Everything we buy seems to come in disposable packaging—but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it. By simply choosing products that use less packaging and recyclable packaging, you can make a big impact.
Packaging has increased dramatically over the last half century and now makes up the largest share of municipal solid waste (MSW). Even if Americans were recycling everything they could today, there would remain packaging materials—namely certain plastics—for which there are few or no established recycling programs, leaving you no choice but to toss it in the garbage.
The vast majority of recycling programs only accept PET (type 1) and HDPE (type 2) beverage containers. This means that types 3-7, including yogurt tubs, condiment bottles, shampoo bottles, etc. are tossed into landfills by the billions every day. When you can, choose recyclables—and recycle them—instead. Learn more about recycling codes at our plastic guide.
Take Action / Next Steps
• Evaluate a product’s packaging using these simple questions – Is it without packaging or minimally packaged? – Is the packaging marked as containing recycled material? – Is the packaging material readily recyclable (i.e. aluminum, steel, glass, unwaxed paper, PET or HDPE plastic.)?
Did you know that most of our waste comes from disposable packaging?
The most recent
EPA statistics reveal that Americans threw away 4.54 pounds of garbage per person, per day in 2005, or 245.7 million
tons before recycling. By weight, containers and packaging made up the largest category of waste at 31.2% or 76.7
Did you know that the pulp and paper and plastics industries are among the worst
The more packaging we buy, the more is made, doing much more harm than
bloating our waste stream.
Did you know that many landfills are reaching capacity in the
Fifty-four percent of municipal solid waste is disposed of in landfills, according to the
EPA. As landfills fill up, new landfills are increasingly difficult to construct due to concern from citizens about the
potential health risks and aesthetics.
Did you know that Americans could recycle a lot more
than we do?
Within the EPA's Containers and Packaging category, 59% of paper/paperboard and 63%
of steel was recovered for recycling, but only 36% of aluminum, 25% of glass, and a dismal 9% of plastic was recycled in
Did you know that most solid waste combustion facilities burn recyclables that get mixed
The EPA tells us that close to 80% of U.S. municipal solid waste incinerators burn
garbage “as is” without separating out recyclables.
Did you know that burning solid
waste produces mercury and dioxin emissions?
Despite mandatory pollution control devises for all
combustion facilities that convert waste to energy (WTE), WTE plants' mercury emissions compare with coal plants on the
basis of each kilowatt-hour-generated by a facility, according to The Power Scorecard.
SOURCES : 1. US EPA. Municipal and Industrial Solid Waste Division. Office of Solid Waste. [18 October 2006] Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: Facts and Figures. Executive Summary. Available from: http://www.epa.gov/msw/pubs/ex-sum05.pdf [4 December 2007]
2. US EPA. [undated] “Solid Waste Combustion/Incineration.” Available from: http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/muncpl/landfill/sw_combst.htm [4 December 2007]
4. Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. [September 2002] Berger, Kenneth R. “Consumer Choices Can Reduce Packaging Waste.” Available from: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/AE226 [5 December 2007]