“There isn’t that awareness, even in the packaging industry,” says Jeff Wooster, global sustainability director for Dow Chemicals packaging and specialty plastics unit. Too many of the new materials end up in landfills or bobbing around the ocean. But it hasn’t been used on multilayered film until now. “The New Plastics Economy” details the scale of the packaging waste problem. As You Sow’s MacKerron gets the arguments, but he suspects the industry has gone too far with all the plastics. In many of these scenarios, the cost of packaging is likely greater than the cost of the product it contains. The world wastes a third of the food it produces, 1.3 billion metric tons per year, according to the Food & Agriculture Organization of the UN. “You have this highly engineered package that is used for maybe a few weeks, and then it sits for hundreds of years at a landfill,” says Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president of the corporate responsibility group As You Sow, who was a consultant for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation report. Circular packaging solutions are a priority - and they will create value for brands, as these trailblazing examples demonstrate. Any reduction of that 10% can’t come at the expense of the other 90%, plastics advocates point out. industrial packaging, Such comparisons don’t absolve the industry, As You Sow’s MacKerron points out. I do.) Such comparisons don’t absolve the industry, As You Sow’s MacKerron points out. Its report, “Valuing Plastic: The Business Case for Measuring, Managing and Disclosing Plastic Use in the Consumer Goods Industry,” looked at costs such as disposal and greenhouse gas emissions. To McDonough and like-minded critics, flexible plastics, especially the newer multilayered films, are another excess of a throwaway society. In rigid applications, Clark claims, the technology has also proven to be more compatible with recycling than polymer barriers. “I don’t think you can just say, ‘Your LCA says it has fewer greenhouse gases so it’s okay.’ ”, Industry ownership of the problem is a big part of the “New Plastics Economy” report. Vacuum-packed steak, ribs, and chicken are a growing presence in meat department cases. Take K-Cup-style single-serve coffee capsules. The changes have happened so gradually that most consumers haven’t even noticed, but a tremendous amount of plastics have crept onto supermarket shelves. David Clark, vice president of safety, environment, and sustainability at Amcor, says such instances are rare. After processing losses and cascaded recycling, just 2% of the original 78 million metric tons was recycled into the high-value applications it originated from. Trucost, a consulting group that tabulates the environmental impact of business practices in dollar terms, conducted a study on behalf of the United Nations Environment Programme in 2014. But it does have one food application, Tyson frozen chicken sold in Mexico, and it’s being rolled out for a big nonfood use: Seventh Generation dishwasher pods. The packaging industry, though, doesn’t think its products are so stupid. Plastic can be as strong as steel. The Austrian consulting group Denkstatt looked at steak packaged in a vacuum skin instead of the traditional combination of foam tray and film. At the same time, the industry can’t help but acknowledge the negative consequences of plastic waste. They hang in refrigerator cases displaying shredded cheeses and cold cuts and are stacked in freezers filled with chicken, fish sticks, and french fries. To do that, chemical companies will have to come up with materials that can do the same job with less. Polyethylene can also be used to seal the package. “If consumer brands are putting disruptive materials onto the market, they need to somehow pay for or take responsibility for post-consumer collection and recycling,” he says.