You made the mess, you clean it up.
That’s what we should be telling producers who package their beverages in plastic bottles.
That’s how it’s done in other countries; across Europe and Canada, food and beverage processors operate under the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility. It means that producers are responsible for the entire life-cycle of their products, especially the reuse, recycling, and disposal of packaging.
The rest of the world has this:
Der Grüne Punkt, German for the Green Dot, is the symbol of national product stewardship systems in 31 countries. The Green Dot on packaging means that the producer takes responsibility for environmental impacts throughout the product’s lifecycle. Before releasing its goods into the marketplace, the manufacturer pays into a recovery organization that complies with UK and EU standards as well as respective national laws. The Green Dot is the world’s most widely used trademark with more than 170,000 participating companies taking responsibility for 460 billion packaged items annually.
The U.S. has this:
Producers get to wash their hands of their handiwork as soon as it leaves the factory. The cost of dealing with the detritus of our consumption falls on municipal governments and taxpayers who fund local infrastructures to deal with the waste.
Naturally, Americans lead the world in creating municipal waste, and food packaging is some of the most problematic. It often combines several different packaging materials to create unrecyclable trash like the plastic-bonded aluminum used in juice pouches (the world can be encircled five times over just by all the Capri Sun pouches that are littered or landfilled in a single year). Food packaging also relies heavily on oil-based plastics—the manufacture, distribution, and disposal of each single-serve water bottle consumes an entire quarter of the bottle’s volume capacity of crude oil, and the average American drinks and disposes of 167 water bottles in a year.
It doesn’t help that recycling rates leveled off a decade ago and have even declined in recent years.
Half of the American population recycles daily, while 13% doesn’t recycle at all. But recycling is not the wished-for magic bullet. What was supposed to be a self-sustaining service has turned into a drain on municipal budgets, and many in the scientific community are questioning whether the resources used in processing waste cancel out the positive environmental benefits of recycling.
Extended Producer Responsibility not only shifts the costs, it shifts the conversation.
By holding manufacturers accountable for the complete life cycle of their products, it incentivizes them to incorporate environmentally friendly design and socially responsible marketing. Instead of focusing efforts on disposal, it motivates them to reimagine production and distribution. It means that consumers and producers both have some skin in the game when it comes to devising and implementing strategies reduce the total environmental impact of waste.
Learn more about the groups behind the Extended Producer Responsibility movement in the U.S.:
The Product Stewardship Institute promotes legislation and voluntary initiatives to expand state laws that require manufacturers to finance the costs of recycling or safe disposal of dangerous products like pharmaceutical waste, batteries, and electronics.
Upstream pressures consumer goods companies to take responsibility for packaging waste through its Make It Take It campaign.
Waste-producing giants like Keurig, Pepsico, and Coca Cola have kicked in to create the Closed Loop Fund, a social impact fund with $100 million to invest in the development of environmentally responsible products and packaging.