Through education, passion, innovation, and action, we can build circular economies in our cities and expand our learnings to all corners of the globe.
By Dr. Han Zhang

I grew up in Beijing, where the impact of climate change grew increasingly clear all around me. I remember playing basketball with friends when a massive sandstorm sent us seeking shelter. I saw villagers building homes on mountains of waste. And as the city continued developing rapidly, I watched the consequences manifest in the environment.

Witnessing the urgency of the climate crisis so young instilled in me a passion for environmentalism and sustainability. I now serve as Dow’s global sustainability director for Packaging and Specialty Plastics. I work alongside my colleagues and partners to help lead the materials science industry toward a circular economy and a brighter future for our planet. In my work, I’ve seen that those cities, like the one where I grew up, can serve as essential microcosms of circular economies and catalysts for change.

From Dow’s Circularity Design Competition Campaign, 2022.
Image courtesy of Dow.

Cities as Blueprints for Widespread Circularity
It makes sense to focus on circularity in urban areas, given cities consume 75 percent of natural resources, produce up to 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and are responsible for 50 percent of global waste generation. It is also true that cities tend to be hubs for technology and innovation. Within most major metropolitan areas, one can typically locate consumers, processors, producers, intermediaries, and all the related waste and material flows necessary to make up circular economies.
Essentially, cities make great testing grounds for innovative circular solutions. A few recent projects supported by the Alliance to End

Plastic Waste (Alliance) offer robust examples of successful waste collection initiatives in urban areas. Dow is a founding member of the Alliance.

The Asia Pacific region also makes an excellent prospect for focusing circularity efforts. From my seat, I see a region where population growth, global trading, use of plastics and packaging, vehicle production, and e-commerce are all growing at the highest rate compared to other regions. The Asia Pacific region also emits the largest share of plastic waste into the ocean.

Urban Collection Pilot Programs
In China, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste supports a flagship project with LOVERE to help improve recycling rates and collection processes. LOVERE is a company providing independently-developed and internet-connected Smart Sorting/Recycling Machines (SSRMs), aiming to build a complete chain of sorting and treatment recycling solutions, using technologies like mobile internet, cloud computing, big data, the internet of things, and face recognition.

Leveraging LOVERE’s SSRMs, consumers can sort and recycle their plastic waste at the time of disposal simply through their WeChat accounts. By making the SSRMs accessible at various strategic locations across the country—from residential districts and commercial supermarkets to office buildings and industrial parks—LOVERE’s initiative has enabled the recycling of more than 80,000 tons of urban waste by the end of 2020. Dow supports LOVERE with the goal of building new consumer behaviors around the adage: reduce, reuse, and recycle for environmental sustainability.

Nearby in Indonesia, the Alliance is doing incredible work to scale local waste collection and recycling systems. In partnership with the Malang Regency and the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime and Investment Affairs, the Alliance launched a comprehensive, flagship waste management program on the island of Java, inclusive of household collection services, as well as sorting, processing, and recycling facilities for residents. This multi-year waste collection initiative is expected to divert more than 50,000 tons of plastic waste annually, representing a recycling rate of over 60 percent.

Scaling the Impact Through Education and Action
Cities tend to be centers of education and engagement, where we can learn how to reach people in their everyday lives to promote the actions anyone can take to improve circularity. Just last month, in partnership with Proctor & Gamble and LOVERE, Dow opened a public-facing art exhibition in the center of Shanghai to drive greater consumer understanding around recycling practices and how to tackle the plastic waste issue in their daily lives.

The exhibit featured winners of the 2022 “Design for Circularity” Art & Design Competition in China, which called for creative ideas for using recycled plastic as raw materials for various applications, such as furniture and packaging.

Operated by college student volunteers and supported by the Shanghai government, the exhibit also served as a perfect way to involve urban residents in the fight for a circular economy and hopefully spark passions for change—just as seeing struggle in my community sparked my lifelong drive toward environmentalism and sustainability. Through education, passion, innovation, and action, we can build circular economies in our cities and expand our learnings to all corners of the globe. | WA

Dr. Han Zhang is Global Sustainability Director for Dow Packaging & Specialty Plastics based out of APAC. For the past nine years at Dow, he has been responsible for developing sustainability-driven business strategies and key plastics sustainability advocacy projects to help advance the circular economy. Most recently, he has been working to deliver on the company’s 2025 Sustainability Goals by addressing critical issues such as marine debris and plastic recycling and establishing partnerships with value chain partners and industry associations to create a lasting impact. Prior to joining Dow, he held various positions at ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil as a life cycle assessment analyst and engineer. For more information, visit