I’m a recycler. I believe in getting as much use out of something as possible. I guess that comes from being raised by parents who grew up during the Great Depression. That is why it pains me that my community stopped recycling plastics.
My town only does curbside collection of glass and cans, so we had to take plastics to a regional recycling bin. But then the region ended the bin collections—I think because people left a lot of ineligible items, like old TVs, or threw their bags next to the bin once it was full. Of course, that just shows the demand exceeded the bin’s capacity. There are currently no alternatives in my area to recycle plastics, so in the garbage they go—like most plastics we use in America.
Just under 400 million tons of plastics are created each year worldwide. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, only 8.7% of U.S. plastics are recycled. That compares with 66% of paper and more than 50% of aluminum cans. Most of the 42 million metric tons of plastic waste generated in the U.S. each year ends up in landfills. And across the planet, some 8.8 million metric tons of plastic lands in our oceans. It is a worldwide problem and one that supply chain professionals can help solve.
Our supply chains are very good at recycling the corrugate used in boxes. And they have an enviable track record with wood. As we reported two years ago, 95% of U.S. wooden pallets are recycled, repaired, resold, or ground up for mulch instead of being sent to landfills.
Now, supply chain professionals should take the lead in finding new lives for plastics. I am enough of a capitalist to realize that more people would recycle if there were markets for recycled plastic and incentives to do so. So, let’s work to create those markets and incentives.
We should encourage manufacturers to reduce plastics in single-use packaging. You don’t need plastic windows on products that won’t be placed on a store shelf, such as the many items sold online.
We can also reduce plastic waste by participating in pooling programs utilizing returnable plastic pallets and containers. We can package flat parcels in paper sleeves, corrugated, and other biodegradable materials as alternatives to single-use polybags. We can choose void fill made from materials other than plastic.
From a policy perspective, supply chain professionals can encourage the development of new markets for recycled materials. We can support legislation and other initiatives that would incentivize manufacturers to incorporate recycled plastics into their products. Then we can support those companies by purchasing their wares.
This is one area where supply chain professionals working together can really make a difference for our future.