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Plastic Waste is a Problem. Here’s How It’s Being Solved.

Innovation, Technology, Collaboration

Plastic plays a vital role in modern life. Too often it is not recycled or recovered, and far too much winds up in our rivers and oceans. America’s plastic makers are helping to drive change and modernize today’s plastic recycling systems. Designing waste out of our systems requires a sustained commitment and ongoing collaboration with government, major brands, nonprofits and other stakeholders. The status quo is not acceptable, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Reversing the current trend will require a sustained commitment to changing our approach to waste management and leveraging new and emerging technologies.

In the last three years, the private sector has announced $4.6 billion in investments and is collaborating with public officials, consumer product companies, nonprofits, and communities across the nation (and the world) to develop the technology and infrastructure that enable plastics to be reused – before they become waste. We’re making progress, using and reusing plastics more efficiently at every stage.

Based on a foundation of accelerated innovation, technology, and collaboration, we envision a future in which all plastics are recovered and repurposed to benefit people and our planet. And we will not stop working toward a world without plastic waste.

Go to Commonly Asked Questions

The machine produces a stretch film from recycled polyethylene
female scientist

America’s plastic makers have committed to help make all U.S. plastic packaging recyclable by 2030 and to reuse, recycle, or recover all U.S. plastic packaging by 2040

Our Commitment

America’s plastic makers have committed to help make all U.S. plastic packaging recyclable by 2030 and to reuse, recycle, or recover all U.S. plastic packaging by 2040, which will keep these valuable materials out of our environment and in productive use.

Keeping this commitment requires improving and scaling existing and new technologies – such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and infrared optics – and helping modernize today’s outdated recycling systems.

But even more innovative approaches are needed. In the last three years, plastic makers and others have announced $4.6 billion in investments for improving recycling, including new kinds of technologies that can take a product and remake it into something entirely new, breaking plastics down into their basic building blocks. These reusable building blocks then are repurposed to make valuable raw materials that are used to create brand new plastics, transportation fuels for airplanes and vehicles, and basic chemicals for new manufacturing.

This approach allows us to recover and repurpose the inherent value in used plastics. These technologies can reduce the amount of virgin material needed to meet the world’s demand for plastics – and lead us closer to our goal of ending plastic waste. By extending the life of plastics, we’re building a more circular economy and a more sustainable society.

These efforts are further enhanced by our industry working with waste management companies, consumer brands, retailers, non-profits and governments to develop and implement solutions. Many of these companies helped to establish the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which has committed $1.5 billion over five years toward solving the problem through infrastructure, education, innovation and clean up.

Our commitment is bold, and these collective investments of more than $6 billion are just the start. Working together we can achieve a world without plastic waste.

Woman working in a recycling factory
Group of kids school volunteer charity environment

Plastic makers and others have announced $4.6 billion in investments to improve recycling.

The Path Forward

Throughout our history, people have used science and technology to develop solutions to many pressing problems, contributing significantly to human safety and sustainability. We’re now leveraging these same capabilities to end plastic waste.

Harnessing the resources of some of the world’s most innovative companies, we’re working to develop the range of solutions needed to end plastic waste. Plastics makers are collaborating with others to use plastics more efficiently, design products and packaging that are easier to recycle, and reduce the environmental footprint of plastic products. We’re forging new business models and promoting smarter public policies. And we’re investing in infrastructure to keep used plastics in productive use and out of our environment.

Only by working together with the right approaches, which includes a sustained commitment to changing the status quo and investing in innovation, can we achieve our goal of ending plastic waste in the environment.

Female Resource Recovery Specialist Using Digital Tablet
Boy recycling plastic bottle

Harnessing the resources of some of the world’s most innovative companies, we’re working to develop the range of solutions needed to end plastic waste.


Commonly Asked Questions

Why do we use plastic?

Plastics offer many benefits. Light-weight plastics for vehicles improve fuel efficiency. Plastics that insulate our buildings improve energy efficiency. Plastics are critical components to many life-saving products in the medical industry and can help reduce the spread of disease. And plastics significantly extend the shelf life of food and reduce food waste.

Plastics can also be better for the environment. Studies show that switching from plastics to alternatives across 16 consumer goods sectors would actually increase environmental impacts nearly fourfold. For example, plastics play an important role in helping society mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

But we must do a better job reusing and recycling them. Plastic makers agree that plastic waste in the environment is unacceptable, but just because plastic waste is bad, doesn’t mean that plastic is too. 

Is recycling the solution?

Ending plastic waste will require many solutions. Improving recycling is one of them. Addressing this issue will involve:

  • reducing waste in the first place by redesigning plastic products and packaging to be more reusable, more efficient, and enable easier recycling;
  • modernizing our existing recycling system so we can capture more of today’s waste stream;
  • developing new technologies and systems that will enable us to capture and recycle a wider range of today’s plastics, including through advanced recycling technologies;
  • implementing new business models so we can create new plastics and other valuable products that society needs from our used plastics. Some people are calling these new systems a “circular economy”; and
  • pursuing smart policies that incentivize the advancement, expansion and deployment of recycling systems and technologies.

America’s plastics makers are actively working, investing and collaborating with a range of stakeholders in each of these areas. 

Why are plastic recycling rates low?

According to the U.S. EPA, our current recycling system captures over 8 percent of plastic waste in the United States. The remainder is either buried in landfills or converted into energy. However, the recycling rate for plastic bottles (30 percent) is significantly higher. That’s because today’s recycling systems were not designed to process the variety of materials, packaging and products that are prevalent in today’s modern economy. And upgrades and investments haven’t kept up with the changes. The good news is these recycling programs can be enhanced through advanced technology, investment and collaboration between industry, governments, and communities. 

What is advanced plastics recycling?

Advanced plastics recycling (also known as “chemical recycling”) involves different technologies that convert a wide range of today’s used plastics into useful products. Since China announced its plans to stop importing recyclables, plastics makers and others have announced $4.6 billion in investments, primarily in modern recycling technologies that can break down used plastics into their molecular building blocks. These “feedstocks” then are repurposed to make valuable raw material for new plastics, transportation fuels for airplanes and vehicles, and basic chemicals for new manufacturing. Advanced recycling technologies can significantly expand the markets for used plastics both in the United States and globally, which will help keep plastics in productive use and out of the environment.

Several consumer brands have announced significant commitments to incorporate this type of recycled content into their packaging. Examples of major advanced recycling facilities in the United States include those in Gary, IN, Tigard, OR, Trainer, PA, and Kingsport, TN.

What is a circular economy?

Like many other materials, the production and consumption of plastics has largely followed the linear model: “make, use, dispose.” The result is large amounts of these valuable materials end up either buried in landfills or littering our ocean and environment. This linear model needs to be replaced with a more sustainable, circular model, in which used plastics are recovered and repurposed rather than disposed. This model will not only keep plastics out of the environment, but also harness their inherent value to create new products.

In short, in a circular economy, materials are repurposed after use, rather than disposed. A circular economy for plastics leads to their sustainable utilization, harnessing their benefits and limiting their environmental footprint.

Why don’t plastics producers support bans on products, such as “single-use plastics”?

Our goal is to reduce the environmental impacts of products in use today and in the future. Plastics play an important role in helping society reduce greenhouse gas emissions, energy use and waste. We agree that plastic waste in the environment is unacceptable, but just because plastic waste is bad, doesn’t mean that plastic is too.

Banning a product made with one material often results in forcing the use of an alternative. Doing so without a complete understanding of the impact these alternative materials can have often leads to adverse unintended consequences, such as higher greenhouse gas emissions, increased energy and water use – and even higher waste. Banning specific products that serve important purposes does not effectively address the underlying deficiencies in our recycling infrastructure.

Studies have repeatedly shown that alternatives to plastics often bring significantly higher environmental impacts. For example, a 2016 TruCost study found that alternatives to plastic packaging – such as glass, aluminum, paper, etc. – can have nearly four times the negative impact on the environment on a full lifecycle basis, because of higher emissions and increased energy and water use during production.  And another recent study from Franklin Associates (2018) estimates that switching to alternatives to plastic packaging would double greenhouse gas emissions.

We believe that improving the systems to recover and recycle more of our used plastics is a better approach to drive long-term meaningful change. Whether we’re considering a car part that’s been used for 15 years or a plastic pouch that once held tuna or soup, what matters most is that we have a system in place to convert that used item into something society needs. We believe that focusing on developing the systems to move plastics into a more circular economy is the most effective way to address the issue.

America's Plastic Makers® are the leading U.S. producers of plastic resin who are among the world’s foremost providers of innovations, which improve the quality of our lives, our environment, and our economy. America's Plastic Makers® is a registered mark of the American Chemistry Council, Inc.