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Consumers in 2022 are well aware of the importance of recycling. After all, they have been bombarded with “recyclable” messages on their products since the 70s. But even the most optimistic people are frustrated by the lack of progress and accessible recycling processes. As climate change increasingly impacts our daily routines, the urgency of these efforts is increasing.
Without quick action, the estimated 11 million tons of plastic currently entering the ocean annually will triple in the next 20 years. The time is now – and companies need to take immediate steps to understand the realities of recycling, the opportunity to contribute to a circular economy and the need to educate consumers.
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Recycling needs to be restarted
The data clearly shows how confused consumers are about recyclability. There is an alarming gap between the perception of recycling and reality.
a new report found that of the 40 million tons of plastic waste produced in the United States last year, only 5 to 6% was recycled. In reality, glass, plastic and liquid boxes all have a much lower recycling rate than perceived by consumers.
The reality is that most materials labeled “recyclable” are not recycled, or are only recycled once or twice before ending up in landfill. So while labeling these materials may seem like an easy way to promote recycling, it does little to protect our planet.
The good news is that consumers still want to be part of the long-term solution. More than half of consumers are “less likely” to buy products in harmful packaging, and 44% said they “will not buy products” in packaging that is harmful to the environment, according to Trivium Packaging’s 2022 Global Green Buy Report.
But just because consumers like to buy sustainable packaging doesn’t mean they take the necessary steps to recycle it. That is why brands should do their part to encourage more recycling, including by educating consumers about the wide gap between perception and reality. Every business should contribute to changing consumer behavior by creating recycling content through branded channels, communicating sustainable materials messages and finding ways to encourage and encourage recycling of their products and packaging.
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The transition to circularity
It’s time for leaders to dig deeper and look at materials that will be recycled forever without deteriorating in quality and that have high recycling rates. These materials, such as metal and glass, remain in the circular loop forever, reaching much higher levels of circularity.
For example, 84% of steel packaging in Europe is recycled. Once purchased, metal packaging is infinitely refillable and versatile, ultimately making it much more economical and environmentally friendly due to its durability.
Reducing waste and moving away from the throwaway culture is one of the most important shifts in contemporary consumerism. Brands need to get on board. By moving away from materials that have a limit on how many times they can be recycled and towards materials that can be reused recycled foreverlarge and small companies can not only move the needle in their own sustainability goals, but also contribute to a circular economy and help save our planet.
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Investing in infrastructure: Public and private responsibility in the circular life cycle
If companies believe that government policies support their carbon footprint, they will feel more confident in transforming their manufacturing process to support infinitely recyclable materials. Conversely, there is a lot each brand can do to support a stronger recycling infrastructure.
In recent years, major consumer brands have joined forces to build a major recycling infrastructure investments. Companies have also worked directly with processing centers to invest in improved recycling machines or partner with recycling centers to promote new technologies that sort recycled materials more accurately and efficiently.
Regardless of the size of the company, there are ways to participate. There are many examples around the world of companies, government agencies and communities working together to keep waste out of landfills. Many offer collection programs, even for hard-to-recycle waste streams, and partner with companies to improve their circular supply chain, ultimately keeping materials circular.
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Implementation and education
In a recent study, 88% of consumers said they wanted brands to help them be more sustainable and ethical in their daily lives. And there is no better platform to communicate important messages to your consumers than the packaging itself.
Using language on packaging, such as “metal recycles forever” and “100% recyclable, forever” in packaging or point-of-sale materials on digital platforms and social channels will help promote eco-friendly credentials as well as communicate the call to action to the end user.
Recycling is far from the simple panacea that the commercials of the past 30 years would have us believe. It’s complex and it takes work. It is time to tackle that complexity and take recycling to the next level, namely circularity. That calls for a check of existing sustainability goals. Small businesses that understand how to take advantage of this new circular infrastructure will win – helping to save the planet in the process.