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Jan Lee headshot

San Francisco Startup Aims to Disrupt Plastics Recycling System

Words by Jan Lee

Recycling is almost second nature for many these days. In fact, the concept of "reuse, reduce and recycle" is practically a mantra for many North Americans. Yet there is one substance we just don't seem to be able to get rid of, or reduce: plastics.

Only 5 percent of the plastic we produce is recycled, according to 5Gyres, the consortium of environmental organizations that has been trawling the world's oceans and reporting on the miles of plastic refuse that now fills our waterways. According to some sources, our fetish for plastic isn't really decreasing; it's growing -- at a rate of 9 percent a year.

A large part of the problem, says one company in California, can be solved by changing the way we manufacture and recycle containers for laundry soaps. The makers of Puretergent, a "green" laundry soap produced in the San Francisco Bay Area and marketed online, has developed a handy pouch system that does away with the hard plastics most detergents are transported in. It's the latest thing in bottle-less packaging to hit the market, proving that there are ways to make more with less. According to the company, the product's plastic bag system uses 75 percent less plastic than conventional laundry containers and "can be converted back into diesel fuel and kept out of the waste stream completely."

But there's just one catch.

The pouch that Puretergent comes in is rated as a #7 plastic -- which, the company points out, isn't accepted by many recycling programs in the U.S.

To get around this problem, the company headed to Indiegogo to raise money for a new a system by which consumers can return the pouch directly to the manufacturer for recycling. It wants to set up mail-in pouches as well as drop-off centers in local stores. Doing so, says founder Julia Fry, will allow the company to ensure the plastic has been recycled -- one of the end goals of this unusual packaging system.

Pureturgent has already helped to break the mold as far as packaging is concerned. There are now plenty of environmentally-safe laundry detergents out on the market that rely on botanical ingredients instead of substances that are now considered toxic. But few seem to have found a way to get around the oddity of pouring "green" detergent from a hard plastic bottle, knowing that you are also encouraging the manufacture of more plastic when you buy the next.

Fry's idea hasn't gotten around that dilemma entirely. But the pouch is a step to slimming down North America's dependence on hard plastics.

At the present time, Pureturgent's Indiegogo campaign is still struggling to get off the ground. It has 51 days to earn the majority of the $60,000 it hopes to raise by May 5 -- money the company says it needs to "close the loop" on its ambitious recycling system.

Whether the company succeeds in raising the funds, however, may not be an indicator of whether North Americans are ready for bottle-less packaging. Boxed wines using similar pouch dispensing systems are already on the market, and Americans are buying them with increasing interest. And if wine can actually make it to the checkout counter in a pouch, laundry detergent may not have a problem.

But it may be another thing when it comes to asking consumers to either mail in or drop off their plastic pouches, especially when there are other environmentally-friendly products on the market that can be bought right off the shelf.

Personally, I am looking forward to the day when pioneers of the bottle-less packaging strategies get together and encourage major recycling handlers to improve their waste stream systems so that #7-rated plastics are handled as easily as any other stream. If the problem is insufficient recycling facilities for cutting-edge changes, then maybe it's time to find a more comprehensive way to address the recycling of new packaging systems. Either way, the new packaging -- and this new recycling strategy -- offers great incentives for other companies to find ways to reduce their use of plastics.

More information about Puretergent's Indiegogo's campaign can be found by going to their crowdfunding page.

Image credits: Puretergent

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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