That’s a Wrap

How rethinking plastic packaging can help reduce plastic waste.

Your vegetables are fresh and crispy because of it. Tomatoes and berries reach your kitchen without being squashed because of it. And nearly everything you buy is sold with some type of packaging that protects what’s inside.

Packaging — the stuff that wraps necessities ranging from food to medication — isn’t something people consider very often, especially when it’s doing its job. It’s essential, but it can also contribute to plastic waste and pose a recycling challenge. That’s why enhancing plastic packaging to be more recyclable, creating new business models, and redesigning recycling infrastructure all hold such promise for helping solve the problem of plastic waste.

The importance

Plastic packaging, ranging from resealable pouches, containers and wraps to cartons and jugs, is essential in getting food and goods to us safely and efficiently. It’s regulated for food contact and is well suited for keeping perishable foods like meat and bread fresher for longer and reducing spoilage, thus helping to curb food waste. Plus, sanitary packaging can play a critical role in helping prevent foodborne illness. That’s important to everyone, but especially in developing countries where access to proper food storage isn’t always a given.

And plastic’s light weight helps make very efficient use of material. Imagine if all bottles had to be glass or metal — the weight surge in shipping alone would greatly increase fuel consumption and global greenhouse gas emissions.

The challenge

But even with all its benefits, plastic packaging isn’t perfect — yet.

Without proper recycling, a good deal of plastic packaging can end up as waste. For example, flexible plastic packaging, such as films, is harder to recycle because many recycling facilities aren’t equipped to handle it. It’s a problem that needs a solution.

Design for recycling

From improving the recycling infrastructure to accept all plastic packaging to designing new materials and packaging that can be fully recycled, many of America’s plastic makers are already hard at work developing ways for plastic packaging to stay in a circular system in which the packaging eventually is recycled and reused.

Getting packaging design and recycling infrastructure to seamlessly work together is of the utmost importance in enhancing our future and meeting America’s plastic makers’ goals of making 100% of plastic packaging used in the U.S. recyclable or recoverable by 2030, and minimizing plastic packaging waste by 2040.

Learn more about how “circularity” can help eliminate plastic waste.