Three thoughts on circularity
Shelton Stat of the Week
31% of the world’s citizens are not confident that what they put in the recycling bin is actually getting recycled.
— Global Eco Pulse®, 2023
As I noted in my last post, the Federal Trade Commission is looking long and hard at recycling and recycled content claims in their Green Guides update. That makes sense — it IS the message that most companies are putting out about sustainability. And … thanks to country-wide challenges with recycling anything beyond plastics with resin ID codes 3-7, the recycling symbols on many packages in every retail outlet in America are indeed greenwashing.
So, what if we lifted our heads above the fray and looked beyond recycling to Circularity? What might we all do and say differently? A few thoughts:
- I once heard Keefe Harrison, CEO of The Recycling Partnership, say: “We can’t get to circularity without recycling.” That’s right. We need the material in those packages on retail shelves back so we can create materials circularity. But with 32% of Americans not confident that what they throw in the recycling bin is actually getting recycled — up from only 14% four years ago — we have to increase confidence in recycling. And that requires making all those claims on all those packages true. That means we have to make the system fully work — and then we need to message the hell out of that.
- But we also need to go back in time to when we regularly talked about all 3 R’s. Over the last two decades, we’ve really stopped talking about Reducing and Reusing. But in our annual Eco Pulse study when we ask Americans who rate themselves as being very concerned about plastics in the ocean — which is 76% of us — “how much would it relieve your concern if plastics were easier to re-use,” 63% say “somewhat” and 29% say “entirely.” So, we need to get to work on full-scale deployment of refilling stations at retail, incentivizing consumers to bring their own collection devices and even take out containers, cups and cutlery. And we need to message the hell out of this, too. Remember, 46% of people in America want to be seen as someone who’s buying eco-friendly products. So, if we’re virtue-signaling through our purchases, it stands to reason that we’d all earn a big green star for reuse.
- Lastly, we need to make curbside composting as ubiquitous as curbside recycling … and we need to design the paper in our packages to be compostable (in short, figure out another solution for the fossil-based plastic coatings and liners that don’t break down in an industrial composting facility.) Green Blue published a study a while back estimating that only 11% of the U.S. population truly have access to a composting facility that accepts packaging, and only about 3% have curbside pick-up for compostable packaging. Americans love the idea of packages returning to the earth and becoming soil — almost as much as they love the idea of packages returning in a second life as another package. (I know it often doesn’t work this way, but most Americans do not).
If we can increase confidence in recycling and the collection of recyclable materials, make refillables and reuse of items easy and cool, and make curbside composting for packaging a reality for most of us, we’ll get a lot closer to circularity. Just don’t forget the messaging piece of this — we’re asking for folks to change perceptions and habits, and change is hard. So, we need the doing and the saying to create the real impact we all want.
— Bloomberg Law
The recycling claims on almost every package in the world are going to be under increased scrutiny following the updates to the FTC Green Guides. This Bloomberg Law article reviews how federal complaints mentioning false or misleading sustainability claims have already increased and will continue to rise.
Buzz On Buzzwords
Find out what Americans think about sustainability, what different “green” words mean to them and how they interpret and respond to the jargon you may be using.