The future is not about managing waste but rather managing materials that prevent the creation of waste in the first place. This is exactly what the reusable packaging industry is all about: managing material to retain the packaging’s value, reducing the need to source new material, and diverting material from entering the waste stream.
Last June, the U.S. EPA released its annual Municipal Solid Waste report with a name change, “Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures.” The report recognizes that EPA is “transitioning from focusing on waste management to focusing on Sustainable Materials Management. SMM refers to the use and reuse of materials in the most productive and sustainable way across their entire life cycle.” The name change from “waste” to “materials” management, and corresponding change in priority from waste treatment to waste prevention, has been evolving for some time. We should start to see an acceleration with the agency’s policy direction, activity and impact on the reusable opportunity.
Will there be a time when waste generation rates decline despite growing population rates and resource demands? Certainly a reduction in per capita municipal solid waste generation of 4.40 pounds per person per day in the U.S. is achievable with behavior changes, new approaches and technology advancements, as has been the case for the past decade. Reducing the aggregate waste at over 250 million tons each year in the U.S. will be more challenging, but less so if reusables continue down the path of being the mainstream choice for transport packaging. The reusable packaging industry has the solutions for reuse as a means to achieve waste reduction, along with improved supply chain performance at lower systems cost.
This is one of a series of Circular Thinking posts by RPA President Tim Debus.