"There's more to sustainability than just going for recycling," Palokangas said. "That's one solution, but it's not always the best solution."
Palokangas spent the last few years analyzing Polykemi's operations, he said, adding that a huge issue in the move toward circularity in plastics is the lack of waste infrastructure.
"We need to have these material flows," he said. "It's a joint effort within the supply chain to provide the solutions we need."
In a systems-based approach, Clark said, "it's not going to be the designers and injection molders that solve this problem. We need to think more systematically about how our whole ecosystem works and make it a lot more sustainable in the future."
"By working with recyclers [rather than] designing this on our own … we [can] make something that's valuable for [recyclers] and meets the performance requirements of our customers," he said.
Designers also "get a lot more creative" when designing for circularity, Clark said.
Amcor has thousands of life cycle assessments on plastic packaging every year, Clark said, helping the company understand where the product is used, how it's disposed of, what recyclers would do with the product at end of life, "and how, eventually, we get it back."
Other important factors include the carbon footprint of the product and potential water and land use for bio-based plastics, he said.
"We know our own processes and we have developed internal tools so we know the footprint of the energy at each of our plants," Clark said. "We know the energy it takes to do each of our processes. It's not much more complicated than what you can do in an Excel spreadsheet.
"If you look at only carbon footprint, it looks like it's less impactful to make new products and bury them in a landfill because then you're sequestering them and you make a new one," he said. "But that's not solving the waste problem.
"The way we recycle, especially in the U.S., … [recycled material] doesn't run the same way; it doesn't look as good," Clark said. "There's a lot of variation in recycling streams. From season to season, you go down south and there are more green bottles … from one part of the year to another. [People] consume differently and the recycling stream changes color.
"You see that in the products that use recycled product," he said. "Some producers are better than others at filtering that and making it less impactful on manufacturing.
"We've had to learn to deal with different color considerations and we're trying to get brand owners to buy in on gray as the new thing," Marret said. "We want people to be OK with recycled material."
In the last year, Marret said she's hearing more urgency from brand owners that have goals in place. "But now legislation is really driving the activity.
"There's a lot of big brand owners putting goals out there and we're inching toward those goals, not fast enough," she said. "Legislation has been sitting out there churning. … We're starting to see some traction, whether it's recycled-content mandates or EPR legislation."
But "we're a ways off" from federal legislation in circularity, Marret added. "Legislation at this point is very fragmented. In some cases it's down to the county level. Who has time to keep track of all that? It's very difficult."
In Europe, Palokangas said, a lot of circularity is consumer-driven and legislation "isn't keeping up."
"We need to really pay attention to what the governments are doing," he said. "They are suboptimizing [issues] that resonate with their voter base, which might not be the best solution in a total perspective."