A staggering eight million tons of unrecycled plastic waste is dumped into our oceans every year.  Plastic waste, especially in our oceans, is a complex problem that can’t be ignored. Many organizations around the world are making big commitments to stop plastic waste. 

Sealed Air is one of those organizations. We recognize our responsibility to the environment and take it seriously. We are in business to protect, to solve critical packaging challenges and to leave our world better than we found it. We’ve publicly pledged to deliver 100 percent recyclable or reusable packaging offerings, and 50 percent average recycled content across our packaging portfolio by 2025.

I recently participated with more than 100 companies, nonprofits, recyclers and innovators in the inaugural Ocean Plastics Leadership Summit, an expedition that allowed us to see the plastic waste problem firsthand. The event connected leaders from the world’s most committed companies with other stakeholders to accelerate solutions to end the ocean plastics crisis. 

Convened in the North Atlantic Gyre off the coast of Bermuda, participants trawled for plastic in the open ocean. I was surprised to discover the many kinds of trash discarded in the ocean, not just plastic. We removed wooden crates, rubber tires and even a porcelain toilet seat. 

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Where ocean waste comes from

On this scientific expedition, we witnessed an ecosystem under an intense amount of pressure.

Just 10 rivers alone carry 93 percent of river-born waste that ends up in the ocean. This waste impacts sea life and the entire ocean ecosystem. Cleanup efforts are critical, but we need to act quickly to prevent plastic waste from making its way to the ocean in the first place.  

So, where do we start? With more than 80 percent of ocean plastic waste coming from land-based sources, part of our work begins by looking closely at what happens to plastic after it is used.  

Why plastic waste isn’t being recycled

It’s shocking, but important to recognize that less than one-fifth of all plastic is recycled globally. Many end users don’t understand where their recyclable plastic packaging goes and how it is recycled into a form that can be used again.

Investing in recycling infrastructure

Today, most plastic recycling is focused on bottles or rigid containers. We can continue to encourage consumers to recycle, but to really fix the problem we need to fix the recycling market and infrastructure. This means investing in the means to collect, sort and recycle a broader range of packaging materials. 

To make an even bigger difference, we can focus on converting this wider range of plastics into useful byproducts and reduce our resource consumption through chemical recycling. This is an important step to creating a viable circular economy and we can’t do it without chemical and recycling companies and support from governments around the world.  

Making it easy for consumers 

With more than 19,492 municipalities in the United States alone, the issue of recyclability can be confusing and complex. We need to work together to make it easier for consumers to recycle. 

Despite many consumer recycling education campaigns, most post-consumer recycled content is not suitable for reuse. We can start with better and clear labeling on packaging. One example is the How2Recycle label in the U.S. which indicates how to recycle packaging from e-Commerce shipments.

In addition to How2Recyle, Sealed Air is partnering with industry groups to find new ways to use technology and smart packaging to provide consumers with clear instructions on how to recycle. 

Innovating sustainably and differently

We can’t talk about ending plastic waste without addressing innovation in material, design and recovery. During my time on the ocean plastics expedition, I spent time with some amazing entrepreneurs working on alternative business models in these areas. 

It’s also important to understand the difference between single-use and essential plastics and what other environmental concerns are ahead of us. For plastics that protect important resources like food, we need to be thoughtful in our approach and in how we engineer solutions, or we risk trading one problem for another.

At Sealed Air, we’re focused also on designing innovations that are thinner, lighter and compatible with the current and future recovery systems. Expanding our portfolio of recyclable protective packaging options is a top priority.  

Across the packaging industry, we’re starting to see material innovations with plant and fiber-based packaging. Sealed Air is investing in plant-based technology and creating more solutions that contain recycled materials. In 2020, we’ll be one of the first production facilities in North America to produce food packaging materials made from plant-based resin and post-consumer recycled plastic.  

Join us in this important mission

Ending plastic waste is complicated, but not impossible. We can’t afford to point fingers or complain about it and hope that someone else will act.

Ending plastic waste is complicated, but not impossible. We can’t afford to point fingers or complain about it and hope that someone else will act. It requires us to reinvent plastic chemistry, product design, recycling strategies, and consumer use. It means companies, nonprofits, recyclers and even consumers need to talk and innovate differently. 

This work continues as we partner with other members of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste and across our industry to drive real change and action.

Each of us plays a role in keeping our environment clean from litter and debris.

Will you join us in the fight?