First it was plastic bags; then it became plastic straws. Americans want to be more environmentally friendly, and three-quarters have recently changed their behavior to be so, according to a new report from the Washington, D.C.-based Grocery Manufacturing Association (GMA), but they're still confused about recycling policy and what can or can't be recycled.
Recent bans on both plastic straws and bags have drawn attention to the issue. Plastic bags and straws are both unrecyclable, but a majority of U.S. consumers believe that plastic bags (60 percent) and plastic straws (53 percent) can be recycled. Critically, tossing a nonrecyclable item into the recycling bin can send everything to the landfill, negating any good efforts consumers were attempting to make.
According to the report, 40 percent of Americans are “aspirational recyclers” who recycle items that they’re unsure will meet the requirements in hopes that any unrecyclable items will be later sorted. That number goes up to 44 percent for those who say that they're very environmentally concerned, and to 49 percent for Millennials.
Compounding these issues is the labyrinth of recycling policies employed throughout the United States — thousands of municipalities set their own recycling rules.
“Confusion is not a sustainable system,” said GMA President and CEO Geoff Freeman. “America’s recycling future cannot depend on a patchwork system that undermines good intentions with bad policy.”
To help combat the confusion, 25 of the largest CPG manufacturing companies have committed to increasing recyclable content in their packaging, minimizing packaging or reusing material. Further, 80 percent of these companies have pledged to produce fully recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2030.
“The industry is evolving to meet the needs of consumers and the planet, but it cannot succeed in a vacuum,” said Meghan Stasz, GMA's VP of sustainability and packaging. “Wildly different local rules, coupled with a complex network of codes and growing costs of recycling programs, are contributing to a broken system that will require more than just private industry to resolve.”