Definitions

The U.S. Pact adopted the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Global Commitment and Plastics Pact definitions based on Pact Activator direction, with the addition of a few modifications to fit the needs of the U.S. market. The U.S. Pact continues to address required definitions, and additional terms may be added to the list below.

CIRCULAR ECONOMY

An economy that is restorative and regenerative by design. It is focused on economic activity that builds and rebuilds overall system health. The concept recognizes the importance of the economy needing to work effectively at all scales — for big and small businesses, for organizations and individuals, globally and locally. It is based on three principles: design out waste and pollution; keep products and materials in use; and, regenerate natural systems.*

*https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/explore/the-circular-economy-in-detail

COMPOSTING

Composting is an aerobic process designed to produce compost. Note 1 to entry: Compost is a soil conditioner obtained by biodegradation of a mixture consisting principally of vegetable residues, occasionally with other organic material and having a limited mineral content.

Source: ISO 472:2013, Plastics — Vocabulary.

Further explanatory notes:

a. Composting can take place in an industrial facility, a collective, or at home:

  • Industrial composting: Municipal or industrial composting is a professionally managed and controlled, aerobic thermophilic waste treatment process covered by international standards and certification programs, which results in compost, a valuable soil improver.
  • Home composting: Designing packaging so that it is home compostable means it adheres to more stringent conditions than industrially compostable packaging and increases the range of possible composting processes (both industrial and home composting). The home-composting process remains subject to the variability of householders’ skills and experience, and the final product is not standardized.

COMPOSTABLE PACKAGING

A packaging or packaging component (1) is compostable if it is in compliance with ASTM standards (2) and if its successful postconsumer (3) collection, (sorting), and composting is proven to work in practice and at scale (4).

Notes:

  1. ISO 18601:2013: A packaging component is a part of packaging that can be separated by hand or by using simple physical means (e.g., a cap, a lid and (non in-mold) labels).
  2. Including ASTM D-6400 and ASTM 6868 (coatings), ISO 18606,

ISO 14021, EN13432, and AS4736.

  1. ISO 14021’s usage of term clarifies postconsumer material as material generated by households or by commercial, industrial and institutional facilities in their role as end users of the product which can no longer be used for its intended purpose. This includes returns of material from the distribution chain.
  2. “At scale” implies that there are significant and relevant geographical areas, as measured by population size, where the packaging is actually composted in practice.

 

Further explanatory notes:

a. As per ISO 18606, a package is industrially compostable if it meets the following criteria:

  • Characterization: identification and characterization of components prior to testing;
  • Biodegradation: conversion of at least 90% of organic carbon to CO 2 within 26 weeks under controlled composting conditions (at +58°C +/-2°C);
  • Disintegration: disintegration is considered satisfactory if within 12 weeks under controlled composting conditions, no more than 10% of the original dry mass of a package remains in the oversize fraction after sieving through a 2,0 mm sieve (at +58°C +/-2°C)
  • Compost quality: the compost obtained at the end of the process does not cause any negative effects;
  • Maximum concentration of regulated metals: it does not exceed a given concentration. Of regulated heavy metals and other substances hazardous to the environment.

b. As per ISO 18606, a package is considered compostable only if all the individual components of the package meet the compostability requirements specified. If the components can be easily, physically separated before disposal, then the physically separated components can be individually considered for composting.

c. Compostable plastic can be composted in a municipal or industrial facility as well as, if it is designed to be home compostable, in a collective or at home as a complementary after-use option where relevant — see “Composting” definition.

d. In line with ISO 14021 and US FTC Green claims, a marketer should clearly qualify compostability claims to the extent necessary to avoid deception, e.g., taking into account if one component is not compostable or if the item cannot be composted safely or in a timely manner in a home compost pile or device. For example, the US FTC Green guide states: “§ 260.7 Compostable Claims: “To avoid deception about the limited availability of municipal or institutional composting facilities, a marketer should clearly and prominently qualify compostable claims if such facilities are not available to a substantial majority of consumers or communities where the item is sold.”

e. This “compostable” definition applies at a global level for global commitments: it is a characteristic of packaging and is not linked to any local context or specific geographical area. It does not imply that it will be composted in every geographic area where it is put on the market. Local context and available infrastructure should be taken into account when claiming compostability in a specific geographic area. In line with how “recyclability proven in practice and at scale” was defined, the suggested test and threshold to assess if the compostability of a packaging is proven to work “in practice and at scale” is to check if a 30% postconsumer composting rate is achieved across the U.S.

 

DESIGNED FOR RECYCLING

A package is designed for recycling when it has the right attributes to be reprocessed into secondary material for use as PCR. It meets Preferred status in accordance with the APR Design® Guide, or meets the interim design guidance per the Grid while formal APR guidance is being developed.

Design for Recyclability is a critical early step toward reaching the Pact’s ambitious targets by 2025. Design for Recyclability alone will not guarantee that a package is recycled in practice and at scale.

Other elements – including, but not limited to, recycling access, collection, sortation, and processing infrastructure; end market development and expansion, and consumer education and participation – will also need to come together to realize circularity for all plastic packaging. Packages that are Designed for Recycling are the key to unlocking Recyclability by enabling all of these additional necessary elements to grow.

MATERIAL RECYCLING

Reprocessing, by means of a manufacturing process, of a used packaging material into a product, a component incorporated into a product, or a secondary (recycled) raw material; excluding energy recovery and the use of the product as a fuel. Source: ISO 18604:2013 — Packaging and the environment — Material recycling, modified (note to entry not applicable).

Further explanatory notes:

a. This includes both mechanical (maintaining polymer structure) and chemical (breaking down polymer structure into more basic building blocks, for example via chemical or enzymatic processes) recycling processes.

b. It explicitly excludes technologies that do not reprocess materials back into materials but instead into fuels or energy. Chemical recycling can be considered in line with a circular economy if the technology is used to create feedstock that is then used to produce new materials. However, if these same processes are used for plastics-to-energy or plastics-to-fuel applications, these activities cannot be considered as recycling (according to ISO definitions), nor as part of a circular economy. For a chemical recycling process, just like for the production of virgin plastics, no hazardous chemicals should be used that pose a significant risk to human health or the environment, applying the precautionary principle.

c. A high quality of recycling and of recycled materials is essential in a circular economy, where one aim is to keep materials at their highest utility at all times. This maximizes the value retained in the economy, the range of possible applications for which the material can be used, and the number of possible future life-cycles. It therefore minimizes material losses and the need for virgin material input.

  • Maximizing the quality and value of materials during recycling is made possible through a combination of packaging design and high-quality collection, sorting, cleaning, and recycling technologies and systems.

PACKAGING

Product to be used for the containment, protection, handling, delivery, storage, transport and presentation of goods, from raw materials to processed goods, from the producer to the user or consumer, including processor, assembler or other intermediary. Source: ISO 21067-1:2016, Packaging — Vocabulary — Part 1: General terms.

POSTCONSUMER RECYCLED CONTENT

Proportion, by mass, of postconsumer (1) recycled material in a product or packaging. Note 1. ISO14021’s usage of the term clarifies postconsumer material as material generated by households or by commercial, industrial and institutional facilities in their role as end users of the product which can no longer be used for its intended purpose. This includes returns of material from the distribution chain. Source: ISO 14021:2016 modified, Environmental labels and declarations — Self-declared environmental claims (Type II environmental labeling), Usage of terms, modified (focus on postconsumer recycled material)

Further explanatory notes:

a. While in a circular economy it is encouraged that preconsumer waste is kept in the system, the priority is to avoid such preconsumer waste as part of an efficient production process. This definition therefore excludes pre-consumer recycled content (ISO 14021, Usage of terms, Recycled content: Preconsumer recycled content includes materials diverted from the waste stream during a manufacturing process).

b. Transparency on the nature of the recycled content (i.e., postconsumer versus pre-consumer) is to be ensured whenever possible.

c. As referred to in ISO 14021, the percentage of recycled material (by weight) shall be mentioned when a claim of recycled content is made, separately stating the percentage of recycled content used in products and packaging, without aggregating it.

d. Amounts and quality of packaging made out of recycled content should be in line with relevant food contact and health and safety regulations where a packaging is put on the market.

e. To verify or certify the use of recycled content, various verification systems from different assurance bodies exist.

PROBLEMATIC OR UNNECESSARY

Plastic packaging items, components, or materials where consumption could be avoided through elimination, reuse or replacement and items that, post-consumption, commonly do not enter the recycling and/or composting systems, or where they do, are detrimental to the recycling or composting system due to their format, composition, or size.

RECYCLABLE PACKAGING

A packaging (1) or packaging component (2,3) is recyclable if its successful postconsumer (4) collection, sorting, and recycling (5) is proven to work in practice and at scale (6) and if the outcome of its processing via recycling is a specification-grade commodity for which a market exists.

Note:

  1. In the context of a 2025 timeframe and the Plastics Pact and the Global Commitment, a package can be considered recyclable if its main packaging components, together representing >95% of the entire packaging weight, are recyclable according to the above definition, and if the remaining minor components are compatible with the recycling process and do not hinder the recyclability of the main components.

Otherwise, only the recyclable components of a package (or the recyclable parts of components) can be counted towards achieving this commitment, and only when other components do not hinder or contaminate their recyclability.

Examples:

  • If a bottle and its cap are recyclable, the packaging can be claimed to be recyclable if it has a label (<5% of total weight) that does not hinder the recyclability of the bottle and cap.
  • If that same bottle has a label that hinders or contaminates the recycling of the bottle and cap, the entire packaging is non-recyclable.
  • If a package has (a) certain component(s) that are not recyclable and that make up >5% of the total packaging weight (e.g., 12%) and that do not hinder or contaminate the recycling of the remaining recyclable components of the package, then only that recyclable part (e.g., 88%) can be counted towards this commitment.

Longer-term, the aim should be for all packaging components (e.g., including labels) to be recyclable according to the above definition.

  1. A packaging component is a part of packaging that can be separated by hand or by using simple physical means (ISO 18601), e.g., a cap, a lid and (non in-mold) labels. ISO 18601:2013: A packaging constituent is a part from which packaging or its components are made and which cannot be separated by hand or by using simple physical means (e.g. a layer of a multi-layered pack or an in-mold label).
  2. A packaging component can only be considered recyclable if that entire component, excluding minor incidental constituents (6), is recyclable according to the definition above. If just one material of a multi-material component is recyclable, one can only claim recyclability of that material, not of the component as a whole (in line with US FTC Green Guides 15 and ISO 14021).
  3. ISO 14021 defines postconsumer material as material generated by households or by commercial, industrial and institutional facilities in their role as end users of the product which can no longer be used for its intended purpose. This includes returns of material from the distribution chain. It excludes preconsumer material (e.g., production scrap).
  4. Packaging for which the only proven way of recycling is recycling into applications that do not allow any further use-cycles (e.g., plastics-to-roads) cannot be considered “recyclable packaging”.
  5. The test and threshold for Plastics Pacts to assess if the recyclability of a packaging design is proven “in practice and at scale” is: Does that packaging achieve a 30% postconsumer recycling rate in multiple regions, (collectively representing at least 400 million inhabitants — only relevant for the global assessment) and is a 30% postconsumer recycling rate achieved in the Pact market. If the threshold is met either globally or in the U.S., then it can be concluded for the purposes of the Plastics Pact reporting that a “system for recycling” exists for that plastic packaging category.

Further explanatory notes:

a. By being based on the principle that recycling needs to be proven to work in practice and at scale, the definition requires the entire system to be proven to work: material choices, packaging design, the manufacturing process, the most likely way of using, disposing and collecting the packaging, and the availability, compatibility, and performance of infrastructure for collection, sorting and recycling. It also implicitly requires the system to work technically, conveniently (if it works in practice and at scale, it must be convenient enough for actors in the system to participate) and economically (if it works in practice and at scale, it must be that the economics are reasonable and that there are end markets for the resulting material).

b. By being based on the principle that recycling needs to work in practice and at scale, the definition of recyclable packaging allows for innovation. A packaging item that is not currently recyclable could be so in future (e.g., by putting in place effective collection, sorting and recycling technologies at scale).

c. It is important to assess the recyclability of each package separately, taking into account its design, manufacturing processes and most likely way of using, disposing and collecting it, which all have a significant impact on the possibility and probability of the package being recycled in practice. For example:

    • Design: choices of materials, the shape and size of the packaging, additives and colorants, glues, inks, caps, labels.
    • Manufacturing process: sometimes additives are added to facilitate the manufacturing process or residual amounts of catalysts or other products end up in the packaging during the manufacturing process.
    • Most likely way of using and disposing: One should assume the most likely way of using and disposing of the packaging and not assume unlikely conditions. For example, in most countries one cannot assume that a significant share of households will disassemble packaging before disposing of it. Other questions to consider include: Would the package be disposed most often with or without the label or cap still attached? Would it most likely be disposed of empty and clean, or contaminated with product residues, glue or lid residues?
    • Most likely way of collecting: Is the pack most likely to end up in a collection system for business-to-business bulk materials or in that for household materials? A package could be recycled in practice and at scale in business to-business but not in business-to-consumer applications (e.g., PE pallet wraps usually end up in different collection systems than PE wraps around consumer products).

d. While the definition does not specify where a package is recycled (i.e., allowing for the export and import of materials), businesses should ensure any exported packaging actually gets recycled before considering the recycling pathway to work in practice.

e. The available technical design-for-recycling guidelines by organizations such as APR bring a more technical and in-depth analysis of design for recycling prerequisites. As such, these guidelines are complementary to the “recyclable” definition of this appendix, and businesses are encouraged to refer to and apply these design-for-recyclability guidelines.

RENEWABLE MATERIAL

Material that is composed of biomass from a living source and that can be continually replenished. When claims of renewability are made for virgin materials, those materials shall come from sources that are replenished at a rate equal to or greater than the rate of depletion.

Source: ISO 14021:2016, Environmental labels and declarations — Self-declared environmental claims (Type II environmental labeling) – Sections 7.14.1. Usage of term and 7.14.2. Qualifications.

Further explanatory notes:

a. ISO 14021: “An unqualified claim of renewability shall only be made when the product consists of 100% renewable material, allowing for de minimis amounts of non-renewable materials being contained in that material. Otherwise, renewability claims shall be qualified as follows: a) where a claim of renewable material content is made, the percentage by mass of renewable material to the total mass shall be stated; b) the percentage of renewable material content (mass fraction) for products and packaging shall be separately stated and shall not be aggregated.”

RESPONSIBLY-SOURCED, BIOBASED MATERIAL*

U.S. Plastics Pact Target 4 references “responsibly sourced, biobased content”. This term addresses feedstock sources used in packaging (as opposed to end-of-life characteristics such as compostability or biodegradability) and permits the use of plastic derived from plants or other biomass as part of the achievement of Target 4. Bio-based content has an important role to play in the circularity of plastics by ensuring that the plastics industry can move towards 100% renewable sourcing.

*”Biobased content must be responsibly sourced in accordance with guidelines from the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance or certified by a relevant and credible certification (see WWF’s Principles for Credible Certifications and Standards for more information).”

The following definition is adopted by the U.S. Plastics Pact, and includes the need for proven certification:

A responsibly-sourced, biobased feedstock is a substrate derived from plants or other biomass that:

  1. Is legally sourced, conforms to Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and is produced in a safe and healthy way for workers and surrounding communities.
  2. Is one that is derived from renewable biomass whose production is sustainably managed.
  3. Does not adversely impact food security and affordability and maintains or improves social and economic conditions along with ecosystem services in producing communities.
  4. Does not result in destruction of critical ecosystems or loss of High Conservation Value (HCV) habitats.
  5. Contributes to landscape resilience and is resilient to the impacts of climate change. WWF supported certifications and continuous improvement platforms relevant to responsibly-sourced, biobased materials are as follows:
    • Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB)
    • Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS)
    • Bonsucro
    • Rainforest Alliance / Sustainable Agriculture Network (WWF acknowledges this certification when a commodity-specific certification is not available)
    • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
    • Field to Market
    • Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)
    • Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)

REUSE

Reuse of packaging Operation by which packaging is refilled or used for the same purpose for which it was conceived, with or without the support of auxiliary products (1) present on the market, enabling the packaging to be refilled. Source: ISO 18603:2013, Packaging and the environment — Reuse, modified (clarification in note 1 below). Note 1. An auxiliary product is a product used to support the refilling/loading of reusable packaging. (…) An example of an auxiliary product is a detergent pouch used to refill a reusable container at home (ISO 18603). As per ISO 18603, auxiliary products that are one-way products (i.e., designed to be used once) are not considered reusable packaging.

Further explanatory notes:

a. Attention should be paid to the intended use and function of the packaging to verify whether it is being reused for the same purpose or a secondary use. In the latter case, the packaging is not considered as reusable packaging (ISO 18603, ‘Packaging used for the same purpose’). For example, the use of a package as a penholder or as decoration cannot be qualified as reuse.

b. A package is considered reusable if the design of the packaging enables the principal components to accomplish a number of trips or rotations in normally predictable conditions of use (ISO 18603). According to ISO 18601, a packaging component is a part of packaging that can be separated by hand or by using simple physical means (for example a cap, a lid, a (non inmold) label).

Examples packaging can be reused in different ways:

    • Business-to-business applications: packaging is reused through a redistribution system between one or more companies (for example pallets loaded with the same or different product, crates, pallet wraps).
    • Business-to-consumer applications: packaging returned to the supplier or a third party to be cleaned and reused for the distribution and sale of an identical or similar product (for example a container that is part of a deposit return or refund system for reuse, a returnable transportation packaging item, a reusable container in the food service industry) or packaging not returned to the supplier, but instead reused by the user as a container or as a dispenser for the same product supplied by the manufacturer for the same purpose (such as a reusable spray bottle for cleaning products for which the manufacturer provides refills)

REUSABLE PACKAGING

Packaging which has been designed to accomplish and proves its ability to accomplish a minimum number of trips or rotations (1,2) in a system for reuse (3,4).

Source: ISO 18603:2013 — Packaging and the environment — Reuse, modified (packaging component mentioned in notes).

Notes:

  1. A trip is defined as transfer of packaging, from filling/loading to emptying/unloading. A rotation is defined as a cycle undergone by reusable packaging from filling/loading to filling/loading (ISO 18603).
  1. The minimum number of trips or rotations refers to the fact that the ‘system for reuse’ in place should be proven to work in practice, i.e., that a significant share of the package is actually reused (measured e.g., by an average reuse rate or an average number of use-cycles per package).
  1. A system for reuse is defined as established arrangements (organisational, technical, or financial) which ensure the possibility of reuse, in closed-loop, open-loop or in a hybrid system (ISO 18603).
  1. See above for the definition of reuse, which stresses amongst other things the need for the packaging to be refilled or used again for the same purpose for which it was conceived.

Further explanatory notes:

a. For a container to qualify as reusable, there needs to be a ‘system for reuse’ in place that enables the user of the package to ensure it is reused in practice where the item is placed on the market. Such a system for reuse should be able to prove a significant actual reuse rate, or average number of use-cycles of a package, in normal conditions of use.

b. A package is considered reusable if the design of the packaging enables the principal components to accomplish a number of trips or rotations in normally predictable conditions of use (ISO 18603:2013). According to ISO 18601, a packaging component is a part of packaging that can be separated by hand or by using simple physical means (e.g., a cap, a lid, a (non in-mold) label). (ISO 18601:2013, Packaging component definition.)

c. A reusable item can undergo reconditioning, that is operations necessary to restore a reusable packaging to a functional state for further reuse (ISO 18603:2013).

d. Reusable packaging should be designed to be recyclable, as it will inevitably reach the maximum number of reuse cycles at some point, after which recycling ensures, the material is kept in the economy.

e. Updated reuse frameworks can be adopted to ensure cohesive, consistent action across the U.S. landscape.

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