As you may have read, there’s a growing recycling crisis in the U.S., due in part to the fact that after years of accepting the world’s used plastic and cardboard, China now won’t take it, which often means there is no place for it to go.
The result is that while consumers may want to recycle and dutifully separate their trash, only a tiny fraction of the plastic made today is recycled, and nearly all of it ends up in landfills, incinerators, or the ocean. While companies and communities are working to stop the flow of plastic and come up with new ways to recycle, the consumer packaged-good industry is joining the conversation.
A new report from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) reveals a deep and underlying confusion about the state of recycling and whether individual products can be recycled. While 90% of respondents say they feel they know their local recycling rules, fewer than six in 10 reported researching them. That turns 40% of Americans into “aspirational recyclers,” who chuck items in the recycling bin in the hopes that they are actually recyclable or will be sorted out later.
The rules are so complex that 26% of respondents think the rules around recycling are more confusing than putting together Ikea furniture, and 23% think it’s more confusing than doing taxes. “Confusion is not a sustainable system,” said GMA president and CEO Geoff Freeman in a statement. “America’s recycling future cannot depend on a patchwork system that undermines good intentions with bad policy.”
As the world heats up and consumers become increasingly concerned about the state of the planet, consumers really want to recycle, and at least some companies want to help them. According to the GMA, 100% of the 25 largest consumer packaged-goods companies (CPG) are committed to increasing recyclable content, minimizing packaging, or reusing material.
Eighty percent of those companies have committed to producing fully recyclable, reusable, or compostable packaging by 2030 at the latest. That’s a good, worthy step, but changes in consumer packaging alone won’t save the planet. “Few industries are able to adapt as quickly to consumers as CPG,” said Freeman. “The CPG industry is a leading force for change, but there is no panacea—no person, industry, or government that will solve this alone. We want all stakeholders at the table, ready to make the hard decisions that will create lasting change.”
This post has been updated to clarify that GMA represents the consumer packaged-good industry, not grocery stores themselves.