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Smarter Sustainability: How to Encourage Consumers to Recycle Packaging the Right Way

Give the “aspirational recycler” some credit – at least his heart is in the right place. He’s the guy who believes a product should be recyclable, even though it’s not on the approved list in his community. He tosses it into the recycling bin, hoping that the processing center will figure it out. His concern for the environment is commendable, but this effort at waste reduction comes at a considerable price: time-consuming, costly resorting processes at the recycling center.

Give the “aspirational recycler” some credit – at least his heart is in the right place. He’s the guy who believes a product should be recyclable, even though it’s not on the approved list in his community. He tosses it into the recycling bin, hoping that the processing center will figure it out. His concern for the environment is commendable, but this effort at waste reduction comes at a considerable price: time-consuming, costly resorting processes at the recycling center.

A recent poll by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries found that 65 percent of respondents were confused about which products could be recycled, partially because different municipalities have different rules and sorting requirements. That’s why Pregis joined the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and its How2Recycle program. The voluntary, standardized labeling system uses simple, consumer-friendly instructions to clearly communicate recycling procedures with the public.

Reducing Consumer Confusion

TheHow2Recycle label shows consumers whether a product can be recycled through curbside collection, at a store drop-off location or if they should check with their municipality. It also provides simple instructions that vary according to the product, such as “empty before recycling,” “rinse and replace lid” or “empty and reattach pump.”

The instructions might seem obvious, but they’re very necessary. According to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, the majority of recyclable products still end up in landfills, and a 2017 study published in the journal Science Advances found that only 9 percent of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled.

The How2Recycle website helps address this by allowing visitors to check what is recyclable in their area and to find store drop-off locations for items such as flexible plastics made of high-density polyethylene and low-density polyethylene. These products include grocery and produce bags, bread bags, and some plastic wrapping, mailers and cereal bags.  

“The How2Recycle approach uses labels printed directly onto the packaging material, which gives the consumer specific recycling instructions. The goal is to reduce consumer confusion and increase the amount of material that can be reclaimed and used in new lifecycle applications.” – Tom Wetsch, Chief Innovation Officer, Pregis

Recycled Packaging Materials

With the rapid growth of eCommerce, retailers are driving demand for protective packaging materials to get products to customers in pristine condition, a trend that will add to the global demand for plastics.

With the aspirational recycler now a well-informed recycler, through effective labeling and education, there are more opportunities for recycled plastics to be put to better use – given new life in the form of recycled new materials. Repurposed and reused plastics cut down on the use of virgin resins and enable innovation through creating new applications derived from these recycled materials.

To reduce the consumption of virgin raw materials and limit the overproduction of plastic, Pregis uses recycled materials in a number of its products, designs solutions for source reduction and leverages leading technology that advances sustainable efforts. A few examples include:

    • Easypack Paper Packaging: Packaging material produced on-demand and made of 100 percent recycled paper. Paper is also a common curbside recyclable material in many communities.
    • AirSpeed Renew Film: Inflatable cushioning and void fill film containing a natural bio-additive that accelerates breakdown.
    • PolyPlank Renew: Protective foam that contains at least 60 percent recycled material. 

With online shopping surging in popularity, choosing recycled packaging materials is one way retailers can show their commitment to the environment. And recycling products the right way is one way consumers can make a big impact over time. Indeed, the data shows that the How2Recycle program has substantially accelerated consumers’ recycling efforts since it made its first product label available in 2012. According to the group’s consumer survey analysis, 54 percent of consumers change their behavior as a direct result of the How2Recycle label, meaning that just like the aspirational recycler, most of us really do want to make a difference. 

 For a more detailed look at how we’re committed to sustainability and social responsibility, visit www.pregis.com/sustainability.