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The Problematic and Unnecessary Materials List includes plastic cutlery and straws, PETG, and PVC. Industry associations slam initiative as non-scientific and rooted in ideology.

Norbert Sparrow

January 25, 2022

4 Min Read
breaking news
Image: Alamy/Christian Bridgwater

The U.S. Plastics Pact released today its Problematic and Unnecessary Materials List, which identifies 11 packaging-related products and materials that “are not currently reusable, recyclable, or compostable at scale” in the United States and “are not projected to be kept in a closed loop in practice and at scale by 2025.” Its publication fulfills a commitment by the U.S. Pact to “define a list of packaging that is problematic or unnecessary by 2021,” an objective in the organization’s Roadmap to 2025, which is based on the global framework developed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The U.S. Plastics Pact comprises more than 100 businesses, including materials suppliers, packaging companies, and major retailers, as well as non-profit and government organizations. The press release notes that individual pact “activators,” as member companies are called, may not necessarily endorse the Problematic and Unnecessary Materials List.

The list includes the following items, which the U.S. Pact suggests should be eliminated, in alphabetical order:

  • Cutlery.

  • Intentionally added per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) either in the package or in the manufacturing of that package.

  • Non-detectable pigments such as carbon black.

  • Opaque or pigmented PET — polyethylene terephthalate bottles (any color other than transparent blue or green).

  • Oxo-degradable additives, including oxo-biodegradable additives.

  • PETG — polyethylene terephthalate glycol in rigid packaging.

  • Problematic label constructions, including adhesives, inks, materials (PETG, PVC, PLA, paper, for example). Avoid formats/materials/features that render a package detrimental or non-recyclable per the APR Design Guide. Labels should meet APR Preferred guidance for coverage and compatibility and be tested in any areas where this is unclear.

  • PS — polystyrene, including EPS (expanded polystyrene).

  • PVC — polyvinyl chloride, including PVDC (polyvinylidene chloride).

  • Stirrers.

  • Straws.

Caveats: Cutlery, straws, and stirrers are considered problematic when they are deemed non-reusable, non-recyclable, or non-compostable per U.S. Pact definitions and provided as an ancillary item to the primary container. For instance, a packet of plastic cutlery provided with a prepared salad or a straw/stirrer provided with an on-the-go beverage would be defined as problematic, whereas cutlery, straws, or stirrers sold as a product would not.

The list applies exclusively to plastic packaging. Medical plastics used in clinical, hospital, and related laboratory and research settings are not included.

The complete document, including an explanation of the criteria used to establish the list, can be found on the U.S. Plastics Pact website.

The Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) and American Chemistry Council (ACC) issued press releases raising their concerns shortly after the publication of the list. For PLASTICS, the U.S. Pact is “a group of well-intentioned companies and organizations” that “do not reflect the opinions of the broader plastics industry.” In the ACC’s estimation, the process “lacked a transparent third-party, data-driven, and scientific approach, and . . . seems to be rooted in ideology and a predetermined, misguided outcome.”

PLASTICS: It's the pact that's problematic

“It’s a lot easier to make lists than it is to live with the unintended consequences of eliminating certain types of products,” said PLASTICS President and CEO Tony Radoszewski in a prepared statement. “Product packaging is designed with specific functions or applications in mind, even if those aren’t immediately obvious to the end customer. For instance, plastic is often the most economical choice for both the producer and the consumer, as well as the most green option. Banning products can result in using alternatives that have much greater impact on the environment."

The U.S. Plastics Pact is free to make decisions on what materials and products it does or doesn’t want to sell, or that it finds “problematic,” added Radoszewski, but “PLASTICS finds it problematic that the pact hopes to tell others how to run their businesses by restricting their choices.”

ACC: Eliminating materials would hinder sustainability goals

For its part, the ACC suggests that the elimination of some of these materials by 2025 are counter-productive to the acceleration of a circular economy and would, in fact, “slow progress toward a lower carbon future, and reduce [the] ability to use greater amounts of recycled material in plastic packaging.”

"Amid a global supply chain and inflation crisis, the recommendations put forth by the U.S. Plastics Pact will worsen setbacks at a time when consumers are looking for certainty, not further disruption, of global supply chains,” said ACC Vice President of Plastics Joshua Baca. “Additionally, the pact’s recommendations are likely to increase food waste, promote the use of many materials with a higher carbon footprint than plastics, and do little to achieve the plastics value chain’s ambitious sustainability goals.”

In its response, the ACC noted that the plastics industry was one of the first to set ambitious circularity goals in 2018, calling for 100% of plastic packaging to be reused, recycled, or recovered. “Our hope is that the pact will partner with us to leverage our industry’s expertise and the extensive work we’ve done to achieve a more circular economy for all materials by scaling the growth of innovative recycling technologies – rather than to promote de facto bans on certain types of plastic packaging,” said Baca.

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.


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