Advancing a Circular Economy at Dow

Sep 19, 2023 1:50 PM ET

Originally published in Dow's 2022 INtersections Progress Report

At Dow, we are committed to turning the tide on plastic waste and meeting customers’ increasing demands for more sustainable and circular products through our materials science expertise and our investments in circular innovations and partnerships – from designing for recyclability at the beginning of a product’s life to building materials ecosystems that will help turn plastic waste into a valuable resource that can be used to create new products.


In 2022, we announced that we will accelerate the sustainability targets the company set in 2020 by expanding our Stop the Waste target to a new Transform the Waste target. This new target aims to transform plastic waste and other forms of alternative feedstock to commercialize 3 million metric tons of circular and renewable solutions by 2030. To reach our target, we are collaborating with other stakeholders across value chains to build materials ecosystems to collect, reuse or recycle plastic waste. This, in turn, will enable Dow to return more plastic waste into the circular system, and scale our production of circular and low-carbon-emissions solutions.

Our Transform the Waste target expands and elevates Dow’s focus from supporting reduction in plastic waste leaks into the environment and designing for recyclability to the continued transformation of our plastics franchise.


To support our expanded target, as well as increase accountability and robust decision-making around transforming our plastics franchise, we formed a new business platform, Circular & Renewable Solutions (C&RS), aligned within our Packaging & Specialty Plastics operating segment. There is substantial demand for recycled plastics and, through C&RS, we will continue to collaborate across the value chain to improve recycling rates. This, in turn, will enable Dow to scale our production of circular and low-carbon-emissions solutions and help our customers around the world meet their sustainability goals.


By investing in industrial ecosystems to collect, reuse or recycle waste and to produce recycled or renewable feedstocks, we are helping address plastic waste and meet customers’ increasing demands for more sustainable and circular products.


In response to growing consumer demand and government directives, most major brand owners working with Dow have targets to include at least 30% post-consumer recycled (PCR) content in their products or packaging by 2030. We are helping them achieve these targets and meet the strong demand for PCR-based products, including collation shrink and stretch wrap films, detergent packaging, heavy-duty shipping sacks and even artificial turf.

2022 Actions 

Our global line of mechanically recycled plastic resins, branded REVOLOOP™ Recycled Plastics Resins, offers a family of products that can be used in either flexible or rigid plastic packaging applications and is our first PCR product to incorporate up to 70% of recycled plastic. In 2022, we commercialized 12 product grades of REVOLOOP™ resins, with applications ranging from rigid bottles and collation shrink to e-commerce bags and protective packaging, in addition to other market offerings across the globe.


We are on track to launch Dow’s first advanced recycling polymer in 2023 – an investment in advanced recycling technologies in which mixed-use plastic waste that otherwise would be incinerated or landfilled is broken down into its basic elements and repolymerized into the equivalent of virgin plastic.

2022 Actions 

  • Announced an agreement with Mura Technology to construct multiple world-scale advanced recycling facilities in the United States and Europe, collectively adding as much as 600 kilotons (KT) of annual capacity by 2030.
  • Investing to build the largest single hybrid recycling site in France, managed by Valoregen, by 2025. The site will bring together mechanical recycling and newer, advanced recycling processes in one place, which will increase energy efficiency by enabling greater yield.


Bio-based materials are produced from renewable feedstocks, deliver comparable performance to non-renewable materials and can lower carbon footprints.

2022 Actions 

  • Launched ENGAGE™ REN, an innovative and more sustainable brand extension to the ENGAGE™ range of high-performing POEs, and commercialized the elastomer with Crocs in their Croslite™ material. Crocs is the first company to use our bio-based materials for its manufacturing process, which have an even lower CO2 impact than their current Croslite™ material and provide a more sustainable choice for Crocs’ customers. ENGAGE™ REN is enabled by our ECOLIBRIUM™ technology, which offers a viable alternative to virgin petrochemical products by utilizing responsibly sourced bio-based waste and byproducts, such as used cooking oil, and converting them into feedstocks with a lower carbon impact.

Risk Assessment of Single-Use Plastic Bans to Dow

Transitioning to a circular economy model to address plastic waste requires joint effort and commitment. Through Dow’s leadership position in manufacturing and materials technology, we are actively advancing and supporting the development of the circular economy. Together with leading industry participants, we have invested in new product technology, value chain partnerships, business models and waste management infrastructure to discover and scale sustainable solutions that extend the useful life of materials and the resources that go into making them. Dow is taking action to address the reduction of single-use plastics and advance related sustainability measures by enabling products that are easier to recycle, advancing recycling technology for use in a broader array of products and supporting improvements in plastic waste recovery.

While we continue to focus on recycling and circularity, including the increased use of recycled plastics, we also are closely watching the wave of single-use plastics bans that are being considered or adopted around the globe – most often for items such as plastic bags, straws, stirrers and takeout clamshells.

Industry data demonstrates that Dow will not be materially impacted by contemplated plastics bans since single-use applications currently targeted by bans account for 3.5% or less of total plastics demand.1 Given that Dow’s Packaging and Specialty Plastics business will only be partially impacted and would not otherwise be disproportionately impacted by such bans, even if all the plastics bans under consideration were to come into effect, the estimated result would be less than 2% of Dow’s total sales based on 2022 revenue. Further, the materials identified as “single-use plastics” targeted by these bans do not include essential products in which Dow materials can be found, such as food packaging or medical supplies.

Single-Use Applications Currently Targeted by Bans Account for Less than 5% of Total Demand

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We have invested more than $200 million over the last three years into impact funds, recycling infrastructure, venture capital, R&D and key technologies to transform waste into solutions that support a circular economy. We are accelerating progress through global partnerships with organizations and investors, such as the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, The Recyling Partnership, Circulate Capital and Closed Loop Partners.

2022 Progress 

Our investments are focused on collaborations with varied partners with localized knowledge to pilot approaches that decrease plastic waste in the environment and increase the social value of recycled materials in that region.

United States 

Launched a new collaboration with WM to improve residential recycling for hard-to-recycle plastic films by enabling consumers in select markets to recycle these materials directly in their curbside recycling.


Invested in Mr. Green Africa with an agreement to codevelop more traceable, fair and high-quality PCR resins that can be used in the production of new flexible plastic packaging – helping brand owners and other plastics manufacturers achieve their goals toward sustainable packaging solutions.


Continued to provide our materials science and application development expertise to Lucro Plastecycle to develop and launch polyethylene (PE) film solutions using PCR plastics.


Consolidated production with Boomera LAR of a PCR high-density polyethylene resin for both rigid and flexible packaging applications to offer more sustainable options to the packaging industry and, in turn, help local companies play a greater role in furthering circularity.


Participated in R-Cycle – a cross-company initiative to develop an open, globally applicable traceability standard for sustainable plastic packaging.


Announced an agreement with French recycling company Valoregen to help build the largest single hybrid recycling site in France.

Nine Dow Sites Receive ISCC PLUS Certification 

We received the International Sustainability & Carbon Certification (ISCC) PLUS recognition at nine of our largest global manufacturing facilities for our compliance with rigorous tracking of sustainable feedstocks use. The certification was awarded following an independent, external audit to ensure product supply chains are fully traceable and that Dow and our suppliers are adhering to and accelerating sustainable practices.


In support of, and in collaboration with, our value chain partners and customers, we are aligning our innovation and application development programs so our products are recycle-ready at the outset or enable circularity in our customers’ products and processes. Designing for circularity at the molecular level expands the possibilities for recycling across a variety of applications, and ultimately lessens the environmental impact of our customers’ products. In 2022, we enabled 87% of packaging applications we sell into to be recyclable or reusable.


Dow’s unique product portfolio, such as RETAIN™ polymer modifier, ELITE™ AT enhanced polyethylene resin, INNATE™ polyethylene resins and more, is driving conversions toward recyclability. In 2022, we tracked the transition to recyclability of 22 packaging applications in our industry that were previously considered unrecyclable. Below are examples of how we’re helping our global customers design for recycling:

ASIA-PACIFIC: Enabling Recyclable Packaging for Online Shopping 

Challenge: Typical e-commerce packaging consists of boxes as the outer packaging, with difficult-to-recycle, multi-material air-cushion bags or bubble wrap to protect and stabilize items during delivery.

Solution: Developed by Procter & Gamble and enabled by Dow’s high-performance PE resins, the aircapsule packaging innovation has a mono-material structure that supports recyclability, while delivering benefits such as 40% less material, an easy-toopen design and a unique air cushion to protect against delivery impact.

EUROPE: Unlocking Pet Food Bag Recycling with MDO-PE 

Challenge: Machine direction orientation (MDO) technology is critical to creating high-performance films at the thinnest gauge. However, maintaining the packaging’s production efficiency and final qualities while using only one material to enable recycling is challenging, especially with wide formats such as pet food packaging.

Solution: Through new technology, resin and machinery innovation, we worked with leading machine manufacturers W&H and B&B to develop a recyclable wide-format MDO-PE bag for pet food packaging using our ELITE™, INNATE™ and AFFINITY™ high-performance resins and sealants, in combination with our partners’ state-of-the-art machinery technologies.

LATIN AMERICA: Keeping Coffee Fresh and Packaging Recyclable 

Challenge: The typical use of mult-imaterial structures used in coffee packaging to keep it fresh often makes this packaging non-recyclable.

Solution: We worked closely with a packaging equipment supplier, film producer and coffee brand owner in Colombia to deliver a recyclable film structure composed of 95% PE, using our AFFINITY™ polyolefin plastomers and ELITE™ AT enhanced polyethylene resins to provide a water vapor barrier and stiffness.

UNITED STATES & CANADA: Innovating a Recyclable HighSpeed Packaging Solution for Candy Bars, Cookies and Tissue Packs 

Challenge: Horizontal flow wrap runs at high packaging-line speeds and requires packaging films with high stiffness and excellent sealability but is often made from a combination of non-recyclable flexible materials.

Solution: Working closely with industry-leading original equipment manufacturers and printing partners, we used enabling technologies of ELITE™ enhanced polyethylene resins, INNATE™ precision packaging resins, and AFFINITY™ polyolefin plastomers to demonstrate that moving to a recyclable all-PE flow wrap structure does not require modification of packaging lines or a reduction in productivity.

1 Dow is continuously improving measurement of its Close the Loop and Transform the Waste metrics. These metrics, and Close the Loop in particular, are in the very early stages of their maturity within Dow and across the broader industry. The Close the Loop metric is based on secondary market research data and a set of internal assumptions that estimate the regional breakdown of packaging applications, the polyethylene market size of each application and compliance with regional recyclability guidelines. While polyethylene on its own is recyclable, it is often incorporated by our customers into multi-material structures that may not be recyclable. That is why we are committed to helping our customers and brand owners redesign and create packaging solutions that are both high-performance AND recyclable. Dow’s methodology counts an application as being “enabled” to be recyclable based on Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics polyethylene product developments AND public announcement or commercialization of a new packaging format (with or without Dow involvement). The Close the Loop metric accounts for global industry polyethylene and does not take into account other materials sold into packaging by Dow or other industry participants.

1 Chemical Markets Analytics by OPIS, a Dow Jones Company.

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