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Can the Recycling System Be Upgraded?

Tom Szaky | Wednesday April 15th, 2009 | 2 Comments

Are things like Tetrapaks and Dannon/Stonyfield yogurt recyclable today? Yes and no. Here’s why: There are a few recycling centers that accept Tetrapaks and yogurt cups, but they are the exception. Most recycling centers do not except these materials, and those that do are so few and far between that only a small percentage of the American population can participate.
This creates a few problems: First, companies like Tetrapak and Dannon cannot state on their package that their product is recyclable since there is only service in a few communities. Second, a company like Tetrapak, that has invested millions to build Tetrapak recycling centers, cannot get any credit for their investment and continue to get bad PR for producing a non-recyclable product.
The reason this issue exists is that today’s recycling system is a reflection of the lowest common denominator in recycling. While many products are recyclable, the products that actually do get recycled are those for which the process exists in the majority of American recycling centers, and only a small percentage of recyclable plastics are recyclable nationally. There is very little incentive for local independent recycling centers to build the added capability since unless a solution is implemented nationally, the solution doesn’t get national marketing and people don’t get education about the opportunity for a new waste stream (or form of plastic or packaging) to be recycled.

Also since the recycling industry is fragmented with hundreds of independent systems running on their own, it is very difficult to upgrade the system so that it can handle more complicated functions, like a Tetrapak.
The current system is inadequate despite meaningful commitments on the part of the manufacturers. As I see it, the solution either requires federal level legislation and financial incentives to independent operators to support their upgrading facilities, or for one or more large companies to buy up the majority of recycling centers, creating a national recycling infrastructure to enact system wide upgrades. What do
you think?


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  • Jen Boynton

    Thanks Tom! Another option is to increase demand for the recycled plastic through new product innovations. If manufacturers are demanding the product, recyclers will figure out how to work with it.

  • http://www.scgh.com/ Tim

    Recycling is one of the easiest and best things that we can do to help the environment, here is a great place to go for tool and information about recycling http://www.scgh.com/