Greenpeace study trashes plastic recycling
For decades in the U.S. people have been asked to separate out their plastics and recycle them in the interest of preserving the environment. Now, at a time when customers and retailers have sustainability on the mind more than ever, a major environmental group is saying that the practice of plastic recycling just does not work.
Not only is most plastic in the U.S. not recycled, but cannot be recycled, according to the new Greenpeace study. In 2021, U.S. households created an estimated 51 million tons of plastic waste and only recycled 2.4 million. Last year, only between five and six percent of plastic waste was recycled, down from a peak of 9.5 percent in 2014. But even when the U.S. was “recycling” plastic at its peak, tons of waste were sent to China and burned or dumped while being marked as recycled.
Greenpeace touts reuse/refill models as the path to sustainability, not plastic recycling, which major consumer packaged goods companies have promoted as environmentally sound.
The CPG industry has been doing some research into environmentally friendly alternatives to plastics. Keurig Dr. Pepper in March announced plans to pilot a fully compostable and recycled paper soda bottle in the U.S. And in May, Kraft Heinz announced plans to pilot a paper-based ketchup bottle, according to Consumer Goods.
Startups have also jumped in to try to reduce reliance on plastic containers with new innovative models. Loop, for instance, allows customers to purchase products in reusable packaging and, after using them, leave the packaging outside to be picked up for sterilization and reuse, a throwback to the milkman model of earlier decades.
During this year’s Halloween season, one CPG company even took steps to reduce season-specific waste from candy wrappers, according to an ABC News report. Snickers manufacturer Mars distributed 17,400 candy wrapper disposal bags nationally so people could deposit wrappers and send them to a specialty recycling plant, which processes them into bags for cleaning up after dogs. Even if all the wrapper disposal bags were used, however, it would only result in two tons of wrappers being recycled.
- New Greenpeace Report: Plastic Recycling Is A Dead-End Street — Year After Year, Plastic Recycling Declines Even as Plastic Waste Increases – Greenpeace
- Can Dr. Pepper build a better bottle? – RetailWire
- Can Loop make packaging reusability a reality at scale? – RetailWire
- Kraft Heinz Piloting Paper-Based Ketchup Bottle – Consumer Goods
- Trick or trash: Candy makers grapple with plastic waste – ABC News
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do the findings about the inefficacy of plastic recycling mean for retailers and brands trying to pursue more environmentally sustainable operations? Do you think such findings will impact the retail/CPG packaging world significantly and push the development of more compostable and/or reusable packaging?