Food & Beverage

From airtight wraps to shelf stable bottles and containers, plastic packaging plays a key role in delivering a safe food supply, from farm to table and is a material of choice for freezing foods for longer term storage. Plastics have also driven innovations in packaging design. For example, modified atmosphere packaging helps preserve food freshness by capturing a reduced-oxygen air mixture in a plastic package. This technique can extend a product’s shelf life by slowing the growth of bacteria.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration regulates the safety of food-contact packaging, including plastics used in contact with food. Many plastics, such as polystyrene and polyethylene, have been used in food packaging for decades. All food-contact packaging materials must pass FDA’s stringent approval process—the agency must find them safe for use in a specific packaging application—before they can be put on the market.

Sustainability Outlook

Food and Beverage packaging is among the most recycled packaging and we see increasing recycling rates for bottle and containers every year.

Bottles

In 2014 plastic bottle recycling grew 97 million pounds, increasing 3.3 percent, to top 3 billion pounds for the year. The recycling rate for plastic bottles climbed 1.0 percent to 31.8 percent for the year. The collection of high-density polyethylene (HDPE, #2) bottles—a category that includes milk jugs and bottles for household cleaners and detergents—rose to nearly 1.1 billion pounds, a gain of over 62 million pounds from 2013. The recycling rate for HDPE bottles rose to 33.6 percent (full report here).

A recent national report found that 94 percent of Americans can recycle plastic bottles in their community (full report here).

Containers

At least 1.02 billion pounds of “rigid” plastics including rigid containers—the category of plastics that includes things like yogurt cups, dairy tubs and lids—were recycled in 2012, triple the amount for 2007. A recent study also found that access to recycling of many types of these rigid containers (HDPE, PP, PET, LDPE) now exceeds 60 percent of the population—the level which the Federal Trade Commission has set for unqualified claims of recyclability.

[READ: How plastics curb food waste]