This Is Plastics: Same Vision, Different Solutions: Mapping the Common Ground on Sustainability Goals for Plastics


Same Vision, Different Solutions: Mapping the Common Ground on Sustainability Goals for Plastics

Promoting plastics sustainability is pertinent for all stakeholders—but common ground must be leveraged to chart a meaningful path forward.


From increasing accessibility to and affordability of consumer products to supporting vital construction, automotive and health sector applications—alongside countless other uses—plastics’ unique durability and versatility make the world we know today possible, while also offering significant sustainability benefits over alternative materials. Nevertheless, keeping more plastics in the economy and out of landfills remains a challenge—and opportunity—for the private and public sectors alike.

Plastics industry critics often demonize plastics in an attempt to promote “environmental friendliness,” yet these misguided attempts completely disregard common ground that must be leveraged to cultivate real progress towards a sustainable future. Despite these claims, the plastics industry and its should-be allies actually possess a shared vision for a more sustainable future.

Reducing plastic waste

Wasting usable plastics is a lose-lose scenario from every angle—a scenario that both the plastics industry and its critics alike agree shouldn’t exist. To resolve this problem, critics often advocate for bans on plastic products and production to lessen environmental degradation attributed to plastic waste in the environment and waterways. Meanwhile, the plastics industry has spent decades investing billions of dollars into minimizing the environmental impact of its products, developing innovative designs to make products more environmentally friendly and solutions to tackle plastic waste in the ocean, waterways and the environment. Clearly, both parties agree on the bottom line: plastics do not belong in the environment.

Increasing recycling and material recovery

Recycling has long been central to sustainability. Nevertheless, critics note that too many useful materials unnecessarily end up in landfills, yet they often encourage use of alternative materials that produce more emissions and use more water and resources during manufacture than plastics. The plastics industry, on the other hand, understands the benefits that both recycled and virgin plastics bring to the circular economy. Innovative plastics industry actors are constantly investing in advanced recycling and other innovative technologies to complement existing recycling infrastructure, leveraging the power and opportunity of post-consumer plastic products. The takeaway? Both the plastics industry and its critics agree that useful materials should be recovered, reused and repurposed—not discarded.

Building a circular economy

As the global community seeks to promote sustainability throughout the economy, many point to increasing material circularity as key to unlocking a greener future. Indeed, critics recognize the benefits of increasing economic circularity to reduce waste, yet—counterintuitively—they often advocate for eliminating certain materials like single-use plastics from this process altogether. Conversely, the plastics industry leverages the informative power of life cycle analyses (LCAs) and supports initiatives that aim to ensure both commonly used and complex plastic products have healthy end markets beyond their original applications, creating an infinite life cycle for every type of plastic. Taken together, both support advancing a circular economy to reduce waste and promote sustainability—only alignment on the proper path forward needs to occur.

The plastics industry and its critics are clearly aligned on core ideals that aim to create a greener, more circular future. Where critics fall short, however, is by categorically condemning such a critical class of materials through proposed bans, fees and unnecessary restrictions, only pushing the U.S. economy towards less sustainable alternatives and raising costs for American consumers in the process. Real solutions to complex problems—like increasing material recovery by bolstering domestic recycling infrastructure—require multi-stakeholder engagement. If the U.S. is to advance sustainability for plastics, all parties must be at the table, not banned outright.

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