US: Plastic free packaging on the rise

AJ Gonzalez | August 2, 2021

Waste Management World, PACKAGING SOLUTION,

Federal legislation as well as packaging innovations are set to usher in a circular plastic economy in the US.

Each year, more than 17 billion pounds of plastic leaks into marine environments. That’s the equivalent of a garbage truck full of plastic every minute
Plastic pollution represents a threat to marine biodiversity.

Injury or death caused by entanglement with plastic packaging is a visible effect of the impact of plastic crisis. The ingestion of plastic particles (‘microplastics’) by the likes of turtles, sea birds and marine mammals, leading to starvation on account of intestinal blockage, is another.

Plastic garbage that ends up in aquatic environments usually derives from land sources. The mismanagement of flexible packaging waste as well as of single-use plastics has been commonly acknowledged as the major source of marine debris.

In the global drive towards establishing a circular economy, that is, an economic consumer model that favours reuse, repair as well as recycling, manufacturer investment in technological innovation grows ever more important.

According to Oceana Group, small companies are the ones spearheading this movement in the US.

The world’s largest advocacy organization dedicated to ocean conservation says that the flexible packaging market is making great strides forward, characterized by the adoption of reusable and returnable takeout containers.

DeliverZero is one example for this.

The New York based restaurant delivery service packages food from more than 100 participating restaurants in reusable and returnable containers.

Following a deposit scheme model, customers get to either retrieve their $2 fee or keep their individual containers.

Similar services have launched in Durham, North Carolina (‘Green To Go’) and San Francisco, California (‘Dispatch Goods’).

According to Christy Leavitt, Oceana’s plastic campaign manager, interest in plastic free packaging has spiked since the onset of the pandemic. The surge in food deliveries was offset by consumer concerns over sustainability and the discharge of non-compostable flexible packaging into the environment.

Leavitt hopes that the effort towards establishing an emissions free, alternative packaging culture will not only find resonance in the manufacturing industry but will also be facilitated by national legislation such as the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act.

Intended to evoke producer responsibility for as well as stem the flow of plastic waste, the proposed laws are meant to “increase recycling, and protect frontline and fence line communities from the burden of toxic emissions from plastic waste by changing the incentives of the industry”, according to US Senator Jeff Merkley, Oregon, who introduced the bill.

Oceana, which is a part of Break Free from Plastic, a global movement dedicated towards a plastic free future, is urging people to sign a petition in support of the act. So far, more than 38,000 have signed.

The bill is backed by more than 100 representatives in Congress, with multiple senators acting as co-sponsors.

“It’s important to have people continue to weight in about the issue,” Leavitt said. “The more (federal leaders) hear about it, the more likely they are to act.”

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