Top 5 issues in plastics and packaging: The ACC responds

Positioned figuratively at the center of the plastics industry, Washington, D.C.-based American Chemistry Council’s stated mission is to “solve some of the biggest challenges facing our nation and our world.”

After PlasticsToday asked the ACC to address the major issues in plastics packaging today, the following was submitted by Steve Russell, vp of ACC’s Plastics Division.

1. Some people put the blame for ocean debris squarely on plastics. How does ACC respond to this criticism?ACC Stemming the Tide of Ocean Debris

Russell: We all want clean, healthy oceans. And because plastic is a large component of waste streams that leak into the ocean, those in the plastic supply chain have a role to play in delivering solutions. Data shows most ocean pollution comes from poorly managed municipal solid waste—which includes a range of material, not just plastic—from rapidly emerging economies that have yet to invest in waste management infrastructure. So for a truly clean ocean, the solutions implemented must consider what types of items are reaching the ocean, not just the material with which they’re made. 

The use of plastics in emerging economies indicates a growing middle class with increased access to nutritious foods in sanitary packaging, personal care products, connectivity, transportation, and jobs. However, in these regions, the rise in access to consumer goods has outpaced the infrastructure needed to manage post-use materials of all kinds.

Without that infrastructure, trash—much of it plastics—ends up in rivers, on streets and sidewalks, and in our oceans. Many experts who have studied ocean plastics have determined that the most certain way to stop trash from getting into our oceans is to invest in infrastructure solutions that capture post-use resources and convert them into valuable products. Several types of technologies are enabling infrastructure to be designed—and materials to be used—with greater circularity (more about that below).

2. Given that a lot of plastics are getting into our oceans what is industry doing to address the problem?

Russell: Plastics makers across the globe are actively working to keep plastics out of our oceans. In 2011, ACC worked with our association colleagues to launch the Global Declaration—a program to engage the world’s plastics associations in delivering tangible solutions. Today, 75 associations from 40 countries have signed the Global Declaration and are tracking and publicly reporting projects in six areas. These include education, research, public policy, sharing best practices, plastics recycling/recovery, and plastic pellet containment. The number of projects reported by declaration signatories has grown to 355 and more than tripled since inception.

ACC Marine Litter SolutionsWe’ve learned that one of the most important ways we can contribute is to partner with organizations that offer critical expertise in ocean sciences and conservation, investment and infrastructure development. For example, ACC is a member of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Alliance® (TFSA), which is working on cross-sector innovations to prevent trash from reaching waterways. TFSA’s report Stemming the Tide (2015) identified ways to stop the flow of plastics into the ocean by growing waste management systems in countries where most plastics leakage occurs.

Plastic makers are among major consumer brands that are working with the Closed Loop Partners to create a new fund (called Closed Loop Ocean (CLO) to prove a financing model for waste management. CLO is seeking funding commitments totaling $150 million to help finance infrastructure that advances the recovery and circularity of material use in countries with high levels of ocean bound waste. Plans call for funding projects as early as next year.

EastPack 2018 held June 12-14 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City features the latest in manufacturing and automation, a dedicated 3D Printing Zone, hundreds of exhibitors and a jam-packed 3-day packaging conference. For more information, visit the EastPack website.

Next: Single-use plastics, mixed materials and the circular cconomy