New research released by the Grocery Manufacturers Association shows that nearly eight-in-ten (77 percent) Americans believe the federal government needs to take a leading role in tackling packaging waste, similar to the leadership role it played in the Apollo space project.
A vast majority (86 percent) of Americans agree that the world is facing a plastic and packaging crisis — with 87 percent agreeing that single-use plastic and packaging is a problem and 88 percent expressing concern about the environment writ large. Even compared against major issues the country is facing, Americans consider plastic and packaging waste equal to or more critical than a host of other key societal issues, including: reversing climate change (52 percent); fixing crumbling infrastructure (45 percent); ensuring access to health care (40 percent); reducing the deficit (38 percent); and lowering taxes (36 percent).
“We must stop passing the torch among stakeholders to fix the recycling system – we need strong, uniform guidelines to bring about substantive change,” says GMA president and CEO Geoff Freeman. “The consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry is making huge strides in improving the recyclability of its products. Our industry will do more and can do more with a functional system, but our best efforts cannot be enough on their own.”
The current recycling system in the United States consists of more than 9,800 individual programs, each with its own myriad rules and policies. Even though a massive 96 percent of respondents with access to curbside recycling report that they participate, most people have no idea that recycling is different across thousands of cities and counties. Just under one-third (32 percent) were correct that rules vary by city or county; others assumed recycling rules were set at the state (31 percent) or national (20 percent) level.
Consequently, most Americans (77 percent) view recycling as a public service, not a business. Eighty-three percent believe that tackling plastic and packaging waste is an opportunity for the federal government to lead. Despite their clear feelings that the federal government must take the helm, the vast majority (73 percent) of Americans do not feel it is doing enough now. Legislators at the federal and state level are making strides to combat marine debris. GMA issued its strong support of the Save Our Seas Act 2.0’s proposals to improve the country’s current waste management system and recycling infrastructure. While Americans agree that the federal government is best positioned to lead on recycling, all stakeholders must be at the table to find a solution.
The urge for federal intervention in recycling is especially acute among Americans who have seen negative changes in their own recycling system. One-third (33 percent) of consumers have seen a change in their curbside recycling program — from reducing accepted materials to eliminating programs altogether. These Americans who have experienced negative changes to their recycling programs are more than twice as likely to say they would stop recycling entirely if they discovered their recyclables were being sent to a landfill.
Creating uniform standards is the first step in creating behavior change – a resounding 93 percent of Americans believe national standards will alleviate confusion and 95 percent would change how they recycle if they found out they were doing something incorrectly.
“The CPG industry, packaging material manufacturers, waste haulers, recycling processors and state and local governments must collaborate with federal policymakers to find a workable solution for our country and our planet,” said Meghan Stasz, GMA vice president of packaging and sustainability. “Without clear guidelines to empower consumers with the right information, recycling will continue to erode.”