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Tackling America’s Second Moon Shot »

November 12, 2019

On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy stood before Congress and announced the United States’ plan to send a man to the moon before the end of the decade. His words inspired a nation and just eight years later, the world watched as Apollo 11 made good on the president’s promise.

Today, Americans see the need for another moon shot, though this one keeps us on Earth. A new report from GMA finds that 77 percent of Americans believe that the federal government should make solving the recycling crisis the next “moon shot,” bringing all stakeholders — CPG companies, NGOs, government officials and even consumers — together to find a long-term solution.

Our current patchwork of nearly 10,000 different recycling systems across the country, all with their own unique rules, is causing immense consumer confusion, ultimately leading to higher contamination rates. CPG companies are making great strides to make packaging fully recyclable. But if recyclable containers don’t actually end up recycled, it becomes just one more piece of trash that will end up in a landfill, on the side of the road or in our oceans.

It is not that Americans don’t care — they overwhelmingly do. Concern for the environment and over single-use plastic and packaging waste is extremely high, according to our research. So too is willingness to change. A near-universal 95 percent of respondents said they would change their behavior if they discovered they were recycling the wrong way.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to know. Most Americans assume recycling is relatively standardized; 55 percent said that there were fewer than 100 systems, when in truth there are more than 100 times that many. The sheer diversity of rules in a fragmented system also makes consumer education difficult. Ninety-five percent of Americans said it would be helpful if packaging were labeled with information on how to properly recycle it, but without uniform rules that apply across the country, the current recycling system makes product labels with accurate recycling information for a consumer’s location nearly impossible.

Ninety-three percent of Americans said that uniform, national standards will alleviate confusion about what can be recycled. The seemingly simple fix is anything but. Most Americans acknowledge getting to national standards will be difficult, but also that they are necessary for a lasting fix.

Despite its flaws, recycling is still the most likely environmental behavior for most people — far outpacing things like composting or taking public transportation — making it the behavior that has the greatest impact potential. Now is the time to double-down on recycling, not back away from it. Those Americans who have experienced negative changes to their recycling programs, whether reducing accepted materials or cutting it entirely, serve as a cautionary tale of what happens if we back away from recycling on a broader scale: they are twice as likely to give up recycling entirely if they found out their recyclables were being landfilled.

When Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the moon, he crossed the finish line of the space race. Now, we are in a race once again. But this one isn’t against the Soviets — it’s against time. And time is running out.

Prop 65: Disneyland Is Bad for Your Health? »

November 7, 2019

The Regulatory Problem

California’s landmark Proposition 65 regulations have become synonymous with a sobering warning label: “Warning: this product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.” Products ranging from a cup of coffee to the Disneyland theme park itself have been forced to display such warnings to comply with Prop 65. The problem? There is no evidence that drinking coffee or visiting Disneyland — or countless other products and activities — is carcinogenic or harms reproduction.

Our Stance

We believe consumers deserve to know the products they consume are safe.

Government oversight of product ingredients is fully appropriate. But despite its noble intentions, California’s Prop 65 illustrates the profound downside of America’s patchwork regulatory regime, where state and local regulations generate confusion, misinformation and added cost. Prop 65’s dire and dramatic warning on coffee, for example, is based on the ubiquitous presence of acrylamide, found in almost everything cooked at high temperatures. No study has ever determined coffee to be carcinogenic to humans. In fact, a 2018 statement from FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb stated clearly: “Although acrylamide at high doses has been linked to cancer in animals, and coffee contains acrylamide, current science indicates that consuming coffee poses no significant risk of cancer.”

Too often with regulations such as Prop 65, consumers end up no better informed and no better protected. Manufacturers add cost, scrambling to satisfy capricious standards and sloppily applied science. Prop 65 was adopted in the late 1980s, prior to the internet-driven information technology revolution. Today’s consumer enjoys access to a wealth of digital product and ingredient information quite literally at their fingertips. America needs a smart, up-to-date, uniform, science-based regulatory framework.

A Bit More Detail

California’s Prop 65 was passed by direct voter initiative in 1986. The law aimed to protect drinking water sources and reduce general exposure to toxic substances said to cause cancer and birth defects. The state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) is charged with implementation of the law and maintains a constantly updated list of “naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals that are known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. These chemicals include additives or ingredients in pesticides, common household products, food, drugs, dyes or solvents. Listed chemicals may also be used in manufacturing and construction, or they may be byproducts of chemical processes, such as motor vehicle exhaust.”

No Sense of Real Risk

While Prop 65 spotlights potentially hazardous individual chemicals, it does not put potential risks to human health in any meaningful perspective. Take the coffee example.

Acrylamide was flagged in a rodent study as a potential carcinogen at high doses. Moderate coffee consumption, however, has been linked to longer lifespan, and a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes and some cancers. No one has established that acrylamide causes cancer in humans, and certainly no one argues that coffee causes cancer, yet the ominous label persists.

Not Informing Consumers

Prop 65 aims to inform California consumers about health risks lurking in everyday products, but profoundly fails to do so. What information does the average park goer learn when confronted with the Prop 65 warning at the gates of Disneyland? Is Space Mountain toxic? Goofy himself? While absurd examples, they underscore the absurdity of Prop 65’s dire warnings, which raise broad consumer fears without providing basic information.

Fueling Legal Shakedowns

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Prop 65 has fueled lawsuits that look suspiciously like corporate shakedowns. National Public Radio reported on the lawsuit that gave rise to the notorious Prop 65 coffee warning. The lawsuit was brought by the Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT), which shares an address with the Metzger Law Firm, who represented CERT on the coffee lawsuit as well as acrylamide-based lawsuits against McDonald’s, Burger King and potato chip manufacturers. These corporations settled with CERT, as did 7-Eleven, who agreed to a $900,000 settlement. Is such litigation about public health or raking in settlement dollars?

A Better Solution

Consumers want information about the products they use. They deserve it. But they deserve information that is accurate, informative and consistent; everything California’s Prop 65 is not.

California drafted the Prop 65 regulations in a pre-internet era, when consumers relied on physical labels for information. Today’s consumer enjoys real-time digital access to terabytes of scientific, ingredient and product data – one consumer with a smart phone renders the entire Prop 65 labeling protocol woefully inadequate. 21st century product information standards must be rooted in digital product disclosure, where consumers can utilize the technological tools they already rely on.

CBD Explained: What It Is and Why It’s Everywhere »

October 29, 2019

Cannabidiol (CBD) has seemingly burst overnight into public consciousness, popping up on store shelves from coast to coast, regularly generating news headlines. This ingredient, derived from the hemp plant, brings with it a host of wide-ranging claims and the mystique of countercultural, alternative medicine.

CBD is widely available in the American consumer marketplace, but what exactly is it, what does it promise and why has it become such a nearly ubiquitous presence?

Is CBD the same as marijuana?

No. CBD is a compound derived from the hemp plant. While CBD is one of the hundreds of compounds present in marijuana, it is not psychoactive, i.e., it does not produce a “high.” Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the compound that creates the high sensation.

What are the health benefits of CBD?

Wide-ranging claims have been made regarding CBD’s benefits – from pain relief to sleep aid to cancer cure. A 2017 report from the World Health Organization found “no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD,” but little comprehensive research exists on the compound.

A handful of studies suggest CBD may help people fall asleep and stay asleep, and an animal study showed topical CBD cream may help reduce pain and inflammation related to arthritis. Such studies are intriguing, but there is clearly a need for more comprehensive study of CBD in humans to validate or disprove CBD health claims.

The one exception is the considerable scientific evidence supporting CBD’s effectiveness as an antiseizure agent in treating some types of childhood epilepsy. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a new drug called Epidiolex, which contains CBD.

What are people using CBD for and where are they buying it?

Consumers are most commonly purchasing CBD in oils or tinctures, foods, skincare and vitamins or dietary supplements.

They are using it primarily for pain management, stress reduction or as a sleep aid. But many Americans may be making medical decisions on CBD’s unproven claims — something the FDA has warned against. The FDA cautioned consumers not to use CBD in place of “getting important medical care, such as proper diagnosis, treatment and supportive care.” Findings from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) corroborate this concern, with respondents reporting that they use CBD to alleviate cancer symptoms, treat effects of a neurological disorder and improve heart or bone health.

Where Americans are purchasing CBD products varies widely. Most consumers are buying CBD at specialty shops or online. About three-in-ten have purchased from grocery stores, pharmacies or gas stations. Some are even finding CBD products at farmers markets.

Why is CBD booming now? 

Just a few years ago, awareness of CBD was limited to a small number of researchers and entrepreneurs working in the nascent medical marijuana industry. Today, CBD-containing products are widely available for sale at natural food stores, pharmacies, gyms and convenience stores across the country. What accounts for this?

Most observers point to Congress’s 2018 Farm Bill. Prior to 2018, federal law classified hemp as a controlled substance alongside street drugs such as heroin and cocaine, despite hemp’s lack of psychoactive properties and traditional use as a source of fiber for products such as rope. The 2018 Farm Bill removed this classification and legalized commercial cultivation of hemp and the marketing of hemp-derived products such as CBD.

Importantly, the 2018 Farm Bill delegated to states and native American tribes the authority to regulate the production and sale of hemp and hemp-derived products. This delegation of federal authority has helped fuel both the explosive growth of the CBD market and the haphazard, patchwork legal and regulatory environment that now surrounds CBD products.

How big is the CBD market?

Given the hype surrounding CBD and the many claims made on its behalf, it’s no wonder consumer demand is growing at breakneck speed. Analysts project the market for CBD products could top $15-20 billion by 2025, and a recent poll by GMA found nearly two-thirds of American consumers are aware of CBD and 34 percent of Americans have purchased a CBD product.

Despite strong consumer demand, the murky legal and regulatory atmosphere surrounding CBD stands as a key barrier to market growth – varying considerably from state to state.

Well-known consumer brands, for example, are wary of entering a new market without clear, consistent “rules of the road” that can guide capital investments, oversee interstate supply chains and govern marketing claims. Big consumer brands may or may not choose to enter the CBD marketplace – but without a clear, research-based regulatory framework under the auspices of a federal authority such as FDA, it is highly unlikely we will see such brands participate in the current market.

How knowledgeable are consumers about CBD?

While consumer interest is strong and the CBD market is booming, public understanding of CBD shows tremendous confusion and misperceptions.

Fully 92 percent of consumers who are aware of CBD either incorrectly assume or have no idea if federal consumer protections are in place. More than half (53%) assume CBD is regulated by the FDA. It is not.

In spite of this, the GMA survey found that two-thirds (66%) of respondents believe CBD products are safe. Only 15 percent admitted to having unanswered questions about its safety.

Likewise, half of consumers (51%) incorrectly believe CBD has the potential to intoxicate those who consume it. Nearly a quarter (24%) of respondents who purchased CBD products report doing so because they thought it would give them a “high.”

Why is federal action needed now?

Developing a safe, consistent CBD marketplace presents a real challenge. CBD’s popularity, combined with the lack of rigorous scientific research and an inconsistent patchwork of state-by-state regulations, is fueling an environment where poorly informed consumers are largely on their own.

Why haven’t they taken action already?

There is a clear need for federal regulation of CBD, but not a clear path. As it stands today, CBD is an active ingredient in an approved drug (Epidiolex), making it illegal to use as an ingredient in foods, beverages and supplements.

The comprehensive research that is badly needed on the safety and efficacy of CBD is made more difficult by the regulatory hurdles to studying it. There are substantial layers of bureaucracy — getting approvals from a range of federal, state or local agencies, institutions and organizations — that result from cannabis being treated like a narcotic. CBD will have to be decoupled from that view to open up pathways to meaningful and necessary research.

It is the role of federal agencies to ensure a safe, transparent consumer market. Instead, it’s the Wild West. The federal government must move quickly to fund much-needed CBD research and federal agencies should provide regulatory clarity by establishing a uniform, federal framework that protects consumers.

Federal Regulation Must Catch Up with Unprecedented CBD Boom »

October 28, 2019

Cannabidiol (CBD) is seemingly everywhere and in everything. From farmers markets to gas stations and pharmacies to the internet, CBD oils, creams, candles, gummies, pet foods and more are widely available. It’s a prolific ingredient for something that isn’t regulated by the federal government yet.

CBD’s ubiquity may be driving the misconception that it must already be regulated. In new research released by GMA, a whopping 92 percent of American consumers incorrectly assume or have no idea if CBD is federally regulated. Perhaps even more concerning? Sixty-six percent of Americans feel that CBD is safe and, despite the lack of information and testing on CBD, only 15 percent say they have unanswered questions about its safety.

It’s not that they don’t care if the federal government is involved — quite the contrary. Upon learning that CBD products are not regulated federally, 82 percent of respondents were concerned.

While one-in-three (34%) consumers have purchased a CBD product, inconsistent and contradictory state regulations are leading to confusion and could potentially put consumer safety at risk, especially as CBD’s popularity — and access to it — continues to grow. Sixty-two percent of those surveyed have heard of CBD, but most of them are confused about what CBD is. More than half believe that CBD has the potential to get the user “high” and nearly four-in-ten think it’s just another name for marijuana.

Unfortunately, the age group most likely to purchase CBD is also the most confused about it. Fifty-four percent of Millennials reported buying CBD and 94 percent assume it is regulated or are unsure. An astounding 30 percent of Millennials purchased CBD because they thought it would give them a high, compared to just four percent of Boomers. Millennials are also much more likely to have faith in the safety of CBD (79%), despite its lack of regulation.

Misleading claims about CBD are rampant. The FDA warned consumers not to use CBD in place of “getting important medical care, such as proper diagnosis, treatment and supportive care.” GMA’s findings corroborate this concern, with respondents reporting that they use CBD to alleviate cancer symptoms (21%), treat effects of a neurological disorder (21%), improve heart health (25%) or enhance bone health (27%).

The market is growing and has the potential to grow even more rapidly with federal regulation. Of the Americans who have not purchased a CBD product yet, 68 percent said they would be more likely to do so if it were regulated by a federal agency, like FDA. If FDA takes on CBD regulation, it would also create a path for companies that have been holding back from entering the market until a regulatory framework is established. That too would increase consumer confidence. Seventy percent said they would be more confident in the safety of CBD products if they were manufactured by a large, well-known brand.

While the impetus to act is certainly there (and not lost on the FDA), the path to get to federal regulation is not. At present, it is illegal to sell an active ingredient in drugs in foods, beverages or dietary supplements that will be sold across state lines. And CBD is an active ingredient in an approved drug, Epidiolex. The change is not simple and would require breaking a precedent that has existed since the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act was passed in 1938.

But the explosion of the CBD market is unprecedented. It is critical that we work with federal agencies and Congress to find solutions to accommodate a new reality.

American consumers need and deserve smart, consistent regulations in the CBD market. Right now, they think they have them — and that’s reason enough to break precedent.


The Urgent Need for CBD Clarity includes data from a survey of 2,056 U.S. adults (18+), fielded October 1 — October 12, 2019, powered by Toluna Analytics. The majority of the findings from this report focused on the 1,272 respondents who indicated familiarity with cannabidiol or CBD. These data were weighted and scaled.

Haunted by Ghosts of Recycling’s Past »

October 25, 2019

America’s neighborhoods are littered with Halloween staples like toothy pumpkins, cobwebbed trees and dangling skeletons, ready to frighten trick-or-treaters. Alongside these front yard decorations, America’s recycling bins are experiencing a poltergeist.

Materials like glass and certain types of plastic, once commonplace in single-stream recycling, are now ghosts in the bins of the many systems that used to accept them. Lost souls doomed to wander landfills for all eternity. Other bins have disappeared entirely.

Communities across America are increasingly reducing or abandoning curbside recycling. These programs are one of the most convenient and effective ways for Americans to recycle materials from their homes — which amounts to around 800 to 1,000 pounds of recyclables each year. So when programs close, it’s a major problem for American recycling — and for the Americans who can’t afford to drive upwards of 160 miles to take recyclables to a facility instead.

It’s a symptom of a chilling reality: America’s recycling system is disappearing. There are thousands of local systems that all have their own sets of rules on what can be recycled, generating mass confusion. Google searches for how to recycle paper and plastic at home have doubled in the last year alone.

What’s worse, the confusion increases recycling contamination. Every time we mistakenly toss a “maybe” in the bin — a frequent behavior that 40 percent of Americans admit doing — it can break the recycling rules, increasing the chances that the whole lot won’t be recovered and will head to the landfill instead.

When Oregon, OH, suspended its curbside program this April, City Administrator Mike Beazley said, “I guess what I feel worst about, we were part of the generation that went, ‘when in doubt, put it in the bin.’ We were wrong. That market changed, and that world changed.”

Hundreds of communities nationwide have shuttered their recycling programs, limited acceptable recyclables or suspended curbside programs.

The horror stories are growing in number:

  • Sunrise, FL, takes curbside recycling to an incinerator instead.

  • Silver City, NM, canceled all recycling after dumping curbside recycling in landfills.

  • Kankakee, IL, ended its curbside program after finding that 85 percent of the 584 tons of the community’s recycling were thrown out due to contamination with trash.

No one deserves to be punished for wanting — but not knowing how — to recycle. It’s not right that our wishful thinking works against us in our current system, and no amount of chanting “recycling” (or “Beetlejuice” for that matter) can make a functioning system magically appear.

So those who can act to solve this crisis, must.

CPG is working toward a more sustainable future. To start, 100 percent of the 25-largest CPG companies have made commitments to increasing recyclable content, minimizing packaging or reusing material — 80 percent will be fully recyclable by 2030.

Dozens of CPG companies partner with How2Recycle, a standardized labeling system that gives brief directions for recycling, like “rinse and replace lid” or “remove label before recycling.”

CPG companies also aid the Recycling Partnership to help consumers learn their local recycling rules.

But the industry’s impact can only go so far when the recycling rules change city to city, county to county — and there are more than 9,800 systems to contend with. We, and our environment, deserve better.

When 75 percent of Americans say they’re very or extremely concerned about the environment, as GMA research found, they’re entitled to a recycling system that works — everywhere. But if we don’t solve for our broken system now and its thousands of rules, your neighborhood bins will truly be the ghosts of Halloween past.

A Front Row Seat as Marine Plastic Takes the World Stage »

October 15, 2019

By Meghan Stasz, vice president of packaging and sustainability at the Grocery Manufacturers Association

Last week, leaders from across the world descended on Tokyo for the G20 Resource Efficiency and Marine Plastic Symposium. The week-long dialogue with the world’s leading scientists, NGOs, government representatives and other thought leaders shed light on the crisis of marine debris — especially plastics — and was a reminder of how critical recycling will be to a sustainable way forward.

When GMA President and CEO Geoff Freeman took the stage, his message to the other countries in the room was clear: learn from us.

The U.S. recycling system was born city by city, county by county. The unintended consequence of best intentions, however, is the fragmented, patchwork system we have today. A system perpetually confusing to American citizens that did not consider economies of scale in its design.

The G20 is working to address marine debris globally. While many of the represented countries are quite advanced in their systems, many attending the symposium are at the beginning stages of recycling. The G20 has an opportunity to design systems that are better prepared to succeed long term. They can, as Freeman analogized, skip the landline and go straight to the mobile phone.

Over the course of the week, hearing perspectives from countries of all sizes and geographies, three key themes emerged: we are at a point of real crisis; no one can solve this alone; and harmonization is key.

The crisis is worse than we thought

Improperly managed plastics are causing a global pollution crisis. This issue is not just a problem for coastal nations. Micro and macroplastics are making their way into our water and soil and they’re coming from a surprising range of sources. Three million tons of microplastics enter the environment from road abrasions and tire marks every year, for example, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

Eighty percent of marine debris is from land-based material that isn’t handled properly and finds its way into our rivers, coasts and oceans. The majority of plastic pollution is caused by poor or nonexistent waste management practices. For example, one of the presentations referenced Mombasa, Kenya, a city of 1.5 million people, where only 46% of solid waste is properly managed, leaving more than half of the city’s waste as litter.

The situation is dire and presents real opportunity. The secretary general of the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC), the group representing European recycling companies, Emmanuel Katrakis, shared that recycling one million tons of plastics has the environmental impact of taking a million cars off the road. Several global experts cited a clear demand for recycled plastics, driven in large part by the CPG industry’s leadership on recycled content targets. The investment community is taking notice too. A session featuring representatives from the finance community highlighted how global banks and institutions like the World Bank are bringing capital to the table with sustainability in mind, helping build infrastructure and finance sustainable waste and recycling systems around the world.

Collaboration is critical

We must work collaboratively, not just across countries, but across stakeholders. The leaders of G20 nations put forward the Osaka Blue Ocean Vision earlier this year, setting a target for reducing marine plastic pollution entering the oceans to zero by 2050. ZERO.

To get to zero, there is no silver bullet. No single approach will work for every country. The Blue Ocean Vision strategy emphasizes inter-country collaboration and best practice sharing. Similarly, as we work within our countries to reduce waste, no single stakeholder will be able to solve the issue alone. If we’re serious about keeping plastics out of the ocean, we need to work together.

Standards and innovation are key

The need for common definitions and regulations was a distinct theme. Closer to home, a lack of standards is preventing real progress in the United States. GMA’s position is that there is a clear need for uniform standards in the U.S., where thousands of conflicting recycling systems confound consumers.

Even with common definitions and standards, innovation is essential to success. The meetings in Tokyo highlighted the rise in popularity of refillable packaging, from TerraCycle’s Loop initiative in the U.S. to Japanese CPG companies offering refillable soap and shampoo bottles. There was a repeated emphasis on finding alternatives to plastics, where appropriate, or dramatic increases in recycled content for packaging, as many CPG companies have already committed to achieve.

On the flight home, I kept circling back to a comment made by Shardul Agrawala, environment and economy division head for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD): “No other issue has risen so quickly in public consciousness as plastics, plastics pollution and marine litter.” He’s right. It is our challenge to elevate that consciousness to action. And, as was made clear in Tokyo, the time to act is now.

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