EYE ON THE ENVIRONMENT | Less packaging can lead to more waste – VC Reporter


by David Goldstein

Usually, buying a product with less packaging reduces waste. This is evident with products like laundry detergents, dishwashing liquids or cleaning liquids sold as concentrates. Adding water to the home, rather than buying the product in a diluted state, is great for the environment, as concentrates not only reduce packaging requirements, but also transport volume. Concentrates also save consumers money, as manufacturers pass some of the savings on to packaging and shipping.

However, for large recyclable packaging, smaller portions do not necessarily lead to less waste. According to the researchers, when people buy cute, small-sized sodas, they are likely to drink more than one, resulting in a net increase in the packaging consumed.

David Just, professor of behavioral economics at Cornell University, and Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, described their research a few years ago in an article published in the Washington Post on February 11, 2016 (1). As Just indicates in the article, consumers who “are left to be desired or who feel they have done something virtuous by not consuming more” often “have the impression that they have the right to consume more elsewhere, and most often overcompensate ”.

Research by Just and Wansink may also explain why curbside recycling today does not have the desired effects when it was introduced in the early 1990s. At that time, I was part of the Ventura Countywide Recycling Consortium, a group made up of recycling coordinators from each city, county, private garbage haulage companies and other interested parties. We not only predicted an increase in recycling rates, but we also happily discussed the possibility of practical household recycling leading to monumental societal change.

I remember speculating, “Just as a baby’s first step towards responsibility is learning to manage their own waste, when home recycling becomes popular, everyone will start to notice their waste, and it will be. There will be a massive movement not only to recycle, but also to reduce and reuse waste.

Now a generation has been brought up with convenient home recycling. . . but the elimination has not changed drastically. According to data from the California Department of Resources Recovery and Recycling (CalRecycle), there was an initial decline in per capita disposal in California until the early 1990s, but it rose almost as high in the late 1990s. 1990 and has changed only slightly. since then both rising and falling, due to many factors, such as economic prosperity.

Some analysts believe curbside recycling was not a panacea, as residents’ reactions to curbside recycling might have something in common with consumer reactions to consuming soda in smaller containers. Being “virtuous” by recycling can make consumers feel more entitled to consume.

This issue is particularly relevant for plastic containers other than bottles with the # 1 or # 2 label on the bottom. Despite the downturns in the markets for most plastics, all types of plastic – other than plastic bags and foam – are still accepted in sidewalk carts as markets grow, separate sourcing facilitates market development. and consumers would be confused by the items included. , then excluded, then included again. To prevent packaging companies from gaining a business advantage by falsely giving the impression that their products are easily recycled, California law only allows the word “recyclable” on packaging if at least 60% of recycling facilities of the State recycle it, and current legislation (SB 343) proposes to reserve the use of the chasing arrow symbol for generally recycled products.

Avoiding certain types of packaging is an example of source reduction. Source reduction encompasses the “reduce and reuse” part of the “reduce, reuse, recycle” eco-mantra, which is a hierarchy of priorities, rather than just a list of options. Based on research on consumer behavior, those who are concerned about the environment should be aware of how they feel when they have successfully put items in sidewalk carts. “Don’t pat yourself on the back so hard that you break your arm,” is a popular warning phrase that’s relevant in this case. Without the self-awareness necessary to avoid the common human trap of pride, some measures can become source expanders rather than source reducers.

(1) “Coca-Cola’s Smart New Stuff,” David Just and Brian Wansink, Washington Post, February 11, 2016. (www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/02/11/coca-colas- clever-little-trick /)

More information at www.calrecycle.ca.gov/lgcentral/goalmeasure/disposalrate/graphs/disposal

David Goldstein, Environmental Resources Analyst at Ventura County Public Works, can be reached at 805-658-4312 or [email protected]

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