Single-use plastic recycling is a myth.
Since the introduction of single-use plastics was introduced in the late 1950s, it was seen as an ideal model of packaging, becoming a fixture of our daily lives.
The problem with that vision is that the future is bleak for the most common forms of plastic in the world we want to live in, because most-single use plastic cannot, and may not ever, be recycled.
Simply put, it’s unsustainable. As the North American managing director of packaging for a leading paper manufacturer, I want to give you the real story on how to save our planet.
A recent National Geographic report shared these sobering facts: Of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced over the past five decades – most of it disposable products designed to end up in the trash – only 9 percent has been recycled and 12 percent incinerated, leaving 6.3 billion tons as waste in landfills or worse, forming a giant plastic island in the Pacific Ocean as big as the State of Texas.
Partly because of the lack of recycling infrastructure in the U.S., municipalities across the globe have been forced to landfill send large amounts of material that consumers assumed was being recycled.
As our communities discover the truth about plastic recycling, it’s clear we’re going to pay a steep environmental price unless we immediately embrace an alternative way of producing disposable packaging.
Fiber-based packaging and packing material is renewable by nature. With its inherent recyclability and biodegradability, it’s a natural solution to stemming the flood of un-recyclable materials into our environment, thereby reducing waste to our landfills and the pollution of our water systems. Annually, 92 percent of corrugated is recycled in the U.S.
And unlike fossil fuel-derived plastics, forests that produce these fibers are well-regulated and carefully managed. In fact, there are 20 percent more trees than there were on the first Earth Day in 1970, and two seedlings are planted for every tree harvested, adding up to 1 billion trees planted in the United States each year.
Fiber-based consumer packaging can play a major role in reducing our impact on the environment. We believe the only sustainable model for packaging is the adoption of a circular model by manufacturers, logistics providers, public and private sector entities.
This approach will help us transition from the traditional linear economy in which a product or packaging is made, used, and then disposed of, with little regard for how it’s made or its sustainability, to a circular economy in which the focus is reduce, reuse, and recycle. This idea is supported by 86 percent of Americans who agree we need to transition from an economy that throws things away to one that reuses and recycles.
Based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, a circular economy keeps products and materials in use and regenerates natural systems. Paper and packaging companies have the experience and capability to design for minimal waste and for recycling fiber over and over again into new products.
A recent survey we conducted showed 75 percent of consumers say they plan to do at least half of their shopping online as the global pandemic lingers, and we’re forecasting eye-popping increases in e-commerce shipping volumes. As a result, our paper and packaging materials will be delivering more and more essential items into homes and businesses all over the world.
At DS Smith, our Now and Next Sustainability Strategy embraces circular design principles. We’re responding to consumer demand for right-sized boxes and eliminating wasted space. That, in turn, reduces the number of trucks on the road and carbon emissions by optimizing packaging at every step of the process.
We’re committed to protecting natural resources through a holistic view of the entire lifecycle of our packaging. By making the most of every fiber and reducing waste and pollution, we will continue to educate, enable and empower our customers, our people, our industry, and the next generation to lead the transition to a circular economy.