When one cannot bypass the byproducts: Plastic packaging waste embedded in production and export

Xiang Gao, Sandy Dall'erba, Brenna Ellison, Andre F.T. Avelino, Cuihong Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While packaging is praised for reducing waste of perishable food products, packaging waste is a growing concern. Its least recyclable type, plastics waste, is increasingly polluting the marine environment and many developing countries are now refusing to take the waste from developed countries. Before responsibility can be established, one has to identify the key producers and consumers. This paper adjusts the packaging waste satellite account in EXIOBASE 3 by combining the official waste data published by the World Bank. Based on input–output methods, we find that the world's top suppliers of plastic packaging waste are the United States, China, and Brazil. Food and beverage products constitute the bulk of the problem. Yet, 21% of these countries’ plastic packaging waste is induced export. At the global level, it is 25.8%. About 76.0% of export-induced plastic packaging waste corresponds to packaging of the exported goods that will ultimately be disposed of in the destination country; while the others correspond to the packaging used in their supply-chain and wasted domestically. We conclude that international efforts need to assign shared responsibility and promote improvement in plastic packaging recyclability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1460-1474
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Industrial Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • environment responsibility
  • environmental footprint
  • global value chain
  • industrial ecology
  • input–output analysis
  • plastic packaging waste

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • General Social Sciences


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