Our sustainability team recently attended a summit on sustainability and the circular economy in Washington, D.C., where leaders in corporate sustainability shared their insights and priorities. We’ve put together the key takeaways.

People care about plastics—and companies are listening

According to a new report by the Shelton Group, consumers are more concerned about plastic waste than climate change. One of the main reasons for this is that plastic waste is a much more visible issue than climate change. We’ve all seen images in the news of plastic waste cluttering the ocean and harming wildlife. These consumer concerns have pushed companies to set zero waste goals in recent years.

We need more creative alternatives to landfills

All of the companies we heard from want to divert more of their product and material waste from landfills — but there aren’t enough existing businesses that work to recycle whole products or specialty materials. For example, in California, carpet manufacturers have to take back their carpet from consumers after they’ve been returned – but carpet is not traditionally recyclable. A carpet manufacturer would benefit from new technologies that recover the components of carpets for use in new products. We need to develop more specialized recycling facilities, and markets for those materials, to enable a more circular economy. The same learning goes for plastics, too. Right now the U.S. sends plastic waste all around the world for recycling, but much of this plastic ends up in the oceans instead of being recycled. There is a dire need for investment in infrastructure that can deal with plastics recycling in the U.S., so we can stop sending our plastics all around the world. 

Sustainability is a business model, not an initiative 

Leaders from retail and manufacturing companies discussed how sustainability is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a business imperative. Many organizations have sustainability or social responsibility departments, but they’re often separated from the rest of the business. Companies need to create sustainable business strategies and get all employees on board with the sustainable mission, regardless of job title. When sustainability is core to everyone’s job, then we’ll see real change.

At Optoro, sustainability is central to our business. Our mission is to make retail more sustainable by eliminating waste from returns and excess goods. Learn more about how we incorporate sustainability into our solutions here.