I wish I were a smarter person. That’s not a self-deprecating statement, either, because I wish I were smart enough to specifically do one thing: make being a recycler profitable.
It’s clear that consumers want to recycle their products. It’s clear that the industry wants to meet that consumer desire, otherwise there wouldn’t be as much time, effort and money spent on developing products and materials that are easier to recycle. And it’s not just the packaging industry that wants to see more recycling, either. The architecture, engineering and construction industry is, and has been, devoting an incredible amount of resources into developing products that meet a circular economy as well. So if there’s this much time and effort being devoted to this endeavor that consumers want, why isn’t recycling more prominent?
It goes back to money. In his webinar “Technologies for Sustainable PE Pouch Design” during this year’s Global Pouch Forum, R&D associate director for PepsiCo, Todd Fayne, brought up a simple point about the recycling situation in the U.S.: Most recyclers in the country are for-profit. Since China gave up accepting recyclables from other countries, there’s no longer as big a market for them, especially since virgin materials can often be had at a cheaper price. And we can have all the store drop-off recycling programs we want, but consumers want convenience. How convenient is it to haul recycling back and forth, especially when there’s no money involved like in the bottle deposit system?
Yes, there are biobased and compostable alternatives, but they’re not yet suitable for all consumer goods in addition typically having a higher cost. And, yes, flexible packaging is already the more sustainable packaging option based on the lesser materials and energy used to create them and then through the ability to ship more product. But as Fayne pointed out in his session, CPGs suffer when wrappers carrying their branding are found floating in the ocean or discarded by the side of the road.
To get to a true circular economy, we need companies that want to offer door-to-door recycling collection and companies that can efficiently and effectively recycle what’s collected. I view that lack as the missing link in the chain. I don’t have any answer as to how to make that possible, so like I said at the top, I wish I were smarter.
I do feel that I got smarter watching and listening to all the sessions during Global Pouch Forum. If you didn’t get the chance to attend live, you can still watch all the sessions on-demand as well as see visit all the exhibitor booths. Who knows, maybe watching those sessions will spark an idea that can change everything.