Thinking outside the box: a whole new way of reducing packaging waste

Workers sorting papers on factory assembly line for recycling at recycling plant.

Non-recyclable product packaging is everywhere. Toothpastes, laundry detergents and cereals (to name a few) all require packaging. Take all the rows of packaging that fill up a store, multiply them times thousands of stores and try to imagine the size of their final destination–a collective landfill. We’re talking a Mount Everest of trouble.

What’s to be done? Well, the GMA’s (Grocery Manufacturing Association) recent report on the state of our recycling system in the U.S. offers some good and alarming information on how broken our recycling system is in America.

The challenges

The GMA report points out that even with the best intentions – we have a confused, contaminated and broken recycling system because:

  • There are multiple recycling symbols on packaging, and most Americans find all of them confusing.
  • Most Americans aren’t entirely sure what can be recycled. Plastic bottle caps, straws are largely unrecyclable due to size and food residue on packaging can’t be recycled, but they make up about a quarter of the material in bins.
  • Variances in local recycling laws. A pizza box might be acceptable recyclable material in one county, but not another.
  • Millennials are more likely to recycle than older generations, but are also less knowledgeable as to what can actually be recycled.
  • A majority of Americans find recycling to be more confusing than assembling furniture or doing their own taxes.

A sustainable world will take all of the world’s participation

The GMA report concludes that solving our packaging waste problem is too large a task for one entity. More companies need to create more sustainable materials. More consumers should recycle and those who already do need to be more knowledgeable about what is acceptable and what is not. More government officials should get their communities involved in recycling.

Obviously, these are developments that won’t happen overnight.

The good news

According to the GMA report, the 25 largest CPG companies are focusing on ‘reimagining’ product packaging to create more sustainable products through the following measures:

  • Reduce packaging
  • Increase recyclability
  • Manufacture with recycled content

Kellogg, for example, has reduced the weight of cereal box liners by 17 percent, eliminating 192,000 pounds of packaging material.  “It’s imperative we are part of a solution that ensures a healthy and sustainable planet for all people around the world,” says Steve Cahillane, Kellogg Company Chairman and CEO.

These bold measures will force competitors to adapt similar practices. A healthy planet depends on it. And so does the health of a company’s bottom line. As consumers become more environmentally conscious, they simply won’t accept products that don’t align with their beliefs. According to the GMA report, 74% of Americans consider themselves extremely or very concerned about the environment, which is up from 38% just a decade ago.

An innovative waste reducing measure CPGs can adopt right now

While CPGs are being extremely innovative with their primary packaging content, what about the boxes those products are delivered in? Those would be corrugated boxes, and according to the EPA, they make up 11.9 percent of total waste materials. Even though most corrugated boxes are recycled, over 1.5 million tons still went straight to landfills.

Reduce packaging waste with RPCs

Tosca Reusable Plastic Containers (RPCs) can be used to effectively move product from source to shelf again. . . and again. . . and again. Unlike corrugated boxes, there’s nothing to recycle – and no waste to manage. RPCs aren’t the sole solution toward a more sustainable planet, but choosing to eliminate your packaging waste is a significant first step. What impact could RPCs have on your packaging waste reduction goals?

To learn more about how reusables can create more sustainable businesses, click here.

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