How much packaging waste makes up our landfills? Who’s leading the race in packaging recycling – and who’s falling behind? What does the future look like for packaging waste in our oceans?

Learn more about packaging waste in this roundup of 40 global packaging stats.

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Paper and cardboard make up 17% of the global waste generated – the second-highest amount after food and green waste. (World Bank)

12% of the global waste composition is plastic waste, which partially consists of plastic packaging among other plastic products and materials. (World Bank)

Of the municipal solid waste (MSW), or trash, generated in 2018 in the U.S., 12.20% consisted of plastics, which includes plastic packaging. (EPA)

23.05% of the MSW generated in the U.S. in 2018 consisted of paper and paperboard, which was the #1 highest amount generated of all materials including glass, metals, wood, textiles, and more. (EPA

Nevertheless, U.S. paper and paperboard products generation declined from 87.7 million tons in 2000 to 67.4 million tons in 2018. (EPA)

The amount of containers and packaging generated in the U.S. has increased over the past 50+ years, from 27,370 in thousands of U.S. tons in 1960 to 75,840 tons in 2000 and finally, 82,220 tons in 2018. (EPA)

15% of the waste composition in East Asia and the Pacific region consists of paper and cardboard, and 12% consists of plastic. (World Bank)

This trend also carries over into Europe and Central Asia, where in 2016, 18.6% of the waste composition was paper and cardboard; at 11.5%, plastic was the third-highest material making up the total waste generated. (World Bank)

The Middle East and North Africa have a similar waste composition: 13% of its waste consists of paper and cardboard, and 12% consists of plastic. (World Bank)

Meanwhile, Latin America and the Caribbean had the same waste composition as the Middle East and North Africa, with paper and cardboard making up 13% and plastic making up 12%. (World Bank)

In North America, the waste composition consists of less food and green waste than other regions, affecting the percentages of paper and cardboard and plastic generated. Still, paper and cardboard (28%) and plastic (28%) were, like other parts of the world, the second- and third-highest percentage of waste generated.  (World Bank)

In South Asia, the “Other” (30%) category surpasses the amount of paper and cardboard (10%) and plastic waste (8.6%) produced. (World Bank)

Sub-Saharan Africa has a similar waste composition to South Asia. After the “Other” category (30%), paper and cardboard (10%) and plastic (8.6%) were the third- and fourth-highest waste types produced. (World Bank)

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In the U.S., plastic products generation increased by 4.3 million tons from 2010 to 2018 – partially because of an increase in generated packaging waste. (EPA)

An estimated 146.1 million tons of MSW were landfilled in the U.S. in 2018. After food (24%), plastics were the second-most-common type of material to be sent to a landfill. (EPA)

In 2018, Italy generated the most plastic waste (4,388,081 tons) of all the countries in the European Union (EU), followed by the UK (2,922,915 tons) and Germany (2,864,626 tons). (Eurostat)

The amount of plastic trash in our oceans is expected to almost triple to 29 million metrics tons by 2040. (National Geographic)

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Paper and paperboard made up 12% of the 146.1 million tons of MSW landfilled in 2018 in the U.S. (EPA

In 2018, the EU generated 53,280,000 tons of paper and cardboard waste. (Eurostat)

Paper and cardboard was the main packaging waste material in the EU from 2008 to 2018, when 31.8 million tons were produced. (Eurostat)

Of all the countries in Europe, the UK generated the most paper and cardboard waste at 10,453,231 tons in 2018, followed by Germany at 7,631,010 tons and France at 7,290,000 tons. (Eurostat)

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In 2018, the total MSW recycled in the U.S. was more than 69 million tons. 67% of this amount was paper and paperboard. (EPA)

In the U.S., some of the most-recycled products and materials were packaging-related in 2018. These included:

  • Corrugated boxes (32.1 million tons)

  • Mixed nondurable paper products (8.8 million tons)

  • Wood packaging (3.1 million tons)

  • Mixed paper containers and packaging (1.8 million tons) (EPA

Corrugated boxes made up the largest product category of MSW in 2018 in the U.S. (EPA

The EU recycled packaging waste for monitoring compliance with policy targets at a rate of 66.3% in 2018. This includes all kinds of packaging (plastic, wooden, metallic, paper, etc.). (Eurostat)

In 2018, Belgium had the highest recycling rates of packaging waste for monitoring compliance with policy targets by type of packaging (85.3%), followed by the Netherlands (72.9%) and Luxembourg (70.9%). (Eurostat)  

The EU recycled 84.2% of its packaging waste overall in 2018. (Eurostat)

Of all the countries in the EU, Finland recycled the most paper and cardboard packaging (at a rate of 116%) in 2018, followed by Denmark (99.7%) and Cyprus (97.9%). (Eurostat)

In 2018, Lithuania recycled the most plastic packaging waste (at a rate of 69.3%). Bulgaria had the second-highest plastic packaging waste rate (59.2%), and the Czech Republic had the third highest recycling rate at 57%.  (Eurostat)

In 2018, the recycling rate of generated packaging and containers was 53.9%. These products are made of materials including paper and paperboard, steel, glass, plastics, aluminum, plastics, and wood. (EPA)

The recycling rate of generated packaging and containers has increased steadily since 1960, when only 2,870 in thousands of U.S. tons were recycled. In 2000, 31,500 tons were recycled, and in 2018, 44,300 tons were recycled. (EPA)

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The combustion of containers and packaging was 7.4 million tons in the U.S. in 2018 – 21.5% of total combustion with energy recovery. (EPA)

In 2018, 30.5 million tons of containers and packaging was sent to landfills in the U.S, which consisted of 20.9% of total landfilling. (EPA)

The following countries had the highest recovery rates of packaging waste at waste incineration plants with energy recovery per year in the EU in 2018: Finland (114.6%), Germany (96.9%), and Austria (94.4%). (Eurostat

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55% of U.S. survey respondents said they were extremely or very concerned about how product packaging would impact the environment. (McKinsey)

60-70% of surveyed consumers would pay more for sustainable packaging. (McKinsey)

52% reported that they’d purchase more sustainably-packaged products if they cost the same as conventionally-packaged products. (McKinsey)

35-36% of consumers would purchase more sustainably-packaged products if they were more available (both in stores and for more products) and more obviously labeled as sustainable. (McKinsey)

Surveyed consumers said that their preferred alternative packaging types in the future would consist of sustainable plastic: fully recyclable plastic films (22%), plastic films made out of renewable raw materials that are compostable (21%), and fully recyclable plastic bottles (18%). (McKinsey)

Consumers also reported that they would like paper-based alternative packaging: paper-based cartons (16%) and flexible paper (14%). (McKinsey)

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For more of a deep dive into the packaging industry – including advantages of using bio-based packaging and tips for reducing packaging waste – head over to the packaging section of our blog.

 

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