While recycling is definitely a step in the right direction towards creating environmentally-friendly societies, the materials that we use in everyday goods has evolved dramatically and rapidly with the increased use of technology. It has been hard for the recycling process to keep up. Take, for example, the newspaper. Not too long ago, the physical publications were a staple in American households. Now, the amount of physical newspapers distributed has decreased to 50% of the number a decade ago. This correlates with an overall decrease in paper in the United States by 20%. Consumers are making the switch to viewing information on electronic screens.
Meanwhile, the use of plastics has skyrocketed. Cheap petroleum made it cheaper for manufacturers to use plastics as packaging or the main material itself in countless products.
Recycling plants have had a hard time adjusting to these changes, leading to some calling them ineffective or a net loss.
However, recycling itself is good for the environment, and as a society, we may need to make a few changes to the way these plants operate, and the way we view recyclable materials.
Here are three changes your brand can make to facilitate this switch.
Analyze Your Additives To See If They’d Disqualify Your Product From Recycling
It can be difficult to recycle many products today because of the choices companies make when manufacturing them.
Numerous factors that the manufacturer has control over can either lead to ease in recycling their product, or render it unable to be recycled.
Extra additives to products is a major way to keep these products from being recycled. Examples include certain inks in paper or dyes for plastics. One way to recycle low-quality papers like newspapers is to turn it into fertilizer for growing new trees.
However, if the paper contains inks that are toxic, then the paper cannot be used in this way. Not all dyes and inks prevent recycling. It is up to manufacturers to choose one that is recycling-friendly.
Make Your Product Easy To Sort
Sorting materials is an extremely difficult challenge in recycling today. Once done completely by hand, new technologies can make this monotonous but necessary process easier, more efficient, and less error-prone.
One of the newest types of sorting aiming to help in this area is near-infrared (NIR) sorting, which identifies the material type using infrared light. In this process, wavelengths of light not visible to the human eye hit the object.
The material responds by emitting a wavelength signature. A wavelength signature is light that the material reflects or emits back. This varies with the chemical makeup of the material.
A sensor can detect the wavelength signature, and a computer can use this signal to identify what the material is. Air jets then direct the recyclable from the main stream into a divided stream.
However, there are many examples of product design that inhibit recycling. For instance, shrink sleeves can prevent autonomous methods like NIR sorting from identifying the material underneath the label.
Non-standard shapes, especially concerning containers that have an expected shape like bottles or cans, can be extremely inhibiting to efficiency in the recycling process.
Label Your Product Clearly
The vast majority of consumers want to recycle products. Sometimes, though, they are uncertain if a product can be recycled due to the rapidly expanding variety of materials that can make a product.
The first step to solving this issue is, of course, making your product recyclable. Next, though, to really increase the chance that your product ends up in the recycling bin instead of a landfill, label on the product very clearly that it is recyclable.
The counter-argument against this point is that recyclable products are for the most part all labeled already. However, these labels are small, and can be hard to find amongst all of the other writing on a package.
If we made recyclability as clear as other information, like nutritional information, on a package, then consumers wouldn’t have to wonder if they can recycle something.
This could also help with preventing contamination in a recycling stream. Contamination is the impurification of a stream of recyclable products with materials that cannot be recycled.
Contamination slows efficiency of recycling and can make it more difficult to separate out different types of recyclables from one another. Your company can help prevent this by clearly labeling your product for recyclability.
Companies Need To Look To The Future Of Recycling
Companies are always setting and announcing new sustainability initiatives. These initiatives rarely ever have to do with increasing the recyclability of their products.
Perhaps one way we could address the issue of manufacturing difficult-to-recycle products is to look to companies to include making products more recyclable in their sustainability initiatives.
Final Note: What is your brand doing to become more environmentally-friendly? We’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.