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Some Plastics Are So Bad Even Industry Says We Should Stop Making Them

AMBR supports the US Plastic Pact’s first industry-developed list of problematic plastics and unnecessary materials to eliminate. While the list is nowhere near comprehensive and commitments are voluntary, we find it an encouraging step in aligning packaging design with recycling operations.

The US Plastics Pact recently released its Problematic and Unnecessary Materials List, marking a significant first step toward reducing the use of non-recyclable plastic packaging in the United States. The list identifies 11 items that are not currently reusable, recyclable, or compostable at scale in the US and are not projected to be kept in a closed loop in practice and at scale by 2025. According to the Pact:

 “The elimination of these problematic and unnecessary materials will enable advancements in circular package design, increase opportunities for recovery, and enhance the quality of recycled content available for manufacturers.”

The list was developed by US Pact members all along the supply chain – more than 100 businesses, non-profit groups, and government organizations, including AMBR co-founders Eureka Recycling, Eco-Cycle, and the Ecology Center (Berkeley). Our national coordinator, Lynn Hoffman, served as a key innovator in the Pact’s working group that developed this list and its criteria. 

We support the list as a significant first step in breaking down the myth that all plastics can be recycled. While this list is nowhere near comprehensive, we find the number of major items included, like PVC, PFAS, colored plastics, plastic straws, and utensils, encouraging. This also marks the first time companies have accepted responsibility for the items they produce and agreed to voluntary limitations in their production. 

The US Pact’s activators produce a third of plastic packaging in the US by weight, suggesting the list may have significant influence to drive change in the plastics industry. Yet we recognize voluntary commitments will not go far enough or fast enough to reduce plastic pollution. We hope this list allows advocates and decision-makers to leverage voluntary commitments and industry-agreed-upon criteria for determining a material “problematic and unnecessary,” setting the groundwork for much-need state and federal policy to eliminate these plastics for good. 

The 11 materials to be eliminated by 2025 include: 

  • Cutlery 
  • Intentionally added¹ Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
  • Non-detectable pigments, such as Carbon Black
  • Opaque or pigmented PET bottles
  • Oxo-degradable additives
  • Polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG) in rigid packaging
  • Problematic label constructions, including adhesives, inks, and materials Polystyrene (PS), including expanded polystyrene (EPS)
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  • Stirrers 
  • Straws

Which Plastics Might Be Considered for Elimination Next?

While the initial list of problematic plastics was the headline news, we point to the criteria used to develop the list as arguably the biggest part of the story. The Pact will use this matrix to further review other plastic packaging in the coming years. This points to a longer term commitment from the Pact members to align packaging design with the reuse, recycling, and composting systems, and ensures the list will be relevant as packaging design changes. 

Based on experience in the UK, other plastics that could be considered for elimination could include: 

  • Plastic bags and plastic film packaging
  • Multi-layer non-recyclable plastics
  • Multi-pack rings for canned drinks
  • Bottle tops and caps
  • Single-use drinks bottles
  • Non-recyclable colored plastics
  • Disposable plastic cups and cup lids
  • Plastic coffee pods
  • Tear-off tamper evidence strips
  • Teabags

Further Reading: 

US Plastics Pact releases anticipated ‘problematic’ materials list from Waste Dive

Recycling operators cheer list of problematic plastics from Resource Recycling

US Plastics Pact, backed by big firms, pushes cuts in ‘problematic’ packaging from Plastic News