expressed opinion entrepreneur Contributors are themselves.
Consumers in 2022 will be fully aware of the importance of recycling. After all, their products have been bombarded with “recyclable” messages since the 1970s. But even the most optimistic can be frustrated by the lack of progress and accessible recycling processes. As climate change increasingly affects our daily lives, so does the urgency of these efforts.
The estimated 11 million tonnes of plastic currently entering the ocean each year will triple in the next 20 years if swift action is not taken. Now is the time – businesses must 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 requires reboot
The data clearly shows how confused consumers are about recyclability. There is an astonishing gap between recycling perception and reality.
A new report finds that of the 40 million tons of plastic waste generated in the U.S. last year, only 5 to 6 percent was recycled. In fact, recycling rates for glass, plastic and liquid cartons are all much lower than consumers think.
In fact, most materials labeled “recycled” are never recycled, or are recycled only once or twice before going to landfill. So while labeling these materials might 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. According to Trivium Packaging’s 2022 Global Sourcing Green Report, more than half of consumers are “unlikely” to buy products with harmful packaging, and 44% of consumers say they “would not buy” products with environmentally harmful packaging.
But just because consumers like to buy sustainable packaging doesn’t mean they’re taking the necessary steps to recycle it. That’s why brands must do their part to encourage more recycling, including educating consumers about the huge gap between perception and reality. Every business must change consumer behavior by creating recycled content across brand channels, communicating messages about sustainable materials, and finding ways to encourage and incentivize the recycling of their products and packaging.
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Now is the time for leaders to dig deeper and look at materials that are permanently recyclable without loss of quality and with high recycling rates. These materials, like metal and glass, are forever in circulation, enabling higher levels of recycling.
For example, 84% of steel packaging in Europe is recycled. Once sourced, metal packaging is infinitely refillable and versatile, ultimately becoming more economical and environmentally friendly due to its durability.
Reducing waste and moving away from throwaway culture is one of the most important shifts in modern consumerism. Brands have to get on board. By moving from materials that can be recycled a limited number of times to permanently recyclable materials, companies large and small can not only advance their own sustainability goals, but also contribute to the circular economy and help save our planet.
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Infrastructure Investment: Public and Private Responsibilities in a Circular Life Cycle
If businesses believe that government policies support improving their environmental footprint, they will have more confidence in changing their manufacturing processes to support infinitely recyclable materials. Instead, every brand can do a lot to support a stronger recycling infrastructure.
In recent years, large consumer brands have banded together to make significant recycling infrastructure investments. Companies are also working directly with processing centers to invest in enhanced recycling machinery, or with recycling centers to roll out new technologies to more accurately and efficiently sort recycled materials.
No matter what size company, there are ways to get involved. There are many examples around the world of businesses, government entities and communities working together to keep waste from going to landfills. Many companies offer collection schemes, even for waste streams that are difficult to recycle, and work with businesses to strengthen their circular supply chains, ultimately keeping materials circular.
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implementation and education
In a recent study, 88% of consumers said they want brands to help them be more sustainable and ethical in their everyday lives. There is no better platform to convey important information to your consumers than the packaging itself.
Using packaging language such as “Metal is recycled forever” and “100% recyclable, forever” in packaging or point-of-sale materials on digital platforms and social channels will help promote environmental credentials and communicate a call to action to the end user.
Recycling is far from the simple panacea that the past 30 years of advertising would have us believe. It’s complicated and takes work. Now is the time to tackle this complexity and take recycling to the next level – which is circularity. This requires examining existing sustainability goals. Small businesses that understand how to take advantage of this new circular infrastructure will win—and help save the planet in the process.