Bipartisan bills to strengthen recycling, could help CPG companies source food-grade recycled plastics, reduce virgin material in packaging

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/Daisy-Daisy
Source: Getty/Daisy-Daisy

Related tags Recycling Packaging Plastic Sustainability

Bipartisan legislation reintroduced in the Senate this week could “unlock the imperative data” CPG companies need to meet longstanding sustainability goals, including using more recycled content and less virgin material in their packaging, according to the Consumer Brands Association.

US Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) on Wednesday reintroduced The Recycling and Composting Accountability Act and the Recycling Infrastructure and Accessibility Act of 2023, which seek to improve the nation’s highly fractured recycling system and improve recycling accessibility, and which in turn could increase the availability of recycled content for use by CPG companies in their packaging.

“My wife and I are both avid recyclers and composters and have been for some time. I’ve long believed in environmental stewardship”​ and “leaving behind a cleaner, healthier planet for future generations,”​ which is a belief “shared not just by election officials here in Washington, but by many people across this country,”​ Carper, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and co-chair of the Senate Recycling Caucus, told fellow legislators this week.

But, he added, while many Americans want to recycle, only about 32% currently do, in part because their recycling and composting efforts are confusing, limited and even sometimes non-existent.

“Many Americans in disadvantaged communities want to recycle. They want to compost too, but they’re unable to do so because they, in many cases, live in neighborhoods that lack curbside pickup, they lack bottle return, and they lack the necessary recycling infrastructure,”​ he said, adding: “The Recycling Infrastructure and Accessibility Act of 2023 would address this challenge by creating a pilot program at [the Environmental Protection Agency] to help expand recycling services in underserved areas.”

The Recycling and Composting Accountability Act also could help address these challenges by requiring the EPA to collect and publish data on recycling and composting rates across the country, which could be used to standardize efforts and implement a national composting strategies.

This data also could “fill information gaps that CPG companies can use to enhance their longstanding efforts to meet their sustainability goals and promote the successful recycling of their products and packaging,”​ John Hewitt, vice president of packaging sustainability for Consumer Brands, told FoodNavigator-USA.

Ambitious sustainability goals threatened by broken recycling system

According to the CBA, the 25 largest CPG companies have set aggressive goals to increase the ability of their packaging to be recycled, composted or reused by 2030. This includes Nestle, which has committed to 100% recyclable or reusable packaging by 2025, and PepsiCo, Unilever, Mars, Kraft Heinz, Kellogg Co., and others which strive to make 100% of packaging their recyclable, compostable or biodegradable and 2025.

These efforts, however, lose their full impact if Americans cannot consistently recycle the products, which makes this week’s legislation important to the CPG industry.  

“Consumer Brands appreciates the strong, bipartisan effort in Congress to tackle the glaring issues within America’s fragmented recycling system that are keeping us from reaching our potential,”​ Hewitt said, adding: “These bills make crucial investments and add the tools and resources needed to improve our current recycling systems and evaluate future recycling policies, while improving access to recycling systems in underserved communities​.”

Improving access to recycling also would support CPG companies’ efforts to better manage the end of life of the goods they produce. For example, Coca-Cola Co. intends to collect and recycle a bottle or can for each one it sells by 2023.

It also would make available more recycled content that CPG companies could use instead of virgin materials in their packaging.

For example, Unilever intends to increase recycled plastic material content in its packaging to 25% by 2025, while Mars plans to reduce virgin plastic by 25% and increase averaged recycled content in its packaging to 30% in the same period.

Using more recycled material in packaging is not simply a matter of redesigning containers – a big challenge is sourcing sufficient, high-quality recycled material to produce packaging at scale, Christine Yeager, director of sustainability at The Coca-Cola Co. North America, previously told FoodNavigator-USA​.

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