It's encouraging to see progress with some issues that are of critical interest to the plastics industry — reducing packaging waste and incorporating product stewardship into company business strategies.
Staff reporter Mike Verespej recently updated Plastics News readers on the trend, listing and describing the growing number of organizations focused on voluntary product stewardship. (Growing number of organizations focus on reducing packaging waste.")
One key word — at least for most of the companies — is voluntary. No doubt about it, very few companies are lobbying for extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation, like we've seen in Europe. They want to increase recycling rates and improve their sustainability record, but they don't want the government dictating how the plan must work.
OK, fair enough. I have no doubt that packaged goods companies, retailers, packaging manufacturers and recyclers can all work together — with communities and environmental groups — to create successful programs.
It's still early, but what we're hearing so far sounds pretty good.
For example, a group called Ameripen — the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment — has set up a web-based “product recovery knowledge map” that allows its 30 members to develop recycling plans.
Another, Action to Accelerate Recycling, is working with Ameripen on ways to boost the effectiveness of curbside recycling.
Paul Gardner, executive director of Recycling Reinvented, summed up the goals of these new organizations when he said: “We want to increase recycling rates, recycle materials on a larger scale, and do it at a lower-cost per household.” Companies say they want to provide incentives for consumers to recycle, and they want to use more recycled content, too.
Still, I've been around long enough to know that sometimes groups form with an eye on public relations rather than making real progress. So I'm skeptical.
I've seen examples over the years where companies have seemed to have a serious commitment to recycling plastics packaging, only to see the promise disappear if public pressure diminishes or if they perceive that the cost of supporting recycling gets too high.
No doubt about it, marine debris and litter are front-burner issues right now in many communities. Bans on bags and polystyrene foam have been on the uptick. And we're sure to see them spread — geographically, and to other products.
Industry wants to react the right way. It wants to be able to say that plastics products have a solid environmental record — for saving energy, conserving resources and for recyclability.
That should be a winning formula, but it's essential to have a successful record to stand on, and evidence of progress.
There are challenges ahead, but industry looks to be on the right path.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of “The Plastics Blog.”