Waste and Opportunity 2015: Environmental Progress and Challenges in Food, Beverage, and Consumer Goods Packaging

The environmental implications of consumer packaging are an increasingly important component of corporate sustainability programs. Because of finite and dwindling raw material sources, and because wasting materials with significant economic value is an inefficient use of those limited resources, brands that place packaging into commerce need to take more responsibility for its life cycle impact. This study examined the current packaging practices of three sectors: quick service restaurants (QSRs, or "fast food"), beverages, and consumer goods/grocery. We found that most companies have not sufficiently prioritized packaging source reduction, recyclability, compostability, recycled content, and recycling policies. Increased attention to these key attributes of packaging sustainability would result in more efficient utilization of postconsumer packaging, higher U.S. recycling rates, reduced ocean plastic pollution, new green recycling jobs, and development of a circular materials economy ensuring a stable supply of postconsumer materials for new feedstock.