As low commodity prices have left recyclers short on cash to invest in technological upgrades, product manufacturers are coming out with new types of packaging that make business even tougher.
These products include lighter-weight plastic bottles, resealable pouch containers and other items that are popular with consumers and often better for the environment because they require less energy to produce and transport. Water bottles are made with less plastic now, for example, and thin plastic film is replacing heavier packaging.
But poor consumer education means that items like trash, grocery and dry cleaning bags end up in recyclers’ sorting facilities where they don’t belong and can jam machines.
“Flexible packaging has a very positive environmental footprint,” said Chaz Miller, director of policy and advocacy at the National Waste & Recycling Association. “Very hard to recycle, however, so there’s a trade-off there.”
Clear plastic pouches also have become popular. In addition to their convenient zip-close tops, they use less material. But in sorting facilities, machines often mistake the flattened pouches for paper and end up placing them in the wrong place. Thinner plastic bottles are now more easily flattened, too.
For recyclers, the challenge remains in keeping consumers educated about film and other materials that don’t belong in recycling bins.
“With more complexity in materials that consumers are purchasing, it makes it a lot harder for customers to know what they can recycle and what they can’t, so I think it makes it harder to ensure that we get the right materials in the recycling stream,” Susan Robinson, directors of government affairs for Waste Management. “It used to be a lot more simple.”
See here for the background. I don’t have anything to add here, just to note that it’s another item on the “educate the public about how to recycle” to do list.