recycling), we are building real and dependable avenues for companies to navigate all the external players to ensure that their intent results in action. Silos, be gone! Systems thinking and collaboration must become the norm for the circular economy to be successful. The goal? Helping companies realize the trifecta of sustainable impact: circular economy goal-setting, ensured recovery of materials at end of life, and use of that recovered material back into the company product portfolio.

Swapping Silos for Verticals

A circular economic model asks all of us to stop and retool our thinking. We’re not just delivering goods into a set marketplace. Instead we’re ensuring that our companies and organizations are building an ecosystem of coordinated design intent and recovery mechanisms.

What do we see from the successes of the early adopters who are able to see the results they desire?

  • First, collaboration – there’s efficiency in numbers, and great resources ready and waiting for you. With the right partners, vertical growth is easier to realize.
  • Then, it’s realist thinking – replacing wishful thinking with no-nonsense approaches.
  • Finally, it’s a keen eye on results. There are many of us working hard and delivering year over year results.

The good news? We love to share and the doors are always open for those ready to turn intent into action. The best path for fastest change is one we take together.


Keefe Harrison is the CEO of The Recycling Partnership, a national nonprofit transforming recycling in towns all across America. A 19-year veteran of the waste reduction and recycling field, her experience includes firms, governments, and organizations such as… [Read more about Keefe Harrison1]


Nina Goodrich is Director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and Executive Director of GreenBlue. Passionate about sound and actionable principles of sustainable materials management, Nina works with industry leaders to source and use materials wisely, promote material health…
[Read more about Nina Goodrich]