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Redesign Packaging for a Lighter Footprint

We are working in collaboration with innovative companies to improve the design and efficiency of plastic packaging and products… and to make plastics easier to recover and repurpose. Smarter, lighter design will help further minimize the environmental footprint of plastic packaging and make it easier to collect, sort, and repurpose used plastics.

Plastics already contribute substantially to sustainability. They make our cars safer and more fuel efficient, they make our homes more energy efficient, and they protect all of us in essential ways every day. And plastic packaging makes our food supply safer and helps reduce food waste. And because plastics are lightweight and strong, they help reduce the environmental impact of consumer packaging and products that we all rely on.

But plastics do not belong in our natural environment.

couple looking at plastic technology

Plastic Packaging: Redesigning for a Lighter Footprint

In addition to expanding ways to recover and repurpose plastics, design changes can further diminish the environmental footprint of plastic packaging… and keep it out of the environment.

Some examples:

  • Reuse – Multiple household cleaning product companies sell large bottles of cleaner to refill spray bottles that can be reused again and again. And the refill and spray bottles typically are recyclable.
  • Reuse – Multiple companies enable consumers to make carbonated beverages in their own homes, allowing them to reuse containers many times over.
  • Reuse – Evian has created an in-home, refillable water appliance that uses 2/3 less plastic than its traditional bottle. The appliance is made with recycled plastic and is recyclable.
  • Reuse – Multiple consumer product companies are launching a program to take back packaging/containers for common consumer goods, from shampoo to laundry detergent to ice cream. Learn more about Loop.
  • Design for Recyclability – The Association of Plastics Recyclers publishes a Design Guide for Plastics Recyclability, an extensive resource to help company designers create packaging that is compatible with plastics recycling systems in North America.
  • Design Change Examples — Gerber® has created baby food pouches using a single type of plastic, which will make them easier to recycle in the future. And a new plastic can for nuts can be recycled in most curbside programs, unlike many multi-material alternatives.
  • Reduce – Flexible plastic pouches that use significantly less material than alternatives reduce the amount of packaging to deliver products. For example, five ounces of tuna can be delivered in a pouch that weighs only 10 grams, compared to a steel can that weighs 35 grams. Numerous efforts are underway to recover flexible pouches from the waste stream for recycling/repurposing.
  • Reduce – Plastic packaging today typically uses less material than previously, contributing to reduced environmental impact. For example, a plastic water bottle today weighs about half what it did in the early 2000s (and is fully recyclable, including its cap). Further advances in engineering can continue to reduce the material needed for packaging and products.

Kids eating lunch

Plastic Packaging: Comparing Environmental Impacts

The very nature of plastics—lightweight yet strong—makes them great for all sorts of packaging and helps minimize the environmental impact of the packaging. A recent life cycle study compared six types of plastic packaging in the U.S. to the alternatives made with other materials.

The findings are stark. The alternatives to plastics for these six types of plastic packaging would:

  • require 450 percent more material by weight;
  • require 80 percent more energy demand—on an annual basis, that’s equivalent to the energy from more than 91 oil supertankers; and
  • result in 130 percent more global warming potential impacts—that’s equivalent to adding 15.7 million more cars to our roads each year.

This means that compared to those alternatives, plastic packaging delivers more food and goods with significantly less waste, energy use, and global warming potential.

Beyond Packaging: Comparing Environmental Impact

Beyond packaging, advanced, lightweight plastics used in multiple products leave a lighter footprint. When compared to alternatives, a recent life-cycle analysis finds that the environmental cost of using plastics is nearly four times less than the costs of other materials. Switching out plastics in consumer products and packaging for alternatives that perform the same function would increase environmental costs from $139 billion to $533 billion annually.

Design changes… new ways to recover plastics… new ways to repurpose plastics. All can help further reduce the environmental footprint of plastics and keep them out of the environment.

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.