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Americans Want Federal Government to Tackle Packaging Waste: GMA Report

Nearly 80% want an Apollo-like program to reduce waste
Photograph: Shutterstock

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) released new research that shows 77% of Americans think the federal government should take a lead role in tackling the issue of packaging waste, similar to the leadership role it played in the Apollo space program.

A majority (86%) of American agree plastic and packaging use is a crisis, with 87% saying single-use plastics and packaging is a problem and 88% concerned with the environment at large. Packaging waste caused the most concern when compared to other societal issues: reversing climate change (52%), fixing crumbling infrastructure (45%), ensuring access to healthcare (40%), reducing the deficit (38%) and lowering taxes (36%).

“We must stop passing the torch among stakeholders to fix the recycling system. We need strong, uniform guidelines to bring about substantive change,” GMA President and CEO Geoff Freeman said. “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 U.S. recycling system currently consists of more than 9,800 individual programs, each with its own myriad rules and policies. While only one-third of respondents correctly knew that recycling was governed by municipality, more than three-quarters (77%) 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, and the vast majority (73%) of Americans do not feel it is doing enough now.

The urge for federal intervention in recycling is especially strong among Americans who have seen negative changes in their own recycling system. One-third (33%) 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: Ninety-three percent of Americans believe national standards will alleviate confusion, and 95% 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, VP of packaging and sustainability for GMA. “Without clear guidelines to empower consumers with the right information, recycling will continue to erode.”

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