Is recyclable packaging a waste of time?

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In the Tamebay Packaging Position Paper published earlier today, I wrote “Some retailers will accept the additional costs to source recyclable packaging but in truth their efforts and expense may largely be wasted if there’s not a simple convenient way for the end consumer to recycle on receipt“.

There is a deeply ingrained belief that simply using recyclable packaging is a good thing but the reality is that, if there’s not an easy way for consumers to identify recyclable packaging and a convenient method of recycling, it will simply end up in landfill.

Consumer recyclable packaging issues

The most stunning example of recyclable packaging I’ve recently seen is from a major manufacturer, McVitie’s, on their multipack Penguin biscuits product. The advice reads “Send this wrapper to TerraCycle and they will turn it into something new!” along with the relevant web address. That all sounds highly admirable (or would be if there wasn’t a picture of a penguin tossing the wrapper into a litter bin right next to the recycling advice – I’m pretty sure McVitie’s must suspect that that’s what the average consumer will do).

(For those who want to recycle your McVitie’s wrappers, you’ll need to go to the TerraCycle website and search for your nearest drop off point. Then separate your trash into ‘The Cracker and Biscuit Wrapper Recycling Programme’ acceptable waste and non cracker and biscuit wrapper waste and drop it off. The collection retailer will then pop it into a box and ship it with a free UPS label to TerraCycle.)

McVitie’s is just one example of recycling madness as it’s asking more than the average consumer will be prepared to do. Whilst I don’t know anyone who doesn’t profess to care about the environment, there are few that will actively go out of their way to recycle. Recycling needs to be easy and this extends to product packaging and shipping packaging.

Ecommerce recyclable packaging issues

Pro Pak'R Air Cushion Recycling lack of adviceAmazon send me yards of Pro Pak’R air cushions whenever I order from Amazon Pantry. Air cushions are a great form of void fill as they’re mainly air (which is totally environmentally friendly) and the plastic part doesn’t add much weight to parcels. Amazon have chosen to use the Pro Pak’R recyclable air cushions which is admirable and printed on each cushion is the message “PLEASE RECYCLE” (Even the print is made from waterbased ink).

This is where the environmental cycle breaks down as there is no indication of how the plastic waste can be recycled or where it can be disposed of. All I’ve been able to establish is that my local council kerbside waste collection won’t accept it with my other plastic recycling and that there is precisely zero information on the Pro Pak’R website as to how to recycle their products. Most consumers will have given up far before getting to the Pro Pak’R website and there is very little point in having a product extolled as 100% recyclable if the only bit that’s recycled is the air within it.

How recyclable is your product and ecommerce packaging?

Recognising that using recyclable packaging is only half of the story and that it is ineffective without enabling consumers to recycle with a minimum of effort, how recyclable is the packaging that you use? Will consumers easily recycle it or will your supposedly recyclable packaging simply end up in landfill?

5 Responses

  1. I wouldnt say recycled/recyclable packaging is a waste of time per se, but these are some horrific examples.

    1 million people in the greater glasgow area, and one biscuit recycling facility between us. on the outskirts of the city.
    it’s going to cost me about £4 in petro to get there and back.
    they put them in another box, which probably only gets used once.
    then they ship it 400 miles via UPS truck.
    – that all sounds bloody fantastic for the environment.
    3kg of carbon footprint to recycle 100g of biscuit wrapper. bravo.

  2. What is needed is a joined-up approach to re-cycling.

    1. Packaging made from recyclable materials that are clearly marked. Incentives for manufacturers to use recycled materials in packaging and to minimise packaging volumes.

    2. A standardised recycling system throughout the UK, or at least one for each country within the UK.

    3. An education programme that helps people to put the right items in recycling.

  3. all the focus seems to be on materials. .
    if handling and handling systems were more friendly with more care taken in handling
    packaging could be reduced
    and less damaging to the environment


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