Sustainable Packaging for a Circular Economy
The U.S. generates more than a quarter of a billion tons of municipal solid waste. More than 40% of that waste (more than 100 million tons) is composed of product packaging and paper products (or “PPP”), including plastic containers,
steel and aluminum cans, plastic film, glass bottles, newspaper, and cardboard. PPP includes all of the materials brand owners use to package everything from cereal and cleaning supplies to bottled water and shampoo, as well as junk mail and grocery
bags. While the amount of paper waste has declined in recent years, the amount of plastic waste is climbing.
About 50% of PPP is recycled – a rate well below many other nations. The recycling rate in the U.S. has been stagnant for nearly two decades. Recently, recycling costs have skyrocketed, driven by the loss of markets (due to policy changes in China
that limit recyclable material imports), as well as inherent flaws in a system that has long-since needed updating. In some cases, cities and towns that used to rely on recycling as a revenue stream are now facing bills in the hundreds of thousands
or even millions of dollars.
As local leaders around the country struggle to operate in an inefficient and underfunded environment, they are being forced to make difficult choices on where to spend scarce resources. In the wake of these severe market challenges, communities are
stockpiling recyclable materials, changing what their recycling program will accept, raising taxpayer fees, or suspending recycling programs altogether. Such changes threaten the public’s already fragile understanding of recycling and could erode
much of progress made over the last three decades.
EPR is a game changer for PPP reduction, recovery, and recycling
Other strategies, including voluntary product stewardship efforts, effect small, incremental changes in attempts to optimize the current system. EPR is the only large-scale solution that takes an entirely different approach to create a much-needed,
significant transformation in the entire system.
PSI has developed this toolkit with a generous grant from the Roy A. Hunt Foundation, and will continue to add resources to it, to help state and local governments, producers, waste managers and haulers, and other key stakeholders understand EPR for
PPP – what it is, how it works, and how to design effective programs.