Clearer markings for items that can’t be recycled

27Jul10

Virtually everybody knows that cardboard boxes and other paper-based packaging are recyclable. The same goes for plastic food containers. And in case there’s any doubt, these items usually have a recycling symbol right on the product itself.

But what about the items that fall into a gray area, like those cardboard-ish molded trays that come with consumer electronics? If there’s no recycling symbol on there, does that mean they can’t be recycled? Clearly, there’s a lot of products that seem like they should be recyclable, but have no markings about it either way. This forces consumers to guess, leading to items getting placed in the wrong disposal location, and reducing the effectiveness of recycling programs in general.

The solution is actually really simple: just start marking non-recyclable items with an appropriate symbol or text. For instance, a molded cardboard tray that can’t be recycled might feature text like this: “Not recyclable — please dispose with regular trash.” Obviously, it would be better if everything was recyclable and renewable and all that good stuff. But reality dictates we’re not quite there yet.

In the meantime, manufacturers can make things more efficient by adding the markings that I’ve described to their non-recyclable items. That way, consumers will spend less time figuring out which bin each item belongs in. And when the task is easier, more people will find the time to do it, thus increasing the percentage of recyclable products that actually get recycled, rather than ending up in the trash.



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