Plastics recycling centers and raw material

An introduction to the materials ecosystem

Dow’s approach for a better way to make, use and reuse plastics

By definition, waste is unwanted, requires disposal and is not always valued. However, when science and economics find a way to take this unwanted material, break it down into its basic building blocks and turn those building blocks into something useful again, plastic waste is transformed and takes on value.

A materials ecosystem is developing around plastic and renewable waste to deliver its total value. The materials ecosystem adds value to plastic waste through recycling technologies and circular solutions.

By repeatedly converting plastic waste into new products, less waste ends up in landfills, incinerators or as environmental leaks.

Graphic of a city to represent individual components of the materials ecosystem.

What is the materials ecosystem?

The materials ecosystem is a web of interrelated technologies, processes and people that transform plastic waste and renewable waste — such as used cooking oil and plant waste — into useful materials. The ecosystem includes consumers and stakeholders in waste management, recycling, design, manufacturing, retail, brand ownership and public policy.

The materials ecosystem addresses our society's challenges today: consumers’ evolving concern for their environmental footprint and the subsequent surge in demand for products and packaging with key sustainability benefits.

This concern is reflected in global policy frameworks that are changing how plastics are made, used and reused There is genuine economic value in waste.

The materials ecosystem enables markets for plastic waste to generate positive environmental and financial returns.

This interconnected system not only helps reduce plastic waste but also creates a new value chain for innovations in science and new jobs, new value for existing jobs and new collaborations.

"Plastic circularity requires many stakeholders – and understanding how they interact, what influences them. Systems thinking helps us find solutions to keep used plastics out of the environment and in the circular economy."
- Rob Kaplan, CEO and Founder, Circulate Capital

Creating an ecosystem is a transformation of the way plastic waste is handled.  All countries do not move at the same pace in any transformation. Each country develops at its own speed, depending on its unique circumstances. However, there is an opportunity to leap-frog what we have collectively learned, creating infrastructure and policies that move us forward in the same direction.

It takes a systems approach to identify the gaps, connect the best partners and give it our best to disrupt how the world values, sources, transforms and monetizes plastic waste.

It takes every stakeholder working together to make change happen, including new technologies to transform waste into new products; recycling infrastructure that delivers on the ecosystem’s ability to collect, clean and sort waste; policy that enables systems to scale and succeed; brands and manufacturers designing for circularity; and consumers having the confidence that their efforts to return used plastic to the system will pay off. 

How does the materials ecosystem function and support transformation?

Drawing of four roads joining at a roundabout


Waste transformation counts on the materials ecosystem elements working together, from infrastructure to partners and technologies.

Drawing depicting wind


Influences such as consumer behavior and the regulatory landscape are complex and affect the materials ecosystem at local, regional and global levels.

Drawing of a bridge


Disconnects in the materials ecosystem present opportunities to innovate and collaborate.

Explore the dynamics of the materials ecosystem

Graphic of a city block representing the Consumer Business phase of the materials ecosystem.

Chapter 1

Eco-conscious consumers: How purchasing power drives systems change

Graphic of a city block representing the Design for Circularity phase of the materials ecosystem.

Chapter 2

It starts with design: How circularity "by design" is accelerating 

Graphic of a city block representing the Collecting, Cleaning and Sorting phase of the materials ecosystem.

Chapter 3

Finding value in waste: Signs of progress in waste collection and recycling 

Graphic of a city block representing the Advanced Recycling phase of the materials ecosystem.

Chapter 4

Material origins: How inventive recovery technologies are transforming more plastic into high-value waste

The materials ecosystem at its best

Peter Sandkühler

Mass balance accounting

Peter Sandkühler talks with Business Green about the value in legal recognition of chemical recycling and mass balance accounting.

Hand holding a graphic of battery recharging

Sustainability science at Dow

We’re working across industries to deliver solutions that help our customers meet their sustainability targets and goals.

Haley Lowry participating in a panel discussion at FastCo Innovation Festival

Changing the paradigms of waste

Haley Lowry, Director of Sustainability, talks waste transformation with Dow collaborators at the Fast Company Innovation Festival.

  • The materials ecosystem
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  • Glossary of ecosystem-related terms
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graph showing amounts of mechanical, advanced and bio-based solutions

Accelerating our roadmap to Transform the Waste

One of our sustainability targets is to transform plastic waste and other forms of alternative feedstock to commercialize 3 million metric tons of circular and renewable solutions annually by 2030. To reach our target, we are collaborating with other stakeholders across value chains to support the materials ecosystem to collect, reuse or recycle plastic waste.

Explore waste transformation through a systems lens

The world demands a better way to make, use and reuse plastics. Dow sees a way.


Polymers with purpose

We’re innovating for a sustainable future through low-carbon circular plastic solutions.