Ask anyone outside of the waste industry what the word “recyclable” means and they will likely tell you that it refers to something that can go into their blue box. Same goes for those numbered triangles we see on plastic, how lovely that they’re all “recyclable”, right?
When companies say that their product or packaging is “recyclable”, it means that someone, somewhere could possibly turn it into something else. It doesn’t mean you can put it in your blue box unless the organization operating your program says you can. And blue box operators base their decisions on what they can sell. If no one wants a particular material, then it’s not going anywhere to be recycled, even though it’s “recyclable”.
“Recyclable” is a statement of potential, not an assurance. It might be technically possible to create something else out of that product or package, but that doesn’t mean that the technology has been proven commercially, or that a facility is close enough to your community to make recycling feasible, or that there is enough of it produced in your community to make it worthwhile to collect and sort separately … you get where I’m going with this? And then there’s the us factor – even if a package has a viable end market close by, we still have to prepare it correctly and put it in our blue boxes, and we are notoriously hard to train. So, yeah, it’s a journey with a lot of places to go astray.
Then there’s the what does it end up as question: if a product or package is made into something other than its original form, it isn’t reducing the use of new resources. So if your pouch gets made into a park bench, but pouches have to be made from virgin resources to replace your original, is much good happening here?
Maybe sometime we’ll get to the point where our stuff is re-created as itself in a true circle, but until then, I’d keep the quotation marks.