Packaging is a huge business. Corporations spend millions of dollars annually to ensure their packaging choices are eye-catching, memorable, and easy to use — all in the effort to ensure consumers (you) buy their product.
In recent years, many corporations have introduced new packaging or made modifications to their existing packaging — ultimately to save themselves money, but with an added bonus of providing some form of environmental benefit. Some corporations are using smaller cardboard boxes for items like cereal (reducing paper costs). Others are switching from glass to plastic packaging; the plastic being lighter and therefore less expensive to transport. The weight of plastic water bottles has decreased by over 30% in the past decade — saving manufacturing and transportation costs.
At the moment in Ontario, stewards — the corporations that manufacture or import papers and packaging — pay 50% of the net costs of operating the residential Blue Box program (municipalities fund the other 50%). Stewards producing packaging not accepted in the Blue Box must still pay fees.
We are now seeing packaging that’s supposed to be composted instead of recycled. It’s an unusual switch as stewards are paying for the packaging to be recycled, but don’t want it recycled. In addition, most of this supposedly “compostable” packaging hasn’t been tested in Canadian municipal composting facilities before being introduced into the marketplace.
One corporation introduced a crinkly chip bag with claims it could be composted and launched a campaign to promote this great innovation to consumers. When municipalities were finally provided samples to test in their composting facilities, the chip bags were found not to break down at all in the facilities’ composting process. Thankfully, these bags were removed from store shelves.
Another corporation launched a “compostable” gum bottle, again to great fanfare. While the gum bottle is made from pressed boxboard and technically compostable, the gum bottle had label stickers (which don’t compost) and a plastic lid (which doesn’t compost). Most consumers would be unwilling to spend the time necessary to take apart this gum bottle, however the old plastic version of the same gum bottle could easily go in the Blue Box.
This same type of “compostable” packaging is now being used for laundry detergent and protein powder. Labels on the packaging tell the consumer to put the cardboard in their Blue Box or GreenCart, and the inner plastic film liner would be garbage, but there’s no mention of the label stickers or plastic lid. Again, this is a strange packaging choice as the previous plastic laundry detergent bottle and plastic tub could be easily recycled in the Blue Box. And many residents would be unwilling to take it all apart for proper waste sorting.
Many people will ask, “why don’t you just ban certain types of packaging from being made or sold?” It’s a good question. In Ontario, municipalities don’t have the authority to ban items. Banning can be done at the provincial level. However packaging, especially as it relates to Canada’s official languages laws, are within a federal jurisdiction. However, some corporations claim that Canada’s marketplace is too small to dictate terms to their international, global operations.
So ultimately, it all comes down to you, the consumer. Don’t be fooled by claims of compostability. Instead, determine if a package can be easily recycled in the Blue Box, or better yet, be reused.