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Sustainable Packaging Is Here to Keep America Beautiful

Randy Hartmann

Senior Director, Affiliate Operations, Keep America Beautiful

Over the past six decades, Keep America Beautiful®, the nation’s leading community improvement nonprofit organization, has sought to change consumer behavior for the better by creating social norms around preventing litter and reducing waste.

But as the average American’s life has gotten more complicated and the delivery of goods and services and consumption habits have rapidly changed to more single-serve convenience packaging and on-the-go consumption, we have to ensure that this upsurge of new packaging ends up in its proper place.

Radical regeneration

As a leader in addressing both litter prevention and recycling, Keep America Beautiful knows true behavior change in recycling is only achieved by providing the proper collection infrastructure, public education, and incentives to reward positive actions.

But these new consumer product and consumption trends have necessitated adaptation and change in how we manage material packaging. Keep America Beautiful supports the concept of “radical regeneration,” a materials supply system that relies primarily upon resources that are already within the supply system rather than upon virgin materials. 

Key partnerships

Understanding climate change as the environmental priority of the decade, Keep America Beautiful recognizes it will take a tri-sector partnership among government, business, and nonprofits to achieve our ambitions for a circular economy.

Keep America Beautiful remains an active partner with industry and government organizations that are working collaboratively to identify ways throughout the recycling stream to improve quality, increase demand for material, deliver relevant recycling educational resources fostering environmental stewardship, and promote products made with recycled content.

Producers certainly play a critical role in designing packaging that is both recyclable and recoverable in secondary materials collection and processing systems.

Making permanent change

Radical regeneration is supported by a consumer’s awareness of the economic and environmental benefits or recycling product packaging to generate jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and conserve natural resources. 

Helping consumers understand that we can make something new out of common recyclables and packaged materials is the first step. It’s also incumbent upon industry and its nonprofit partners to continue educating consumers about the challenges and costs of contamination. While we appreciate the intent of wishful recyclers, doing the “right thing” isn’t always doing the right thing.

Recent developments

In our current COVID-19 environment, this newfound awareness must be translated into action as online purchases and deliveries continue to become the norm, increasing the volume and dispersion of packaging materials in both the rural and urban areas. Working together, both the public and private sector need to innovate and provide the recycling infrastructure necessary to collect and process these materials, while keeping frontline workers safe.

The supply of recycled materials has never been more important as global and regional raw material supply chains are disrupted due to the pandemic.  Identifying innovative – and cost-effective – collection, hauling, and reprocessing options for hard-to-recycle plastic items traditionally not collected in curbside recycling programs, with the overarching goal of cleaning up the recycling stream headed to material recovery facilities is needed throughout the nation – we’re now in the time to double down on our recycling programs to support jobs, material supply, and environmental stewardship.

By growing consumer awareness of the value of packaging materials, the impact they have upon their local economy, and their ability to reduce their environmental footprint, a core principle of Keep America Beautiful, litter prevention will be achieved. For example, over the course of a lifetime, an individual recycler has the potential to support nine recycling jobs, conserve the equivalent of 420 gallons of gasoline, and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 1.2 metric tons.  

Our natural environmental is reacting to production and consumer habits. Now through innovation and partnerships, it is time for our recycling infrastructure and processing systems to also adapt and be enhanced to support a regeneration/circular economy. 

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