Joint Initiative On Sustainable Humanitarian Assistance Packaging Waste Management

Convened and funded by USAID, the Joint Initiative brings together 23 humanitarian actors from the UN system, NGOs, and bilateral and multilateral donors to reduce the negative environmental impacts of humanitarian action, with a focus on packaging waste.

Packaging is essential to keep life-saving items, such as food, in good condition. Photocredit: UNEP/OCHA Joint Environment Unit.

Looking at challenges and solutions across packaging’s life cycle, the Joint Initiative explores how to eliminate certain types of packaging and how to optimize packaging or use more sustainable materials, as well as the availability of recycling and experiences repurposing packaging waste.

The Joint Initiative aims to promote coordination and collaboration. It documents the experiences, challenges, and success stories of humanitarian organizations as they to work to make their packaging more environmentally sustainable, and shares these with other actors through case studies and thematic webinars.

It provides tools, guidance and information on key humanitarian packaging issues, such as plastic alternatives, sustainable waste management, and finding a second life for discarded packaging. The Joint Initiative also advocates for effective solutions to the global waste crisis and more harmonized and standardized approaches across the humanitarian sector, including among humanitarian donors.

The Challenge

The need for humanitarian assistance continues to rise, just as the world faces an urgent and underfunded global solid waste management crisis.

Photo credit: UNEP/OCHA Joint Environment Unit.

Humanitarian action and packaging are inextricably linked. Relief items are transported to locations across the world, carefully packaged so they reach the people who need them in good condition. This packaging waste is often left to local authorities and beneficiary communities to handle and – in the absence of sufficient infrastructure or waste management systems – it ends up being buried, burnt or dumped in or around water courses. This leads to pollution and environmental degradation, the spread of disease, and damage to wildlife.

To observe the “do no harm” principle, humanitarian organizations need to rapidly rethink their packaging and procurement practices.

The Joint Initiative collects data to support evidence-based decision-making and advocacy by humanitarian organizations towards more sustainable packaging practices. Towards this goal, we published a Packaging baseline Assessment based on humanitarian emergency responses in 2021.

RESOURCES: Factsheet on climate and plastic packaging | Scope of the packaging waste problem | Packaging baseline Assessment based on humanitarian emergency responses in 2021


Together with its partners, the Joint Initiative has produced these resources to showcase potential solutions to the packaging challenge:


INFOGRAPHIC: Properties of Five Types of Plastic Packaging Used in Humanitarian Assistance and the Impact of Plastics on Human Health, Marine Life, and Climate Change

This practical resource briefly explains the advantages and disadvantages of each of the five types of plastic packaging most used in the humanitarian sector. It also provides top line recommendations for managing each plastic type more sustainably.

EN FRANÇAIS: Propriétés de cinq types d’emballages plastiques utilisés dans l’aide humanitaire et impact des plastiques sur la santé humaine, la vie marine et le changement climatique

Cet outil explique brièvement les avantages et les inconvénients des cinq types d’emballages plastiques les plus utilisés dans le secteur humanitaire. Il fournit également des recommandations pour une gestion plus durable de chaque type de plastique.


RESOURCE: Procurement Decision Tree to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Humanitarian Packaging

This simple tool is designed to support staff in humanitarian organizations to make decisions that reduce the environmental impact of packaging. The tool can be used to inform decision-making related to the packaging of humanitarian relief items, or items used in the office, in events or in training sessions. This resource was developed in collaboration with IOM and ACTED.

EN FRANÇAIS: Arbre à décision pour les achat, pour réduire l’impact environnemental des emballages humanitaires

Cet outil est conçu pour aider le personnel des organisations humanitaires à prendre des décisions qui réduisent l’impact environnemental des emballages. L’outil peut être utilisé pour éclairer la prise de décision relative à l’emballage des articles d’aide humanitaire, ou des articles utilisés au bureau, lors d’événements ou de sessions de formation. La Joint Initiative a développé cet outil en collaboration avec l’OIM et ACTED.


RESOURCE: Packaging Sustainability Criteria

While the procurement processes of humanitarian organizations vary, this list of 25 criteria is an excellent starting place and can be used as a checklist or aide-mémoire of important aspects to take into consideration when trying to procure more sustainable packaging. It includes technical, administrative and transport criteria.


RESOURCE: Guidance Note on Regulatory and Legislative Frameworks for Humanitarian Workers (plastics)

As an international treaty on plastic pollution gets underway, national legislators are increasingly regulating and restricting the use of plastic packaging and, in particular, single use plastics. This has a direct impact on humanitarian organizations and plastic bans have already forced some actors to make changes in operations and activities. This resource provides information on existing frameworks governing plastics and offers food for thought on potential solutions based on modification of procurement practices.


RESOURCE: Guidance Note on opportunities and challenges related to alternatives to petrol-based plastic in humanitarian packaging

Many humanitarian organizations are turning to alternatives to petrol-based plastics for their packaging. These alternatives also present risks for the environment and are not quick-fix solutions or “silver bullets.” This guidance note explores some of these alternatives to plastics packaging, and their related challenges.

EN FRANÇAIS: Les alternatives aux emballages en plastique conventionnel (à base de pétrole) – Définitions, avantages et défis pour le secteur humanitaire

Un type particulier d’emballage qui pose problème aux acteurs humanitaires et s’avère prévalent dans leur travail est l’emballage en plastique. Plutôt que de fournir des réponses, ce document vise à fournir des informations et des points de réflexion, afin d’aider le personnel chargé à prendre des décisions plus éclairées.


RESOURCE: Recycling and repurposing

While waste reduction – eliminating or reducing packaging, or making this more sustainable – is the priority, recycling is also an essential aspect of sustainable waste management.

The Joint Initiative has mapped recycling facilities in several countries where humanitarian operations are ongoing, in collaboration with the WREC project:

Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Madagascar, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sri Lanka and Uganda.

MORE INFORMATION: WREC recycling facilities map | Webinar on recycling 

If you have mapped recycling facilities, please contact


RESOURCE: Operationalizing and Scaling-up Donors’ Climate and Environmental Commitments: an analysis of progress, gaps and opportunities

Published in partnership with the Climate Action Accelerator, this report presents an analysis of how donors’ climate and environmental ambitions and commitments are influencing the way they fund humanitarian assistance. This report was originally published in October 2023 and this new version, re-published in March 2024, includes some updates. The report also expands the scope of the Multi-donor Policy Landscape Analysis published by the Joint Initiative in January 2023, including information on donors’ efforts to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions and become more environmentally sustainable.

EN FRANÇAIS: Opérationnaliser et renforcer les engagements des bailleurs de fonds en matière de climat et d’environnement

Publié en partenariat avec le Climate Action Accelerator, ce rapport présente une analyse de la manière dont les ambitions et les engagements des bailleurs en matière de climat et d’environnement influencent la façon dont ils financent l’aide humanitaire et leurs propres pratiques. Il a été initialement publié en octobre 2023 et cette nouvelle version, republiée en mars 2024, comprend quelques mises à jour.

LAUNCH EVENT: Recording and presentations


RESOURCE: Multi-donor Policy Landscape Analysis: Environmental sustainability and climate change mitigation

This report outlines how donors are integrating and mainstreaming environmental sustainability and climate change mitigation into their priorities, partnerships and funding of humanitarian organizations. It explores current drivers, trends and requirements relevant to humanitarian action that is committed to transition and adjust towards more sustainable ways of working. (NB: This report was updated in October 2023, in collaboration with the Climate Action Accelerator. See resource above for a more up-to-date and expanded analysis.)

EN FRANÇAIS: Durabilité environnementale et atténuation du changement climatique: Analyse des politiques bailleurs

Cette analyse des politiques de différents bailleurs donne un aperçu de la manière dont les bailleurs agissent, en intégrant et en généralisant la durabilité environnementale et l’atténuation du changement climatique dans leurs priorités et le financement des acteurs humanitaires.


RESOURCE: Guidance Note on Regulatory & Legislative Frameworks for Humanitarian Workers

An overview of existing frameworks governing plastics and how they are likely to evolve. This report also documents awareness-raising efforts and changes in procurement practices.


RESOURCE: Guidelines for Packaging Waste Management in Humanitarian Operations

This document provides guidelines to ensure sound management of packaging waste reuse and repurpose, recycling, and disposal in humanitarian operations, taking into account the challenges of collection and recycling in areas where humanitarian operations take place.


RESOURCE: Options for Humanitarian Packaging Reuse, Repurposing, and Recycling

The document presents 14 initiatives implemented by humanitarian organizations to reuse, repurpose or recycle packaging. These initiatives show that packaging waste can become a resource for other productive uses.


WFP RESOURCE: Recycling Company Assessment Checklist for Hazardous and Non-Hazardous Waste

A general guide used by World Food Programme (WFP) to assess company recycling and disposal procedures.


Webinar Series: Packaging Matters

Packaging Matters provides a space where humanitarian actors can share, connect and learn from one another. It offers participants the chance to hear from technical experts about new technologies and examples of innovation, discuss common challenges and identify solutions together, learning from others’ successes and pitfalls.

Episode 1: The journey to sustainable packaging: synergies between humanitarian organizations and the private sector
ALPINTER, Mondi Group and the WFP shared insights into bottlenecks and levers for humanitarians to make real improvement to packaging.

RESOURCES: recording, outcomes document, and presentation.

Episode 2: Eliminating single-use plastics from packaging of non-food items: ShelterBox’s success story,
ShelterBox team explain how they managed to do away with single-use plastics from their shelter kits packaging, which includes household and hygiene items.

RESOURCES: recording and presentation

Episode 3: Recycling Humanitarian Assistance Packaging Waste: Challenges and Opportunities
The World Food Programme Environment Unit, the Réseau Environnement Humanitaire members, and the Danish Refugee Council’ Fair Recycling Programme discuss how they recycle packaging waste from their operations.

RESOURCES: recording, presentation and outcomes document.

Episode 4: Using bioplastics in packaging: What do humanitarians need to know?
The Plastic Pollution Coalition, the Eco Design Tarpaulin Project and ShelterBox share their experiences and challenges in the use of bioplastics.

RESOURCES: recording, presentation and key takeaways.

Episode 5: Repurposing of Humanitarian Assistance Packaging and Plastic ‘Waste’: What’s the story?

UNICEF, WFP and the Plastic Pollution Coalition explain how they are giving used packaging a second life and purpose, and some of the environmental risks of repurposing humanitarian packaging.

RESOURCES: recording, presentation and key takeaways.

Episode 6: Sustainability in Supply Chains: Bringing Suppliers on Board

Save the Children International and Médecins Sans Frontières discuss how they are engaging with suppliers to make their operations and products more sustainable, and the lessons they have learned along the way. This webinar was co-hosted with the WREC Project at the Logistics Cluster.

RESOURCES: recording and presentations and outcomes document.

Good Practices


RESOURCE: Compendium: Managing Packaging Waste Sustainably – Lessons from Humanitarian Organizations

This compendium of case studies documents the experiences of eight humanitarian organizations who have tried to reduce the environmental footprint of their packaging by testing solutions that are both upstream and downstream in the supply chain. It covers a variety of operating contexts and a range of different actors, and highlights both the positive results they have witnessed and the challenges the have faced. By sharing humanitarian organizations’ experience, the JI hopes to inform and inspire other actors in their journey toward more sustainable packaging and operations.

EN FRANCAIS: Compendium: Gérer Durablement Les Déchets D’emballage – Leçons Apprises des Organisations Humanitaires

Ce compendium documente les expériences de huit organisations humanitaires qui ont tenté de réduire l’empreinte environnementale de leurs emballages en testant des solutions en amont et en aval de la chaîne d’approvisionnement. Il couvre une variété de contextes opérationnels et un éventail d’acteurs différents, et met en évidence à la fois les résultats positifs qu’ils ont observés et les défis auxquels ils ont été confrontés. À travers ce compendium, la JI espère informer et inspirer d’autres acteurs dans leurs efforts de mettre en place des opérations plus durables. 


RESOURCE: PALLADIUM/Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office: Reducing single use plastics

The UK’ Humanitarian and Stabilisation Operations Team (HSOT) supports responses to sudden-onset disasters, crises, and complex emergencies around the world. Managed by Palladium, HSOT took action to reduce plastic packaging from aid items. Single use plastic packaging that cannot be removed is 100% recycled, and 100% recyclable.

EN FRANÇAIS: PALLADIUM/Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office: Réduire les plastiques à usage unique

L’équipe chargée des opérations humanitaires et de stabilisation (HSOT) du Royaume-Uni soutient les réponses aux catastrophes soudaines, aux crises et aux situations d’urgence complexes dans le monde entier. Gérée par Palladium, l’équipe a pris des mesures pour réduire les emballages en plastique des articles d’aide. Les emballages plastiques à usage unique qui ne peuvent être retirés sont recyclés à 100 % et recyclables à 100 %.


RESOURCE: Save the Children: Promoting Sustainability through Supply Chains

In 2019, Save the Children International (SCI) endorsed an Environmental Sustainability and Climate Change Policy to support the organization to improve its environmental performance, including in relation to supply chain issues. Since then, SCI has made considerable progress towards making its supply chain more sustainable. It has created a Supplier Sustainability Policy, a Sustainability Pledge, and sustainability criteria to evaluate suppliers. This case study provides an insight into SCI’s process of change.

EN FRANÇAIS: Save the Children: Promouvoir la durabilité par les chaînes d’approvisionnement

En 2019, Save the Children International (SCI) a approuvé une politique de durabilité environnementale et de changement climatique pour améliorer sa performance environnementale, y compris en ce qui concerne les questions liées à la chaîne d’approvisionnement. SCI a fait des progrès considérables pour rendre sa chaîne d’approvisionnement plus durable. Cette étude de cas donne un aperçu du processus de changement de SCI.


RESOURCE: UNHCR: Greening the packaging of core relief items

UNHCR is conducting a comprehensive review of the supply planning, technical specifications, and sourcing of eight of its core relief items (blankets, buckets, family tents, kitchen sets, jerrycans, mattresses, sleeping mats, and solar lamps). The packaging of these items has a significant environmental impacts, so efforts began here. This case study outlines the improvements identified to date, which are progressively being implemented, along with some of their positive environmental and financial impacts.

EN FRANÇAIS: HCR: « Écologiser » l’emballage des articles de premiers secours

Le HCR s’engage à améliorer la durabilité environnementale de sa chaîne d’approvisionnement de bout en bout, car l’ensemble de ses articles de premiers secours représentent environ 60 % de ses émissions de gaz à effet de serre. L’emballage de ces articles a un impact significatif sur l’environnement, et c’est là que les efforts ont commencé. Cette étude de cas présente les améliorations identifiées à ce jour, qui sont progressivement mises en œuvre, ainsi que certains de leurs effets positifs sur l’environnement et les finances.


RESOURCE: UNICEF: Distributing Long Lasting Insecticidal Nets in Bulk

Nets are a key malaria prevention and control tool. In 2021-22, UNICEF delivered 60 million nets to 36 countries for distribution to households, schools and health care centres. Concerned about the end of life of single use plastic bags, UNICEF managed packing requirements to reduce plastic waste, which also led to savings in procurement costs.

EN FRANÇAIS: UNICEF: La distribution en VRAC de moustiquaires imprégnées d’insecticide à longue durée
Les moustiquaires sont un outil clé de prévention et de contrôle du paludisme. En 2021-22, l’UNICEF a livré 60 millions de moustiquaires dans 36 pays pour les distribuer aux ménages, aux écoles et aux centres de santé. Préoccupé par la fin de vie des sacs en plastique à usage unique, l’UNICEF a géré les exigences en matiére d’emballage pour réduire les déchets plastiques, ce qui a également permis de réaliser des économies sur les coûts d’approvisionnement.


RESOURCE: ACTED Lebanon: A holistic approach to reducing and managing waste

In 2017, ACTED identified that approximately 60-70% of its carbon footprint resulted from its supply chain. In line with its 3 Zero World vision – Zero Exclusion, Zero Carbon and Zero Poverty – ACTED looked for ways to introduce sustainability measures into procurement for office supplies and programs. This case study charts ACTED Lebanon’s efforts to lower its carbon footprint while also reducing local pollution caused by the country’s low waste management capacity.

EN FRANÇAIS: ACTED Liban: une approche holistique pour réduire et gérer les déchets

Depuis plusieurs années, ACTED Liban travaille sur la réduction des déchets générés par ses programmes mais aussi en interne. Parmi les actions menées: suppression du plastique à usage unique dans les bureaux et utilisation du carton pour les “lunch box” distribués aux bénéficiaires lors des formations.


RESOURCE: ICRC Afghanistan’s pilot: Replacing plastic with cardboard in NFI distributions

As part of the Sustainable Supply Chain Alliance (SSCA) project, ICRC has been working to green its supply chain across its operations. In Afghanistan, the organisation has replaced plastic with cardboard in its NFI distribution held in prisons, saving more than 60 000 plastic bags a year.

EN FRANÇAIS: Le projet pilote du CICR en Afghanistan : Remplacer le plastique par du carton dans les distributions d’articles non alimentaires

Dans le cadre du projet Sustainable Supply Chain Alliance (SSCA), le CICR travaille à apporter des changements pour rendre ses chaînes d’approvisionnement plus respectueuses de l’environnement. En Afghanistan, le CICR a remplacé l’emballage plastique utilisé pour les distributions de NFI dans les prisons par du carton, économisant ainsi 60 0000 sacs plastiques par an.


RESOURCE: Plastic Free E-Voucher Shops in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh: The World Food Programme’s Experience 

Encouraged by the enforcement of plastic bans by the government of Bangladesh, as well as the WFP’s own plan to phase out 90% of SUP by 2O26, the WFP decided to step up efforts to reduce its environmental footprint and to explore alternatives to SUP in Cox’s Bazar.

EN FRANÇAIS: Programmes de transferts monétaires à Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh: Des boutiques zéro plastique. L’expérience du Programme Alimentaire Mondial 

Encouragé par l’entrée en vigueur de l’interdiction du plastique par le gouvernement du Bangladesh ainsi que par ses plans visant à éliminer progressivement 90 % des plastiques à usage unique (PUU), le PAM a décidé d’intensifier ses efforts pour réduire son empreinte environnementale et d’explorer des alternatives aux PUU à Cox’s Bazar.


RESOURCE: ShelterBox’s success in eliminating single use plastic 

This case study illustrates how a relatively small organization with little purchasing power has managed to make a significant reduction to its packaging, leading to avoiding the use of 173,396 pieces of plastic because of their efforts.

EN FRANÇAIS: Le succès de ShelterBox dans l’élimination du plastique à usage unique

Cette étude de cas illustre la manière dont une organisation relativement petite et
disposant d’un faible pouvoir d’achat a réussi à réduire considérablement ses
emballages. ShelterBox a au total évité́ l’utilisation de 173 396 morceaux de plastique grâce à ses efforts.


RESOURCE: Multi-donor Policy Landscape Analysis: Environmental sustainability and climate change mitigation

This report outlines how donors are integrating and mainstreaming environmental sustainability and climate change mitigation into their priorities, partnerships and funding of humanitarian organizations. It explores current drivers trends and requirements relevant to humanitarian action that is committed to transition and adjust towards more sustainable ways of working.

EN FRANÇAIS: Durabilité environnementale et atténuation du changement climatique: Analyse des politiques bailleurs

Cette analyse des politiques de différents bailleurs donne un aperçu de la manière dont les bailleurs agissent, en intégrant et en généralisant la durabilité environnementale et l’atténuation du changement climatique dans leurs priorités et le financement des acteurs humanitaires.

Partners and Team

Transforming the way in which the humanitarian sector manages the packaging of life-saving assistance items and the waste this generates, is too great a task for any single organization. The Joint Initiative partners are taking a collective approach, sharing knowledge, good practices and pooling guidance, tools and resources to foster more sustainable packaging practices

MORE: ‘Who’s doing what’ on sustainable procurement | How donors are integrating environmental sustainability and climate change mitigation into their funding of humanitarian actors

This report maps existing initiatives, projects, networks, and groups working on green procurement and the tools and guidance they have produced. It also provides links to further resources that document humanitarian organizations’ successes or challenges in using these tools and guidance in operational contexts.


The Joint Initiative is managed by a core team of experts in humanitarian action, waste management, sustainability and communications. With guidance from the steering committee, the team carry out the project activities in collaboration with partners, drawing on their knowledge and resources.

You can contact the team at

USAID supports the Joint Initiative by funding this project team via its Environmental Compliance Support (ECOS) contract, managed by the Bureau Environmental Officer.


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Past newsletter issues include case studies, guidance and resources:

Issue 13, December 2023, End-of-year special

Issue 12, October 2023

Issue 11, July 2023

Issue 10, April 2023

Issue 9, January 2023

Issue 8, December 2022, End-of-year special

Issue 7, September 2022

Issue 6, June 2022

Issue 5, February 2022

Issue 4, October 2021

Issue 3, July 2021

Issue 2, April 2021

Issue 1, February 2021

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