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Food Packaging Sector Hungry for Regulatory Guidance

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New sustainability packaging requirements are either in place or on the horizon in most places, and research shows global brand leaders can’t keep pace with the tidal wave of change.

A recent survey at the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) Impact 2024 conference in New Orleans, US found 79% of packaging professionals know little about current and future legislation, whether it’s Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) or required post-consumer recycled content. Although we’re making headway, regulatory awareness can enhance supply and better educate consumers about recyclability.  

At Sonoco, not only does our team provide the most advanced, sustainable materials, but we also have an internal sustainability team specializing in monitoring and understanding the latest legislation. They’ve focused on three key trends as of late, particularly for food packaging, and if you’re one of the 79% as stated above, you’ll want to take note of their list below.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

State lawmakers are advancing bills to make packaging producers more responsible for the waste they create. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs ensure producers assume responsibility for the cost of collecting and sorting recyclables at the end of their life, shifting cost away from taxpayers, helping to limit plastic waste and spurring innovation toward more sustainable products and packaging.  

California, Colorado, Maine and Oregon all have EPR programs; at least 11 other states have introduced policies in 2024 to help improve their waste systems with programs of their own. These states take two primary approaches: 

  1. Establishing new, comprehensive EPR programs for plastics and other materials.
  2. Conducting studies to determine specific state needs and approaches for statewide EPR.  

As of May 2024, at least seven states have moved their EPR bills out of committee, and brand owners in these states could begin paying into the EPR plans as soon as July 2025 – anywhere between 30 to 60 cents per pound as dictated by each state’s materials acceptance list. This amount can accumulate quickly if left unchecked. 

Post-Consumer Recycled Content (PCR)

A handful of states have enacted post-consumer recycled content (PCR) requirement legislation in recent years with a dozen more states considering similar legislation this year.  

In Connecticut, a law enacted last year mandates rates and dates for using PCR in plastic beverage containers. In New Jersey, a law taking effect this year sets PCR requirements for rigid plastic containers, plastic carryout bags, beverage containers and trash bags, with incremental increases established.  

By 2036, rigid containers in New Jersey will need to contain at least 50% PCR, while beverage containers will need to contain at least 50% PCR by 2045. Laws like these have prompted companies like ExxonMobil® to startup advanced recycling facilities that can break down hard-to-recycle plastics, turning the raw materials into components that can be used for new products. 

On-Pack Labeling Claims  

Ever get confused with recycling arrows or on-pack claims? A law in California set to take effect as early as 2025 tackles the issue of misleading recycling labels. 

Aptly nicknamed the “Truth in Recycling” law, SB 343 establishes stringent criteria for labeling products recyclable, ensuring only truly recyclable products bear the universal recycling symbol. In California that would mean products collected by programs encompassing at least 60% of the state’s population, sorted by processes using at least 60% of the state’s recycling programs. This is intended to help consumers make informed decisions, improve the efficacy of recycling programs and prompt other on-pack labeling programs like How2Recycle® to update or refresh their standards for certification. 

Implications for Food Packaging  

These laws represent both a challenge and an opportunity for our industry. Key considerations include:  

  • Materials: Understanding the specifics of the material acceptance list(s) in your state(s)/countries.
  • Design: Developing packaging solutions that meet the dual criteria of sustainability and functionality.
  • Requirements: Staying informed with legislation to ensure compliance and leverage opportunities.

Have you checked all three? This can be a time-consuming endeavor, and our experts, sustainability managers and product line specialists are  well-equipped to manage it. The value of not only understanding but also explaining sustainability legislation and tax laws in plain language is what you receive when doing business with Sonoco. We can help you navigate the unknowns of new materials implementation, especially for thermoformed products, and advise you on the latest Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) projections and recycling mandates in the places where you’re operating.

As a 125-year-old global packaging provider, Sonoco knows the exact kind of material and design to meet the most stringent requirements. With material conversion experience, operational knowledge and in-house expertise, our solutions can help decrease costs, increase shelf appeal and meet sustainability targets.  

Ready to get started? Learn more about our comprehensive, concept-to-shelf solutions and make an appointment to discuss your needs with us today!