Equilibrium & Sustainability

Brands, manufacturers unveil list of ‘problematic and unnecessary materials’

Plastic bottles and 'to go' coffee cup are pictured in a garbage can in a public park
Associated Press/Michael Sohn

More than 100 companies, organizations and government entities joined forces to unveil a “Problematic and Unnecessary Materials List” on Tuesday in an effort to accelerate the transition toward a “circular economy” for plastic packaging in the U.S.

The companies and groups, all members of the U.S. Plastic Pact, identified 11 plastic packaging items that they consider not reusable, recyclable or compostable at scale, and that they expect to be eliminated by 2025, a news release from the partners said. 

“The elimination of these problematic and unnecessary materials will enable advancements in circular package design, increase opportunities for recovery, and enhance the quality of recycled content available for manufacturers,” Emily Tipaldo, executive director of U.S. Plastic Pact, said in a statement.

The U.S. Plastic Pact was established in August 2020 as part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s worldwide Plastics Pact Network. The group intends to make 100 percent of plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, while all such packaging will contain 30 percent recycled or bio-based content by that point, according to the Pact.

A circular economy — toward which Pact members said they are striving — is one in which manufacturing focuses on extending the lifecycle of products and minimizing waste.

Some of the materials on the list include opaque or pigment polyethylene terephthalate bottles in any color other than transparent blue or green, oxo-degradable additives, polyethylene terephthalate glycol in rigid packaging and intentionally added per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — also known as “forever chemicals.”

Other materials are non-detectable pigments like carbon black, polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride and a group of materials that the Pact described as “problematic label constructions,” which include adhesives and inks that render a package detrimental or non-recyclable.

Cutlery, stirrers and straws are also included on the list when they are non-reusable, non-recyclable or non-compostable and are provided as an ancillary item to the primary container, according to the Pact. This means that a packet of plastic cutlery provided with a prepared salad would be defined as problematic, while cutlery, straws or stirrers sold as a separate entity would not be defined as such, the news release said.

In addition to not being reusable, recyclable or compostable, materials on the list also meet one of four other criteria: they pose a hazard to human health, they could be avoided, they disrupt the recyclability of other items or they have a high likelihood of being littered, according to the Pact.

The retailers, consumer packaged goods companies and converters that are members of the U.S. Plastic Pact collectively generate about 33 percent of plastic packaging “in scope” — meaning all ancillary, unnecessary plastic packaging — by weight in the U.S., the news release said.

Among the many companies to support the Pact are Coca-Cola, Aldi, Amcor, L’Oreal USA, General Mills, Colgate, Conagra, Nestle, Kimberly-Clark and Danone North America.

“Recycling will only work if we stop pumping contaminants and unrecyclable materials into the system,” Anja Malawi Brandon, U.S. plastics policy analyst at the NGO Ocean Conservancy, said in a statement.

“Our research shows that a majority of the trash found on beaches and waterways around the world every year during Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup is effectively unrecyclable,” Malawai Brandon added. “Phasing out these 11 materials will go a long way in cleaning up the recycling stream and our coastlines.”

Tags Environment Litter plastic packaging Recycling U.S. Plastic Pact

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