Northwest Arkansas Circularity Would Improve with More Coordination, Study Finds

Northwest Arkansas communities have invested in recycling infrastructure, but more needs to be done to increase the volume, coordinate the flow and create local markets for recycled material, a new study concludes.

"Creating Circular Economies in Northwest Arkansas" was completed by The Sustainability Consortium and funded by the Walmart Foundation.

As part of its Greater Northwest Arkansas Development Strategy, the Northwest Arkansas Council is working to ensure regional collaboration as a way to more effectively pursue big-ticket, infrastructure goals, including recycling. The Council commissioned the study to provide a better understanding of the pathways available and to identify actions and opportunities for sustainable development based on the circular movement of recycled and recovered materials in the Northwest Arkansas region.

"What is most needed are efforts to coordinate between recycling programs and facilitate the creation of a common vision for circularity that will improve the efficiency, transparency, trust and volumes needed to increase circularity in the region," said Sarah Lewis, TSC's senior director of innovation. "What's helpful toward achieving that is the innovative efforts happening in the material management space in Northwest Arkansas."

The study recommends:

  • Setting up a Northwest Arkansas materials exchange. No Northwest Arkansas community has a materials exchange, and establishing a regional exchange would allow cities, companies and others with collected material to notify buyers that recycled material is available for sale. The Council, the Benton County Solid Waste District, the Boston Mountain Solid Waste District or another party agreed upon by those entities should create the exchange.
  • Improving Data collection and clarifying reporting requirements. The Arkansas Division of Environmental Quality (DEQ) asks cities to share recycling information each year, but not all recycling programs do the reporting. The Northwest Arkansas Council should work the state to ensure the data is collected, using a standardized reporting template created by TSC as part of this project.
  • Strengthening recycling and trash collection contracts. Northwest Arkansas cities are inconsistent in what they expect of companies that haul trash and collect recycled materials. The two solid waste districts should work with cities to improve the contracts, and that includes taking steps to increase transparency by requiring companies to periodically report how much recyclable material was collected, where the material was sent and how it was used.

The full list of recommendations is available in the report.

"We're thrilled to support the Northwest Arkansas Council's effort to better understand the region's current sustainability practices," said Erin Hogue, director of community operations and Northwest Arkansas giving for Walmart.org. "This report will be a great asset in helping the region identify areas where strengthening recycling opportunities is needed."

The study area included Benton, Madison and Washington counties, which are served by the Benton County and Boston Mountain solid waste districts. It focused on the city- and solid waste district-owned material streams created for residential sources. The year-long study was complicated work given the complexities of two dozen local governments in rural and urban areas as well as two solid waste districts, DEQ and private companies all interested in strengthening recycling opportunities.

The Council, recognized for its excellence in coordinating and pressing for regional collaboration over its 30 years, is working with the solid waste districts to bring increased consistency in recycling and cost-efficient, waste reduction actions across Northwest Arkansas.

Nelson Peacock, the Northwest Arkansas Council's president and CEO, said the Council will work to achieve recommendations made by TSC in the study.

"We're already communicating with the solid waste districts to identify appropriate next steps based on the Creating Circular Economies in Northwest Arkansas study," Peacock said. "What's clear is cities and companies that recycle in our region are interested in a collaborative approach. The Council and solid waste districts intend to work together to facilitate more opportunities for partnerships."

About Northwest Arkansas Council: Established in 1990 by Sam Walton, Don Tyson, J.B. Hunt and other business leaders, the Northwest Arkansas Council is a private, nonprofit organization working to advance job opportunities, talent recruitment, physical infrastructure and quality of life in the region. Most of the Council's more than 100 members are companies, including Walmart, Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc., Simmons Foods and George's, Inc. Learn more at nwacouncil.org.

About TSC: The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) is a global organization transforming the consumer goods industry to deliver more sustainable consumer products. We are dedicated to improving the sustainability of consumer products. Our members and partners include manufacturers, retailers, suppliers, service providers, NGOs, civil society organizations, governmental agencies and academics. Each member brings valuable perspectives and expertise. TSC convenes our diverse stakeholders to work collaboratively to build science-based decision tools and solutions that address sustainability issues that are materially important throughout a product's supply chain and lifecycle. TSC also offers a portfolio of services to help drive effective implementation. The Sustainability Consortium has more than 100 members and there are over 2,000 users of TSC tools worldwide; it convenes more than 200 global organizations annually over an average of 75 networking opportunities. Formed in 2009, TSC is jointly administered by Arizona State University and the University of Arkansas. It also has a European office at Wageningen University and Research, and a Chinese office in Tianjin, China. For more information visit www.sustainabilityconsortium.org.

About Philanthropy at Walmart: Walmart.org represents the philanthropic efforts of Walmart and the Walmart Foundation. By leaning in where the business has unique strengths, Walmart.org works to tackle key social issues and collaborate with others to spark long-lasting systemic change. Walmart has stores in 27 countries, employs more than 2 million associates and does business with thousands of suppliers who, in turn, employ millions of people. Walmart.org is helping people live better by supporting programs that work to accelerate upward job mobility for frontline workers, address hunger and make healthier, more sustainably grown food a reality, and build strong communities where Walmart operates. To learn more, visit www.walmart.org or connect on Twitter @Walmartorg.

 

Contacts

Sarah Elaine Lewis, senior director of innovation
Walton College of Business
479-575-4296, sel01@uark.edu

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