In the past week, plastic has been all over the news. A number of companies have announced plastic-related commitments almost simultaneously: PepsiCo North America’s achievement of 95% recyclable plastic packaging, Nestle’s commitment to phasing out non-recyclable plastics by 2025, and KFC’s similar goal of 100% recoverable or reusable plastic-based packaging by 2025.Clearly, companies are taking the problem of plastic waste seriously. But is recycling really the solution?Americans are big proponents of recycling and give themselves way more credit than they deserve – 55% of us claim to recycle everything that can be recycled, but when you drill into the data, what they really mean is that they recycle the stuff that’s conveniently located near their recycling bin in the kitchen. Everything else goes in the trash and they give themselves a pass – they’re not responsible if it’s inconvenient.As a result of consumer inaction and a host of other issues (like China refusing to continue taking the stuff off our hands) the bottom line is that most plastic recyclables don’t get recycled. (I covered this pretty mightily in a piece for Fast Company last year: “Is big business’s new conscience about plastic waste just greenwashing?”
). The Royal Statistical Society of London’s 2018 international statistic of the year,
in fact, was based on findings from a UN environmental report on the problems of single-use plastics: 90.5% of all plastic waste has never been recycled, with “roughly 79% accumulating in either landfill or the natural environment” and around 12% having been incinerated. So, in reality, less than 10% of plastic waste has actually been recycled. Which means, if you’re a brand, you’ve got a lot of branded trash floating around, reminding the world of your culpability.So, what is the solution? There are a number of things coming down the pike … but a new concept that launched last week has our attention since it represents an interesting turnaround solution for the folks adorning the branded trash. As a CNN piece put it,
it’s like “bringing back the milkman”: reusable rather than single-use recyclable products. Nestle, P&G, PepsiCo, Unilever and other major brands and companies are joining forces to participate in a new reusable home goods subscription service known as Loop. Similar to the milk delivery practice of long ago, products come delivered to your doorstep in a reusable shipping container and all in reusable packaging: simply return and reuse. No more single-use recycling.The practice of working to improve recycling in the short term while motivating consumers to change their behaviors and embrace reuse in the long term is an excellent example of how companies can turn the tide without going against the current.Though it is still too early to tell how Loop will fare (and there is still the question of carbon impact that such a delivery service may have if they can’t scale quickly and create nearby distribution centers), it’s a terrific example of rethinking the current, standard process in favor of a more sustainable one. Everybody reading this right now has a similar opportunity. What will you create?