The CIRCLE Alliance: A New Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration to Address Plastic Pollution

June 11, 2024 3 minute read

I was proud to attend the launch last week of a public-private initiative that Resonance is implementing. The CIRCLE Alliance: Catalyzing Inclusive, Resilient, Circular Local Economies is a $21 million collaboration founded by Unilever, USAID, and EY. As part of Capitol Hill Ocean Week, USAID Administrator Samantha Power joined Unilever Chief Sustainability Officer Rebecca Marmot, EY Global Vice Chair - Sustainability Amy Brachio, and Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) to announce this exciting effort, which will support entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized businesses to scale solutions that reduce plastic use and tackle plastic pollution.  

I have spent the past 12 years working on collaborations between the public and private sectors, aimed at fostering development in low- and middle-income countries. I became passionate about partnership – and have remained so – for a number of reasons. The CIRCLE Alliance is a great example of the immense value of partnerships for international development and their potential for measurable and meaningful impact.

Five Ways the CIRCLE Alliance Holds Promise for Solutions and Scale in Addressing Plastics

1. The partnership addresses a complex, compelling challenge that can’t be solved by one party acting alone.  

The CIRCLE Alliance focuses on reducing plastic use and tackling plastic waste. It is estimated that each year around 12 million metric tons of plastic waste enters the ocean. Without action, experts expect that 29 million metric tons of plastic will flow into the ocean each year by 2040, equivalent to 50kg of plastic per meter of coastline around the world.1 Plastic pollution doesn’t just affect the oceans. Microplastics are increasingly found in our food supply and our bodies, and their impacts on human health are still largely unknown.  Plastic pollution is a global problem that affects our environment, our health, and our economies.  This is precisely the type of complex, global challenge that partnerships across the public and private sectors can tackle. 

2. The partners bring deep expertise and a strong commitment to addressing the problem.  

The initial members of the CIRCLE Alliance are bringing tremendous prior knowledge and experience to address the problem of plastic pollution. The CIRCLE Alliance builds on Unilever’s work under TRANSFORM, an acceleration platform for scaling sustainable and equitable business models, and advances Unilever’s ambitious sustainability goals, including putting an end to plastic pollution through reduction, circularity, and collaboration. USAID brings its experience under the Save Our Seas Initiative, which has a goal of ending the flow of plastic pollution into the ocean by 2040. EY’s Ripples program operates in support of the Sustainable Development Goals, and EY has supported businesses through the TRANSFORM program.  These partners contribute not only resources but know-how, convening power, connections, and networks. As the implementer of the CIRCLE Alliance, Resonance brings deep expertise operating as a connector between USAID and large private sector companies.  

3. The partnership is innovative.  

The CIRCLE Alliance is launching in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. These countries were chosen as starting places because South and Southeast Asia have emerged as hot spots for plastic pollution, due to rapid urbanization, rising middle classes, and inadequate waste management infrastructure. In addition, governments across the region have begun implementing a suite of policies that aim to reduce plastic waste and promote extended producer responsibility (EPR) – all with the hope of curbing plastic pollution. The Alliance is designed to support the innovators building circular economy solutions to plastic pollution. “Circular economy” describes systems aimed at eliminating waste through the continual use of resources, in contrast to a linear model that treats resources as disposable. The Alliance will identify the innovators who are recovering materials from the environment and preventing them from going to landfills or into the ocean, as well as those who are pioneering refill and reuse models that can help curb the use of virgin plastic.  

As an example of the type of company the CIRCLE Alliance will support, the TRANSFORM program worked with TrashCon in India, which developed a technology called TrashBot that mechanically separates waste so it can be recycled and reused. With TRANSFORM’s support, TrashCon was able to launch and scale this technology. TrashCon now supplies recycled plastics to Unilever India.

4. The partnership produces social and environmental benefits.  

In the CIRCLE Alliance’s target geographies, many local governments lack sufficient plastic waste collection and recycling systems. Littering, open burning, and unmanaged disposal of plastic waste are common practices in these countries due to the lack of systems to deal with plastic waste. By supporting entrepreneurs who are developing and running solutions to the plastic pollution problem, the Alliance will create an environmental impact. CIRCLE also includes a strong social component. One of the major goals of the program is to empower women waste workers, who play a critical role at the frontline of waste management. The Alliance will be supporting these women using an innovative methodology that combines personal empowerment, business incubation, funding, and mentorship developed through the Women in Waste Economic Empowerment (WWEE) activity under USAID’s Clean Cities, Blue Oceans program.

5. The partnership’s results can be sustained through business.  

One of the greatest benefits of working with the private sector on development is that when an intervention works, it can be sustained as a new way of doing business. In this case, the enterprises that receive funding through the CIRCLE Alliance will continue to contribute to the development of circular technologies and economies, women’s economic empowerment and employment, improved livelihoods, and reduction of plastics pollution. Some businesses may also be incorporated into Unilever’s supply chain, providing post-consumer recycled material back to Unilever to reduce the use of virgin plastic. Other businesses will operate refill and reuse models, in which consumers refill the same plastic vessel multiple times, keeping that plastic out of the waste stream.

The Goals and Future of the CIRCLE Alliance

The CIRCLE Alliance is just starting out, but it is built to expand, scale, and crowd in new partners. The Alliance has been developed to accommodate new members with aligned values and can expand to new geographies and materials. To learn more, download the CIRCLE Alliance Fact Sheet, read the official Press Release, or contact Resonance as directed, below.  

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Learn More about CIRCLE

If you’re interested in joining us or would like to learn more, please contact Laurie Pickard, Chief of Party, the CIRCLE Alliance: