Joint Initiative On Sustainable Humanitarian Assistance Packaging Waste Management

Humanitarian assistance demands continue to rise in parallel with an increasingly urgent and underfunded global solid waste management crisis. This waste management crisis disproportionately affects countries that commonly receive humanitarian assistance, many of which often lack sufficient infrastructure or management systems to handle the country’s regularly produced solid waste, let alone the waste generated by assistance efforts.

Packaging is an essential aspect of humanitarian assistance for commodity delivery and protection, but often becomes an unintended waste stream in fragile contexts. Improper waste management of plastic packaging can inadvertently damage human and environmental health.

Many countries receiving assistance are increasingly turning away disposable plastics, forcing relief organizations to rethink their packaging practices. Humanitarian actors around the world are evaluating their procurement and supply chain delivery processes to respond to the issue of packaging waste management.


Scope and stakeholders

To tackle these challenges, USAID is facilitating a multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary effort to coordinate collective, impactful solutions to humanitarian packaging. The Joint Packaging Initiative follows three phases:

  1. Scoping: The initiative began with a scoping study finalized in August 2020 that provides a preliminary analysis of the environmental risks and challenges related to humanitarian packaging, as well as presents recommendations that will lead to further research, assessments, and follow-on initiatives.
  2. Assessing, Planning and Design: This phase from September 2020 – end of 2021 will consist of a collaborative roadmapping process and the design and piloting of specific initiatives. The collective planning exercise will identify priority areas of intervention and develop a coordinated plan of action for collectively achieving improvements in humanitarian packaging. A selection of interventions will be designed and piloted.
  3. Implementation: A roll out, learning and adaptation phase will take place across 2021 – 2022. The exact timeline will be determined by the collaborative roadmapping exercise in phase 2.


This effort conducted under the Joint Initiative is led by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) in collaboration with institutional partners central to the distribution and management of humanitarian assistance.

Partners include: the World Food Programme, UN Refugee Agency, UN Environment Programme and UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Joint Environment Unit, the Global Logistics and Shelter Clusters, International Organization for Migration, International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and World Wildlife Fund.

More information on recommendations and next steps may be found in the Fact sheet Humanitarian Packaging Initiative

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