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Plastics group recommends phaseout of some materials

Firms agree to end use of some materials, such as polystyrene, in packaging

by Alexander H. Tullo
January 28, 2022


A photo of a pile of plastics.
Credit: Shutterstock
The U.S. Plastics Pact aims to eliminate materials that complicate recycling.

The US Plastics Pact—a collaboration between plastic-industry participants, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies—has released a list of 11 items its members aim to eliminate from packaging by 2025. Reviews from industry and environmental groups were mixed.

The pact has more than 100 members, including consumer product companies such as Coca-Cola and Unilever, retailers like Walmart and Target, and the chemical maker Eastman Chemical. Member companies say they produced a third of the packaging used in the US in 2020.

The group says it is filling a needed role in the plastics debate. “In the US in particular, there is a void in terms of an organization that is truly putting forward the strategy of developing a circular economy for plastics,” Emily Tipaldo, executive director of the US Plastics Pact, said in a Jan. 26 in a webinar.

The Problematic and Unnecessary Materials list is one of the pact’s first initiatives. The group’s initial criterion for listing materials was whether they will be broadly reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. The group then considered factors such as hazards to human health and hindering recyclability.

Making the list are the packaging polymers polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, and glycol-modified polyethylene terephthalate (PETG). For instance, PETG contaminates the recycling of containers made of conventional PET bottles.

Also on the list are carbon black pigments that render plastic items difficult to process for recycling with optical sorters. Opaque and pigmented PET—other than transparent green or blue—is on the list because it contaminates clear recycled PET. The group also lists label designs that might complicate recycling.

The list includes per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which have been linked to detrimental health effects, and oxo-degradable additives that disintegrate polymers over time.

Finally, the group lists objects such as cutlery, stirrers, and straws—but only when they are provided as ancillary items to a package, such as forks that might come with a store-bought salad.

In a statement, Joshua Baca, vice president of plastics at the American Chemistry Council, a trade group, says the list will “worsen setbacks at a time when consumers are looking for certainty” amid the global supply chain and inflation crisis.

“US Plastics Pact lacked a transparent third-party, data driven, and scientific approach,” Baca says. “And its process seems to be rooted in ideology and a predetermined, misguided outcome.”

Eastman, which is a U.S. Plastic Pact member and a major producer of PETG, recognizes that the material has long hindered PET recycling. The firm says it is focusing on other applications, such as durable goods, and is working on alternatives to PETG in packaging. “We have developed new solutions for shrink labels and packaging that are compatible with PET recycling,” a spokesperson says in an email.

Reviews from environmental groups are mixed. Safer States, an alliance of health organizations, applauds the list. “PVC and polystyrene are inherently toxic materials that should no longer be allowed in packaging,” Sarah Doll, its national director, says in a statement.

Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics, says in a statement that the pact’s effort is “thoughtful and credible” but warns that voluntary commitments do not work. “When it comes to plastics, there is no such thing as a circular economy unless you want the circle to include toxins and a massive amount of greenhouse gases,” she says.


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