Plastic Packaging Facts Blog - Sustainable Packaging
Stay up to date on the latest innovations in the world of plastic packaging, and read perspectives from a wide array of leading industry experts. Learn more about plastics role in driving sustainable packaging solutions.
In May of 2018 ACC’s Plastics Division announced three new circular economy goals to guide and accelerate the capture, recycling and recovery of plastics packaging. Although we and our members have supported a variety of programs to increase plastics recycling, we want to be clear about where we’re heading, and we want to get there faster.
The first two goals share a vision of the future we want for plastics packaging, and they are that:
100% of plastics packaging will be re-used, recycled or recovered by 2040, and that
100% of plastics packaging will be recyclable or recoverable by 2030.
Those who follow plastics recycling know this is a tall order: These are truly ambitious, stretch goals. They’ll require our industry’s best thinking, working with stakeholders across several value chains, and new ways of looking at materials and systems for capturing and reusing them. But given the rate of innovation in technology, deployment, and systems development, we believe they’re achievable.
In addition to accelerating our own progress, these goals are designed to support major brands and retailers, many of whom are making their own commitments, and we want to help them achieve their goals. In many cases, we’re already working together to increase consumer access to recycling, explore new technologies, and fund infrastructure. We believe that setting and sharing these goals will help to focus and better align these collaborative efforts moving forward.
This is important because ongoing innovations in plastics packaging—and how we manage packaging after use—are essential to improving living standards across the globe while enabling populations to live more sustainably.
Plastic packaging keeps the things we rely on fresh, sanitary, clean, and in some cases, even sterile. Often, plastics can provide these benefits using significantly fewer resources and with lower environmental impacts than alternatives. And while plastics already contribute to sustainability, we recognize more must be done to increase recycling, recovery and reuse of plastics under a circular economy framework.
This will include working with innovators to develop new products designed for greater efficiency and recycling, continued work to develop technologies and infrastructure that better separate materials, and development of systems that break down used plastics into their basic chemical building blocks, extending the life and value of these molecules as raw materials that can be manufactured into entirely new products, including virgin plastics, among other things.
In addition to our recycling goals, U.S. plastics resin producers will strengthen their systems to contain plastic pellets by committing to achieve Operation Clean Sweep-Blue status across their U.S. operations by 2020 and all of their North American operations by 2022.
OCS is a system of best practices for containing plastic pellets at all stages of production, shipping, handling and use to help minimize accidental releases to the environment. OCS-Blue is a higher standard that includes providing performance data that will be publically reported in aggregate over two- to three-year increments. Containing pellets throughout our North American operations will help advance our vision of a circular economy by keeping raw materials in use and out of the environment.
These goals are a first step, and we will adjust them going forward as we better understand how quickly new technologies can be implemented. We’re currently working to establish measurements and milestones to share on a regular basis. Achieving a more circular economy for plastics will enable society to continue to harness plastics’ essential benefits while optimizing how we use resources, and help to protect and restore the environment for future generations.
Lower energy use and reduced greenhouse gas emissions are commonly recognized benefits of plastics. But a new report further expands the industry’s understanding of how plastics play a role in other critical environmental factors, such as water consumption, solid waste, acidification, eutrophication, and ozone depletion.
Saves enough energy to fuel 18M passenger vehicles
1 Energy use
Using plastics in packaging applications requires less energy from both renewable and non-renewable energy sources than substitute materials.
Saves the weight of290k jumbo jets worth of waste
2 Solid waste
The life cycle of durable, lightweight plastic packaging, including post-consumer disposal, results in less solid waste.
Saves enough water to fill 461k Olympic-size swimming pools
3 Water consumption
Production of plastic packaging consumes significantly less water than alternatives, including in the waste stream.
Saves enough greenhouse gas emissions as taking 8.5M passenger vehicles off the road.
4 Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
The production and use of plastic packaging doesn’t emit as much GHG as other materials.
Emissions of acidifying substances contribute to the formation and deposit of acid rain on soil and water, which can cause serious harm to plant and animal life, including ocean acidification that damages coral reefs.
Helps prevent the acidification potential of as much as 292k railcars of coal
The unique nature of plastics, with its light weight, durability, flexibility, cushioning, and barrier properties allows plastic packaging to serve humankind more efficiently while helping to reduce a variety of environmental impacts. Despite these important benefits, America’s Plastics Makers® recognize that plastic waste in the environment is unacceptable. We’re working to build a more circular economy by using our plastics resources more efficiently, capturing and repurposing more post-use packaging, advancing recycling and recovery, and developing new transformative business models.
About the Study
The theoretical study uses life cycle assessment methodology to assess the environmental impacts of plastic packaging produced and sold in the U.S. and Canada relative to alternative packaging.
This post was originally published on Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ GoRecycle website.
Author, Emily Tipaldo
You probably know that there are certain types of plastic that many municipalities do not accept in curbside recycling bins. A lot of these plastics are plastic films, like grocery bags. But just because they can’t go to the curb doesn’t mean you have to chuck them in the trash where they’re bound for a landfill.
Why can’t plastic films go in curbside bins?
Different types of plastic require different treatment and processing to be recycled into new material. Putting the wrong kind of plastic in your recycling bins isn’t just an inconvenience; it can be dangerous, and even lead to more waste.
Loose film materials can clog up sorting machines, forcing whole plants to stop their work to unstick improper materials. And putting commonly accepted recyclables in plastic bags isn’t any better. Most municipal recycling programs need items to be loose in order to process them. This means recycling plant workers will often throw bagged recyclables into the trash, meaning that none of those materials get recycled.
So how should they be disposed of?
These plastics can still be recycled, they just need to be taken to a film specific recovery facility, or dropped in designated bins (there are often bins for old bags outside of grocery stores). Plastic film materials can be reused in a number of valuable ways.
They’re an important component in composite lumber, like the kind used for outdoor decks and playground equipment. They can also be broken down into smaller pellets, which can be turned into new bags, casing or pipes.
So which items can be taken to plastic film drop-off sites?
Nearly every type of plastic bag can be recycled, even though they should generally stay out of your curbside bin. This goes for grocery bags, food storage bags and even dry-cleaning bags. Just make sure that the plastic is clean and dry before you drop it off.
With so many consumers buying things online, there’s been an increase in the use of protective plastic packaging film. The inflated air shipping pillows and bubble wrap that come with your delivery can be recycled, along with plastic envelopes or packaging. Just be sure to remove any paper-based labels, since those can’t be recycled.
Wraps and casing
By now, you’re probably recycling your plastic drink bottles. But you can take it a step further and recycle the casing they come in as well. In fact, most plastic outer-wraps can be recycled. There are a few similar types of packaging, like six-pack rings, that may not be recyclable, so make sure to check with your municipality.
Certain foams can be recycled too!
Polystyrene foam #6 is a recyclable material. But what is it? This is the foam most commonly seen in the form of food and drink containers but it’s also used in packaging, specifically for fragile materials. This can be recycled into anything from a picture frame to new foam packaging material. Even though Washington D.C. has banned the use of foam like this, it’s still possible that you may end up with it if it’s used in packaging. Most communities do not accept foam in curbside recycling programs. For information on how you can recycle polystyrene foam visit www.homeforfoam.com.
You can help reduce waste by keeping plastic film and solid recyclables separate. Check out plasticfilmrecycling.org for the full list of plastic film that can be recycled.
A version of this blog originally appeared on Chemistry Matters, the official blog of the American Chemistry Council.
On Thursday, October 11, 2018, the President signed into law the “Save Our Seas Act of 2018” (S. 3508). Passed by unanimous consent in the Senate and House, this important bipartisan legislation reinvigorates existing programs and includes language recognizing the need to address the lack of waste management systems in developing countries.
Among other provisions, the Save Our Seas Act:
1. Reauthorizes the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program
2. Supports studies on how solid waste enters the ocean, the effectiveness of waste management infrastructure to prevent marine debris, the economic impacts of marine debris, and the benefits of reducing marine debris
3. Works with countries that are the largest contributors of marine debris to mitigate the risk of marine debris, and increase technical assistance and investment in waste management infrastructure
We All Want a Clean Ocean
Legislation is one part of the answer. America’s Plastics Makers® are working with governments, NGOs, and the private sector to deliver sustainable solutions to marine debris. In the United States, we work alongside scientists and policymakers to increase litter prevention, reducing, reusing and recycling, and other waste management infrastructure solutions. Through our “Global Declaration,” 75 plastics associations from 40 countries have launched 355 projects that address education, research, public policy, best practices, plastics recycling/recovery, and plastic pellet containment.
In May, America’s plastic resin makers announced an ambitious goal: to recycle or recover all plastic packaging in the United States by 2040. Achieving a more circular economy for plastics will enable society to continue to harness plastics’ essential benefits, like enhancing the safety and sanitary packaging of food and personal care products, while helping to protect and restore the environment for future generations.
We will continue to work with packaging makers and others in the consumer product value chain to design ever more recyclable packaging. While we strive to maximize mechanical recycling, we are also working on innovative new ways to reuse, recycle, and recover all plastic packaging after they’ve delivered outstanding performance attributes.
Now is a time of remarkable innovation throughout our industry. We can all play a role in keeping valuable plastics out of the environment. Have you thought about what you will do? Please follow us on Twitter @ForCleanOceans to stay up to date on our marine litter news.
As a general rule, a country produces waste in proportion to its economic growth. And for decades, waste generation in the United States adhered to that rule.
The more affluent the country is,
The more they consume
and the more they throw out.This creates stress on the environment
But a recent study showed that in the U.S., something caused that rule to bend, and then break.
Researchers compared the growth of municipal solid waste (MSW) to the growth of personal consumption expenditures (PCE). At first, MSW and PCE grew at the same rate—as expected.
But between 1995 and 2000, the growth of MSW slowed compared to the growth of PCE. This means that the amount of waste in the U.S. stopped keeping pace with the amount of consumer spending.
The data revealed another unexpected twist. In 2010, the amount of waste produced in the U.S. actually started to decline, despite a continued rise in consumer spending. The rule finally broke.
This phenomenon of waste generation diverging from that of consumer spending is known as “decoupling.”
What caused the decoupling?
The short answer: plastics.
To identify the cause of the decoupling, the study’s authors analyzed the types of materials in the waste stream from the 1960s until today. The most significant change was an increase in plastics. Consumers were using more plastics, instead of alternative materials like glass, paper, and metal.
It may seem counter-intuitive that the increase of a single material could lead to a decline in waste overall. But when you consider the material—plastics—it makes sense. More lightweight than alternative materials, plastics take up much less space in landfills. In fact, many plastic products and packaging have decreased both in thickness and in weight in the last two decades.
Today in the U.S., MSW includes 83 times more plastics than in 1960. Yet, the total MSW is only twice as large.
A look at waste generation without plastics
Consider the alternative. If consumers weren’t using plastics, they’d be using more glass and metal in substitution. On average, products require 3.2 times more of those alternative materials than if plastics were used. In regard to packaging specifically, the combined weight of alternative materials is about 4.5 times more than the weight of plastic packaging.
The study also analyzed scenarios if plastics were never introduced into the waste stream. Those projections predicted that today’s waste would still be increasing at the same rate as consumer spending. And any possibility of decoupling would be delayed by at least 30 years.
While consumers use significantly more plastics than ever before, the properties of plastics actually help reduce the amount and weight of material needed for packaging and container applications. The decoupling effect demonstrates that plastics play a role in helping to reduce waste and improve environmental sustainability, even as U.S. consumer spending habits increase.
According to the Ocean Conservancy, volunteers pick up more than 400,000 plastic straws from beaches around the world, each year. As an industry committed to developing innovations that help make life better, we know that there are a multitude of ways that plastic straws can enhance safety, and promote sanitary conditions. However, increasingly, consumers are thinking more about their habits, and about how they can make a difference.
Americas Plastics Makers® think that straws-on-demand makes sense. Consumers should be able to request a straw when they want one, and decline a straw if they do not. For that reason, we’ve developed a product stewardship position on straws. In a press release distributed on January 26th Steve Russell, Vice President of Plastics here at the American Chemistry Council (ACC) said, “we support many initiatives that help prevent marine litter, and we believe providing straws through an ‘on-demand’ system gives customers choice and helps prevent waste by ensuring that straws are distributed only to those who need them.”
As a member of the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Alliance® (TFSA), our view is in congruity with their updated membership principals. Ocean plastic is a global challenge that our industry takes seriously, but we cannot succeed alone. It will take all of us—industry, NGOs, world governments and consumers to help keep trash of all kinds out of our oceans. Learn more about some of the work plastics makers have underway at www.marinelittersolutions.org.
(Happy America Recycles Day! Throughout the week of November 15th, we’re featuring voices from the value chain on important packaging recyclability issues. We’re publishing thoughts from brand owners, recyclers, retailers and others within our industry on why plastics recycling matters. Our blog series has already featured pieces from Patti Olenick, Sustainability Manager for Weis Markets and Steve Sikra, Section Head of Research and Development for Procter & Gamble. Today’s post today is from Shari Jackson Director of the American Chemistry Council’s Flexible Film Recycling Group.)
Happy America Recycles Day! Today in our offices here at the American Chemistry Council, we’re spreading the word about the Wrap Recycling Action Program (WRAP). We’ve asked all employees, across all divisions to show up at our staff lounge with their plastic film product wraps and bags and drop them in our PE film recycling bin. The bin has been available in our staff lounge for years and staff make good use of it, but we thought America Recycles Day was a great time to reinforce the message that plastic film product wrap and bag recycling is important.
This category of plastics recycling is one of the fastest growing. In 2015, we recycled more than a billion pounds of plastic bags and wraps in the United States – that’s an increase of 80 percent in just 10 years. We look forward to seeing these recycling numbers continue to grow, because of programs like the Wrap Recycling Action Program (WRAP).
Plastic bag and wrap recycling is a very broad category of plastics recycling, when we consider the number of products that can be recycled together. WRAP programs are designed to educate residents about the many plastic bags and wraps that can be recycled together. These include things such as grocery and retail bags, dry cleaning bags, bread bags, and newspaper bags, along with plastics in food packaging and product wraps from paper towels, bathroom tissue, diapers, and cases of soft drinks. Check out the full list of materials.
These plastic bags and wraps generally aren’t accepted by most municipal curbside recycling programs. But, residents can simply gather their clean and dry bags and wraps in a plastic shopping bag at home… and then deposit that bag in a storefront recycling bin at participating grocery and retail stores.
We Have to Lead the Way and Spread the Word
All of this plastic material is valuable to recyclers. When we spread the word about the availability of the WRAP program, we empower more communities to take advantage of free tools that, ultimately, can help better meet waste diversion goals.
A growing number of states and cities implement the WRAP campaign to help educate their residents about properly recycling plastic bags and wraps at participating area grocery and retail stores. For example, North Carolina implemented a WRAP campaign after officials found that residents in Mecklenburg County were placing plastic bags and wraps in curbside bins, causing equipment damage at the local materials recovery facility. A survey of county residents found that only half were aware certain plastics shouldn’t be placed in curbside recycling bins. (Read more municipal case studies and stories.)
Retailers are also seeing the benefits of WRAP. Wegmans recycles more than 4 million pounds of plastic bags, product wraps and back-of-store film wrap packaging each year. Much of the material is used to make new grocery bags for chain’s 80+ stores. Read more about Wegmans success.
What Are You Doing to Champion WRAP?
As an industry, we can help grow this program just by spreading the word. Brand owners– have you asked stores that carry your products if they collect film? Packaging designers, have you visited your local grocery store to look for store front bag and film recycling bins? Retailers, are you recycling film? If the answer to any of these questions is no, you’ve got work to do! This America Recycles Day, take action in whatever way you can to become a “WRAP Champion.” We need you!
Happy America Recycles Day! Read more about why recycling matters.
(As we prepare to celebrate America Recycles Day on November 15th, we’re using this week to feature voices from the value chain on important packaging recyclability issues. We’re publishing thoughts from brand owners, recyclers and others within our industry on why plastics recycling matters. Our blog series has already featured a piece from Steve Sikra, Section Head of Research and Development, Procter & Gamble. The following is authored by Patti Olenick, Sustainability Manager for Weis Markets.)
Weis Markets takes sustainability seriously. We work to educate associates and customers on the best ways to control waste, retrofit stores to be more environmentally friendly and maintain a steadfast commitment to purchase local produce within the states where we operate, supporting local growers, reducing shipping and advancing sustainable agriculture. Our supermarkets recycle more than 33,850 tons of materials a year. This includes corrugated cardboard, mixed office paper, plastic bags and film packaging wraps, and, one of the newest categories of recycling for us—grocery rigid plastics.
In 2016, we acquired 44 new stores, expanding the company’s footprint to 204 stores in seven states. As part of that acquisition, I’m proud to say that we’ve expanded our sustainability programs into all stores, implementing all our key sustainability practices that reduce emissions in new store design and remodels, expanding the company’s recycling center and fuel efficiency of its vehicles, and growing the Fresh Food Rescue Program. These newly-acquired stores slightly lessened the company’s carbon footprint reduction to a total of 21.8 percent for 2016, as the stores continue to be retrofitted with key sustainability measures.
Key recycling achievements for Weis Markets in 2016 include:
Increasing recycling by more than 8.3 percent over 2015.
At Weis we’re enthusiastic about recycling and sustainability and it shows as part of our corporate culture. Our sustainability mission states that we are “committed to our customers and communities to continually adopt sustainable practices to minimize our impact on our environment today and for tomorrow.” We look forward to new ideas that help us reach even lower carbon emissions, greater materials recovery, less food waste and more recycled content in product packaging, every day.
To read about Weis Markets full environmental impact, click here.
(As we prepare to celebrate America Recycles Day on November 15th, we’re using this week to feature voices from the value chain on important packaging recyclability issues. We’re publishing thoughts from brand owners, recyclers and others within our industry on why plastics recycling matters. The following is authored by Steve Sikra, Section Head of Research and Development, Procter & Gamble)
We’re pleased to join other major brand companies in stepping up to help boost demand for recycled content by signing on to the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) ‘Demand Champion’ program. The newly launched initiative’s goal is to increase the use of polyolefin (PP or PE) postconsumer resin (PCR) in “Work in Process” (WIP) items used in manufacturing. These include everyday industrial applications such as trash cans, recycle bins, pallets slip sheets, tote boxes, buckets. We think it’s an easy yet impactful thing to do. We use these items in our manufacturing sites and don’t expect any consumer or operational impact. Manufacturers of these items have guidelines from APR and on how to incorporate the PCR with relative ease, there is little reason not to do this.
Creating Demand for Recycled Plastics is Important
We’re excited to introduce a new partnership designed to help tackle ocean plastic. This week at the Our Ocean 2017 Conference, Ocean Conservancy, the Trash Free Seas Alliance, and Closed Loop Partners – alongside the American Chemistry Council, World Plastics Council, Procter & Gamble, 3M, and PepsiCo, announced $150 million+ toward new funding mechanisms to prevent plastic waste from entering the ocean.
What’s most promising about this initiative is that it will follow the successful model Closed Loop Partners is executing in North America where brand owners, retailers and others in the packaging value chain supported an effort to increase recycling rates.
Why Focus on Ocean Plastic in Southeast Asia?
Scientific and political leaders identified the need to improve land-based waste management in rapidly industrializing economies, where populations have access to consumer goods and little access to well-developed waste management systems. The recent Ocean Conservancy study, “Stemming the Tide: Land-based Strategies for a Plastic-Free Ocean,” identified improving waste management as the single most important step we can take to reduce the flow of waste into the ocean. The study found five countries with rapidly developing economies to be leaking over half of the plastics into the ocean. The report went on to identify various strategies that could be implemented to reduce the flow of packaging and other litter into our oceans.
Building strong partnerships to reduce marine litter
Our team here at ACC is engaged with the Trash Free Seas Alliance to develop and deploy marine litter solutions in the Asia-Pacific region. As part of our Global Plastics Alliance we continue to work with leaders from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum on improved waste management, and we’re partnering with other stakeholders to improve collection, containment, recycling and energy recovery in the region. We couldn’t be more pleased to see this partnership launch. Our Steve Russell spoke with Plastics News Steve Toloken recently and said something I want to leave you with, “One key point is that while marine debris is a real problem, it’s a problem we can do something about, starting with better waste management on land. We know how to do that, so it’s a matter of making it a priority.”
This encouraging new public-private partnership is a great example of our commitment to the critical priority of helping solve the global challenge of marine litter.
Links to the press release and some of the media coverage are below.