Do you care about recycling? Avoid Amazon Prime

Have you run across fake news about recycling in your community? I was dismayed a couple of years ago to learn glass isn’t recycled here because our community can’t afford the equipment. Most glass is  crushed and used for pavement, or dumped in landfills.

I was afraid to dig into what happens to plastic, but as J.R.R. Tolkein says, “A woman [sic] who flies from her fear may find that she has only taken a short cut to meet it.”*

So, let’s investigate. This recently arrived in the mail from Amazon Prime:

IMG_0649

Note the promising label:

IMG_0652

Does anyone around here really take bubble plastic like this? Our garbage hauler/recycler, Sanipac, doesn’t.

If someone takes it, will it actually get recycled, or is this just feel-good advertising for Amazon Prime? How much time would it take for an ordinary busy person like me to find out how recycle it?

9:00 a.m.: Check the website shown on the package. how2recycle.info is a real site, and as the label on says, some stores accept bags with this kind of plastic, or at least say they do. Albertson’s grocery store, a  half mile from our house, is one of them.

9:15: Sure enough, a bin for plastic is prominently set near the cash registers, but the sign says: clear film plastic only. A kind and enthusiastic manager assures me if I put my Amazon Prime bag in the bin, he’ll be the one to fish it out and throw it away. They accept plastic with a bit of colored print — a picture of lettuce or a couple of words, — also dry cleaning bags, clear bubble wrap, deflated “air pillows” (a substitute for bubble wrap, another favorite of Amazon Prime), zip lock baggies, and electronic wrap.

It is shipped to Portland, Oregon (100 miles north), then south to Los Angeles where it can be turned into composite lumber for making decks, benches, and playground sets. It can also be made into pellets, which can be used to make new bags, pallets, containers, crates, and pipe. Albertsons makes money on the program. The manager escorted me outside to show off their own recycled plastic bench.

IMG_0655
Albertson’s bench made from recycled plastic film

He suggested I check Albertson’s parent company Safeway’s website to find out more.

9:30: Check Safeway’s website. Couldn’t find information to confirm where clear, film plastic from Eugene goes or what happens to it, but for now, let’s trust the manager.

9:40: Still hopeful about finding someone to recycle the Amazon Prime bag, so in preparation, I try to remove the paper mailing label as instructed (see above). It does not come off. Maybe someone will take it anyway.

9:50: I call around. No one is willing to take it.

10:00: Check Amazon.com plastic recycling on line. They have a cool website advertising their program to minimize customer package rage and to reduce waste. Customers are invited to ask questions and make suggestions. The  highlighted link sends me to the Amazon sign-on page and my own account, and there I get no further.

10:30: I put the bag in the car. Check around town for other possible recyclers.

A week later: No takers. Into our trash bin it goes. Hopefully it won’t end up floating around, untethered.

Bottom line: this is feel good advertising for Amazon Prime.

First, it’s terrific clear plastic is being recycled. We who use it should take the time to recycle it. After we drop it off though, it travels hundreds of miles to get to recycling facilities. Not optimal.

Second, I normally won’t spend more than a few minutes figuring out how to recycle something. Spending over an hour and ending up throwing the item away is a bummer.

If you really care about recycling, for now avoid Amazon Prime. They can do better and so can we.

Coming up: The invention of plastic and the great billiard ball competition.

Featured photo credit: Mitchell Haindfield

*I took liberties with gender in this quote from The Children of Húrin.

11 comments

    • I think most people care. It’s just so dang complicated. It’s hard to know where to start, so most people just don’t start. Sensible people.

      Like

  • It’s so convenient to order things online, but the amount of packaging the items come in is a big downside for the environment, for sure. You went through quite the ordeal to try and recycle this one. Speaks well of you. Too bad it ended up having to go in your trash anyway.

    Like

    • Ha! I am more curious than moral. Maybe Amazon is telling the truth about their quest to decrease waste and make packaging sustainable. Maybe they will succeed. That would be nice. It is convenient to order on line.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Years ago, I saved glass jars up for a year (this was before I drank much wine). Needless to say, I hauled it to the local recycling center (this was before curbside pickup) and was told they don’t take it. Not long after, the news ran a feature on how many places that take glass just end up piling it into colorful mountains in landfills. Like this post, it made me think of the quantity of material that goes into our recycling bins that doesn’t really get recycled at alls. I am making headway on my reusable grocery bag efforts though.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Hi J.B., thanks for your article. I am Kelly, I work on the How2Recycle team and was involved in the recyclability assessment of this package. While I’m sad to hear that your experience was less than optimal, I’d like to share some thoughts that may help shed light on your questions. First, it is OK to recycle colored or opaque polyethylene film like the Amazon pouch in the Store Drop Off stream. Clear plastic may be more valuable to some recyclers, but it absolutely does not need to be. The majority of the Store Drop Off stream is colored plastic from shopping bags from the store. All the bags and wraps and films get mixed together to make the plastic pellets to then be turned into new things. Colored films with the Store Drop off label are OK to place in those bins, although all black bags and films should be kept out. My assessment is that the people you spoke with did not have sufficient information to answer your question. Many stores have high turnover and may not get full employee training on the details of Store Drop Off though, so I am not surprised to hear that you got wrong answers from people. I think they were trying to be helpful by saying ‘when in doubt, leave it out!” to reduce contamination, but in this specific case, these store associates were just mistaken. I would recommend, given this variability in stores’ signage and understanding, to look to the How2Recycle label to help you know which items are OK. Second, we (an independent 501c3 nonpfrofit called GreenBlue) work very closely with the recycling community to assess recyclability nationally, looking to scientifically credible data to support How2Recycle recycling claims. For these types of films, we work with the Association of Plastic Recyclers & look to their work on PE film to learn about the technical qualities in these types of packaging that may or may not impact recyclability… we also work with Trex who is by far the biggest buyer of Store Drop Off material in the US, making this plastic lumber I’m glad you had the opportunity to see at the store with the bench. They help us understand what material should be recyclable Store Drop Off. Third, in our view Amazon is showing wonderful transparency about the recyclability of their packaging–many brands either don’t mention whether something is recyclable at all, leading many to think things ARE recyclable, which causes contamination in recycling streams… OR, packaging is recyclable but they aren’t telling anyone (like what if Amazon didn’t use this label, then you would never know it’s actually recyclable!)… OR other brands are not using recycling labels that are backed by scientifically credible data in the way that How2Recycle is and just guessing at whether their packaging is recyclable. In our perspective, we should celebrate and reward companies that are taking the steps to be open about how to recycle and giving people the instructions they need to do it correctly. We’re sorry to hear you had a bad experience and hope that these details can perhaps help you build more trust in our recycling labeling system and you’ll give the Store Drop Off label another shot. Thank you,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Kelly, for this thoughtful and useful reply. Your passion is clear.

      You’re right. Celebrate companies working to improve packaging recycling. Hurrah!

      The challenge is making recycling (also avoiding, reducing, reusing) automatic for most people. Not a single person I talked to on the ground even knew clear film recycling was available; and the store manager was adamant: he’d remove my How2Recycle package from his bin when he sorted. This is a very “blue” town, where plastic grocery bags are banned, but even here, most people aren’t going to drive around and try to force store managers to take their plastic. Store employees are busy, and for most, figuring out ever-changing recycling rules is not high on their priority list. Throwing away is too dang easy.

      I will search again for info documenting Trex’s willingness to accept How2Recycle packaging, and if I find it, will bring local stores up to speed.

      Thank you for your work and dedication in this much-needed field.

      Like

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