Many countries and regions are tackling the problem of waste with a shift to returnable, reusable and recyclable products and materials. Around the world, authorities are setting ambitious recycling targets, supported by industry and volunteer initiatives. It's clear, however, that collection and recycling in their current forms have limits. One reason is that infrastructure is lacking and many waste management systems are far from optimal. The result is that globally, only 13.5% of global waste is recycled, while 37% ends in landfills and 33% is burned or openly dumped as litter.
Open dumping and burning, along with disposal in waterways, are the main routes by which plastic waste enters the environment. Today, an estimated 32% of plastic packaging escapes collection systems globally. Estimates suggest that the majority of the around eight million tonnes of plastics that escape into the ocean every year is plastic packaging.
Once in oceans and other natural systems, plastic can remain there for centuries. If fossil-based plastic is burnt, it releases greenhouse gases that were stored in the ground into the atmosphere, impacting the climate. That's why packaging companies need to reduce or eliminate the amount of plastic where possible, without sacrificing food safety.
But even if no waste were escaping into natural systems, recycling alone wouldn't fully resolve our waste problem. Recycling is limited by the fact that not all materials can be recycled, or they can only be recycled a number of times as no system is perfect and losses are inevitable. Plastic, for instance, cannot be infinitely recycled. It has a limited number of cycles before it can't be used any longer.
We need to work towards reducing and replacing fossil-based, finite materials such as plastic with responsibly sourced paper-based and renewable materials. Renewable plant-based materials sourced from forests and crops absorb carbon from the atmosphere as they grow. That helps balance the carbon released when they eventually break down or are burnt. According to a recent European study, "choosing forest-based products over fossil materials is good for climate".
 The World Bank, What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050
 The World Bank, Book, What a Waste: An Updated Look into the Future of Solid Waste Management