In most parts of the developed world, packaging constitutes as much as one-third of the non-industrial solid waste stream. As the developing world races to raise living standards, more countries are seeing significant growth in their packaging waste. At least 28 countries currently have laws designed to encourage reduced packaging and greater recycling of packaging discards. Many of these countries require manufacturers to take back packaging discards or pay for their recycling.
There are no federal packaging mandates of a similar nature in the United States. However, state and local government concern about packaging waste continues to grow, while new containers emerge that complicate recycling. More recently, government reductions in recycling subsidies and a growing demand for secondary materials from abroad have placed increased pressures on domestic recyclers, especially plastics recyclers, who are competing fiercely for limited feedstock. New ways to increase the recovery of secondary materials, including packaging and plastics in particular, are clearly needed.
Packaging can be made more sustainable by applying the principles of product stewardship. This means:
- Eliminating toxic constituents
- Using less material
- Making packaging more reusable
- Using more recycled content
- Making it more readily recyclable