July 21, 2021

The Truth About Recycling Packaging in 2021

The Truth About Recycling Packaging in 2021

Remember the last thing you threw into your recycling bin? Unless it's an aluminum can or a plastic bottle there's a good chance it'll end up in the landfill.

Don't worry if you're not familiar with how recycling works. You're not alone.

Recycling remains a mystery to packaging designers and the brands they work for, even though everything they create becomes waste. 

To make things worse, recycling isn't a standardized operation. Recycling is regional.

Why can I recycle glass in Manhattan but not in Queens? If flexible plastic films aren't  recyclable why do they have a ♻️printed on them? Should I keep lids only bottles or remove them?

These are some of the basic questions people ask about recycling. To answer them and learn exactly how a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF for short) actually works, we took a tour. 

You can watch the entire tour here, it's long. But recycling is a long and arduous process.

The first lesson about recycling is that recycling is a business. Like any other business it needs to be profitable, and sorting your trash is anything but.

That supply & demand thing you learned about in 8th grade economics class? It's real.

There is demand for a limited amount of materials out there, anything else doesn't get recycled because there isn't any demand.

No demand = consumer = no profit.

So what materials are in demand?

• PET, HDPE, LDPE 
• Folding carton
• Corrugated Cartons (OCC)
• Aluminum

What materials do we assume are in demand?

• Plastics 3-7
• Glass
• Biodegradable Plastics
• Compostable Packaging 

On our tour with the Outagamie Recycling and Solid Waste team we see everything that happens in the plant. Where the materials are received, how they are sorted, all of the issues they encounter, and how much of it goes to landfill.

We also discuss how designers can make packaging more recycle-friendly and what materials are the best for recyclable packaging. 

Watch the video, leave your thoughts. Please share with someone you think can learn from watching this recycling tour.