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When is not recycling a good idea?

As packaging designers, you probably have seen, thought about and are working on ecological options. You’ve probably done your homework, and know which options would have the most impact. And that’s not always going the recycled route. But for your average consumer, the concept of recycled, especially post-consumer recycled being the greenest of options, has long been banged into their heads, and that’s just not always true.

What am I talking about, you ask?

Take eco icon Method, who took cleaning products from hidden under the counter workhorses to ego gratifying stylish counter decoration. Those well-designed bottles take a lot of plastic to make. Yes, you could recycle them and get another, but why not just refill them?

That’s exactly what Method has done. Its refill units use 80 to 90 percent less material and packaging. Multiply that times however many people use Method products and choose this option, and you’ve got a substantial amount of materials saved.

But there’s a problem.

The refills themselves aren’t typically recyclable. So yes, you’re likely still coming out ahead in terms of resource use and impact as compared to repeatedly buying and recycling entire bottles of product. For many consumers though, this is a mental hurdle they may not wish to jump.

There is, fortunately, a way to solve for this problem: remake them into bags, trash cans and benches. You heard right. How? Via Method’s new Refill Brigade. Remember the 3 R’s of sustainability are Reduce, Reuse, Reycle, in that order. So the refill pack is reducing packaging use and a collection program is reusing or recycling the materials as well. Accomplishing all three R’s!

So I’d like to hear from you out there working in the packaging design trenches: Are your clients looking into refill options like this? What are some challenges you’ve been coming up against? What’s working? Is there another pathway to reducing and reusing packaging that we all should know about? If your company/client had a pathway to upcycle their refill packages, would that make it more likely to happen? What needs to occur to get the public into the idea of using refills, and knowing their post consumption options?

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