How to Navigate Towards a Plastic Pollution-Free Future

The rapid increase in consumer awareness of plastic pollution has given way to a movement to ban or replace many consumer items that are made from plastic. We are seeing this everywhere—politics, media, and consumer preference trends. This rush to eliminate is taking priority over the rush to solve. In the journey to a plastic pollution-free future, we need a compass not a speedometer. 
There is no question that plastic pollution from single-use plastics must be eliminated, but it will only happen by going after the root cause of that waste, not the symptoms. Sealed Air’s talented team of innovators are addressing the plastic waste challenge by creating sustainable protective packaging solutions. We’re driven by our purpose—we are in the business to protect, to solve critical packaging challenges and to leave the world better than we found it. As a demonstration of our commitment, we have pledged 100% of our packaging will be recyclable or reusable by 2025 and will contain an average of 50% recycled content. 

It won’t be an easy road, but the key to navigating our future and achieving these ambitious goals lies in three basic elements: education, innovation, and collaboration.

Education: How to avoid plastic pollution in the first place

Helping consumers understand how to properly dispose of items after initial use is critical. Used packaging is not waste, but instead is a resource that should be collected and reused. Flexible packaging materials such as BUBBLE WRAP® brand Fill-Air® air pillows should be taken to store drop-off locations, not tossed into the trash or curbside recycling bins where it can interfere with sorting at municipal recovery facilities. 

It can be challenging for consumers to know where and how plastic recycling happens, but soon technology may be coming to the rescue. Just as we use technology to navigate to destinations without a map, technology will be the key to navigating our resources. Imagine, for example, using your cell phone to identify the best way to recycle a package after use. Rather than using resin identification codes, future packages can be scanned via digital codes.

Innovation: Materials, design, and recovery

We need to make sure we are solving the right problem, rather than taking quick action resulting in unintended and potentially harmful consequences. Essential packaging is necessary to protect the safety and quality of the food we eat and is key to ensuring products are delivered undamaged. Imagine the increased food waste without means to retain freshness, or increased food safety risks from unsealed food. Consider how many consumer goods would arrive damaged without proper protection, and the ultimate carbon footprint impact of returning those damaged items. Food waste and product damage are already massive sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Our world cannot afford to increase those impacts even more.

Through our choice of materials, product design, and recovery for plastic recycling or reuse, we can build circular material loops, often referred to as a “circular economy.” There is a huge diversity of materials and formats for plastic packaging, and our current means of recycling those materials is inadequate. Investment in new infrastructure is needed to recover the value of materials by recycling them or using them to make new materials. Sealed Air is actively partnering with organizations such as Materials Recovery for the Future to improve the collection, sorting, and recovery of materials after use. We also need to ensure we’re using the right metrics to focus on those resources with highest economic value and to help fund the investment needs for all of our waste. 

Collaboration: Partnering for change across the global supply chain 

Addressing plastic pollution takes the entire supply chain to work together. Along with other global companies such as Dow and P&G, Sealed Air is partnering with the Alliance to End Plastic Waste to drive actions that will achieve long-term, meaningful results. By bringing raw material suppliers together with converters, retailers, and waste management companies, the full value chain is identifying ways to eliminate plastic waste.

Consumers and brand owners rightly demand solutions that provide the most environmental, economic, and societal value. However, racing full speed ahead to eliminate plastics without thoughtful consideration for the benefits the materials provide will only result in the need to address other challenges and will further delay a truly waste-free future.

As an industry leader, Sealed Air is committed to reducing single-use plastic waste and developing solutions that meet consumer needs by providing ample protection, increasing shelf-life, and creating a circular plastics economy. It won’t be an easy task, but I’m encouraged by the partnerships and progress I’m seeing and believe this navigation will lead to solving the plastic pollution challenge in the next decade.