US brands and retailers delay key plastic packaging targets by five years

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Businesses participating in the Pact include The Coca-Cola Company, The Clorox Company, Danone North America, General Mills, Henkel, Kraft Heinz, Keurig Dr Pepper, L’Oreal USA, Target, Walmart, Mars, Reckitt, Nestle and Mondelez International.

The Pact launched a roadmap in 2020 with four targets, all with a 2025 deadline:

  • Define a list of problematic and unnecessary packaging components and act to eliminate these
  • 100% of plastic packaging should be reusable, recyclable or compostable
  • 50% of plastic packaging should be effectively recycled or composted
  • Members should achieve an average of 30% recycled plastic content or responsibly sourced bio-based content across all plastic packaging

On the second target, 37% of participating companies’ packaging was reusable, recyclable or compostable. Now, the proportion stands at almost 48%. This leaves the companies significantly off-track to the 100% mark.

On recycled and bio-based content, the average share has increased by just 2.4% to 9.4% during the Pact’s first five years. Colgate-Palmolive, a Pact member, recently stated that many consumer goods brands have faced challenges sourcing recycled plastic content due to availability issues that can only be solved with stronger extended producer responsibility legislation.

Roadmap 2.0

An update to the Pact’s roadmap confirms that “targets, outcomes and deliverables not yet fully achieved” will be carried forward to 2030.

It adds: “Our trajectory is positive, but an ever-changing landscape necessitates an agile and adaptive strategy.”

To that end, the updated targets are:

  • Eliminate 100% of the items on the problematic and unnecessary materials list
  • Reduce the absolute use of virgin plastic by 30%
  • Design and manufacture 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or composable
  • Effectively recycle 50% of plastic packaging and establish the necessary framework to recycle / compost packaging at scale
  • Members should achieve an average of 30% recycled plastic content or responsibly sourced bio-based content across all plastic packaging
  • Identify viable reusable packaging systems and increase their implementation and scale

The only new targets are those relating to refill, and to the absolute reduction in the use of virgin plastics.

On reuse, companies participating in the Pact will be expected to establish “clear targets” to scale reusable options by 2026 and to demonstrate progress thereafter. The Pact will work with firms across the plastics value chain to identify the kinds of products for which refill, return and other reuse models are likely succeed.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that reusable plastic packaging accounts for around 2% of the global consumer goods market, with this proportion having stagnated. The practice setting of quantitative reusability targets by brands remains rare but is gathering pace with pioneers including PepsiCo and The Coca-Cola Company.

The US Plastics Pact is one of 12 similar pacts globally, convened through a network jointly overseen by The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and WRAP. In the US, the Pact counts WWF and The Recycling Partnership as project partners.

Related news: Talks for a global plastics treaty fall short

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