A look at recent plastic waste data indicates that plastic packaging makes up almost half of all plastic waste.
In this guide, we look at:
– What plastic packaging and plastic packaging waste is
– What industries/sectors generate the most plastic packaging waste (i.e. where it comes from)
– Important statistics about plastic packaging & plastic packaging waste
– Ideas and solutions for reducing and better managing plastic waste
Summary – Plastic Packaging Waste Statistics/Facts, & How To Reduce It & Better Manage It
Which Industries Use The Most Plastic?
What Is Plastic Packaging?
Plastic packaging is plastic material used to wrap, enclose and protect goods and items.
Different Types Of Plastic Used For Packaging
There’s different types of plastic used for plastic packaging, and each one has different traits and properties.
Each of these plastic types have different uses.
We list the different types of plastic and some of their uses in the guide below.
Which Industries Generate The Most Plastic Waste?
Short Lifespan & Single Use Plastics
When looking at the annual plastic waste rate or amount of plastic waste an industry generates per year, it should be considered how many times and how many years (usage lifespan of the plastic) a plastic can be used before it becomes waste
Some industries like packaging may use more single use, short lifespan plastic than some others
Where Plastic Packaging Waste Ends Up
However, there’s a possibility recycling rates of plastic packaging and plastic in general may increase, and plastic littering/mismanagement rates may decrease in the future
Economic Loss Attributed To Plastic Packaging Waste
We haven’t taken into consideration the economic net loss or gain plastic packaging
How To Reduce Plastic Packaging Waste, & Better Manage It
There might be two main approaches to this:
1. Focus firstly on countries and regions where mismanaged plastic waste (littered plastic waste, and waste that escapes from landfills and rubbish dumping sites) rates are the highest, and where plastic is getting into the environment, fresh water sources, and the ocean at the highest rates
For example, solutions in these countries may be based on investing in waste management systems to bring them up to a basic level/standard, in addition to recovering plastic waste/plastic pollution from sources such as rivers, oceans, and land
2. Focus on ways to manage plastic use and plastic waste management in other countries and regions
These solutions might be based on reducing plastic waste generation, weighing up the pros and cons of each waste disposal option for plastic, continuing to commit resources to the research and development of existing and new materials (including existing and new plastic materials), and a range of other potential solutions
We go into potential solutions further in the guide below.
Sustainability Of Plastic Packaging vs Metal Packaging
This guide also compares metal packaging to plastic packaging, and may indicate plastic packaging is more eco friendly in some ways than metal packaging.
Plastic packaging may in some instances be more sustainable than cardboard when used as packaging too.
Plastic packaging may in some instance be more sustainable than paper packaging, and also cheaper.
Which Industries Use The Most Plastic, & The Greatest % Of All Plastic Produced?
Of all industries, the packaging industry uses both the greatest % of all plastic produced, and the most plastic in terms of tonnes of plastic used.
Building/construction, textiles, and consumer and institutional products are some that follow behind the packaging industry.
In 2015, packaging used 35.9% of all plastic produced, with building and construction in second at 16%.
Also in 2015, packaging used the most plastic, when measured in tonnes per year, at 146 million tonnes. Building and construction was in second place at 65 million tonnes.
What Is Plastic Packaging?
Plastic packaging is plastic material used to wrap, enclose or protect goods and items.
Different Types Of Plastic Used For Packaging, & Some Common Uses
There’s different types of plastic used for packaging.
Each types of plastic has different properties and traits that make them suitable for different uses.
The different types of plastic used in plastic packaging, and some of their common uses might include:
– High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
Used to make many bottles and containers, and bags for grocery and retail stores
– Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
Used for plastic film, and for sealing applications (Bags for dry cleaning, newspapers, bread, frozen foods, fresh produce, and household garbage. Shrink wrap and stretch film, etc.)
– Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET, PETE)
Used for plastic bottles for soft drinks, water, juice, sports drinks, beer, mouthwash, catsup and salad dressing.
Food jars for peanut butter, jelly, jam and pickles.
Ovenable film and microwavable food trays.
– Polypropylene (PP)
Used for containers for yogurt, margarine, takeout meals, and deli foods.
Medicine bottles. Bottle caps and closures.
Bottles for catsup and syrup.
Use for food service items, such as cups, plates, bowls, cutlery, hinged takeout containers (clamshells), meat and poultry trays, and rigid food containers
– Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC, Vinyl)
Used for both rigid and flexible packaging applications
Read more about the different types of plastic packaging and the associated uses in the plasticpackagingfacts.org resource
What Industries Use Plastic Packaging?
Plastic packaging is used in all industries.
Some examples of industries that use plastic packaging though might include:
– Food and beverage
– Health care
– Personal care and cosmetics
– Consumer packaged goods
– Home and garden products
plasticpackagingfacts.org discusses these industries and other industries in their resource
Which Industries Generate The Most Plastic Waste?
Of all industries and sectors, packaging generates the most plastic waste in terms of tonnes generated per year.
In 2015, packaging generated 141 million tonnes of plastic waste globally when measured in tonnes per year. ‘Other sectors’ was in second place at 42 million tonnes.
Why Different Industries Might Produce Different Amounts Of Plastic Waste
There the obvious consideration that the industries that use the most plastic in total will also likely generate the most total plastic waste as a result
But, both the lifespan and the number of times plastic is used within an industry on average before it becomes waste should be considered too
Plastic packaging can be a single use, short lifespan plastic
If we take a food wrapper for example, it is used once, and has a very short lifespan before being disposed of
This is in comparison to say plastic used in construction for example
Some construction plastics like PVC pipes or plastic based window frames might have longer lifespans of decades, and therefore not become waste at such a high rate on a per year basis
Where Plastic Packaging Waste Ends Up
Not as much plastic is currently recycled or incinerated
However, these %’s have a chance to change in the future – recycling may increase
Just 14% of the plastic packaging used globally makes its way to recycling plants, a third is left in fragile ecosystems, and 40% ends up in landfill (unilever.com.au)
Economic Impact Of Plastic Packaging Waste
We haven’t taken into account the amount of money plastic packaging contributes to the economy, and the net gain/loss of plastic packaging.
How To Reduce Plastic Packaging Waste, & Manage It Better – Potential Solutions & Ideas
Some potential ideas to manage plastic waste and specifically plastic packaging waste might include:
General Solutions For Managing General Plastic Waste
Solutions For Plastic Packaging Specifically
– Consider the more sustainable use of packaging instead of using alternative materials
[In terms of plastic packaging – the most environmentally friendly option is the more sustainable use of plastic packaging, and not using alternative materials to plastic] (bpf.co.uk)
– Consider country by country strategies for better managing plastic packaging waste
Almost half of Australia’s packaging waste is not being recovered for recycling … Only 32% of plastic packaging was recovered for recycling …
Australia needs to better focus on which packaging materials can be reclaimed, reused and recycled instead of thrown away.
Data shows that households are throwing a significant portion of recyclable packaging in general waste bins
… there is a clear opportunity to improve local waste management practices [to recycle more plastic waste packaging] and grow local demand for products that contain recycled materials … as well as avoiding packaging waste altogether where possible
Bigger brands and companies committing to locally sourced recycled plastic is another strategy to minimise plastic going straight to landfill
Better source separation is important and this requires consumer education and awareness raising, as well as smarter design of packaging to make it easier to recycle
What we also need is more and better data on packaging consumption and recycling infrastructure capabilities
… coordinated action [is required] across the whole supply chain …
– Consider corporate initiatives to deal with plastic packaging waste
Brands like Walmart are tackling plastic packaging waste:
[Walmart is] partnering with its private labels on a number of initiatives including achieving 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging for private brands by 2025, and achieving 20% post-consumer recycled content in private brand packaging by 2025
It also wants to label all food and consumable private brand packaging with the How2Recycle label by 2022, eliminate the non-recyclable packaging material PVC in general merchandise packaging by 2020 and decrease private brand plastic packaging.
So, we see that private partnerships are a strategy.
– Find ways to reduce packaging of fruit and vegetables that have natural skins and protective barriers without increasing food waste
– Look at the different sectors that use plastic packaging
Such as residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural
Identify where is the waste coming from, and what are solutions to address it
– Consider that parties and stakeholders across the who plastic packaging supply chain, consumer stage, and waste management chain would have to collaborate, share information and solve problems together.
Examples of stakeholders according to uk-cpi.com include plastics producers, packaging converters, brand owners, co-packers, logistics companies, retailers, waste collectors, and recyclers.
Examples of stakeholders according to the conversation.com include manufacturers, brand owners, consumers, and the resource recovery sector.
– Consider the merits of introducing levies and penalties on using some single use plastics like plastic shopping bags
Policies such as the UK’s 5p carrier bag charge, which has driven an 80% reduction in single-use bags.
– Reduce food waste of food that comes in plastic at the household level
Less food waste that contains plastic packaging means less plastic packaging waste
– Extending the shelf life of certain foods so the waste rate of plastic packaging isn’t so high
– Look at how plastic taxes, discounts, incentives, deposits and other financial tools can impact how we use and consume plastic, and produce plastic packaging waste
– Consider charge as you waste schemes for households and waste that goes to landfill (and monitor how much of this is plastic packaging waste)
– Consider what waste management options might be easiest and best for commercial and industrial businesses and producers
Single stream [a one bin system] can make it much easier for businesses to recycle plastic packaging waste
Plastic film, Pallet shrink wrap, Stretch wrap and Polystyrene packaging are common plastic packaging wastes collected by industrial bin services
– Personal actions
Buy non packaged food, and bring it to work in a washable/reusable container, instead of purchasing take out food that comes with plastic packaging.
Buy bulk packs of food that have one outer packaging, instead of individually wrapped or packaged items with multiple sets of packaging (such as one large bottle as opposed to several smaller bottles – all with the same volume of beverage in them)
Drink without a straw, or use a paper or metal straw instead.
Use reusable and washable cutlery, plates, and cups instead of plastic.
Use re-usable and washable drink bottles and containers instead of throwing them out (even for recycling).
Bring reusable bags shopping instead of using plastic shopping bags.
– Buy local products where possible as less transport packaging and plastic has to be used
– Buy from zero waste shops (bring your own containers, bags etc.)
– More bins available for plastic packaging disposal out in public – especially in areas that workers have lunch breaks, or weekend or weeknight areas where people hang out for recreation or get togethers
– Working with manufacturers, transport/distribution sector and shops (such as supermarkets) to figure out a better system for delivering products to consumers with less waste
– Explore using composites and laminates could improve protection with the minimum amount of packaging (this can make recycling harder though)