Recycling as an antidote to guilt.


Does packaging that is recyclable drive the wrong sort of behaviour? Single use plastic bottles of water, for example.

Jonathan Straight
23 months ago

12 answers


All surveys of public indicate belief if an item is "recyclable" then it is okay if it is single use.  Also, the fact that most recycling bins are "free" and single stream encourages poor sorting practices.  I understand it increases the ease of collection; however that is also part of the poor messaging around recycling.  All choices have a cost; people should know that.

Deanna Seaman
23 months ago

The answers is no. But one may think that it is yes depending on the facilities in place because design for recycling is a waste management strategy and re-use is also a waste management strategy that also support a sustainable resource recovery. But if the facilities are available than one is considering a prioritisation of waste management conception, which it will focus more on re-use, but it will not neccesarily mean that recycling is a sort of wrong behaviour. Each has it own advantages and disadvantages, thereby determining the one to be carried in different scenarios. Piso instute offers a training course on waste and hazardous material, you an learn more from the course (

Dr. Ernest Fongwa
23 months ago
Piso should be having this class online from their website or people who can't get to or it would be too expensive to get to Stuttgart Germany. - David 21 months ago
Thanks David for your interest on our course on "Waste and Hazardous Material Management". The course is offered as a work and training centre base, but we are currently adapting to e-learning. The course will be offer from April 2018 in the form of e-learning conprising of virtual class room training using video conference system and distance learning. Contact us for more information - Dr. Ernest 21 months ago
Thank you for this update. Dr. Ernest. - David 21 months ago

Actually, there are several alternative options out there.  Re-usable plastic bottle that can be washed or even microwave are available in the market.  The re-usable water bottle contain a filter which contain activated carbon and disinfection properties that you can fill your bottle with tap water.  The bottle with filter can be refilled with tap water and re-used many times until the service life of filter which is normally 150 liter of water filtered.  This will eliminate the need to purchase bottle water from the store and reduce plastic waste.

Michael Shen
23 months ago

Perhaps to help answer your question, you may need to capture data points throughout a bottle's life cycle, perhaps withn a very closed loop & timeline or with very high-level data. E.g.

  • Produce 100 bottles of water
  • Sell 98 bottles (2 damaged & sent to recycling)
  • 65 bottles deposited for recycling (at grocery store or within your office)
  • 40 bottles recycled (15 removed due to quality etc)

FMCGs who produce beverages in Returnable Glass Bottles often replenish 10-25% of their loop with new bottles to maintain the right level, suggesting a 10-25% inability for the system to return within a relatively closed loop.

If you were to look at the developing markets alone which have the highest volume of consumers, the recycling infrastructure & regulations are either very loose or non-existent.

Matthew Theocharous
22 months ago
Big companies like coca cola are thriving towards a zero landfill, which re-use, recovery and recycling is the backborn to achieve their targets - Dr. Ernest 22 months ago
Thanks Dr Ernest -many companies are already at zero landfill, such as Mars Inc, however this doesn't always translate into packaging in the market being recycled by the consumer - Matthew 22 months ago
Most of the companies manage their product life cycle through a take back scheme based by a deposit for packaging or put a managing company in place on their behave. Such strategies are drives for re-use- recovery and recycling. This initiatives by companies aremost often triggered by regulations on product responsibility based on producer's pay principles - Dr. Ernest 22 months ago

Depends how you think about it. It is driving the exact behavior the manufacturer is trying to drive. Recyclable is one of many environmental benefits a product can offer to counteract the environmental negatives caused by purchasing/using the product itself. Others include using fewer materials, made from renewable resources, compostable/biodegradable, made from recycled materials, contains natural/organic ingredients, reusable product/package, taking up less space in landfills, etc.

For convenience products like bottled water, consumers want the benefits even though they know it is not the best sustainability choice. An excellent example of this is disposable diapers. Most US parents can't imagine using cloth diapers, they know disposables are made from non-renewable resources and will end up in landfills but they are easier to use and perform significantly better. Some will choose to buy a brand making environmental claims. More often, however, they will adopt other environmental practices to feel better about making a not-so-good choice in diapers. A disposable diaper consumer has just had a baby and wants to ensure the world is a better place for their child. Yet, they buy disposable diapers. They become very conscious of the increased consumption and waste stream and begin to recycle everything. I've heard many moms say after they had their baby they started recycling paper and plastics. Guilt is an important motivator!

Dawn Houghton
22 months ago

In a word, Yes.

Barry Lunseth
23 months ago

First of all: I love the way you're phrasing your question provocatively to Illicit thought!

And it's an excellent point, there is definitely a big YES here.

Bart Groenewoud
22 months ago

Excellent question -- because it gets at a fundamental paradox in the world of green marketing: "green" attributes can encourage waste. Great article here provides details:

Green product attributes can ameliorate guilt feelings. It gets all the more complicated because many consumers do not understand the real environmental impacts associated with recycling. So feelings of being able to recycle one's single use water bottle can wipe away feelings of guilt. Sadly, recycling is becoming the new 'away'.

Jacquelyn Ottman
22 months ago

Anything done to improve planet Earth by increasing recycling is a good thing. Everyone needs to increase their knowledge about what items that can and can't be recycled. This education should start from the recycling company's themselves and be promoted by all levels of government. These programs will help the educated consumer make a better choice as to what product to buy and use that can and will be more Eco friendly. This should be accompanied with making recycling mandatory all across the USA and worldwide. This thought process of reduce, reuse, recycle will reduce the amount of garbage thrown away into our landfills. This hopefully leads to less trash thrown into the oceans, lakes, rivers, streams the world over. The manufacturing industry should help by reducing waste, using more recycled products in their manufactured products and designing more biodegradable product packaging. Some areas of the USA are making electrical energy through the use of burning trash to heat water. This changes to steam to turn turbines which generates electricity. This helps to reduce the amount of trash that is disposed of in landfills. 

David Barckhoff-Sag-Aftra/Producer, Director
21 months ago

Americans generate 10.5 million tons of plastic waste a year but recycle only 1 or 2 % of it. An estimated 14 billion pounds of trash-most of it plastic -is dumped in the world's oceans every year.

Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times. We currently recover only five percent of the plastics we produce. The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.

According to the EPA, plastics make up more than 12 percent of the municipal solid waste stream, “a dramatic increase from 1960, when plastics were less than one percent of the waste stream.” US residents are buying more plastic, and only about 8 percent of it gets recycled. The plastics industry rarely uses recycled plastics in the vast majority of their products, unlike the glass and metal industries. The recycling arrows stamped on plastic products and the cities that collect every type of plastic via their recycling programs lead people to believe that all plastic products are recyclable and being recycled, and that’s simply not true. Non-recyclable plastics are separated and landfilled.

Some plastics we know are toxic, such as #3, which is also known as PVC or vinyl. PVC contains phthalates and heavy metals, and creates dioxins when it burns. Other plastics contain Bisphenol-A (BPA), which has been identified as a chemical that disrupts hormones. Plastics can contain thousands of possible additives, and manufacturers are not required to disclose what their recipes are. Any plastic can leach, depending on the conditions (light, heat) and what additives it includes.

David Barckhoff-Sag-Aftra/Producer, Director
21 months ago


Publication of the garbage patch study coincided with a new report from Britain, Foresight Future of the Sea, that found plastic pollution in the ocean could triple by 2050 unless a “major response” is mounted to prevent plastic from reaching the ocean. The report declared plastic pollution to be one of the main environmental threats to the seas, along with sea-level rise and warming oceans.
The study included two aerial surveys in October of 2016 that took 7,000 images, and 652 ocean surface trawls conducted in July, August, and September of 2015 by 18 vessels.
The surface trawls also filled in the rest of the story.
Fifty plastic items collected had a readable production date: One from 1977, seven from the 1980s, 17 from the 1990s, 24 from the 2000s, and one from 2010. Researchers also found 386 objects with recognizable words or sentences in nine different languages.
The writing on a third of the objects was Japanese and another third was Chinese. The country of production was readable on 41 objects, showing they were manufactured in 12 different nations.
The study also concluded that plastic pollution is “increasing exponentially and at a faster rate than in surrounding waters.” Others are not as confident that the conclusion indicates a dramatic change in distribution of marine debris. Much of the world’s marine debris is believed to lie in the coastal regions, not in the middle of oceans.
Leonard says he was impressed with the scope of the study. “It’s strong science,” he says. “But at the same time, in this field, the harder we look, the more plastic we find.”

David Barckhoff-Sag-Aftra/Producer, Director
21 months ago
Hope you can use this info for preparing a public service media campaign to outline the dangers of not recycling as well as the benefits for recycling. - David 21 months ago
Things can only get better is there is the commitment in environmental justics requiring political willingness or campaign for it by different environmental action groups. Especially if such actors take the frontline lead,m otherwise manipulation will override real protection actions - Dr. Ernest 21 months ago

Biodegradable plastics: are they better for the environment?

Litter is a problem with a very negative social and environmental impact. Some people believe that one way to tackle this problem is to use biodegradable plastics as an environmentally-friendly solution for things such as plastic bags. This might seem sensible at first glance, but is it really better for the environment?

Littering is fundamentally a problem of irresponsible behaviour, which should be tackled by changing people’s attitudes rather than by changing the products they are throwing away. Making products biodegradable may actually make the problem of littering worse, by making people think that it is OK to throw away valuable resources like plastics. For example, a biodegradable plastic bag that’s thrown into a hedge will still take years to disappear, rather than days as some people believe. Even a banana skin - when thrown away - needs 1-3 years before it is biodegraded!
What’s more, biodegradable plastics require specific conditions to biodegrade properly (micro-organisms, temperature, and humidity), and if not managed properly they may be worse for the environment than conventional plastics. When biodegradable plastics are put into landfill (which should always be avoided in any case) they produce harmful greenhouse gases when breaking down.
What are biodegradable plastics? Biodegradable plastics are plastics that can be broken down by microorganisms (bacteria or fungi) into water, carbon dioxide (CO2) and some bio-material. It is important to note that biodegradable plastics are not necessarily made from bio-material (i.e. plants). Several biodegradable plastics are made from oil in the same way as conventional plastics.
So what are biodegradable plastics good for? In principle plastics are valued for their ability to make strong, durable products (for example in food storage, transport, building and construction). Biodegradability should therefore be regarded as an additional functionality when the application demands a cheap way to dispose of the item after it has fulfilled its job (e.g. for packaging, protect food and keep it fresh). Examples of useful biodegradable products are:

  • Food packaging – packaging that can be composted together with its contents when the product is past its sell-by date or spoiled
  • Agriculture – plastic sheeting that can be ploughed-into biodegradable mulch and seed films
  • Medical – absorbable sutures; micro-devices containing medicine, which break down inside the body

Biodegradability is a material property that depends much on the circumstances of the biological environment (human body differs from soil). Given that this is the case, it could be said that making a product such as a plastic bag compostable does not make much sense because this biodegradability performance will not resolve the litter issue (different conditions in the compost and on soil).
To conclude, it is a mistake to focus on finding ways to make products easier to throw away in the name of helping the environment. Biodegradable plastics are exciting and useful materials, but they should only be used when they have a concrete benefit for a specific product. The best way to help save the planet is to save energy and improve ways of recycling and recovering all plastics.

David Barckhoff-Sag-Aftra/Producer, Director
21 months ago

Have some input?