Guidelines for Packaging Waste Management in Humanitarian Operations

The Joint Initiative for Sustainable Humanitarian Assistance Packaging Waste Management has prepared these guidelines to emphasize the importance of reducing packaging materials and prioritizing refusal and reduction over recycling due to the challenges of collection and recycling in areas where humanitarian operations take place.

To reduce packaging waste, it is important to choose packaging-free alternatives, advocate for suppliers of packaging materials to reduce packaging, eliminate single-use plastics, optimize the size of the packaging, and enable packaging to be reused or repurposed using innovative designs.

Following the waste-management hierarchy, this document also provides comprehensive guidelines to ensure sound management of packaging waste reuse and repurpose, recycling, and disposal in humanitarian operations.

The Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) has created a database of reusable to-go containers and tracking apps. Learn how to navigate the growing options for reusable to-go containers, designed especially for students on school campuses.

Oceana analyzed forecasted packaging market and aquatic plastic pollution data and determined that just a 10-percentage point increase in reusable packaging by 2030 can eliminate over 1 trillion single-use plastic bottles and cups. This shift has the potential to prevent up to 153 billion of these containers from entering the world’s oceans and waterways. To put this in perspective, 1 trillion plastic bottles and cups stacked on top of each other would result in a single-use plastic tower that would reach to the moon and back over 300 times.

Most importantly, this 10-percentage point increase is clearly possible. The world’s leading soft drink companies, The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo, have large existing reusable packaging systems and have already pledged to increase the volume of beverages they sell in reusable packaging by 10 percentage points. It is imperative for both companies, which have a history of not meeting commitments, to follow through and for other beverage companies to step up.

The sheer volume of plastic used to sell beverages is staggering and requires real solutions. Oceana estimates that in 2022, the global population used the equivalent of 1.5 trillion single-use plastic bottles and cups, and that up to 168 billion of these containers will become pollution in aquatic systems. A study published in the journal Nature Sustainability in 2021 found that plastic bottles were the second most common litter item found in surveys across seven aquatic environments globally.

This Upstream report was made to provide unbiased information and analysis to help venue managers, food concessionaires, and other industry leaders identify the most environmentally friendly options for beverages at music festivals, sports, and other forms of live entertainment. Learn why plastic-free reusable containers are the best option, and how reuse systems can be implemented to benefit people and the planet.

In March 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) adopted resolution 5/14 titled “End Plastic Pollution: Towards an International Legally Binding Instrument.” The resolution convenes an intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) to develop a new global agreement combatting plastic pollution, otherwise referred to as the global plastics treaty (GPT). The aim is to reach agreement by the end of 2024 through five rounds of negotiations (or INCs), ideally with significant intersessional work, and to open the agreement for adoption in 2025. INC-3 will take place in Nairobi in November 2023.

In this briefing, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) provides some key considerations for negotiators going into INC-3 and reflections on the zero draft (previous briefing in this series can be found here).

The Global Plastic Laws Database is the most extensive tool to date to research, track, and visualize plastic legislation that has been passed around the world. The Database tracks legislation across the full life cycle of plastics and organizes these policies according to life cycle categories and key topics. Adopting policies to reduce plastic pollution on a global scale is widely recognized as a vital step to address this crisis and its associated detrimental impacts on our communities, health, and environment. 

Recognizing the impacts of plastics throughout its full life cycle, this database is organized into nine topics: Design and Reuse, Extended Producer Responsibility, Maritime Sources, Microplastics, Production and Manufacturing, Reduction, Transparency and Traceability, Waste Management, and Waste Trade.

The Global Plastic Laws Database is updated regularly, providing a way to monitor and identify emerging trends, solutions, and policy innovations at local, national, and international levels.