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Sustainable Ziploc®: Oxymoron?

RP Siegel | Monday February 7th, 2011 | 0 Comments

Back in December I did a post on SC Johnson’s effort to become more transparent by posting the ingredients to most of their products on their website. Now they have taken another step in their sustainability journey by becoming a partner with RecycleBank.

The sponsorship seems to be centered around their Ziploc® product line. What could be more transparent than a Ziploc® bag? Transparent, yes, sustainable, I’m not so sure about that. Plastic bags will never rank very high on the list of sustainable products.

RecycleBank, if you are not familiar with them, is a company that since 2004 has provided and managed an incentive program that rewards sustainable consumer behavior. In  their curbside recycling program, they partner with communities, enabling them to save money by diverting waste from landfills (where they have to pay tipping fees) and sending it recyclers (who don’t charge and sometimes even pay for the material). They have developed a system that measures the amount of recycling provided by each customer, by weight, and then administers reward points based on the number of pounds recycled.

Since then, they have expanded into an electric utility program that is currently in the pilot stage and a number of marketing initiatives that leverages their growing online community of green-conscious consumers. They also have a number of other sponsors besides SC Johnson including: Coca-Cola, Staples, Olive Garden, Yoplait, Purina and others.

The SC Johnson-RecycleBank partnership is featured on SC Johnson’s Ziploc® website, on the Ziploc® Sustainability tab, under the heading of landfill diversion. This page points out how the average American generates 4.5 pounds of trash per day, which adds up to 250 million tons nationwide. Roughly one third of that is currently recycled, while the rest ends up either burned (13%) or buried in a landfill (54%).

By partnering with RecycleBank, SC Johnson hopes to help increase the percentage that gets recycled. In a way it’s a bit like buying carbon credits, since they can’t help the fact that the bags are made from petro-plastic, they can try to offset the impact while at the same time encouraging their customers to recycle more of their discarded items.

This is similar to the approach that other companies, like Naked Juice, along with Proctor & Gamble and Miller-Coors are using with RecycleBank, though Naked has also featured a Learn and Earn program which rewards customers with points for watching an informative video about recycling. Naked has also taken the step of making their bottles out of 100% recycled PET.

The website contains some useful information about plastics recycling, although they don’t give specifics on which plastics their own products are made from. Their reusable containers are made of polypropylene which gives them a number 5 designation on the bottom. These are generally not collected by most curbside collection programs, but you can find a location where they are collected near you here. Of course, since they are reusable you won’t need to recycle them unless they become damaged. The bags themselves are made from low density polyethylene (LDPE) which gives them a number 4 designation. Plastic bags should not be placed in the curbside bins since they will tend to get tangled up in the single stream recycling center’s separation apparatus. Therefore they should be taken to a retail store, such as your local grocery store and recycled there.

Additional information about recycling plastic bags can be found here.

RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor TrailsLike airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


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