US Plastics Pact will miss some 2025 targets – USA

Posted on February 23, 2023 by DrRossH in Plastic Recycling


With new data showing major brand companies in the U.S. Plastics Pact lagging their own targets for recycled content in plastic packaging, the head of the group said it likely it won’t meet all its 2025 goals.

The pact’s latest annual report, released Feb. 23, showed companies had 8 percent post-consumer or bio-based plastic content in their packaging in 2021, well off the pace to hit a target of 30 percent by 2025.

Executive Director Emily Tipaldo said the report shows the companies in the pact will not meet some targets but said the efforts are laying the groundwork for more change.

“It is fair to say, yes, we are going to miss some of our 2025 targets and at the same time, there is a lot of value in what we’ve built,” she said. “I wouldn’t short-change the short-term progress or the little progress we’ve seen — given what we’ve learned — because it’s so integral to unlocking bigger change and bigger progress down the road.”

Pact companies include major brands like Coca-Cola Co., Walmart Inc. and Unilever plc. Member companies say they are responsible for an estimated 37 percent of U.S. plastics packaging.

Besides recycled content, the group set four broad targets when it formed in 2020.

One is to have 100 percent of plastics packaging from its member companies be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Right now, that figure is 36 percent.

As well, the pact said it wanted a 50 percent recycling and composting rate for plastics packaging by 2025, but it said government statistics indicate the rate is currently only about 13.3 percent.

Tipaldo said economics remain the main challenge, whether that shows up in a lack of recycling infrastructure, pricing differences between virgin and recycled materials or the lingering impact of COVID-19 on supply chains.

“The way that you could sum up all those things is there’s not the economic value to make a lot of these changes yet,” she said. “Economics is the umbrella under which a number of these other factors come into play.”

She said the U.S. pact and similar ones around the world knew they were setting ambitious targets.

“The plastic pacts — both the U.S. Pact and other pacts — knew that the achievement of each of the four targets would be extremely difficult,” she said. “Some pacts will get closer to achieving different targets than others.”

Eyeing ‘more significant’ progress

One area where pact participants say they have seen some progress is in developing a list of 11 problematic or unnecessary materials to be removed from packaging supply chains.

The report said that 86 percent of the packaging from the major consumer product companies and retailers in the pact no longer used those materials, which include PVC and polystyrene packaging, intentionally added per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, cutlery, pigmented PET and oxo-degradable additives.

The pact companies say they want to phase out “problematics” because the materials lack a clear path to widespread recycling.

The National Stewardship Action Council, a Pact participant, praised the group for moving quickly and releasing the problematics list in January 2022.

“We are particularly pleased to have agreed on eliminating PFAS, polystyrene, and polyvinyl chloride by 2025 which, will reduce waste and pollution at the source and make it easier, safer, and more cost-effective to recycle plastics,” said Heidi Sanborn, NSCAC founding director.

Some plastics groups have pushed back strongly on the problematics list.

Still, in some ways, the pact’s report does not show a great deal of progress from its 2020 baseline report.

For example, the 8 percent post-consumer or bio-based content figure is only up 1 percentage point from 7 percent in the 2020 baseline data. The report said companies used “virtually no” bio-based content, relying on post-consumer content.

Recycled content levels varied within packaging types, ranging from 19 percent in high density polyethylene non-bottle rigid packaging to 4 percent or less in flexible polyethylene and polystyrene, polypropylene and PVC packaging.

Member companies reported recycled content of 12 percent in PET bottles, 14 percent in HDPE bottles and 15 percent in PET thermoforms.

The report said some of the slow progress can be attributed to the lag time within companies to change packaging, as well as more unique challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic on manufacturing supply chains.

The expects to see more progress this year.

“We anticipate seeing more significant implementation of circular formats beginning in 2023 based on typical development/ implementation timelines and accounting for the unprecedented supply chain challenges of 2021,” the report said.

Future focus areas

Tipaldo said the pact has identified two areas for more focus: getting more companies to design plastics packaging to meet its preferred design guidelines for recyclability, and finding ways to boost PET bottle recovery, including with bottle deposits.

“Toward the end of last year, we coalesced on areas we need to double down on in the couple of years, where we can show more measurable success,” she said.

She also said the U.S. pact is in early discussions with other pacts around the world on areas they should focus on for 2030, including “more tailored” work around flexible plastic films, reuse packaging models and increasing post-consumer content.

Tipaldo said the report also highlights how companies can move on their own to redesign their packaging to be more recyclable.

The pact uses design guidelines developed by the Association of Plastic Recyclers, and notes that for some product categories, very little of the packaging used by pact companies meet those guidelines.

For example, it said that only 16 percent of polyethylene tubes like toothpaste packaging meet preferred design criteria, as do only 4 percent of PET thermoformed packaging and 2 percent of flexible PE film.

“There is so much that companies can do now without waiting for policy and without waiting for infrastructure, [by] asking themselves the question what is within my control,” Tipaldo said. “Optimal design is sorely needed in so many different categories and it’s needed whether or not the material is slated for mechanical recycling or chemical recycling, and that’s a really important point as well.”

The report pointed to specific changes companies made to find replacements for plastics that are hard to recycle.

Those include Kwik-Lok making a bread bag closure tag from fiber rather than polystyrene, and PAC Worldwide making an all-paper padded shipping envelope that can be put in curbside recycling bins, to replace plastic, mixed-substrate mailers that cannot be.

As well, the group launched more systemic efforts around reusable packaging, like a Reuse Catalyst program with 20 partners, and said its members are increasing experimenting with that packaging model.

For example, it said 42 percent of its consumer product or retail companies were piloting reusable packaging models in 2021, up from 9 percent in the 2020 baseline data.

It said converting 20 percent of global plastics packaging to reusable packaging would add $10 billion a year to the economy.

Legislation also needed

The pact said it advocates for deposit return systems, extended producer responsibility systems and post-consumer content mandates but called on companies to take more voluntary actions.

“Before policy kicks in to address plastic packaging waste in the U.S., we must push the boundaries of voluntary commitments,” it said.

The group said it believed its data will lead to more action and make it harder for some companies to hide behind lack of data as a reason for not acting.

“For years, companies called for data and metrics to inform voluntary, legislative, and regulatory efforts to address plastic pollution,” the report said. “Many used the darkness or lack of data as a cover and continued to maintain business operations as usual.”

Tipaldo said the pact’s data and work since 2020 points to the need for both government intervention and stronger voluntary action from companies.

“The voluntary initiative can’t do it on its own. Like I said before, we’re not going to meet all of our goals,” she said. “I would also argue that legislation and regulation can do it on its own. We need both.

“We need to some extent leveling the playing field, so that all the actors within the value chain are forced to participate in some way,” Tipaldo said. “And we need the continued leadership of those companies and organizations who are willing do more and demonstrate what can be done in a positive way, in an economically sound way.”

Just like other countries the plastics industry is the problem to being able to meet these guide lines.   In the above it says Economics are the umbrella to change.   Corporate Responsibillity should be their guidance not just the money.  If a company is causing a problem, they need to address it or pay to fix the problem.  There is no doubt plastic is a problem when it comes to disposing of it.