CC Blog: "A Great Lakes Circular Economy Strategy & Action Plan for Plastics"

Edited by Mark A. Spaulding

The Council of the Great Lakes Region ( has launched its "Great Lakes Circular Economy Strategy & Action Plan for Plastics: Forging a Future Without Plastic Packaging Waste & Pollution" initiative. Here are excerpts from the Introduction.

"Plastics touch every aspect of our economy and daily lives, from consumer a wide array of household products. It is a versatile, lightweight material, designed for durability, affordability, and sustainability. However, for all of its unique properties and socio-economic and environmental benefits, we are not capturing the full value of this vital material around the world and in the bi-national Great Lakes region.

"For example, as a result of outdated and inefficient resource-recovery systems across the bi-national Great Lakes region, an overwhelming majority of valuable materials that we use is sent to landfills. In fact, as we see nationally in the United States and Canada, we are recycling only about 18% of plastics in the region. Similarly, as seen in waterways around the world and in our oceans, an alarming and growing amount of plastic litter is leaking into our environment and the Great Lakes, the largest freshwater system on the planet. This is creating a new pollution problem that is impacting wildlife and the drinking water for some 40 million Americans and Canadians.

"The sustainable management of materials is key for shifting to a circular economy in the bi-national Great Lakes region. Closing the loop and forging a future without plastic-packaging waste and pollution in the region, however, will not be an easy undertaking. The challenges ahead and the systems change needed are sizable. Too many households in the region still do not have access to the full range of plastics recycling, at their curb or another convenient location. Plastics recycling rules differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, with materials management policies in many places in the region favoring low-cost landfilling and a throw-away economy instead of resource recovery and reuse. The region’s recycling infrastructure is aging, was designed for a simpler wastestream, and lacks investment and advancements in technology. But, all of these obstacles and others can be overcome. Increasing our plastics recovery and recycling rates is a key component of achieving a circular economy and is the focus of this strategy and action plan.

"Circular Great Lakes was formed by the Council of the Great Lakes Region in 2021 with a simple goal in mind: bring stakeholders from across different domains and borders together to foster the collective priorities, actions, and investments necessary for realizing a zero-plastic waste future in the region within the next decade. Organized on a regional, bi-national scale, and taking advantage of long-standing commercial connections between the United States and Canada as well as corporate carbon-reduction, sustainability, and purchasing strategies, the Great Lakes Circular Economy Strategy and Action Plan for Plastics outlined in this document provides the framework for eliminating plastic-packaging waste and litter in the bi-national Great Lakes region.

About the initiative

"With support from over 20 key actors from business, government, academia, and the non-profit sector, the Circular Great Lakes Initiative guided by a fact-based gap analysis conducted by Resource Recycling Systems, Inc., for the CGLR, seeks to...accelerate the transition to a circular economy for plastics across this deeply integrated economic region, from New York to Minnesota and across the border with the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Québec.

"The five-year strategy and action plan proposed in this document sets out a framework for the targeted cleanup, plastics collection, processing, end-markets, policy, and consumer actions that, when implemented will drive the bi-national Great Lakes region’s move toward circularity, in partnership with other like-minded endeavors, notably the Alliance to End Plastic Waste and the United States and Canada Plastics Pacts as part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Global Plastics Pact Network.

"By working together, the bi-national Great Lakes region can: Eliminate land-based plastic-packaging litter; increase plastic-packaging recycling rates and the supply of recycled-plastics feedstocks to meet recycled-content targets; reduce GHG emissions; and, attract new job-creating circular economy end-markets and manufacturing opportunities. By working together, a future without plastic-packaging waste and pollution in the region is within our reach."

You can read the full plan HERE.

My Thoughts: Living two miles from Lake Michigan in the southeastern corner of Wisconsin, this effort hits very close to home for me. I applaud the hard work put into the CGLR's plan and add my thanks to the following companies for their commitment and financial support: American Packaging Corp., Dow, Imperial, Meijer, Pregis, Rothman Benson & Hedges, and DART.