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Let's talk about Recycling

There is work to do....

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 recycled – even if you lovingly put them in the blue bin like we do. In 2018, 35.5 million tons of plastic waste was generated in the U.S. with 26.9 million tons landfilled and only 3.1 million tons recycled. We dug into the EPA numbers a bit more and figured out that outside of beverage bottles, only about 8.19% of “non bottle” plastic packaging gets recycled annually in the US. That means almost all those clear food containers, clamshells and blister packs that you scrub clean and carefully place in your blue bin aren’t going anywhere fabulous.

Groaph showing 2018 EPA USA platic packaging recycling rates, we have a ways to go!

We need to remember that 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. For those that need the technical names PET is short for Polyethylene terephthalate and HDPE is the abreviated name for High-density polyethylene.

The latest Canadian Plastics Recycling report also concluded that PET #1 and HDPE #2 comprised the majority of post-consumer plastics recycling and that 89% of recycled PET was coming from beverage bottles.

The low recycling rate issue became even more pronounced after China, which had been the top global importer of various recycled materials for decades, 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!

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 the same quality plastic PET #1 bottle and then another…you see where this is going. When manufacturers use recycled plastic to create a “new” plastic material, either a large portion of freshly made plastic needs to get mixed in or it needs to be treated during processing by using additives to restore some of its desirable properties (Plastic Pollution Coalition, 2022). This brings up an additional recycling challenge- multi-material plastic products. Differing colors and materials in components like lids, security rings, labels, etc., complicate post-consumer recycled content (PCR) manufacturing as they require separate treatment and sorting for effective reuse when downcycling.

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.

Like we said above, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to recycle more and wherever it’s feasible to do so. What’s important to call out, is that there’s no one answer to being more sustainable and planning to reduce our packaging waste, but it’s clear we shouldn’t rely strictly on recycling to get us out of this mess.

What we aim to do here at good natured® is listen to how you do business and offer a material option that’s best for you. And what’s important to recognize is that you’re not forced to make a decision between recycling and reducing your use of petroleum-based materials. We offer packaging in both 99% plant-based certified compostable* PLA (Polylactic acid) or curbside recyclable Bio-PET with 20% or more bio-based content. The choice is yours!

Ready to start ditching the fossil fuels? Chat with one of our plant-based specialists to learn more about how design, function AND ingredients can all help ramp up your positive environmental impact!

*Where such commercial composting facilities exist.