Recycling and Packaging

One area of modern life that I think needs to be addressed in greater depth is the way packaging (and its attendant stress on landfill) has increased over the past few decades. When a package consists of paper, mylar, plastic, and other substances glued together, how in hell does a recycler deal with that? Since it’s a worldwide concern, are there other countries that deal with it in better ways than we do? Is there a way of incorporating the cost of (near-impossible) recycling this kind of packaging into the equation?

And more generally, what kind of research is being done to create packaging that is more amenable to recycling? I remember seeing something about using fungi (mushrooms or other mycological substances) for packaging. Of course, this material is not transparent, but if the rest of the package can be recycled it’s a start.

Author: Mike Maltz

Michael D. Maltz is Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice and of Information and Decision Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is currently an adjunct professor of sociology at the Ohio State University His formal training is in electrical engineering (BEE, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1959; MS & PhD Stanford University, 1961, 1963), and he spent seven years in that field. He then joined the National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice (now National Institute of Justice), where he became a criminologist of sorts. After three years with NIJ, he spent thirty years at the University of Illinois at Chicago, during which time he was a part-time Visiting Fellow at the US Bureau of Justice Statistics. Maltz is the author of Recidivism, coauthor of Mapping Crime in Its Community Setting, and coeditor of Envisioning Criminology.

17 thoughts on “Recycling and Packaging”

  1. These are fair questions, to which off the top of my head I have no better answers than you do. I believe I detect, however, a very general implication that you believe that no one is thinking much about this. If so, I doubt that. I would venture that with some effort and without going beyond a campus as formidable as the University of illinois, you could put together an impressive panel for a highly enlightening state of the art presentation on these issues. I could be wrong, but that is my guess,.

  2. I have heard that the main driver of packaging design in recent years is to make goods harder to shoplift, or for employees to steal.

  3. Recyclable is good, but so is compostable. Most plain, uncoated paper is compostable; cellphane (remember that?) is too.

    1. Yes, I should have said that fungal material is compostable (not recyclable), as is cellophane.

  4. Arrgh. I wish I believed that anybody in retail companies was thinking hard about this. I'd believe that some companies have "for show" efforts, b/c they can advertise them. But when I go to Trader Joe's the ubiquity of plastic packaging, and the way every bit of it is made to be non-recyclable, is infuriating.

    I hear that economists believe that "incentives matter". If TJ's paid a stiff fee by the pound for all non-recyclable plastic sold in California as part of its products (and had to provide on their website details on exactly what was and was not recyclable), I have to believe they'd get their act straight. This plastic pollution is a direct harm to all of us on the planet. Companies that create non-recyclable plastic are free-riders. It needs to stop.

    But even with recycling, it seems that so much just goes to fricken' China, where some is recycled and some is not. With no transparency. I think we need to stop that too. Recycle it in the Continental US. B/c again, unless we can *prove* the stuff got recycled, the presumption has to be that it wasn't. And again, a direct harm to all of us on the planet.

    It's not enough to just carry around my Chico bags.

  5. This book dropped into my view just yesterday. The excerpt is interesting; it's hard to tell if the book is worth it just from that.

      1. Thank you so much for fixing my link! I have no idea how that happened, and I have no edit link on my comment.

  6. Germany is probably the leader here, if you want to research it. But in Germany, probably even the cats can be herded.

  7. One ray of hope here is that shoppers seem extremely sensitive to even a token price put on single-use plastic shopping bags. Ireland's consumption of these crashed after a small unit price was imposed. The measure has just been copied in Spain. My local Asador de pollos now does a plastic bag for 5c, a handsome and reusable paper one for 15c: the latter gets buyers.
    This does not address the packaging by manufacturers and distributors, a harder nut to crack. But it suggests that stronger public policies might be accepted by citizens.

    1. As does the England case (not sure re Scotland, Wales already adopted?) where consumption seems to be down c. 7/8ths?

      The effort was marred by the various exceptions e.g. for small stores.

      Hopeful that something similar will be done with coffee cups - although paper, the plastic liner means that they are not recyclable except in specialized facilities. The public thinks they are being recycled, but they are not. Many retailers have started to offer a discount for those who bring reusable cups.

  8. The overall problem is much greater than this.

    Recyclable basically means "will not be recycled". it makes us feel good to recycle our rubbish plastic, but it is actually headed, mostly, for landfill or for the incinerator.

    China, the leading destination for such materials, has closed its borders. The mixed quality of same, which is very difficult to sort out except by hand, means that the stuff just does not get recycled. There are too many types of plastic, and they are commingled. I've seen this with my parents - seniors get confused as to what is permitted, how to segregate it, etc. But not only seniors.

    Waste streams are now being diverted to the likes of India and Pakistan, but they have no recycling capacity either.

    (a good exception to these issues is something like deposit bottles - such schemes don't exist in the UK, but in the USA and many other jurisdications the PET bottles that hold soft drinks, for example, have a high recycling rate due to deposit & collection schemes).

  9. Now it's quite easy to get document shredding or recycling services from some companies. You can secure your old data by recycling or shredding confidentiality.

  10. In one of the comments above, antisciene seemed to look negatively on the retail sector stating that their efforts appear to be 'for show'. I disagree. I've spoken with many retailers, manufacturers that have placed environment sustainability at the core of their strategic goals - let's not forget that most brands must stand up to the scrutiny of their stakeholders (customers, employees and shareholders). If stakeholders demand sustainable action (which they do), then brands will take action. Take a look at Coca-Cola. They recently joined up with Merlin Entertainments to provide CafeCrush plastic bottle reverse vending machines across a number of very well known UK theme parks inc. LEGOLAND Windsor. So, while there is more to be done re: packaging, in the meantime big brands are helping to increase the 3R's - reduce, re-use, recycle.

    1. I fully believe that some, like beverage bottlers, are all over this space. B/c it's easy for them. But when I go to the supermarket (including Whole Foods) I see mounds and mounds of stuff that's neither recyclable nor compostable. My example of Trader Joe's is (as it turns out) well-known — many others have complained about it (as I learned, after I'd written to TJ's and gotten a nice letter back). I think a big part of the problem really -is- with grocery stores and their packaging.

      Look: I'm not trying to denigrate what Coke's doing. But geez, I'm 53, and when I was in middle school, we would go to the bottle-return place to get back our 5c for all our Coke bottles. It was a ritual back -then-. I'm saying: it's not -new- for Coke, nor for beer bottlers. They've been doing this -forever-. But OTOH the plastic packs of ravioli? bags of almonds? the list goes on and on.

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