The U.S. Plastics Pact recently launched a national strategy that will make all plastic packaging in the US reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. The strategy, ‘Roadmap to 2025’ is signed by more than 95 government departments, as well as businesses, research bodies, and NGOs active in the plastics packaging value chain.
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What is the U.S. Plastics Pact?
The U.S. Plastics Pacts is a consortium of organizations working together to make a circular economy for plastic possible in the US. The group is a part of the worldwide Plastics Pact network backed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The US consortium is led by the Recycling Partnership and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation works around the world, uniting over 850 organizations behind its vision of a circular economy for plastics. This model seeks to solve the plastic waste problem by creating and adopting systems to retain waste plastic and use it.
Like other consortia in the Plastics Pact network, the U.S. Plastics Pact seeks partnership between public and private sector stakeholders to impact large-scale, sustainable change in the plastic value chain (the manufacturers, retailers, waste collectors, and recyclers handling plastic).
By strategically bringing these stakeholders together, the U.S. Plastics Pact seeks to close the loop in that chain and foster a circular economy for plastics. Disparate groups making individual contributions to closing the loop on the plastic value chain are poorly placed to effect significant change. But fast progress is possible through strategic partnership and wide-scale collaboration.
This is the U.S. Plastics Pact’s modus operandi. The model is based on buy-in from industry leaders who realize the need for immediate action on the plastic waste problem, and their ability to help solve it only by working together.
Aims of the U.S. Plastics Pact
The U.S. Pact has far-reaching ambitions for drastically reducing plastic waste by 2025. Signatories agreed aims are:
- To eliminate unnecessary plastics
- To ensure necessary plastic packaging is reused, recycled, or composted
- To ensure plastic items are collected and circulated through the economy and kept out of the natural environment
To meet these aims, the consortium will create a structure with a strategy that aligns targets and plans for accurate reporting to ensure effectiveness.
The Roadmap to 2025 plan is the national strategy that signatories of the U.S. Plastics Pact – and, it is hoped, more organizations working within the plastics value chain in the future – will use to align their efforts over the next four years.
Introducing the Roadmap to 2025
The Roadmap to 2025 includes plans to make sure all plastic packaging in the U.S. will be reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. Reporting systems and specific timeframes in the document tie the 95 signatories to an effective course of action that could establish a circular economy for plastic packaging at pace.
The Roadmap sets out four targets and includes specific actions and key outcomes that will realize those ambitions by 2025. The four Roadmap to 2025 targets are:
- Define a list of packaging that is problematic or unnecessary by 2021 and take measures to eliminate them by 2025
- All plastic packaging (100%) will be reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025
- Undertake ambitious actions to effectively recycle or compost 50% of plastic packaging by 2025
- An average of 30% recycled content or responsibly sourced, biobased content by 2025.
Each target has several key outcomes that specifically outline different system-wide changes needed for it to be achieved. A number of specific actions with defined lead, co-lead, and support roles from the consortium are set against each key outcome.
Progress against these targets is reported on by several working groups and sets of organizations in the U.S. Plastics Pacts consortium.
The specific goals in the Roadmap are intended to inspire U.S. Plastics Pact signatories to act and to spread action among their networks of government agencies, investors, NGOs, and businesses working in the supply chain.
The Roadmap’s ambition is a feature of its design. To meet the targets, large investments will have to be made, and corporate bottom lines will be affected. The Recycling Partnership and WWF hope to inspire stakeholders to act together and make a serious impact on the climate crisis.
The rest of this article explains the four targets in greater depth, as well as revealing the key outcomes that the Roadmap may deliver by 2025. This scale of change within a typically disconnected network of stakeholders – and at this speed – is ambitious. But, considering the scale of the environmental problem, ambitious change is what is required.
A Roadmap to 2025 -The UK Plastics Pact
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The U.S. Plastics Pact’s Four Key Targets
“1. Define a list of packaging that is problematic or unnecessary by 2021 and take measures to eliminate them by 2025.”
This target will result in the elimination of many unnecessary or particularly problematic plastic packaging materials from the US market. Definitions will be set for what constitutes “problematic” and “unnecessary” at the outset, and then materials fitting the definitions will be identified. A plan will be put in place to eradicate these materials from packaging in the US by 2025.
Key Outcomes – Target 1
- Pact Activators understand the social and environmental impacts of material choices and tradeoffs when innovating for lower environmental impact.
- Definitions and criteria for “problematic” and “unnecessary” plastics packaging are developed.
- A list of problematic and unnecessary plastic packaging is created alongside a plan for how to eliminate those items by 2025.
- Stakeholders (beyond Pact Activators) who have a substantial stake in the prioritized materials have taken aligned action around problematic and unnecessary packaging.
- A target to realize an overall reduction in virgin plastic packaging is developed.
“2. 100% of plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025.”
The second target focuses on plastic packaging that will not be eliminated by the first. Necessary plastic packaging will all be either reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. Retailers will implement reuse programs at scale, including with e-commerce and delivery. The target includes plans to make guidance on reuse and recycling widely available, as well as developing composting capabilities in industrial facilities.
Key Outcomes – Target 2
- Retailers, brands, manufacturers, and recyclers have clear guidance of the status of reusability, recyclability, and compostability by packaging format and resin type, and the associated implications of this status.
- All Pact Activators (and others where possible) collectively agree on and adhere to best practice guidelines on plastics packaging design.
- Pact Activators (and others where possible) are aligned on an approach to on-pack labeling and related consumer communication for end-of-life options.
- Pact Activators implement extended refill/reuse options.
- The U.S. Pact has a clear position and guidance on compostable packaging, helping to reduce confusion in the sector and building on or adopting other industry guidelines where possible.
- The U.S. Pact has a clear position regarding policy approaches that are supportive of reuse.
- The U.S. Pact has a clear position regarding policy approaches that are supportive of recyclability.
“3. Undertake ambitious actions to effectively recycle or compost 50% of plastic packaging by 2025.”
This target requires high levels of commitment from the industry to be achieved. Widespread and equitable access to recycling must be put in place across America. Manufacturers and retailers have to ensure packaging meets minimum recycling rates defined by material, and domestic markets need to be established for recycled materials. This activity will be supported by policy initiatives such as extended producer responsibility (EPR) and deposit return systems (DRS). Compostable packaging and infrastructure will also need to be advanced through the signatories’ collective efforts.
Key Outcomes – Target 3
- The U.S. Pact has adopted a unified approach to reporting on U.S. plastics recycling and composting rates.
- The U.S. Pact has developed a clear position regarding policy approaches that are supportive of system improvements to increase the quantity and quality of recyclables.
- A strategy is in place for the achievement of this target for the priority resins and formats.
- There is increased and more equitable access to and participation in plastics recycling and composting by consumers and businesses (in and out of home) in line with the target strategy.
- There is increased recycling and reclamation capacity (including commercial and residential) corresponding to the target system needs.
“4. Average of 30% recycled content or responsibly sourced, biobased content by 2025.”
Achieving an average of 30% recycled or responsibly sourced, biobased content in packaging will align with Target 2, helping to get to fully reusable, recyclable, and compostable packaging by 2025. Stakeholders will prioritize packaging that is easiest to produce using sustainable materials first, while also developing recycled or biobased materials for more stringent packaging requirements such as food or medicine. The Roadmap to 2025 adopts the WWF’s five criteria for responsibly-sourced, biobased content:
- Is legally sourced, conforms to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and is produced in a safe and healthy way for workers and surrounding communities
- Is one that is derived from renewable biomass
- Does not adversely impact food security and affordability and maintains or improves social and economic conditions along with ecosystem services in producing communities
- Does not result in the destruction of critical ecosystems or loss of High Conservation Value (HCV) habitats
- Contributes to landscape resilience and is resilient to the impacts of climate change
Key Outcomes – Target 4
- Pact Activators understand the value of using post-consumer recycled or responsibly sourced, biobased content and how to facilitate its use in practice
- A strategy is in place for the achievement of this target by the priority resins and formats
- The use of post-consumer recycled content and responsibly sourced, biobased content has increased in line with the target state, aided by Activator commitments alongside improved specifications, quality, and material grades
- The U.S. Pact has developed a clear position with respect to verification, certification, and credit trading systems for recycled content and biobased content
- The U.S. Pact developed a clear position regarding policy approaches that are supportive of Target 4
References and Further Reading
US Plastics Pact (2021). Roadmap to 2025. US Plastics Pact. [Online] Available at: https://usplasticspact.org/roadmap/
Smalley, M. (2021) US Plastics Pact Releases National Strategy. Recycling Today. [Online] Available at: https://www.recyclingtoday.com/article/us-plastics-pact-national-strategy-roadmap-2025/
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