The Plastic Packaging Waste Problem in The United States


January 14, 2023


Zero Waste Association

Plastic Packaging Waste Problem

Modern day economies rely heavily on plastic, which is a workhorse material. It is used extensively in packaging. There has been a rapid increase in plastic consumption over the last few years. Despite plastic’s many beneficial properties, it also generates waste. There is a significant contribution from plastic packaging. How can we reduce or eliminate plastic consumption?

Recycling plastic has its limitations

Unrecycled plastic contributes significantly to plastic pollution. Many countries and regions do not actively promote recycling, which results in plastics ending up in landfills or in the ocean. There are also some plastics that cannot be recycled. For example, plastic wrap, Styrofoam cups, CD cases, and so on. According to a new study by two environmental groups dedicated to raising awareness about plastic pollution, 5% to 6% of 46 million tons of plastic waste generated annually in the U.S. gets recycled, a decline from nearly 9% just a few years ago.

Plastic Waste Pollution in Ocean

The amount of plastic in the oceans will exceed the number of fish by 2040 if the plastic consumption continues at this rate. The oceans are full of plastic, which is killing many aquatic animals. Almost all aquatic animals and sea turtles have been found to contain plastic.

Lack of Public Awareness

There is a lack of awareness among consumers regarding the consequences of plastic pollution and how it will affect them. Littering and plastic pollution are widespread in many regions without any legal infrastructure. Overconsumption of plastic is often not understood by people in suburban areas of developing countries, particularly.

Different regions have banned disposable plastics

There are several regions in the world that have banned single-use plastics, especially those in the EU. A few examples are plastic cups, plastic straws, excessive packaging, etc. As an example, Iceland has banned toothpaste packaging boxes. Excessive packaging has also been banned in many other regions. The market in these regions needs to be adapted to by manufacturers. Wegmans and Other Grocery stores have announced it will eliminate plastic bags companywide in 2022.

How does Zero Waste Packaging work?

As part of the zero-waste philosophy, packaging is encouraged to be reused and recycled. Among the best zero waste packaging examples are returnable glass milk bottles and glass soft-drink bottles. As consumers and manufacturers switch from plastic packaging to reusable packaging, no waste will be left behind. Another option is to recycle the packaging completely, or to biodegrade the packaging without harming the environment. Zero waste packaging solutions include some of the most common ones listed below.

What you need to know about implementing zero waste packaging

Plastic alternatives that are environmentally friendly

Nowadays, many manufacturers are using eco-friendly and reusable packaging materials instead of plastic, such as paper, glass, wood, and other eco-friendly materials. This is common in grocery stores such as whole foods that use paper a bags instead of plastic. Although the best option is to just us a reusable bag instead of any 1-time use packaging

If you are unable to reduce waste, find a zero-waste alternative.

It is not always possible to remove everything completely. There is simply no better way to pack lunches than with plastic baggies. Many plastic products can be substituted for zero waste alternatives.

Reusable snack bags are also available, in addition to water bottles. Rather than using plastic sandwich bags, I use reusable sandwich bags that I wash and dry after each use. Using beeswax wraps instead of plastic wrap and aluminum foil is another zero waste alternative. Find a zero waste replacement for a wasteful product if you aren’t sure how to eliminate it.

Waste Transformation Packaging

In waste transformation, packaging is transformed into something else that can be reused. In addition to serving as a vase, the packaging can also be used to plant small plants. A number of items have been repurposed from plastic bottles by hobbyists and creative individuals, including supply cups, planters, piggy banks, trash cans, etc. There are no shortage of DIY projects you can utilize reusable packaging for.

Bring Your Own Packaging (BYOP)

Customers are encouraged to bring their own reusable packaging as part of a new trend. There are some local stores that encourage their customers to bring their own packaging. There are many places in the US that provide no packaging and require customers to bring their own bags and jars.

Find a store that provides zero waste solutions for food products. You can buy products from these stores in your own packaging, including grains, pulses, cereals, chocolate, dried fruits and nuts, household cleaners, and more. Canada has also established similar facilities.

Incorporating New Packaging Materials

Corn starch, mushrooms, and other organic products are now being explored by manufacturers for packaging. Many of IKEA’s products are now packaged with mushroom-based materials.

Many products still use plastic labels that may not be recyclable. Labels that are shrink-wrapped are particularly susceptible to this. Labels are often printed with inks that make recycling the plastic more difficult. In many regions, plastic labels are being phased out because of this. A plastic-free labeling law has been implemented in Iceland for the first time.


It is often difficult or impossible to achieve sustainability on a convenient or easy basis. Plastic packaging cannot completely replace the convenience of zero waste packaging, nor can it replace the cost of plastic packaging. Due to plastic packaging’s environmental impact, it is a necessity.


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