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Can Packaging be Sustainable?

In the world of waste and recycling one is always asking, "why?" Why can't packaging all be created equal? Why can't all packaging be recycled? Why are product manufacturers so liberal with plastics while the world decries that we cannot sustain the current plastic waste trend? For perspective, in 2015, more than 320 million tons of plastics were manufactured.

If you have been recycling with EcoGeneration, you are quite aware that there are multiple types of plastics and that not all are created equal. In the world of plastics, there are seven predominant polymers, and over 10,000 different additives used worldwide, excluding textile additives. When considering the complexities of plastics, it is likely becoming clearer how contamination can occur even in relatively clean commingled plastics.

Many companies have started to rethink their supply chains as well as what they are releasing into the environment. Seeing the problems with plastic packaging, Arbonne started to package products in metal bottles and incentivized consumers into reusing the existing pump. The initiative may have only addressed a small aspect of the problem, which is why Arbonne has gone further to reduce the impact of their packaging on the planet. In addition to incentivizing consumers to purchase metal containers of liquid soaps, Arbonne started working with TerraCycle to create methods of collection and recycling for the harder-to-recycle plastics that they use. Think metallic packaging, mascara tubes, and other mixed material cosmetic containers.

In the past few years, many companies have started to work with TerraCycle who specializes in waste recycling for their packaging. While this is great, TerraCycle has gone one step further through the development and roll-out of a circular packaging program (Loop). This program sells products online, as well as in some retailers in the United States, including some Portland, Oregon Fred Meyer locations. Loop works to reduce packaging waste, or wasted energy on re-manufacturing packaging waste. Loop does this through the creation of a national circular packaging system where consumers purchase products in durable packaging that can be sent back, sanitized and reused. The circular packaging economy is working to reduce the need to recycle excessive packaging.

In addition to national circular packaging movements, there is an increasing awareness of the impacts of excessive packaging on the planet. The result of this increase in understanding impacts waste on the planet and climate change. Many Zero Waste shops developed products and opened-up on the premise that our needs should not have such an extreme impact on the planet. A local shop, We Refill It, is working to reduce the impact of (mostly) plastic packaging involved in community members' hygiene and cleaning needs. We Refill It also provides refillable household cleaners, body care products, and even provides free delivery and pickup of empty containers.

Additional options for products that are sustainable can be found in bulk food sections of many stores, purchasing 'naked' products where your product is package free, or look for products packaged in 100% PCW Recycled Materials (Post Consumer Waste). While these solutions are not a "magic bullet" to reverse Climate Change, these are some of the actions that we can all take in our day-to-day lives.

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