Where Does It Go?- The Global Packaging Waste Crisis

Where Does It Go

Consumers of cosmetics and beauty products have raced to natural and organic products out of concerns about “chemicals” and the perception that natural ingredients are better. It’s strange that there seems to be far less concern about the packaging these products come in. What are the packages made of? Where does it go after use?

From what I’m reading, the world has a packaging waste crisis. There are forecasts that there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. Recycling and recovery programs are inconsistent and where they exist there can be poor compliance with them. We recently saw stories of 38 million pieces of plastic found on an uninhabited south Pacific Island.

Of all the bizarre twists, the Internet went crazy about plastic microbeads in cosmetics, resulting in laws being passed banning them like they were hazardous waste. Sure, we can replace them, but this misses the real issue; when I walk down the aisles of my grocery store or pharmacy I look at each bottle, carton, and pump I say to myself ‘where does it go’ after use?? Even my zucchini are shrink-wrapped in a Styrofoam tray. Why?

I studied my bathroom for the smallest piece of waste I could find and decided it was the white cap on my toothpaste tube. On my lab scale it weighed a mere 1.5 g. However, if I assume only 1 billion of the world’s population uses toothpaste and they buy four tubes a year, I get 6 million kg per year, the weight of approximately 4000 midsize cars.  Where do these go?

Last week the truck pulled up to my house to pick up trash and recycling. On the side was a large picture instructing us what to do with the little plastic “bread clips” that hold together the bags of bread or milk. It instructed us to throw them in the trash, not recycle them. It answered my question ‘where does it go?’.  Sadly, it will go into landfill, or no doubt in certain parts of the world, into our water systems. Why don’t we make these from cardboard?

Globally, we all need to say ‘where does it go’ for every packaging component we use or produce. What are we doing to increase consumer compliance with recycling programs? What are we doing to develop biodegradable or recyclable components? What are we doing to improve our recycling infrastructure? These used to be interesting technical questions. They are increasingly questions of survival of the planet for future generations.

In July FPR will post a series of articles under the Twitter #WhereDoesItGo exploring where waste ultimately ends up, programs that some cosmetic companies have in place to reduce their waste contributions, and what consumers and the consumer products industry as a whole can do to reduce their waste footprint on the planet. To get updates on this content and much more, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn!