Whether it’s junk mail, plastic packing material, or old electronics, the average American creates nearly five pounds of trash a day — and that number continues to rise. And while Americans are recycling more than ever, it’s up to companies to do more to replace plastics and other nonbiodegradable materials with more sustainable choices.
But community recycling programs typically accept a limited range of items, which means even the most committed recycler may be throwing recyclable materials in the trash simply because they don’t know where to turn. Manufacturers of consumer goods — from shoemakers to cosmetics companies — are aiming to bring more circularity into the life cycles of their products and packaging (and sometimes those from other brands, too) with their own recycling programs. While these programs help businesses reach their sustainability goals, build customer loyalty, and keep more raw materials in use and out of the landfill; they are still just a small step toward reaching the EPA’s goal of increasing the US recycling rate to 50% by 2030.
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“Consumers care more and more, and we’re seeing more companies leaning in,” says Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle, which helps companies develop recycle and reuse programs, processing millions of pounds of hard-to-recycle materials every month. “Everything can be recycled, converted into another life, back into itself, or something different.”
Across a range of industries, companies are helping consumers recycle everything from jeans to ink cartridges to contact lenses with easy-to-access take-back programs, and often, incentives to use them. Here are a few to look out for.
Keeping electronics out of landfills
Less than a quarter of all electronic waste in the US is recycled, according to a United Nations estimate. Technology that’s not recycled ends up in landfills or gets incinerated, creating the potential for dangerous toxins like mercury and beryllium to leach into soil and waterways. Many people throw old devices in the trash or stash them in a drawer, but there are alternatives.