First and foremost, we most certainly want to encourage recycling! We’re 100% for re-using things multiple times and cutting back on the stuff we throw away. That’s just being a mindful member of our community.
However, the sad truth is that less than 15% of plastics in North America actually get re-used – even if you lovingly put them in the blue bin like we do. Take a look at the chart below to see how in 2015, 34.5 million tons of plastic waste was generated in the U.S. with 26 million tons landfilled and only 3.1 million tons recycled. For more on this, take a look through the latest EPA report on Sustainable Materials Management (2016) to see a breakdown of recycling rates in the USA.
Recycling is a for-profit industry, and so recyclers tend to sort the most valuable after-market plastics (currently dominated by plastic PET #1 beverage bottles and HDPE #2 milk jugs) and toss the rest.
The latest Canadian Plastics Recycling report concluded that PET #1 and HDPE #2 comprised the majority of post-consumer plastics recycling in Canada and that 91% of recycled PET was coming from beverage bottles (2016 Post-Consumer Plastics Recycling in Canada, 2018). We dug into the EPA numbers a bit more and figured out that outside of beverage bottles, on average only about 1/2 a truckload of “non bottle” PET #1 gets recycled annually per recycling facility in the US. That means all those clear food containers, clamshells and blister packs that are in your blue bin aren’t going anywhere fabulous. Compare this to the fact that one truckload of trash arrives at a landfill every 18 seconds and the magnitude of the issue starts to become pretty clear.
This has become even more immediate now that China, which has been the top global importer of various recycled materials for decades, has put a ban on recycled material imports. In 2016 alone, Chinese manufacturers imported 7.3 million metric tons of recovered plastic from the USA. And now it’s zero. It’s going to be harder and harder for us to hide our waste problem – yikes!
The Ellen MacArthur Foundations’ New Plastics Economy, a global think tank focused on rethinking and redesigning the future of plastics, states that “without fundamental redesign and innovation, about 30% of plastic packaging will NEVER be reused or recycled.” (New Plastics Economy, 2016) In other words, just increasing the amount of petroleum plastics recycling can’t rid us of this waste problem.
Another really important consideration is that it’s not possible to simply recycle plastic an infinite number of times and use it for the same application. Due to a process called downcycling, a plastic PET #1 bottle cannot be re-processed into another plastic PET #1 bottle and then another…. you see where this is going (Environmental Technology, 2018). Basically, all the conventional petroleum-based plastics that have ever been produced still exist in some form or another (Greenpeace, 2017) and will not disappear for many years, no matter how good we get at recycling.
We have to consider the big task of closing the loop by redesigning materials to be more readily renewable and reusable by decoupling packaging from the consumption of fossil-based feedstock (New Plastics Economy, 2006). And if these materials can’t be reused, we had better have thought through how they can biodegrade into elements found in nature to be used again to grow more materials. That’s what makes us tick here at good natured®, and that’s why we’re not contented to just rely on recycling as we know it to get us all out of this mess.
For specific questions about our packaging and how it fits into the recycling landscape, check out our FAQs.