21st Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference | June 13-15, 2017 | Reston, Virginia

Role of Recycling – Building a Sustainable Tomorrow

Symposium Organizers: Robert Peoples, Executive Director, Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE); Matthew Realff, Professor, David Wang Senior Faculty Fellow, Georgia Institute of Technology

Ultimately science and technology will develop and deploy sustainable materials, manufacturing and recycling platforms that mimic nature, reduce our carbon footprint and dramatically reduce the demands for virgin feedstock mined from the earth. That scenario is well into the future so in the meantime, human-kind will be in a transition phase. We must learn to better manage those commodities in the marketplace today that represent a reservoir of potential starting materials and which will require many decades, in some cases up to half a century to deplete. As early at the mid-80s organizations and corporations begin to think about recycling and design or recycling. Today we talk about the circular economy and just as technology evolves, so does our constructs and conceptual approaches. Many of these concepts have now been commercialized. From a technical perspective we have witnessed much innovation and success, however from an economic perspective, the landscape looks quite different. Recent developments in terms of collapsing oil prices and their impact on virgin feedstocks has sent shock waves through the recycling world. This is true as well for global supply/demand shifts due to new capacity coming on line and having serious negative consequences for the global recycling community.

At the same time there exists a huge gap today between the world of recycling and green chemistry and engineering. Education and deployment of the principles in the recycle world will accelerate not only the path to sustainable design and closed loop systems thinking, but tap an audience who fundamentally do what they do because of their desire to save the planet. This is a two-way opportunity in terms of educating the recycling world on the tools and concepts while also raising awareness of the green chemistry community to the important role recycling can and will play in our journey.

This all day symposium will bring together a cross-section of recycling leaders in search of common ground – what is working and what has not been successful. The first half of the symposium will focus on a variety of recycle streams, their technology platforms, market outlets and economics. A key question for speakers to address will be how these approaches advance and are enabled by the principles of green chemistry and engineering. The second half of the symposium will take a closer look at a systems level and ask questions regarding the role of market-based approaches vs extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs, greenhouse gas impacts of recycling vs virgin production and with a goal of seeking audience feedback in a moderated questions and answer session. The desired outcome of this symposium will be a set of potential linkages, learnings and actions which can help accelerate our progress toward a circular economy.