U.S. Plastics Pact Scope

Scope

The U.S. Plastics Pact work is broad and encompasses most packaging and some related ancillary materials but with key caveats and nuances, as described below.

  1. Plastic packaging

The U.S. Pact consider all post-consumer plastic packaging to be in scope. Post-consumer material is defined by ISO (14021) as follows:

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 pre-consumer material (e.g. production scrap).

In other words, primary, secondary, and tertiary packaging with both consumer and commercial applications will be considered in scope. This recognizes that all of these packaging types have consequential environmental impacts and that each are feasibly subject to substantive and necessary action under the four U.S. Pact targets.

It also aligns with ISO definitions of “packaging”:

ISO 21067: packaging (This International Standard specifies preferred terms and definitions related to packaging and materials handling, for use in international commerce)

  • any 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

ISO 14021: packaging (This International Standard specifies requirements for self-declared environmental claims, including statements, symbols and graphics, regarding products)

  • material that is used to protect or contain a product during transportation, storage, marketing or use

Note 1 to entry: For the purposes of this International Standard, the term “packaging” also includes any item that is physically attached to, or included with, a product or its container for the purpose of marketing the product or communicating information about the product.

For additional clarity, this scope therefore includes the following categories of plastic packaging:

Primary packaging

For the purposes of the U.S. Plastics Pact, primary packaging is defined as packaging that contains the finished or final products, sometimes called retail or consumer packaging. This packaging is used to contain, preserve, protect and inform the end user. It is the total packaging that the end-user will ultimately discard via reuse, recycling, landfill or other disposal routes. The primary package can be made of a number of components, e.g. for a multi-pack of water bottles this would include the PET bottles, their caps, labels and the plastic shrink film. Primary packaging should include all packaging up to the point of sale. It should also include retail/shopping bags and plastic produce bags.

Primary packaging is robustly represented in the Pact reporting platform, in the Activator network, and in much of the available or developable data for Target 3. Therefore, our recommendation is that all primary plastic packaging falls within scope. This would include primary packaging that is durable and reusable in nature.

Secondary packaging

For the purposes of the U.S. Plastics Pact, secondary packaging is defined as packaging additional to the primary packaging that is used for protection and collation of individual units during storage, transport and distribution. Secondary packaging can be used in some sectors to display primary packs on shelf. This category also includes packaging purposely made to display multiple product units for sale, in order to speed restocking from storeroom to shelf.

Secondary packaging is closely connected to and functions in many instances like primary packaging, and thus logically falls within scope. This would include secondary packaging that is durable and reusable in nature.

Tertiary packaging

For the purposes of the U.S. Plastics Pact, tertiary packaging is defined as outer packaging, including pallets, slip sheets, stretch wrap, strapping and any plastic labels, used for the shipment and distribution of goods. This packaging is also referred to as transport or transit packaging and is rarely seen by the final consumer (e.g., household or individual). Reusable transit packaging (e.g. reusable plastic pallets) is not needed to be reported apart from its initial first use.

Tertiary packaging is recommended to be in scope for the U.S. Plastics Pact. However, the Scope and Data workstream team encourages acknowledgment of some key considerations:

  • Activators may also face difficulties in measuring and tracking these materials.
  • Tertiary packaging may represent excellent opportunities for reuse and recycled content, and so could provide critical support to meeting Pact targets.

Given these considerations, it is recommended to provide, where possible, specific reporting pertaining to this category (to the extent to which it can be isolated in the reporting tool) in order to limit data distortion and maximize transparency.

Further Observations on Packaging Distinctions and Related Pact Work

It should be noted that some materials may be ambiguous according to these categories. In other words, the same formats may be considered primary packaging in some applications, and secondary or even tertiary packaging in others.

It is also noted that the proposed inclusion of all of these types of packaging does not necessarily mean that the U.S. Plastics Pact, as a group of Activator organizations, will necessarily be in a position to substantially influence all of them, let alone in an equal manner.

Therefore, it is further recommended that the Steering Committee:

(a) Continue to engage an expansive range of potential Activators in order to naturally broaden representation, and therefore influence

(b) Carefully consider the reporting/presentation of respective categories in relation to each target once baseline data has been collected in 2021

Business to Consumer (B2C) and Business to Business (B2B) Considerations

One additional way to approach scoping for the U.S. Plastics Pact is to consider the venues or pathways of how plastics are exchanged for use and whether the scope only applies or only should apply to Business to Consumer (B2C) plastics. While the vast majority of primary and secondary packaging can be found in B2C pathways, the inclusion of tertiary packaging will involve B2B pathways, thus bringing both B2C and B2B under the Pact’s scope. Regardless, the overall focus is still on post-consumer material. In many cases, the consumer in an individual or a household, but commercial businesses, institutions (e.g., schools, hospitals), and industrial facilities are also consumers of primary, secondary, and tertiary packaging. In some cases it may be necessary to make the distinction between B2B and B2C pathways in reporting given corollary differences in material fate, e.g. B2B LDPE film meets the requirement for recyclability according to EMF definitions, but B2C LDPE film does not.

 

  1. Ancillary plastic materials  

Additional plastics products are ambiguous in terms of meeting the definition of “packaging,” but they are purchased, used, and discarded in patterns similar to primary packaging, and in some use cases, function as primary packaging. They also have environmental consequences and are feasibly subject to substantive and necessary action under the U.S. Pact. In addition, they are represented in the anticipated Pact reporting platform and to some degree in available or developable data for Target 3. Therefore, the following specific plastic ancillary material formats be considered in scope for the U.S. Plastics Pact:

  • Cups
  • Utensils
  • Straws
  • Plates
  • Bowls and takeout containers
  • Carry-out bags

These materials are often referred to as “single-use” items. We recommend avoiding this terminology in the U.S. Plastic Pact dialogue, materials and reporting, since it can create more confusion than clarity in light of the number of other formats that are also in fact “single-use” by design e.g. PET bottles. It is recommended instead that they are referred to by their specific named format.

Due to the potentially poor representation of these materials in the current Activator network, which may affect action and reportable results across Targets 1, 2, and 4, it is further recommended that the Steering Committee:

(a) Actively seek to engage potential Activators who more broadly represent these formats/materials

(b) Revisit the inclusion and presentation of these formats/materials once baseline data has been collected in 2021.

 

  1. Additional packaging with plastic content: poly-coated paper

Other types of packaging have plastics elements, most prominently in the form of coatings on certain paper packaging – e.g., paper cups, gable top and aseptic containers, frozen food boxes, ice cream cartons, some fast-food packaging, and other forms of poly-coated papers. It is recommended that these forms of plastic be outside of the scope for the Pact due to the relatively low plastic content of these multi-material items, as well as difficulties in finding or developing reliable data for these materials, and to their poor representation in the current Activator network, which may affect action and reportable results across Targets 1, 2, and 4.

However, it is further recommended that the Steering Committee:

(a) Actively consider the inclusion of these materials in the development of all Activator guidance, especially considering their potential role as substitutes

(b) Revisit the inclusion and presentation of these formats/materials once baseline data has been collected in 2021.

(c) Resolve any unintended consequences and perverse incentives toward substitutions that remove products from the Scope in ways the negatively impact Pact goals

In addition, the Scope and Data workstream recommends that Pact Activators and other packaging and brand stakeholders be advised to understand that Pact targets are potentially applicable to the plastic in poly-coated paper formats or other kinds of composite packaging should the scope be extended to include them at a later date. This is especially important as brands, packagers, and other stakeholders consider packaging substitutions.

 

  1. Plastics in Durable Products

The Scope and Data workstream recommends that plastics in durable, non-packaging products (e.g. appliances, electronics, furnishings, etc.) be currently outside of the scope of work for the U.S. Plastics Pact, but that this issue remain an open question.  All Pact activators are purchasers, users, and discarders of plastics materials in durable products. To see overall improvement on the fate and impacts of all plastics, significant progress must be made on the recyclability, reusability, potential reduction and actual recycling of these materials, as well as assessment of their status as potentially “unnecessary” or “problematic.”

 

  1. Other Non-Durable Plastic Products

The Scope and Data workstream recommends that some additional kinds of plastic products that fall within EPA’s categories of “non-durable goods” in its annual Facts and Figures report be outside of scope for the Plastics Pact, including trash bags and the category of “all other non-durables,” characterized by EPA as “plastics in disposable diapers, clothing, footwear, etc.” These materials pose significant challenges related to recyclability, which will have serious implications for achievement of Target 3. In addition, the materials are also not well-represented in the Activator network, which may affect action and reportable results across Targets 1, 2, and 4. However, to see overall improvement on the fate and impacts of all plastics, significant progress must be made on the recyclability, reusability, potential reduction and actual recycling of these materials. Therefore, it is recommended to revisit this exclusion as the work of the U.S. Plastics Pact evolves.

 

  1. Medical Plastics

The Scope and Data workstream recommends that medical plastics, defined as plastics used and generated in clinical, hospital, and related laboratory and research settings, be outside of the scope for the Plastics Pact. These materials present very significant and complicated challenges within all of the Pact target areas and are very difficult to distinguish in available data, in addition to not being represented in the proposed reporting format nor in the Pact Activator base. However, the Pact should revisit this exclusion as the work of the U.S. Plastics Pact evolves, recognizing that these plastic streams have environmental impacts and would benefit from focused attention on reduction, recyclability, and recycling. If and when the exclusion of medical plastics is reconsidered, the Pact should coordinate its work with the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council. This exclusion does not apply to pharmaceutical packaging e.g. OTC or prescription medicines packaged in plastic. While there are very specific guidelines for this type of packaging issued by FDA/The United States Pharmacopeial Convention, at this time the requirements are not deemed to be odds with the goals of the U.S. Plastics Pact.

 

Appendix & Notes

We acknowledge that no single categorization will adequately address the many lenses through which producers and users might consider different types of plastic candidates for inclusion or exclusion. For example, perspectives may differ about whether certain things should be included or excluded on the basis of where and how they are sold, who uses them and how, what recovery pathways they do or do not tend to follow.

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