Packaging Labels: You can’t always believe what you read

Day 175 – When it comes to being an informed consumer, it can feel like a full time job. Countless labels to read and information scrolled out over packaging can get to be a little overwhelming. Thankfully, the people over at Earth911 has taken the time to let us know what we should be reading and what information is important to know.

Here are a few labels to consider when shopping.

  1. The expiration or sell-by-dates on packaging – Unless it’s deli meat, soft cheeses or infant formula, many food items are still good after the expiration date. Throwing out perfectly good food is a serious problem in this country. Do a little investigating before you start tossing out food. You may be surprised to find that there is nothing wrong with it.
  2. Certified labels vs. generic terms – On Day 74, I listed numerous labels that could be trusted on your food and products. They were items with certifications that met a variety of different standards. Unfortunately, many manufacturers use words like “natural” or “sustainable”. More times than not this a form of greenwashing. They make you think their product is environmentally friendly, when in fact it is not.
  3. Packaging without recycling symbols – On Day 127, I tried to make sense of all the numbers and symbols found on packaging and explain if they could be recycled. Sadly, some manufacturers do not put any symbols on their products making it very difficult to know if it can be recycled. If you have packaging without a number/symbol ask questions before throwing it away. Don’t assume it can not be recycled.
  4. Try to purchase items that are easily identified as being recyclable – When it comes to aluminum, glass, tin cans, cardboard and paper, we can all agree that these items are easily identified as being recyclable. When we get into the plastics it becomes a guessing game at times. Ways to avoid this problem is to avoid purchasing products in plastic. If you can not avoid plastic, than look for companies that use the How2Recycle label. They have taken out the guess work by using clear instructions on their labels on how to recycle the packaging. They include information on preparing a package for effective recycling; how widely recycling is available for the type of package; which category of material the package belongs to; and which part of the package the symbol refers to.

So, the next time you’re in the grocery store think about the items you are purchasing. Do you have a plan for that packaging when it’s empty? Do you know if it can be recycled? Or will it end up in the landfill? These are all questions we should be asking and we should be supporting companies that are helping us navigate the tricky situation of recyclability.

Tomorrow, hydroponics in your home.

How2Recycle: Labels that help

Day 9 – How2Recycle began is 2008 as a project of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. There main goals, as described on their website:

Our Goals

  • Reduce confusion by creating a clear, well-understood, and nationally harmonized label that enables companies to convey to consumers how to recycle a package.
  • Improve the reliability, completeness, and transparency of recyclability claims.
  • Provide a labeling system that follows Federal Trade Commission Green Guides.
  • Increase the availability and quality of recycled material.

Currently, they have 225 brands and retailer members who are making their packaging more recyclable.

Recycling can be confusing and some of the time to we find ourselves wishfully recycling. This is when we are not entirely sure if something is recyclable, but go ahead and place it in the recycle bin, hoping it will be recycled. I know I have been guilty of this practice. Unfortunately, many of those wishful recyclables end up contaminating the true recyclable items and preventing them from being recycled. More times than not, it all ends up in a landfill.

How2Recycle takes the guess work out of identifying where an object can go. Hopefully, more businesses will use this labeling system, but for now make sure you are keeping an eye out for the How2Recycle label on your household items.

Check out this poster for a good reminder on what plastics can be recycled and which can not. And always remove any labels from plastic you intend to recycle. Sometimes it takes a pair of scissors.

Tomorrow, we’re going to celebrate a National Holiday of sorts and explain why everyone should be participating.

Plastic Bags: They’re still here

Day 8– It’s crazy to think that the inventor of the plastic bag, Swedish engineer, Sten Gustaf Thulin, created them in 1959 to save the planet. The bags were developed as an alternative to paper bags, which were considered bad because they resulted in trees being chopped down. Fast forward 62 years and they are not saving the planet, but causing extreme damage to the environment.

Eight states have banned the use of plastic bags – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont. Fourteen other states have adopted laws to protect the use of plastic bags. A Politico article, written in January 2020, explains why plastic bags are not going anywhere, anytime soon. It all comes down to money. Making plastic bags is a big business and those involved in their production are making sure they stick around, even though they are harmful to the environment.

In Chicago, there is no ban, but a fee is applied to your purchase when accepting a plastic bag. Most of us bring along our reusable shopping bags on our trips to the store to avoid using the plastic bags. However, it seems almost impossible to keep these plastic bags out of your household, no matter how hard you try. They find there way in, oneway or another. This pandemic has made it even harder to avoid them. Many stores are not allowing your reusable bags from home.

So, what to do with those plastic bags? Some will use them to line their waste baskets at home or use them to pick up their pet’s waste. The unfortunate thing with those uses is that they end up in a landfill, where they can take hundreds of years to decompose. Another option is to drop them off at a plastic bag recycling kiosks. Many stores offer these drop-offs. My go to places are Target and Jewel.

It appears that these programs are legitimate. However, the success of the program depends on the actions of each store and their handling of the plastic bags. I would like to think that these companies are doing the right thing and providing a program that does exactly what it says it will do, recycle plastic bags.

Did you know those plastic bag kiosks except more than just grocery store plastic bags? Here is everything they except:

  1. Paper towel / Toilet Paper plastic bags
  2. Bread Bags
  3. Air Pillows (plenty of these arrive in my Amazon purchases)
  4. Case wrapping (water bottles, Gatorde, etc)
  5. Food Storage Bags (sandwich, storage and freezer bags)
  6. Produce bags
  7. Shopping bags
  8. Plastic shipping envelopes (remove labels)
  9. Cereal box bags
  10. Anything with How2Recycle Label stating plastic bag

Between the composting and keeping a lot of these plastic bags out of the garbage, we have reduced our household waste immensely. We went from two garbage bags a week, to one bag, every 9-10 days. Not too bad, but I know we can do better. I keep a bag under the kitchen sink where all our plastic bags (of all kinds) end up. Once, I have plenty collected I drop them off on my next visit to Target or the grocery store.

It’s great that these programs exist, but ultimately we need to find ways to avoid these plastic bags. Throughout this year, I will discuss how my family is making changes to keep these bags, in whatever form, out of our house.

Tomorrow, we’ll look a little closer at how2recycle and how their labels are taking the guess work out of recycling.