From Garbage to Goods: America’s Efforts for a More Sustainable Future
Recycling is at the forefront of everyone’s minds across the entire supply chain – from manufacturers to brand owners to consumers. Today’s purchasers are looking for packages that keep their food fresher longer and are easily recyclable. Brand owners are seeking ways to get more bang for their buck while still optimizing production and meeting their sustainability goals. Raw materials manufacturers are being challenged to produce technologies that have a smaller impact on the environment. Everyone is seeking to be more sustainable and this shift in lifestyle is not just a trend.
Organizations like the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, the American Chemistry Council’s Flexible Film Recycling Group, and Keep America Beautiful® (KAB) have made significant steps towards increasing recycling awareness to keep our nation beautiful and to transform our garbage into useable goods. Recycling is one of the key alternatives to minimizing the amount of waste in landfills and KAB, amongst other groups, have been promoting initiatives like the recent America Recycles Day, which took place on November 15th. The nationally recognized program is dedicated to celebrating and educating others on recycling programs and challenging Americans to host recycling events in their local communities.
According to KAB, the United States’ overall recycling rate is only 34.7 percent. Furthermore, the Flexible Film Recycling Group has found that approximately 72 to 74 percent of Americans have access to film recycling through curbside collection or to a drop-off facility within 10 miles from their home. These statistics raise a few key questions – why aren’t more consumers recycling? Is it because people are unaware of their recycling channels or because they don’t have the knowledge to properly recycle their items?
A common misconception is that all plastic products can be recycled. This isn’t the case. Variations in municipal recycling programs, incorrect labels and false recyclability claims have made it difficult for consumers to properly recycle. To combat these challenges, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition has developed and promoted the How2Recycle Label, a straightforward labeling system that helps ensure each package will end up in its ideal end-of-life “home.” The standardized labeling system is applied to packages sold in the United States, strictly adheres to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Green Guides, and is used by a variety of brands including Costco Wholesale, Microsoft, General Mills, The Estée Lauder Companies, Minute Maid, ConAgra Food and Ziploc, an SC Johnson Company.
Additionally, initiatives led by the Flexible Film Recycling Group have created an easy-to-read poster aimed towards educating consumers on plastic film recycling. Retail, newspaper, bread, produce and dry cleaning bags; air pillows; and wrappings on napkins, paper towels, bathroom tissues and diapers are all examples of plastic films that can be successfully reintroduced into the manufacturing chain through recycling. Clean and dry plastic films can then be transformed into composite lumber, or reprocessed into pellet or post-consumer resins that are used in valuable goods such as plastic bags, pallets, containers, crates and pipes. Through strong partnerships between chemical companies and non-profit organizations, it is possible to create plastic technologies that can convert garbage into usable goods. Our team of experts works closely with customers and brand owners to develop unique optimization processes for each plastic package to reduce packaging waste.
Dow hopes to create a future where people and businesses can recycle 100 percent of all plastic packaging. In honor of America Recycles Day, I challenge you to consider this: What can your company do to transform garbage into treasure? Are you advocating and educating consumers about the end-of-life options for your plastic packages? Are you taking the time to read the label and determine where your used plastics should go – the recycling bin or the garbage?
Recycling plastic isn’t just a yearly holiday, it’s a lifestyle. To give plastic trash another chance at life and to support Keep America Beautiful’ s initiative to promote recycling awareness, please visit America Recycles Day to learn more about what you can do to help.
Jeff Wooster is the global sustainability leader for Dow Performance Packaging, holding 44 U.S. and foreign patents, and has published 50 technical papers and presentations. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from Iowa State University of Science & Technology. Dow is a global advocate for the sustainability of plastic products, consistently working with value chain partners to increase recycling rates and develop more sustainable chemistries. Dow is a founding member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, serves as strong promoter of the How2Reycle Labeling Program and is a sponsor of Keep America Beautiful.
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