Let’s recycle more – Part one: can this product be recycled?

Even as manufacturers and retailers make huge strides in reducing plastic waste, we need plastic to keep food fresh and protect goods as they travel from manufacturers to our doors.

Yet recycling isn’t easy. Consumers (me and you) play a vital role. We choose whether to send our waste to landfill or incineration, or to send it for recycling. At home, our county and city councils give us the container and instructions. In commercial environments, businesses bridge the gap between user and recycler.

Given that we are key to recycling, how well are we helped?

recycle symbolrecycling binconfusion
Can this product be recycled?Can we send this product to be recycled?Why can’t I recycle this product?
In this series of articles, I will ask three questions…

We must recycle, because:

  1. Making new plastics, metals, glass, paper, etc. generally uses more energy than recycling.
  2. All that energy means more CO2 as the processes involved are extreme and often remote.
  3. All that activity means more pollution and environmental destruction, especially at the raw materials end.
  4. Putting reusable materials in landfill uses land and creates pollution.
  5. Throwing away materials endangers wildlife and habits.
  6. Throwing away materials also creates pollution.

Can this product be recycled?

I love this jar lid from Baxters:

Baxters' jar lid - a perfect example of recycling marking?
Baxters jar lid – a perfect example of recycling marking?

It tells me they care, it says 100% recyclable and it is huge, clear and prominent.

So why can’t other manufacturers do the same?

I would love to see a minimum size for recycling information, we hear talk of brands demonstrating their social conscience, well this is an easy way to do it.

Hang on a sec, the Baxters jar is glass, steel and a tiny plastic seal. Every council recycles these materials (albeit the seal is thrown away when the lid is recycled). What about materials that are not so easy to recycle – especially plastics ?

Let’s play snap

When I was little I learned to match numbers and images by playing snap.

We learn to match images at very early age by playing snap.

So, if products have a clear symbol and councils use the same to tell us what they recycle – we can play snap. If only there was a way…

Oh, but there is a way. The resin code – if the name gives you the shivers, I apologise. The plastics we use day-to-day fall into one of six main groups. Some can be recycled others cannot. The resin codes tells us which type of plastic we have in our hands / cupboard / fridge / bin. There is also a seventh code for ‘other’.

resin codes, let us play snap

Now if these codes were as big, as clear and as prominent as the Baxters information, we would only need councils to give recycling instructions using the same information and bingo, sorry snap, we all have one less reason to throw plastic in the bin.

What do we get instead?

Tiny markings, no markings and my personal bugbear, ‘check local recycling’. Because my council has nothing better to do than check every piece of packaging sold in the UK and list it on their website. More of this in the next post – ‘can we send this product to be recycled?’.

Is it that straight forward?

For most materials coming into our homes and places of work it is that straight forward. If we clearly mark plastics with the resin code, we could immediately start recycling more.

We would also quickly see which manufacturers actually care about the environment…

But some items are harder to recycle. Spray pumps have mixed plastics – we need to mark them carefully. And we don’t want to take somethings to pieces in the home – any container with harsh chemicals which includes most cleaning products, DIY products and even some toiletries – no-one wants deodorant in the eye. And, of course, things like toothbrushes and crisp packets, cooking utensils and tools.

Call me an optimist, I think we have the ingenuity to work around these problems – see part three, ‘why can’t I recycle this product?’.

Who is responsible?

It would be good if manufacturers and retailers drove this change. While they are making good progress, we may need regulation on material marking to make a dent in the mountain of stuff we throw away.

Manufacturers, retails and government, please help consumers by…

  • Making all recycling information large, clear and prominent.
  • Marking all plastic with the resin code so we can play snap.
  • If something cannot be recycled making that clear too.

You and I can make a difference, too. We can…

  • Buy products with large, clear and prominent recycling instructions.
  • Call out the manufacturers and retails that use lazy instructions or no instructions at all.
  • Send everything we can for recycling.

Next time

It takes two to play snap, we ask what the public and private companies who collect recycling can do to make recycling easier, in Let’s recycle more – Part two: can we send this product to be recycled?

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