Have a look in your fridge and your cupboard at all the different types of packages. How many are plastic? paper? metal? a combination? How many have the same package for different products? How many have different packages for different brands of the same product? Or even different sizes of the same brand of the same product? Is your head spinning yet?
Of all those packages, how many are accepted by your recycling program? (Not exactly sure? You’re not alone.) Better yet, how many are recycled back into the same type of package? Hmm, well, pop/beer cans, and some plastic bottles might contain some recycled content, but a lot of what is called recyclable, well, isn’t, or is turned into a ‘melt it all together and see what happens’ product like plastic wood.
The plethora of packaging types not only makes it tough for residents trying to navigate their recycling programs, it also is a problem for the recyclers. Too much of what is collected at the curb is either put in by mistake, i.e. too confusing for residents, or, even if it is correct, it’s challenging to sort it all out again in a way that captures paper in the paper stream and the same plastics together.
If we want to get to the place where our packages are re-made to do the same job and actually displace virgin resources, things need to be simpler. We need fewer types of packages, made from fewer materials (read: fewer types of plastics) that are designed to be effectively recycled.
The soft drink companies have mostly figured out how to standardize packages that work for recyclers. They went from big bottles with made from two different types of plastic (you may remember those bottles with the brown bottoms and clear tops) to one type of plastic with labels that don’t interfere with recycling. They’re even re-thinking the green plastic bottles, working on clear versions, so their packages may be even more streamlined in the future.
We can’t blame individuals for not getting recycling right when things are so complex. Residents understand that packaging can protect the product, but it is the product we care about, not so much the package. Industry uses packaging for other purposes, like advertising, differentiating from competitors and taking up retail shelf space and they need to apply their creativity to meet those needs on a standardized package. If industry can simplify, standardize, and make it easier for us to contribute to a truly circular economy, we will do our part.
Come on, give us a KISS (please).