Watching, and hoping, for progress in 2021
Industry leaders want plastics to be a more sustainable, more circular material. They're going to have to make significant progress in 2021.
Let's review the goals and timeline. In 2018, the American Chemistry Council's plastics division announced a goal of reusing, recycling or recovering all plastics packaging by 2040, plus an interim goal of having all plastics packaging be recyclable or recoverable by 2030.
In 2020, the U.S. Plastics Pact set four even more aggressive — and more pressing — goals.
By 2025, U.S. Plastics Pact members want to either recycle or compost 50 percent of plastic packaging; incorporate 30 percent recycled content or responsibly sourced bio-based content; make all plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable; and eliminate "problematic" plastic packaging.
Meeting these goals is going to be difficult. But it's also critically important.
Plastics got a temporary boost in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, when companies pitched in to make much-needed medical products and personal protective equipment. Single-use plastics also helped avoid spreading the virus.
But that was a temporary reprieve. The world still has a plastics waste problem. Politicians at state, local and federal levels are poised to take action. The industry will change, whether that's voluntarily or as a result of government action. I'm confident that it can adapt, that plastics can become part of a truly circular economy.
If these efforts are successful, then the plastics industry will look a lot different five years from now. We'll see an industry with a better public image. We'll see an industry enjoying sustainable growth. As I wrote last year, if they're not successful, the industry will look a lot different then, too.