Recycling Plastic Film in Curbside Bins: Solving the Puzzle

Meet Adwoa, a chemical engineer using her expertise from Ghana to enhance U.S. recycling efforts, particularly for plastic film. Discover how her collaboration with WM is paving the way for more accessible and effective recycling solutions.

Meet Adwoa: The Puzzle Solver

Adwoa is trying to solve a puzzle.

Problem: Americans want to recycle plastic bags and film packaging in their curbside bins. But nearly all communities do not accept plastic film materials in curbside recycling bins. That’s because most recycling facilities were not designed to process that material.

Solution: Adwoa is working to create a solution. Inspired by work she did in her native Ghana.

Adwoa and Partner

“I was born and raised in Ghana in West Africa for about 18 years of my life. And I came to the U.S. to get an education in chemical engineering. I got some good work experience and thought, I’ll go back home and make sure I use this for something good.”

Working on Sustainability as a Chemical Engineer

She landed a job with Dow back in Ghana.

“Dow had opened an office in Ghana, and they were looking for a technical person. It was actually in the corporate sustainability team.”

One of the products that her sustainability team worked on is critical to the well-being of many Ghanaians.

“In Ghana, drinking water is made accessible to millions of people every day through a pouch or film bag filled with drinking water. The reason it’s put in a pouch versus your traditional rigid water bottle is because it’s more affordable and easier to carry around. It’s sold quite widely on the roadside or on the go to your average person who may not have access to drinking water at home directly from the taps.”

Adwoa and Coworker at Dow

But Ghana and many other African countries lack the infrastructure to collect and process used plastics, which leads to waste in the environment. So Adwoa and Dow brought together multiple companies in Ghana to bolster collection of plastics.

“In Ghana the big issue was with financing. It became quite clear that we needed to influence others within the plastic value chain to come together to put some financing towards recycling and recycling infrastructure.”

“That led to formation of a group called the Ghana Recycling Initiative by Private Enterprises, or GRIPE. That was really guided by Dow’s call to action to the industry saying, we need to be a part of the solution to the problem here. It involves some bigname brands like Unilever and Coca Cola and Nestle. And essentially, all of these companies came together, made financing available to start to influence the waste eco system, specifically around plastics in Ghana.”

Recycling Plastic Film in Curbside Bins: U.S Solutions

Now Adwoa is leveraging that experience here in the U.S. in collaboration with WM (formerly called Waste Management).

“The work that we’re doing with WM is something that’s really exciting to me because it has a bit of carry through from the work that I did back in Ghana. Flexible plastic is part of the focus of the work with WM in North America. And it happens to be also the focus of the work that we were doing in Africa.”

Specifically, the Dow/WM collaboration hopes to enable Americans to recycle flexible plastic film materials in residential curbside programs, providing another option to complement existing retail drop off programs.

Adwoa at Facility

“Our collaboration with WM aims to unlock recycling of film plastics curbside. Why is this an issue in the U.S.? Because today, less than 2% of households have access to recycling curbside for film plastics because many of today’s recycling facilities are not able to process that material. Whereas film plastics do form quite a significant amount of the plastic that we have in the market today, such as laundry bags, storage bags, shopping bags and even cereal bags.”

Dow brings experience in redesigning these products to make them easier to recycle. And in helping establish a steady market for the recycled materials. WM brings new recycling technologies and is the largest recycler in North America today.

“The collection and infrastructure piece lies within WM’s wheelhouse. WM has made, and plans to make, several large investments to upgrade its recycling facilities as well as collection systems to better handle film plastic in some facilities where the company previously couldn’t.”

WM says it’s investing over $1 billion dollars in upgrading and building new recycling facilities from 2022-2026. The company is expanding access to recycling to more businesses and consumers and also exploring new recycling technologies that leverage automation and artificial intelligence to make recycling faster and more efficient.

Solving the Plastic Recycling Puzzle

To Adwoa, making all this work is like solving a puzzle.

“For fun, I like to do puzzles. I think the core of me is a problem solver. And I’m actually one of those people that can break open a 1,000-piece puzzle and not go to sleep until I finish it.”

“And I bring that same zeal and fervor to any kind of challenge. I really go in with an aim to solve it. And I understand that within any challenge there are opportunities that you can actually work through to arrive at a solution. And going through that process excites me.”

Of course, the goal of a puzzle is to fit all the pieces together to create something beautiful. In essence, Adwoa is trying to solve the
plastic recycling puzzle.

Adwoa Recycling Plastic Bags

“We want people to have access all the time to recycle plastic film at the curbside. The ultimate goal is to increase recycling rates for all plastics across the board, but especially for film plastic.”

That would be a beautiful solution.

We wish Adwoa, Dow and WM success.