Packaging Sustainability Insights from My Personal Recycling ExperiencePackaging Sustainability Insights from My Personal Recycling Experience
Three things surprise me about the contents of my trash and my feelings about it, now that I’m ecologically superior.
July 29, 2020
Don’t judge me too harshly, please. Despite writing about sustainability and packaging for more than three decades, I confess that I’ve only been recycling at home for a couple months. My reasons for not recycling up until now are pretty lame, so I’m not even going to try to justify them. But we recently switched waste haulers and when they asked if I wanted a recycling receptacle along with our new bulk garbage can, I immediately said, “Yes!”
Now a couple months in, I’ve noticed three things:
1. I’m willing — eager even! — to work at recycling so my waste has as much of a chance to actually be reused as possible. That means I make sure the recyclate is clean (rinsed out cans, for example). And I separate packages of different materials. For example, I remove the cap (including the tamper-evident ring) and the glued-on film label from my 2-liter 7UP bottles even though both require scissors. I do this because: (1) I know PET is the most recycled plastic but … (2) I also know that most recyclers are still not collecting polypropylene for recycling (hence the cap and TE ring removal), and (3) the film label could contaminate the PET recycling process so let’s just rip that off and make it a non-issue. I’m thinking about asking 7UP’s owner, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, to add a green tint to the product and switch to a clear PET bottle. Is that overkill? Or leave the product clear and switch to a green shrink label with a vertical perforation for even easier scissors-free removal.
2. I can’t figure out why our weekly trash is still the same amount (two bags), even though we FILL our recycling receptacle each week. I’m guessing this might be COVID-19 related: Because my husband is now also working from home, we’re generating more trash that used to be thrown away at his company’s building. I’ve set an informal goal to reduce even more now that I’m more aware of how much waste+recycling we generate but I’m not sure how to get there. What should we do differently? It’s just the two of us, so buying in bulk isn’t a good option. We don’t want to unduly increase our food waste.
We're lucky that our waste hauler accepts a lot of different types of materials for recycling.
3. Our garbage now consists mostly of food waste (such as vegetable peelings, fruit pits, used tea bags, and chicken bones) — and flexible packaging. Ouch.
I’m well aware of the sustainability of flexible packaging at various stages in the manufacturing and consumption supply chains. But now I see (visually and emotionally) the uphill battle this packaging material has with consumers. End of life is the most important aspect of a package to consumers because that’s where the burden is on them, and this is where flexible packaging is weakest. Many people are working to fix this — thank you — but the longer it takes, the harder it will be to reverse the packaging’s negative eco impression. Can you hurry, please?
The most surprising thing to me is how invested I am in improving my household’s environmental footprint. I’ve got decades to make up for (gulp!). But I’m on it now.
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