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How to Reduce and Recycle Plastic Waste at Your Business

Every business–no, scratch that, every person–is guilty of causing a lot of plastic waste. Single-use plastic waste is projected to keep increasing over the coming years and 40% of the plastic we produce is packaging that’s immediately thrown away.

Want to make sure your business does its part in changing this narrative? Find out how your organization can reduce plastic waste and recycle the plastic you do use the right way.

Just say no to single-use plastic

For many businesses, single-use plastic is easily avoidable. There are so many simple reusable substitutions that can both eliminate the plastic you use in your office and the plastic you provide to customers.

For example, you can replace single-use plastic bags with reusable bags and K-Cup coffee pods with a glass coffee maker that doesn’t require a pod.  

Take the steps to examine where your business is using single-use plastic, unnecessary plastic packaging, and so on. Once you’re aware of where you’re wasting plastic, you can then make a plan to eliminate it. This can include plastic straws, individual coffee creamers, and plastic water bottles.

Consider having a conversation with your suppliers or vendors about the way they package their shipments. Perhaps they could cut out or cut down on their plastic film wrapping around pallets, or replace packaging peanuts with recyclable paper.

Set up a deposit-return scheme

A deposit-return scheme (DRS), also known as a deposit return system, allows consumers to pay a small “deposit” when they purchase a plastic product. When the item is returned, the consumer gets the deposit back and your business can reuse or recycle the item properly.

A DRS can be governmentally mandated or just a savvy business decision. As a matter of fact, England announced that all drink containers are covered by a deposit-return scheme. Germany established a DRS in 2003 and today, 99% of plastic bottles are recycled. To compare, The U.S. only recycles 23% of plastic.

Depending on your business, a DRS may make sense. Grocery stores, convenience stores, and other B2C businesses that provide consumers with goods in plastic could set up their own DRS processes.

Learn to decipher the plastic recycling symbols

Sometimes using plastic is unavoidable. If you do have to recycle plastic, make sure you know exactly what the plastic recycling symbol means. They’re not all created equal! Here’s a simple guide to what the different symbols mean:

  • Symbol 1, PETE: Polyethylene Terephthalate. This includes things like soda, juice, and water bottles. This category can be
  • Symbol 2, HDPE: High-Density Polyethylene. This includes milk jugs, cleaning products, and personal hygiene product bottles.
  • Symbol 3, PVC: Polyvinyl Chloride. This includes clear food packaging,  siding, and windows.
  • Symbol 4, LDPE: Low-Density Polyethylene. This includes shopping bags and squeezable bottles.
  • Symbol 5, PP: Polypropylene. This includes toys, syrup bottles, medicine bottles, and straws.
  • Symbol 6, PS: Polystyrene. This includes hard packaging, CD cases, takeout containers, and egg cartons.
  • Symbol 7, Other. This is a miscellaneous category that includes large gallon water bottles, computer cases, and nylon.

Picture-based, color-coordinated signage is one of the best ways to build recycling habits and educate employees. Recycle Across America (RAA), a 501)(c)(3) nonprofit organization, created the society-wide standardized labels for bins. The labels eliminate confusion at the bin, making it easy for people to recycle more while also reducing contamination. RAA offers labels for all sorting requirements as well as custom solutions for unique sorting systems and bins.

Just because a plastic item has one of the above symbols on it doesn’t mean it’s going to be accepted by a curbside recycling program. Learn about your local laws and contact your hauler for more information on what’s accepted.

Be Proud of Your Plastic-Free Progress

While some businesses simply aim to recycle more, other businesses choose to set defined sustainability goals. Programs such as the TRUE Zero Waste Certification system are designed to help businesses and facilities of all types define, pursue and achieve their zero waste goals.

When a business sends less than 10% of its MSW stream to landfills or incinerators (also considered a 90% diversion rate), it has achieved zero waste. Your waste partner or third-party sustainability partner can help you determine how to structure goals that make sense for your business and define what success means for your organization.

Keep on reading

Not quite done with learning about how to reduce plastic waste? Check out The Rubicon Method. Then, check out our podcast episode with Lonely Whale, the organization that started the Strawless in Seattle campaign to eliminate plastic straws.

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