About 84 public and private sector stakeholders across the plastics value chain have joined a pact, led by The Recycling Partnership (TRP) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), to set national strategies to create a circular economy for plastic packaging. And they have pledged to walk the talk; U.S. Plastics Pact participants will show how they, themselves, are working toward specific Pact goals and have committed to disclose their outcomes around these targets. The goals are:

  • Define a list of packaging to be designated as problematic or unnecessary by 2021 and take measures to eliminate them by 2025.
  • By 2025, ensure all plastic packaging is 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable. 
  • By 2025, undertake actions to effectively recycle or compost 50% of plastic packaging.
  • By 2025, ensure that the average recycled content or responsibly sourced bio-based content in plastic packaging will be 30%.

Members of the new initiative, which is part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s global Plastics Pact network, are called “activators.”

“The idea is they have to take on change themselves if we will meet those four goals. In other consortium settings often the expectation of participants is you show up and pay a fee, and the money is used by consortium staff to do research or start projects. But it’s the participants in this Pact who have ownership. These activators not only set strategy but need to take the action,” says Emily Tipaldo, executive director of the U.S. Plastics Pact, a subsidiary of TRP.

An initial focus is on transparency about how the goals will be realized. And there is a focus on accountability in that organizations who sign onto the Pact must show their contributions, for instance by reporting annually how much plastic packaging they put into the domestic market; the amount of postconsumer resin they use; and how they are working toward meeting the Pact’s goals. The data will be aggregated and made public.

Presently there is no clear path in place for meeting the established targets, but participants are developing a road map that lays out how they will work toward doing it. They have also convened workgroups to help with foundational components such as determining baselines for the recycling rate.

The road map will be released to the public with a projected date of mid 2021. Among specific content, the map will show where there is a commitment to build processing capacity or expand infrastructure, and it will suggest supporting policy to help achieve the targets.

This resource is intended to act as signals for policy makers, investors, and other stakeholders to help inform their decisions on what actions they can take, according to Tipaldo. 

WWF will be managing the reporting for the Pact members.  The nonprofit developed a tracking tool some time ago that is being modified for Pact members to use in their annual reporting of their footprints.

The tracker is also intended to help them understand their impact and develop strategies to reduce it, says Erin Simon, head of Plastic Waste and Business for World Wildlife Fund.

“Companies may have limited infrastructure available to them to capture materials, or may be up against regulatory limitations, for instance when regulations come out before the science, and end up making it difficult to work toward a design to overhaul the system … We want to support the right intervention to enable system change that needs to happen for those with a large plastic footprint to be able to reduce it,” Simon says.

WWF will focus on developing policy recommendations to present to the federal government, such as recommendations for infrastructure and design guidelines as well as funding mechanisms.

“Part of making recommendations will be working to help engage all stakeholders. If we have separate policies as was done before and they are in opposition, we will not have an efficient system. The Pact plays a role in aligning and convening around principals,” Simon says.

Tipaldo is confident that the ambitious targets are realistic – at least if members come together as one to make changes to ensure it happens.

But there will be plenty of considerations.

For one, she says with the 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable goal, it will have to be determined if a material is technically recyclable; if it can be sorted at materials recovery facilities; and if there are end markets.

“And to get to the third goal of recycling or composting 50% of plastic packaging, we have to figure out what is too problematic for the system—what it does not makes sense to force to be recyclable,” Tipaldo says.

Hi-Cone Worldwide, a supplier of ring carrier multi-packaging systems for beverage markets, is one of the U.S. Plastics Pact members.

Members were selected for certain work groups, and the company, who just transitioned its ring carriers to 55% post-consumer feedstock, will serve on the Design for Recyclability group to offer insights into its research and development work to be able to incorporate recycled content in its products.

“We partnered with Avangard. They collect postconsumer recycled content and provide [material] to go into our products. We will share stories in terms of partnerships and what we learned. And, more specifically, we will help educate the marketplace and stakeholders around the lifecycle analysis data that has come from the work we have done to understand the carbon footprint of our product and alternatives to try and eliminate plastic waste,” says Shawn Welch, vice president and general manager of Hi-Cone Worldwide.

Welch believes it’s critical to work with key partners across the value chain to bring about sustainable, long-term solutions for the packaging industry.

“It’s a big undertaking for a little company like us, so we have to leverage the collective—stakeholders with a common vision— around a circular economy for plastics.

“We are eager to work with these other entities to create this common vision for how the U.S. deals with this material to ultimately advance a fundamental shift from a multilinear to a circular model in plastics packaging,” he says.

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