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TUCSON, ARIZ.— A professor of archaeology at the University of Arizona in Tucson says that plastic packaging is the workhorse of source reduction.

William Rathje's ongoing Garbage Project studied 15 U.S. and Canadian landfills and one curbside pickup program and found that, by weight, plastics account for 22 percent of packaging overall. The most recent analysis, part of a report to be released in two weeks, also found that, not including construction and demolition debris and cover soil, plastic packaging accounts for about 4.5 percent of the matter found in municipal solid waste landfills, a figure that has not changed since the 1970s.

Also, in the past 20 years, plastic packaging has become 50 percent more efficient, Rathje said. He cited, for example, that in the 1970s an ounce of plastic could hold just 23 ounces of a product, whereas today an ounce of plastic delivers 34 ounces of product, mainly due to increased strength.

Rathje's report likewise concluded that almost half of all larger packages that hold solids are plastics, as are more than two-thirds of the quart-sized or larger packages that contain fluids. He added that thin films are exceptionally good source reducers.

Rathje said his results are good news for plastics, and should help correct the belief that packaging is one of the foremost contributors to the solid waste problem.

Rathje summarized his findings: ``If all plastic packaging were to be replaced by containers made of glass, paper, steel, aluminum or some combination thereof, the solid waste implications would be difficult to predict with precision, but it can be said with virtual certainty that the packaging discarded by U.S. households would more than double.''

``This is true even when you factor in today's relatively high level of recycling,'' he noted.

Findings from the study were reported in the March/April issue of ULS (Use Less Stuff) Report, an Ann Arbor, Mich., newsletter.