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The Problem with Packaging

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), packaging are products that are assumed to be discarded the same year that the product inside is purchased.

In 2017, 80.1 million tons of packaging were created. Only 50% was recycled. Of the other 50%, 32.1 million tons arrived at landfills. This means that 7.9 million tons of packaging were lost to the environment. Let me say that again. In one year, 7.9 million tons of packaging were lost to the environment.

Let me break this down. I am not including what was landfilled because landfills are terrible for our planet - they are just contained and legal littering.

  • Glass: 8,930 tons produced, 3,030 tons recycled

  • Aluminum: 1,890 tons produced, 620 tons recycled

  • Paper/ Cardboard: 41,060 produced, 30,080 recycled

  • Plastic: 14,490 produced, 1,890 recycled

How can we manage to lose this much?! This can be due to it flying out of bins before being picked up, flying out of trash/recycling trucks after being picked up, or just thrown on the ground by irresponsible people.

The best thing we can do is learn how to properly dispose of our packaging, or even better, avoid it as much as possible.

Recyclable Packaging:

  • cardboard

  • gummed paper tape

  • self adhesive tapes

  • paper cushioning

  • paper surface protection

  • paper mailing bags

  • egg boxes

(as you can see, no plastic mailers, styrofoam, or bubblewrap are recyclable)

40% of all packaging is plastic. And, plastic packaging accounts for 40% of all plastic use.

Recyclable Plastic:

Plastics have numbers on the bottom that identify the type of plastic. Use the infographic to help you know what is what. The 3 listed below are the most commonly recycled in most places.

  • 1 - bottles, mouthwash bottles, yogurt cups

  • 2 - milk jugs, bottle caps, detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, ice cream tubs

  • 5 - packing tape, ketchup bottles, plastic silverware

Click here to see a list of what you cannot recycle anywhere.

Make sure you rinse out anything before recycling it. If it has food residue, chemicals, soap, or is dirty they will throw it away instead of recycling it. 

Anything else you may be curious if you can recycle or not, you can google "what can I recycle in insert city name here, insert state" and a page should come up!

What is compostable packaging?

For something to be compostable it needs to be biodegrable and nontoxic. It will break down in water, biomass, and carbon dioxide within 90-180 days of disposal leaving NOTHING behind (unlike microplastics).

Compostable packaging will say compostable on it, or you can expect it to be if it is made of entirely brown paper. Be careful not to confuse all paper cups because many have a plastic lining on the inside to keep liquids in.



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