Leveraging post-consumer recycled content to create more circular economy for plastic packaging

According to the most recent progress report for the New Economy Global Commitment​, funded by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the UN Environment Program, the CPG industry’s use of virgin plastic finally appears to be on a downward slope after decades of exponential growth with participating brands and retailers reporting a collective reduction in virgin plastic consumption of 1.2% between 2019 and 2020 – following a 0.6% reduction the previous year. This is after the global plastics market grew from about 2 million metric tons in 1950 to more than 300 million metric tons in 2015.

Among food companies participating in the Global Commitment, 80% reduced their virgin plastic packaging by 5% on average between 2019 and 2020, although some drove far larger decreases, including Unilever, which dropped by 50%, Nestle by 33% and Mars by 25%.

Although praiseworthy, this decrease was partly driven by COVID-19 disruptions that likely are not as sustainable as more intentional efforts, such as reducing virgin plastic by increasing the use of post-consumer recycled content – a strategy that the food industry has struggled to leverage despite several large players committing to using 25-30% post-consumer recycled content weight in plastic packaging by 2025. Indeed, as of the end of 2020, food industry signatories used an average of just 2.6% post-consumer recycled content – the lowest of all the sectors analyzed.

While using post-consumer recycled content in food packaging without sacrificing quality or contributing to other environmental challenges, like food waste, is difficult — it is not impossible, as illustrated by Creminelli Fine Meats successful launch this month of trays for its premium sliced charcuterie products made from 80% post-consumer recycled content.


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