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California aims to ban recycling symbols on things that aren’t recyclable (nytimes.com)
574 points by elliekelly on Sept 9, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 286 comments

I hope they don’t get rid of the symbol entirely! It’s useful to know what resin a product is made of.

Things like PLA (which is kinda sorta compostable) are not often recycled, but they can be. If you don’t know what resin the plastic is, then it’s even harder.

Keep the resin symbol. Remove the arrows on it. We get better with recycling stuff over time, so eventually more resins could be recycled.

But. Part of me wonders if it is actually BETTER to not recycle.

Imagine if we made plastic by pulling CO2 from the atmosphere (which we do for PLA!). If the cost were the same and the processing energy the same, wouldn’t it be better for the climate to bury that plastic (sequestering the carbon) instead of recycling it? That is, after all, how we got fossil fuels and reduced the CO2 to preindustrial levels! Burying a bunch of waste carbon from dead algae or trees before fungi evolved that could efficiently break down lignin. Recycling that carbon would’ve meant higher CO2 levels today.

And the waste in river thing is primarily about what happens to plastic BEFORE it ends up in a bin (trash OR recycling). Things like water satchets, which really are a compensation for having crap tap water.

Yes, I've come to the conclusion that it's better to bury most plastic waste.

Most plastic comes from oil, which means 'biodegradable' plastic is essentially the same as burning the oil. Actual recycling can work in some cases, but even after all the expense and energy of recycling, the recycled product is usually much lower grade plastic, so it's not sustainable. Better just to bury it (in leak-proof pits), where it will turn back into oil eventually.

The real problem with plastic waste is COLLECTING it, making sure it doesn't wash into the oceans, etc.

At least the recycle logo might help with that, even a fake one.

In a world where fossil fuels are still a thing, how does burying it stack up against just burning it as fuel?

I get that it's sequestered if it's in a landfill, but it seems like it might be more efficient to burn the carbon already extracted and turned into plastic than it would be to dig up new stuff and burn that (i.e. you get to leave more of the already-sequestered oil-carbon in the ground rather than digging it up and sequestering the plastic-carbon).

The scientific consensus is that recycling > burning with energy recovery > well managed landfill > badly managed landfill > open burning. Nations not under the control of fossil fuel groups have been putting this into action for decades.

Landfill seems to be the contrarian's choice but this appears to some anti-regulation propaganda after effect.

Headlines like "Thing you do to save the planet actually hurts the planet" is like catnip for some people, and they dont ask any awkward questions about who is claiming this and why.

Landfill as an imagined route to sequestration is easily seen through with the right thought experiment.

If you incinerate the trash instead of burying it, carbon does indeed get released.

If you burned enough coal/naturalgas/oil to produce the same amount of energy produced by incinerating, you would release a comparable amount of carbon.

Burying it doesn't sequester anything, if you assume it gets burnt to produce energy. If you burn it, you displace burning fossil fuels.

I wish recycling was more realistic, it frustrates me to no end that out of all those cute numbers that indicate you should feel good putting it in the recycling bin, odds are that anything you put in made of 3, 4, 5 (sort of), 6, or 7 is counterproductive. It just contaminates the good stuff.

But tangent aside, if you consider the plastics to be fuel it makes absolutely no sense to sequester them instead of burning them to displace fossil fuel use, reduce land use, and also centralize a major pollution source (plastics and such contaminating groundwater near landfills over centuries vs a centralized emissions filter).

The fly in the ointment of this idea that it’s better to just burn it for energy is that 40% of US electricity is already carbonfree, ie not coal, oil, or gas, plus burning trash tends to be less efficient than high efficiency combined cycle natural gas plants.

I do sure wish it was further along, and agree that it makes more sense to sequester it or convert to syngas for converting it back to useful products with more free energy.

It seems like a lot is simple once most electricity has a low marginal cost (environmentally, of course they'd usually negotiate feed-in tariffs or other guaranteed long term pricing that accounts for the capital costs of construction).

As I understand, I may be wrong, burning it releases the carbon to the atmosphere, but also releases some noxious chemicals unless burned at high temperatures, which often requires energy input. And any ash that's left can be problematic too.

Also I believe landfills will be future mines.

I wonder if it's possible though to turn garbage to charcoal, to sequester the carbon in a more stable form, and at the same time burn the 'wood-gas' for energy. Like bio-char, garbage-char.

> Better just to bury it (in leak-proof pits), where it will turn back into oil eventually.

What's the time scale of turning back into oil? How long those pits are estimated to stay leak-proof?

Given our best sealants are plastics, this is the best question.

I would say vitrification is a better sealant. Or maybe welding shut in a thick stainless steel container.

> Yes, I've come to the conclusion that it's better to bury most plastic waste.

Alright, here is a controversial hot take - we should probably just burn plastics - and most garbage actually - as fuel. Done properly, incineration is a simple way to limit environmental contamination caused by plastics and other waste materials. The extra GHG production would be partially offset by savings from simpler logistics for processing (no more shipping barges of waste plastic going to overseas dumps) , and significantly reduced methane emissions from landfills. And - depending on how cost-effective incineration is - we may be able to take savings from waste processing and double-down on removing emissions from other industries (e.g. Energy, transportation).

Gasification, using it as a fuel makes more sense. Reducing it down to basic carbon constituents. At least in this forum it’s productive and photosynthesis can turn it into organic mater.

If you do incineration right (with pollution controls and energy recovery), simply burning it is more direct.

Gasification is a nice intermediate step if you need to mix it with syngas or natural gas to augment supplies, but if you really just are going to convert to electricity or heat eventually you may as well just do it in one centralized step.

Either way the plastic product is just one stop on the path from hydrocarbon to energy and CO2+H2O, but I do think centralized incineration is more practical (especially since it's already done all over the place) with little real downside.

Just assume as a rough estimate that the gas you'd get from gasification is displacing natural gas production. If you just burn the plastic (and other trash) in a way that prevents serious pollution from getting into the air it's bound to be more efficient to do that and then just burn less natural gas -- versus trying to turn what is essentially already fuel into natural gas substitute.

Wait, does plastic really turn back into oil over time? How much time are we talking about here?

Not our lifetime. I disagree with the original poster. Often times manufacturing fresh polymer, while cheaper, uses many times the carbon content of the polymer in process energy.

Just as an example I know about offhand, isoprene rubber takes five times the carbon content of the product to process from petrochemical feedstocks. That said, recycling isn't very good either, so better would be to just not use it unnecessarily in packaging.

I do think it is better to incinerate than to recycle wrong and contaminate the entire recycling stream though. To me, ruining all the other recycling on top of lying about it being recyclable in the first place is way way worse.

And no, you cannot generally recycle PLA... I'm not sure where that is coming from. I hate that PLA (often labeled as 7 even though that just means "other") confuses everything even worse when people try to just toss it into typical compost and thus ruin the compost too. Of course it would also ruin the recycling... it would literally be better to just throw it away to be incinerated or else use good old numbers 1 and 2.

You can recycle PLA into recycled PLA filament for 3D printers. You can buy it online; it at one time was cheaper than new.

I don't doubt it, but not in standard curbside recycling bins basically anywhere.

I'd really like to know the answer to this as well. From all the research I've done in the past 10 minutes, you'd think that plastic is simply immutable and indestructible, and that even after millenia has passed it will still be plastic (even if in smaller pieces). But the Google SEO on this is dominated by environmental groups trying to emphasize the short-term life cycle of plastics, and it's hard to find anything with a longer-term perspective.

I think if you wait long enough (billions of years) then the landfills will eventually be under miles of earth and subjected to high enough pressures that they fundamentally change; in the same way sedimentary rock can change into metamorphic.

Your second sentence is false. Almost all of the biodegradable/compostable plastics (those that are marketed as such) are biomass based. PLA comes ultimately from corn

If you make plastic by pulling CO2 out of the air, then it would still be more efficient to recycle that into new plastic. You'd still be storing the carbon, just in things that are in active use.

There's some potential methods when you can just extract the carbon, which in turn you could also bury, but why not use it for something instead?

I feel the "lets put it in a hole" thing has been artifically boosted by fossil fuel interests who just happened to be emptying a hole as they dug it up anyway. If that wasn't the case I'm not sure storing stuff underground would be an obvious solution.

Using it for plastics, concrete or other things we need that contain carbon seems like it'll likely be always be a better choice than burying.

> You'd still be storing the carbon, just in things that are in active use.

The idea is to extract carbon from the air, make something useful out of it, and then bury the plastic when the item reaches the end of its useful life, thus sequestering the carbon. Recycling the plastics would compete with pulling more carbon from the air and reduce the amount being sequestered. The energy-intensive recycling process might also release more CO2 as a side effect, offsetting the amount captured in the plastic.

The goal is to get the carbon into the ground, not to create a closed cycle reprocessing previously captured carbon. Immediate burial would also work, of course, but then there wouldn't be any economic incentive to extract the carbon from the atmosphere in the first place.

There's no logical reason why connecting the three steps of the process make sense, unless you start with the premise that you really want to bury post consumer plastic and work back from there.

It would only possibly make sense if recycling was fundamentally a dirty process but since we've got enough zero carbon energy available to suck carbon out of the air we've got enough to recycle. We can then use that energy saved by recycling to suck carbon out of the air.

Unless there's some weird process or catalyst that makes atmospheric CO2 to consumer grade plastic the absolutely cheapest way to extract CO2 it'll always make sense to save energy and redirect that energy to the most effective method of getting CO2 out of the air whatever that is. I have no reason to believe plastic production will be that and it seems unlikely.

>Unless there's some weird process or catalyst that makes atmospheric CO2 to consumer grade plastic the absolutely cheapest way to extract CO2

Well, given that the way we do that is by growing plants, and most CO2 sequestering strategies involve... growing plants, it doesn't sound as far-fetches as you're trying to make it.

> I hope they don’t get rid of the symbol entirely! It’s useful to know what resin a product is made of.

They should use a different, non-similar symbol for this, since the current batch of recycle symbols have all become synonymous (to the layman) with "put it in the recycle bin".

Sure, use a square instead of a triangle. That’s a good idea. Actually, we should use marks that are easily recognized by machine vision so they can be efficiently sorted.

Would it surprise you to hear that the plastics industry came up with that symbol in order to make it confusing to the layperson to differentiate between recyclables and single-use plastics?

"Source" (not a primary source): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJnJ8mK3Q3g <-- which has some links to further reading/viewing and a few sources.

This seems... not hard. For non-recyclables, just use the same recycling symbol, but put a diagonal bar through it, like on a no-smoking sign. And then provide whatever info you want underneath, same as when it's recyclable.

> If the cost were the same and the processing energy the same, wouldn’t it be better for the climate to bury that plastic (sequestering the carbon) instead of recycling it?

Even if it pollutes more to make virgin material than to recycle it -- and I think that's your problem -- if the non-recycled material goes into a landfill instead of the ocean or biosphere, there's a small consolation in that the carbon in the plastic is sequestered.

I don’t think it’s a small effect. There are something like 300 million tons of plastic waste per year, which is about 1 Gigatonne of CO2, or about 3% of global emissions… more than global aviation!

If we cut down all sources of emissions to zero, that would mean humanity using non-fossil plastic (like PLA or electrolytic syngas derived regular plastics) would be carbon negative.

The cost of PLA is about $2/kg, or equivalent to about $600/tonneCO2. About how much Climeworks currently costs for direct air CO2 capture.

>The cost of PLA is about $2/kg, or equivalent to about $600/tonneCO2. About how much Climeworks currently costs for direct air CO2 capture.

It's probably even better than that, if the PLA cost is for ready-to-use PLA, because presumably dirty/unprocessed PLA costs even less.

The symbol you're talking about was actually revised in 2013 to be a solid triangle around a number instead of the arrows:


I would much rather incentivize non-plastic alternative packaging. Consumers should have better options for metal cans, glass bottles, etc for mainstream goods, as those materials are far more effective targets for recycling. But they're no where near competitive with plastic because the production cost doesn't account for the total lifecycle.

I agree that we must incentivize packaging that's better for the environment. The problem is who gets to define "better". Cloth bags were once thought to be better than plastic for grocery use, but that might not be the case - the cloth has a larger environmental cost to produce (cotton is water-intensive) and has to be used a lot more than one might expect before it surpasses the basic plastic bag. And if the plastic bag is reused a few times, then used as a garbage liner, it's cost is reduced quite a bit.

It's really not easy for a consumer to figure out what's better.

I bought five cloth bags (strong canvas) at my food co-op in 1992. Still using them now, 28 years and many washes and many many shopping trips later.

I agree that some of the lighter weight ‘cloth-like’ bags made today would not be able to stand that duty cycle.

Washing them increases their impact.

Might be better overall still, but that's the direction it goes in.

Wait, what?

I use soapberries, have a well, and have a sewage treatment plant here. My electricity is hydroelectric.

How is me washing anything affecting the planet negatively in the slightest bit?

After the sewage gets treated it goes into a field with wild vegetation which is home to all kinds of living, breathing, and pollen[ating] things.

True. I wash them once or twice a year with a load already being run for jeans.

I also use fabric bags, most of which were acquired at no-extra-cost when purchasing other things. Some are quite HD and I expect they'll last a decade or more. But, some are quite flimsy and not something I would purchase on its own.

I suspect that HD hemp bags (or some other blend of material) are the best option, but finding a definitive answer isn't easy. It appears the lighter cotton bags need to be used for two decades to account for the cost of farming the cotton - and many won't last that long before they begin to fail.


Links to two studies which place the number of times you must reuse a cotton bag between 130-7100 times.

I’m approaching 1500 uses per bag by my estimates. Hope to get another 20 years out of them. At least they are fully biodegradable, and don’t produce microbead plastics throughout the environment.

The Danish study assumes that plastic bags are incinerated. How likely is that in reality? I have no idea if my trash is incinerated in bulk, sorted with part incinerated, or 100% dumped in a landfill.

Using cloth bags as an example feels so frustrating to me because banning them seems to so obviously be addressing things other than the embodied carbon represented by the particular container you bring your groceries home with.

A low-quality, low-reuse solution will almost always be the lower carbon solution if you analyze it from the point where someone picks up the product. It also ignores the question of if the embodied carbon in bags is a large factor (I doubt it) and sets aside the question of the impact of generating and disposing of many plastic bags. The latter question is further complicated by comparing how we could, in theory, design an efficient and environmental disposal system v.s. the patchwork reality of the world and the plastic shoals in the oceans.

Letting the price mechanism work (externalities accounted for) is a great way to do this.

> externalities accounted for

Well yeah, that's kinda where the problem is. How do we price in all the different kinds of externalities for cotton bags and plastic bags in a way that is consistent and everyone agrees with?

Debating these externalities and how they should be accounted for is exactly the hard problem the parent comment was talking about.

A carbon tax would go a long way, even if it wouldn’t capture everything.

I agree - but that isn't a consumer decision (not a decision made at the time of consumption). A government agency has to determine the cost of the externalities (where the science and economics isn't easy) and then set taxes accordingly (not always politically viable).

Better, the government agency could be removing the reason that the cost can be externalized in the first place.

Admittedly, this is difficult to do for resource extraction or pollution costs. But consider that we can recover the costs of pollution in the ground and (to a lesser extent) the water. The reason we can't internalize the cost of CO2 emissions is because we won't recognize any ownership interest in the air. I'm not sure how to do that either, but I'm hopeful that we could think of something if we'd at least acknowledge this.

Taxes are not the right answer. If you are impacted by a negative externality then you have legitimate standing to sue the source of the externality in civil court (individually or as a group) in accordance with how much the side effects of their actions cost you. If you can't demonstrate that you were actually affected, or the damage is too trivial to be worth taking to court, then for all practical purposes there is no externality and the government has no business getting involved.

Civil courts are not equipped to deal with this issue. At best you will get a lot of very rich lawyers. At worst you will get inaction and a lot of very rich lawyers.

Taxes are a traditional way of pricing in a market externality. It seems appropriate here.

Politicians are not equipped to properly assess the externality incurred in each case and see that the affected party is compensated in accordance with the degree to which they were affected. Taxes paint with a very broad brush, do nothing to compensate the victims, and essentially make the government an accomplice in the externality—once the tax is in place, anything which actually reduced the externality will negatively impact their revenue.

It is impossible to enumerate the individuals affected by carbon output. So who cares about compensation?

The point of taxing carbon is simply to get less carbon. Full stop. Economists (especially the free-market economists!) broadly agree that it will work. Why are we still having this conversation?

> It is impossible to enumerate the individuals affected by carbon output.

There are no non-enumerable sets of individuals. Presumably you meant "everyone is affected by carbon output". That may even be true. But not everyone is affected equally. Some of the effects may even be beneficial for certain individuals, e.g. a warming climate means more productive farmland in far-northern latitudes. Those living on the coasts (or on islands) are more affected by rising sea levels than those living on higher ground well away from the ocean. Some of that is by choice (you knew sea levels were rising when you bought coastal land) and some is not. All of this needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis before proper compensation can be determined.

> So who cares about compensation?

Presumably the people who are most affected by human-created climate change, and thus would qualify for the most compensation.

> The point of taxing carbon is simply to get less carbon. Full stop.

This thread is about carbon emissions as a negative externality, and properly pricing that externality. When one person's actions have a negative side effect on someone else, that should be handled through the courts in a process which ends with the victim being made whole. Taxes don't accomplish that. Even if we assume the tax is correctly calculated to precisely equal the damage to the victim, the tax money doesn't go to the victim; it just ends up in the government's general fund.

If the goal is simply to use taxes as a blunt instrument to implement the government's social policies ("to get less carbon") without regard for externalities then it might "work" in a sense. All else being equal you do generally get less of things that are taxed—though tax proponents tend to downplay this when it comes to taxes on productivity, i.e. income taxes. On the other hand, carbon taxes give the government an incentive to maintain carbon emissions as an ongoing revenue stream, so it could have the opposite effect over time. (Any proposal with the intended or expected effect of reducing carbon emissions would need to somehow find a way to replace that part of the tax revenue.)

In theory, that works. In practice, I can't afford enough lawyers to take on Big Business. I'm also not sure how I prove damages for something like climate change. But yet climate change is real. And by the time I have obvious damages, it will be too late.

If you're part of a class which is demonstrably harmed in aggregate by climate change (for example, owners of coastal property), you could hire lawyers as a class to sue those responsible. Probably even on a contingency basis.

Most people are not demonstrably harmed by climate change, and thus would have no standing to sue. Which is as it should be. If you can't prove that emitting CO2 is actually harmful, what justification do you have for imposing the proposed carbon tax? Other than raising general tax revenues, that is—but the proponents of carbon taxes claim that it's for the environment, not to cover a shortfall in the budget.

One way to incentivize recyclable packaging would be to make it illegal for companies to put a symbol on their non-recyclable plastic packaging that 98% of consumers associate with recycling.

Further - I don't understand why we don't just have mandated bottle/jar form factors.

We broke the fucking loop by claiming that people could just throw plastic containers away and "somewhere, somehow (over the rainbow!!!) people will recycle them into new goods". That story is bullshit - even for most plastics that can actually be recycled.

I want legislation that lays out a set of standardized form factors that are as re-usable as possible (NOT RECYCLABLE - Literally washable and reusable), and if companies use those - great! No extra taxes for you.

Want to use your own custom packaging? Fine, but you pay for the whole fucking product lifecycle up front, before the customer ever touches it: Collection, Cleaning, Recycling/Disposal, Reprocessing, Redistribution. The EU estimates those costs for plastic at about 800 EUR ($950) a ton.

Denmark used to have a system for reusing glass beer bottles. There was one standardized size that all the breweries used, and they were reused.

At some point in the last decade or so, the system was changed so now the glass gets recycled instead. The bottles are thinner now (lighter to transport, less material used) and allegedly it works out to less impact, based on some model.

(Though I've also heard it was mainly because breweries wanted to be free to decide the look of their bottles, for branding reasons, and something about EU harmonization to make it possible to sell imported beers.)

I remember back in the day the milkman would drop the milk off in glass bottles, then take the empties away.

Simpler times.

>I want legislation that lays out a set of standardized form factors that are as re-usable as possible (NOT RECYCLABLE - Literally washable and reusable), and if companies use those - great! No extra taxes for you.

Is that seriously the impediment to plastic container reusability, that they're not standardized? People don't reuse plastic containers because there aren't that many uses for them around the house.

Good point.

My wife and I went through a period of trying to maximally reuse otherwise disposable packaging we had around the house, and we quickly discovered two facts:

1. There's surprisingly many things you can use disposable containers for around the house.

2. Even if you go out of your way to find more uses for the waste, in a month or two you'll just run out of applications.

The problem of consumer waste is that it's a continuous flow of trash. At-home reuse is not a sink, it's a buffer - it fills up quickly, so it doesn't alter the overall dynamic of the system.

Any waste reuse scheme needs to recirculate it on the market - new products need to be put in old packaging.

The obvious solution is to make it possible to bring the containers back to the store and refill them with stuff you need.

There's a farm close to me that sells eggs and encourages you to bring your own tray, but it can easily be extended to dry goods.

I read @horsawlarway's comment as "reusable for the original use" as in how the US used to have glass soda (soft drink) bottles that were collected at stores, returned to the bottler, who would wash them out, refill them with new soda, and put them back out on store shelves or in vending machines.

The return of the empty bottles to the stores was incentivized via a ten cent per bottle "deposit" one made upon purchase, which one received back when one returned the bottle to a store that collected them. This was the mid 1970's as well, so that ten cent deposit would be about 45 cents per bottle today.

I wouldn't be surprised if the environmental impact of glass bottle maintenance, storage, replenishment-production, ends up being higher than the impact of single-use plastic bottles

Bottle deposits are still in force around the world. For instance in parts of the EU. They provide the most benefit where they support re-use (glass bottles) but are also used for recyclable PET bottles.

Glass bottles cost a lot to transport, occupy a lot of space, must be washed and sterilised. PET bottles are crushed in the machine that you return them to so they occupy less space and are much lighter. Here in Norway where most drinks containers have a deposit we have almost completely switched to PET bottles and aluminium cans for beer and soft drinks on the grounds that recycling PET bottles and aluminium cans is cheaper than reusing glass ones.

Still done at Erewhon for various things they make themselves.

Not just plastic, but glass too.

I'm canning a lot of vegetables and fruits. I reuse jars and lids from store-bought products like mustard or mayonnaise. The lids aren't interchangeable. In fact, there's a huge variety in the lids' shape, size, and thickness. It's especially frustrating when those custom lids lose the sealing and grip over time or they rust. Hunting an exact replacement is often impossible, so you can't reuse this specific jar anymore.

If you're pickling things and are storing them long-term, you absolutely should not re-use jars and lids from store-bought products. Canning lids are not re-usable, and you're risking your life by doing so. Use products intended for home canning, and use a new lid every single time!

I agree with the spirit behind your comment, but:

> The EU estimates those costs for plastic at about 800 EUR ($950) a ton.

This sounds surprisingly little. In this range, making companies paid up front will have negligible impact on their behavior. Rounding up to $1000 / ton of plastic, that'll come out as few cents for most products. E.g. quick Googling suggests that an empty 2L bottle of Coca Cola weighs about 50 grams, making such tax translate to $0.05 extra cost to company/consumer. That's negligible, and well within the range of the usual business shenanigans companies do with prices.

Isn't part of the problem though that recycling facilities vary greatly in capability or breadth in the things they can manage, and are necessarily regional? Couple that with the fact that some facilities turn functionality on or off depending on market prices at any given time (esp. with say single use plastic grocery bags).

I mean, a #n plastic may be easily recycled with your curbside pickup, but be a processing issue with mine. I don't know how that can be handled better.

> Products would be considered recyclable if CalRecycle, the state’s recycling department, determines they have a viable end market and meet certain design criteria, including not using toxic chemicals.

I think that's reasonable. If a particular material is viable for recycling but many facilities can't handle it, CalRecycle can work with them to resolve the issue. They'll probably update the standard every few years, so producers don't need to worry about the rules changing every week as market prices fluctuate.

It's certainly better than allowing companies to slap a recycling symbol on any kind of plastic just because the technology to recycle it exists somewhere in the world.

1 and 2 are easy.

The rest are regional and don't help much from everything I've seen about the topic.

I want glass, paper, and cardboard packaging to make a comeback. We shouldn't be using space age high performance single use materials for making sure the SD card is contained in 100x the mass of plastic it is itself made of.

It's insulting, honestly, that they feel it's worth spending their money to make me throw away trash that didn't need to exist.

Where I am you can technically recycle 1, 2, 4, and 5 but 4 (grocery bags) sucks and 5 is nearly prohibitively expensive. So really you can recycle 1 and 2 and feel good about pretending that the 4 and 5 will be recycled. Meanwhile no one teaches the places that do takeout that they can just use different containers that cost the same or less but are recyclable. And no one teaches them that getting "compostable plastic" is trash here and almost everywhere.

I favor letting them do whatever they want, and then charging them whatever it costs to recycle, pick up, and/or safely dispose of the packages.

No opportunity to blame the consumer or play games.

Make the "this is not recyclable" message small and fuzzy and green next to a planet giving the thumbs up? I dont care, because you'll be getting the bill for every senior citizen you confuse.

Why glass? Glass is quite recyclable but requires lots of energy to recycle. As soda bottles and milk bottles they might last 20 uses. Glass is also much heavier requiring more energy to transport.

In every part of Canada I've lived in there has been a well developed reuse system. In Ontario, for example, a beer bottle is used around 100 times on average. Reuse should be way better integrated into our systems. If I could bring a resuable bag back to any supermarket to get the $1 fee back, it would be so much easier to justify buying reusable bags that really last a long time. The trouble is I never remember to bring it with me in the morning before work and I grocery shop on my way back home.

>In Ontario, for example, a beer bottle is used around 100 times on average.

fact check: no, only 15


Oh, ok thanks for updating my view. I clearly remember hearing it was 99% but must be either misremembering or the original source was wrong. I'd still rather have re-use via glass or recycling via aluminum than plastic.

My family stores the bags in the trunk of our car. They are always available for random shopping trips. Public transportation would make reusable bags much more inconvenient for our family.

Beer bottles are typically only reused if you say, bring them to The Beer Store or something similar.

If you toss them in your municipal bin like me, my understanding is they basically just smash them and use the glass bits in other products like asphalt as it's just not worth the energy cost to actually recycle it.

Aluminum cans are probably a better bet for recycling if you're just using the municipal bins. They're profitable enough that people routinely come steal the cans from my bins.

But if the bottles, or even a subset of them, were standardized, it would be possible to have some bottle specific re-use (not recycle) programs. OP was I think giving an example of one that works. Perhaps it would be possible to extend it. I can understand there are some product specific's that limit this in some cases, but if I drink beer and topo chico and a few other similar drinks, it seems unlikely they couldn't all use the same bottle.

A lot of beer bottles conform to an industry standard (the ones with paper labels where anyone can slap their own label) and get reused. However, the reuse frequency is from 15 to 20 times before they begin to fail inspection tests and have to be taken out of circulation (and recycled or dumped). Recycling that glass is expensive. The big advantage of glass from a consumer pov is that its inert and does not react with contents.

> The big advantage of glass from a consumer pov is that its inert and does not react with contents.

This is a pretty significant advantage, but the disadvantage is that sometimes you drop it.

I keep a couple in every bag I use regularly (gym bag, work bag, briefcase, etc) so I'm never without if I decide to stop by the store on the way home. That way you don't have to proactively remember to bring it!

You are not wrong, but in some countries they collect, wash, and and reuse glass (and even special kinds of plastic) bottles. According to my parents that used to be standard practice in the United States. Someone should do the math first obviously but it seems like a great idea to me. If bottling is done locally you aren’t transporting the bottles long distance, and quite significantly in my mind glass is inert so if it does get into the environment, it isn’t leaching microplastics into the environment for the next thousand years.

>According to my parents that used to be standard practice in the United States.

You're making me feel old. I used to sort bottles as a kid.

Soft drinks are just another example of gigantism in corporate life, economy of scale uber alles. There was a time when practically every small town had one or more bottling plants, the owners were pillars of the community sponsoring softball teams and the like. Delivery trucks typically had shelving rather than bays.

Following that there was a huge spate of consolidation. Small distributors/bottlers had their franchises taken away, canning became owned by the mothership and absolutely huge. The more centralized the more of a pain it becomes to sort/return/clean bottles.

I suppose it's like the history of car dealerships as they become fewer and larger. For that matter, a significant (most?) percentage of the US used to be self-employed instead of wage slaves.

> For that matter, a significant (most?) percentage of the US used to be self-employed instead of wage slaves.

Are you sure that's not just due to people moving away from agriculture? A family farm is a thing, but not really a family factory.

More likely retail- in my town the bookstore, stationary store, newsstand, hardware stores, etc. were all family owned until the big box stores opened up two towns over.

Both (farming and retail) of course.

When I was a kid the only businesses I can remember being non-locally owned were a Safeway and branches of two state-wide banks. This is in a town of 20k or so (at the time). There were small local manufacturing firms, 100% of restaurants were local (no chains), nearly all grocery stores were family owned, you could still make a living as a rancher.

Obviously there were franchises (gas stations, a small Sears store mostly for catalog ordering) but not very many.

The difference from modern times is remarkable.

And local druggists whose pharmacies also provided other services. It's not a particularly American thing, this transformation is everywhere --that does not imply it's good for everyone.

Finland has that system for glass bottles. Plastic bottles also are in system but those are shredded and aluminium is crushed. Used to be that they were washed and re-used, but I think there were some calculations that it was worse than single use... Or might have been some EU thing...

Places with cheap energy (e.g,. the Columbia River with hydroelectric power) could inexpensively recycle glass, aluminum.

Of course it does take energy to get the recyclables to these places. Curious — are trains no longer efficient?

> Places with cheap energy…

I’ve always wondered about colocating manufacturing near cheap power sources. Is this actually possible? Isn’t the power generated already being used? If it is possible, why doesn’t every manufacturing plant just do this to reduce a huge input cost?

Pretty sure aluminum extraction plants do this. As well as Bitcoin miners. ;-)

Recently ... where was I, Eugene, Oregon? There was a shuttered Coca Cola bottling plant. I remember a huge one in Kansas City as well. Maybe someone with expertise can weigh in — but it seems like we used to, as an example, bottle things a lot more locally. It meant factory jobs in the area, transportation (of Coke) was shorter since there was probably a bottling plant in your state (or a neighboring one).

I don't know. I feel a lot was lost.

Most major metro areas in the US continue to have soft drink bottling plants (though they're using plastic bottles and aluminum cans these days), since transporting huge volumes of water is more expensive than smaller amounts of flavoring and coloring. Eugene OR (pop ~175K) may be slightly too small for that to be practical, but here in Portland I bike to work past two active bottling plants.

Energy transfer losses are pretty marginal around 2%. Compared to labour availability, shipping resources and products; and land, it is not so big deal. Unless it's very energy intensive industry.

Correctly labeling materials could be a firm foundation from which to base incentive programs.

> But they're no where near competitive with plastic because the production cost doesn't account for the total lifecycle.

What's not included in the "total lifecycle" that's not accounted for in cost? Presumably these alternative packages won't save any landfill space.

While we're at it, can we get rid of cloth packaging that isn't explicitly made to be reused? Like how Tom's come in a box and a cloth bag inside of that box! It's so resource intensive; it's like the definition of virtue signalling.

What do you think virtue signaling is?

Virtue signaling is when an entity does something expressly to show they support a cause or extol a virtue, without actually helping.

Disposable cloth packaging is a great example of this. Plastic production needs to be reduced for a large number of reasons, but cloth production takes an exceptional amount of energy and resources to produce while not generally being reusable or recyclable, and the extra durability and/or protection of cloth is almost never needed.

(There was a NYT article about this, but I'll link directly to the study <https://www2.mst.dk/udgiv/publications/2018/02/978-87-93614-...>)

> But they're no where near competitive with plastic because the production cost doesn't account for the total lifecycle.

I don't know what you mean by this.

If you bottle stuff into PET bottles (the usual stuff, being shredded after one use), then you have to buy one new PET bottle for each bottle you produce.

If you bottle stuff into reusable glass bottles (98+ % returned intact, cleaned and reused), then you mostly don't buy new bottles, just replacements for bottles falling out of the cycle (reuse limit reached, not returned, broken).

Why and by what mechanism would the price of a single new glass bottle account for the lifecycle of the bottle? It just doesn't make sense to me.

I think what the parent comment meant was that for the environmental impact of producing and transporting a glass bottle (glassware are heavy), one can produce and transport many PET bottles. The ratio can be high enough to the point where producing a glass bottle is more environmental impactful if they are not reused enough.

For example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvzvM9tf5s0

I think this is the goal of Maine’s new recycling law (briefly mentioned in the article) where manufacturers are responsible for the cost of recycling. Although I’m not sure Maine’s law really allocates the full social cost of plastics: https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/maine-bec...

"the production cost doesn't account for the total lifecycle"

Until that issue is addressed, plastic will reign supreme.

>I would much rather

Why not both? Is one mutually exclusive of the other?

Such a waste of time.

Now we will spend a decade arguing which plastic is really recyclable, and if you can recycle it once is it enough, or should be 2 times? or does it degrade on its own? bio plastic (which turns out sometimes is worse than current common plastic) and etc.

Coca Cola's 'Please Recycle' on the caps makes me boil with rage, how about 'Please Don't Make it'?

There must be supply chain changes, probably 95% of my plastic is from the supermarket, it is increasingly more difficult to buy without plastic.

This must be banned, it will take decades until the free market regulates itself.

The free market does not regulate itself. The big plastic producers have lobbied and muddled the waters endlessly to confuse the public and blame consumers on their awful environment damaging products. Less than 10% of all plastics across the world have ever been recycled


i think it will regulate as the new generation is growing to be more and more aware, and they (hopefully) they will hurt the plastic producer's bottom line, but it is super slow, and this is assuming that plastic producer's propaganda wont grow in sophistication

look how long it took for tabacco, and it still lost despite all the lobbying, but it is incredibly slow

Even tobacco is still going strong after all these years of exposure to the reality (and ads on rehab programs).

You should follow the local rules on recycling. Only the company picking up the recycling knows what they can really handle.

Unfortunately this information isn’t always as easy as it should be to look up. It should be a simple web search away.

> Only the company picking up the recycling knows what they can really handle.

Yes unfortunately they never tell you. Sure they'll tell you the easy stuff like cardboard, paper, cans etc. But there's a near infinite variety of stuff that you might be able to recycle. What about a metal coathanger? What about a plastic-coated metal coathanger? Etc.

We have to put paper and cardboard in different containers. What about card? No idea!

If they don't explicitly say they can take it, assume it's not recyclable.

I doubt that is true. Surely anything with significant metal content is separated magnetically for example. Card isn't explicitly mentioned but I'm pretty sure if they can recycle cardboard and paper then they can recycle card.

This is an example of "aspirational recycling" where you guess what they will do.

Unfortunately we never get any feedback about whether we were right or wrong. It could all be sent to the landfill and we will never know.

Here they mainly incinerate it, and the goal is to make 25% recyclable by 2030 (which is for some definition of recyclable).

The reality is: reduce, reuse, recycle, where recycle is absolutely last resort and I actually consider it harmful as it releases some kind of valve from people, and they think everything is going to be alright.

Why don’t we ban the production or import of products which can’t be reused or recycled, and for which alternatives exist?

For instance, soda bottles. We used to have a closed loop system for these. All of the bottles were glass, the same dimension and color, and one exchanged them at the store you purchased them at. Similar systems exist in other countries for beer and wine bottles.

> For years, the United States also shipped much of its plastic waste overseas, choking local rivers and streams. A global convention now bans most trade in plastic waste

Most of this article is fine, but I can't believe this specific misinformation continues to be printed.

Exported plastic waste virtually entirely goes into landfills overseas, or is incinerated.

Whereas the waste choking local rivers and streams e.g. in Asia is virtually entirely local waste -- people littering, etc.

I'm 100% on the side of the environment -- which is why I want us to make policy based on actual fact, so efforts go towards what actually matters.

You're making an interesting point, but I do wish you'd support it. You're making a a counter-claim to TFA, but you don't have more credibility than the Times.

I would love some validation that our exported plastic waste goes into landfills, as you're stating, but I'm also skeptical that all the places we ship waste to have well designed landfills with proper water runoff management.

Well when waste is shipped, it is compacted and bailed. If it ends up not in a landfill, recycled or incincerated it is a deliberate act of illegal dumping.

The loophole was that people didn't ship recycling, they just shipped trash.

People still pay good money for recycled plastic, but apparently it was too much of an incentive for people to knowingly ship in mixed trash, use low cost workers to extract a few highly valuable elements in hazardous conditions and burn or discard the rest.

Yes, most of the consumer trash in local rivers will be from locals, but its still not great to have a mismanaged landfill of plastic near you thats full of inported trash.

> Exported plastic waste virtually entirely goes into landfills overseas, or is incinerated.

You are just hoping this is the case. With absolutely no way to verify this, you are just spreading more misinformation. I can attest from personal experience that many of those countries are hopelessly inept, corrupt, and unable to handle the entire incoming volume. They can't even handle their own "domestically produced"[1] garbage.

The facts are that an estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste enter the oceans every year, with the majority of that waste coming from the exact same countries to which the US exports its plastic waste. There are definitely unscrupulous importers who just dump the crap right back into the ocean.

[1] Of course, most of these countries are not producing their own local plastic. They are actually importing those goods too! We sell them food wrapped in garbage, and pure garbage too. What a deal for them!

Could I have a source on the waste on local rivers being local?

> https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.aaz5803

I don't see a comment in that article about the original provenance of the waste in rivers - can you paste it?

I was thinking about this yesterday when I saw a pizza box with the recyclable symbol on it. It's infuriating that intelligent people can't seem to understand that pizza boxes aren't recyclable after they've had pizza in them. What about oil soaked cardboard says "recyclable" to people?

It's infuriating to me that people like you keep perpetuating this myth. Pizza boxes, even contaminated with some oil and cheese are recyclable (just take any leftover pizza/crusts out). I have family in the recycling industry, here's research on the matter: https://www.westrock.com/greasecheesestudy

Well, it seems you're right that soiled pizza boxes can be recycled: https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/yes-you-can-recycle-your-p... . But I think calling it a myth is not accurate. A significant fraction of recycling operations still refuse soiled pizza boxes (whether for good reasons or not), and it was widely held guidance until very recently that pizza boxes are not generally recyclable. So thanks for spreading the (relatively new) information!

The trash company where i live specifically tells its customers that soiled pizza boxes can't be recycled. It's even on a sticker on the supplied recycling bin.

I think the relationship between food and recycling is justifiably unclear to most people. Can you recycle cans of refried beans? Prior to today I would have thought yes, but now I see I'm supposed to rinse them. For refried beans I'm already wondering about the water wasted washing the can vs. the benefit of recycling it. I live in a drought region so I'm probably going to chuck it.

Cardboard sandwich containers? Is there a go/no-go depending on how much mayonnaise had dripped out?

It's no surprise people are confused.

Your recyclables don't need to be particularly clean when they go in the bin. Just clean enough that they won't make everything else in the bin dirty (particularly paper). During the last drought in California, San Jose asked people to stop washing their recycling since it already gets washed in one way or another as part of the recycling process.

In your can example, it's going to get smelted down and anything organic is going to burn off.

- https://ecology.wa.gov/Blog/Posts/June-2019/Recycle-Right-Ho...

If you live in a drought region even if everyone in the entire region rinsed their refried bean cans that probably wouldn't push the needle on water use on a statistically significant level. Industry is who is causing the drought, not your lawns and swimming pools and long showers, despite what the narrative in the industry funded press might say. When you look at the actual water use data from state agencies devoid of editorial bias, this conclusion is obvious.

The giant recylcing symbol on a lot of pizza boxes sure doesn't help.

What infuriates me (along with all the other things!) is the practice of making packaging that consists of plastic bound to something else, e.g. foil. Or wrapping a plastic bottle in a film made from some other kind of plastic, that has had promotional material printed on it.

Here, I can only recycle clear, colourless plastic (with the right recycling label). Of course, the promotional film has no recycling label, only the bottle itself. The printeed film can't be recycled. And it's the very devil to strip the film off the bottle.

I have here a triangular sandwich pack made of cardboard; but with a plastic window glued to it. The window has no recycling label, but also it renders the box non-recyclable.

I'm perfectly willing to sort my rubbish; but I'm not prepared to dismantle packaging that obviously wasn't meant to be dismantled - especially given that most "recycling" actually goes for incineration or landfill.

Sample size one, but my pizza boxes don't end up being oil soaked. I might order pizzas with less oil, or it could be a different way of handling. I also recall a bit of parchment under the pizza that helps keep the box free of oil.

I guess if you actually keep food material off the cardboard you put into the recycling, it should be fine. The vast majority of pizza boxes I've seen have way too much food material on them to be recyclable. TBH paper is hardly worth recycling in the first place. Sure it saves trees, but it adds a ton more chemical waste and produces low quality paper.

I like the system at MOD Pizza. They give you your pizza in a paperboard box, but they also put a thin sheet of waxy paper on the bottom of the box before they put the pizza in. So you throw out a minimal amount of paper, but the box is ready to recycle.

It's astonishing that this symbol is allowed to used on non-recyclable products in the first place.

The generous interpretation is that in these cases it's generally possible to recycle the material, and the company is noting that and may well think it would be a really good idea of someone did recycle the things, even though realistically it ain't happening.

The bar set by the bill is much higher than 'could be recycled'. It "ban[s] companies from using the arrows symbol unless they can prove the material is in fact recycled in most California communities, and is used to make new products."

Yeah, I got the same angry feeling that I get when a company write: "Made with real chocolate". Well... no you don't have to write that, it's the product made with fake chocolate that should have a label.

Why would you even put a recycling label on a non-recyclable product, unless you're an asshole.

Most recyclable plastic that's collected isn't even recycled anymore.

We might be better off burying it as a carbon sink.

Are those dumpsters recyclable? I am picturing a big robot throwing those dumpsters into a giant shredder or something. I'll let myself out.

They appear to be made of sheet steel, so almost certainly yes and that's how they would be recycled. Probably wouldn't involve a robot though...

In case anyone isn't aware, while plastic recycling may be a scam, metal recycling is extremely effective. To use cars as an example, 95% of cars end up being recycled, 80% of a car's materials (by weight) can be successfully recycled, and the average car is composed of 20% recycled material.

From my European point of view, the problem is not necessarily the almost invisible symbol but the government endorsement of recycling. Being forced to collect rubbish in some centralised way with tons of stupid rules made me think that recycling was working and that plastic was a relatively green choice (for something coming from oil).

This propagated down in the economy with brands using more and more plastic in the last 30 years. Everything is plastic nowadays, even what used to be glass (like milk containers).

Both government and mainstream media were all about people following all the dumb rules (I wonder how many hours of lost productivity we collectively lost as a species) or you hated the planet.

In the last few of years it turned out recycling is mostly useless, even if we had the evidence for it since the beginning. Most of it is unrecyclable, some of it get shipped to China to burn, a minor part of plastic gets recycled (and it can even be recycled a limited amount of times).

The government trying to intervene now is doing too little too late. The only thing I can understand is that big oil bought our governments officials and media. What they bought is 30 years to make money selling oil and enough time to shift their investment to something greener for the next cycle of corruption and profiteering.

Incidentally I know a family in the oil business and the new generation is investing the family empire in renewables, pocketing all the government's incentives for solar energies, while they're at it.

Aluminum and steel actually make quite a bit of sense to recycle. The big energy cost is in the processing of ore to metal. Re-melting the metal is relatively low energy.

> “Both government and mainstream media were all about people following all the dumb rules (I wonder how many hours of lost productivity we collectively lost as a species) or you hated the planet.”

that applies word-for-word to covid measures. almost none of them do much in practice, but there has to be a bevy of rules to keep us mollified and distracted from the raw machinations of power and money.

> I know a family in the oil business and the new generation is investing the family empire in renewables, pocketing all the government's incentives for solar energies, while they're at it.

This is actually reassuring to hear. It's an indication that maybe, just maybe, the oil industry won't hold on to their current source of profits all the way until it's too late.

In Ireland there's a recycling symbol for plastic products that can be recycled.

But if you put that recycling symbol in a green circle it means something else -- "that the companies that produces the product is committed to recycling" -- whatever that means.

This to me is beyond infuriating. Absolutely in favor of these sorts of measures.

You mean 'The Green Dot'?

This piece of shit thing? https://www.pro-e.org/the-green-dot-trademark

How this has been allowed to exist for so long is beyond my ken. The logo should look ENTIRELY different as it's basically false-advertising for the vast majority of people who have no idea what it actually represents.

- ed spelling

>You mean 'The Green Dot'?

Yup -- another business trick is in McDonalds -- the company that supplies the beef in Ireland is called "100% Irish Beef" and thus they put that on the packaging even if the beef doesn't come from Ireland.

I've seen this don't with the equivalent of "100% recyclable" as the name of the company to pass the product off as environmental.

However the main problem is still consumer knowledge of whats recyclable. If people think there is a small chance that something is recyclable they will throw it in the recycling bin -- this is the complete wrong approach. Put everything in the trash unless you're 100% sure it's recyclable. Otherwise you'll "contaminate" the whole batch like throwing a bad apple in on top of a barrel of good apples.

> However the main problem is still consumer knowledge of whats recyclable.

Strongly disagree here. Expecting average consumers to know the difference between polypropylene, polyurethane and polystyrene etc..., just by looking at something, is beyond the pale. That doesn't even take into account bonded materials, like paper coffee cups lined with plastic.

The "main problem" is manufacturers / supermarkets using any kind of packaging that is not recyclable by default, and vague / ever shifting standards from one private waste company to the next on what can be recycled.

There should be a massive tax on using non-recyclable materials for ordinary packaging, and it should have a mandatory skull & crossbones style symbol to show that it is hazardous to the environment.

On a positive note, Ireland just pushed through legislation to accept all kinds of plastic in recycling bins this week: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/household-recycl...

I strongly feel that governments should intervene and mandate a limited subset of plastics - including colouration - that can be used for food and beverage packaging, etc.

My bottle of sparkling water doesn't really need a green top. The bottle itself doesn't really need to be a light colour tint.

Put branding on paper labels, or better yet - go monochrome and laser-etch/mark everything. Have QR codes on bottles that can have fancy interactive digital marketing/advertising/information.

That would make it so no one can introduce a better plastic

Pharmaceutical companies still introduce new medications. They just need to submit documents/applications to the relevant government authorities. The same could be done with packaging when trying to introduce a new type.

great, super easy for regulatory capture. Just bribe the inspector to not approve your competitors.

I'd rather not be a scan+network request away from knowing which flavour of drink I'm holding.

The QR code would just facilitate all the fancy branding shite beloved of marketing departments. Obviously you'd still have all the essential details marked on the product directly.

Lasers can be used to put words into your ears, read your heartrate and listen to your conversations from miles out...

and you're concerned about people knowing your favorite sugar?

The "main problem" is manufacturers / supermarkets using any kind of packaging that is not recyclable by default

Packaging should be biodegradable by default. Assume that it's going to end up in the ocean, or the woods next to the highway, and we don't want it to be there in 1000 years.

> Consumer knowledge of what's recyclable

There's also a huge disconnect between what's actually recyclable across California cities, unfortunately.

As far as I know San Francisco recycles clean plastic food containers, plastic cups, plastic plates, and utensils [0], but backwards Mountain View specifically does NOT recycle utensils [1], black-colored containers [2], and fruit containers [2].

[0] https://www.recology.com/recology-san-francisco/your-three-c...

[1] https://www.mountainview.gov/depts/pw/recycling_and_zero_was...

[2] https://www.mountainview.gov/depts/pw/recycling_and_zero_was...

> Yup -- another business trick is in McDonalds -- the company that supplies the beef in Ireland is called "100% Irish Beef" and thus they put that on the packaging even if the beef doesn't come from Ireland.

This isn't true, it's an urban myth. The original myth was actually that a company called "100% beef" was a company owned by McDonalds, and this is simply a variant. See: https://www.mcdonalds.com/gb/en-gb/help/faq/18916-is-beef-a-...

McDonalds Sourcing Statement - "We work with over 23,000 British and Irish farmers to source our ingredients. Our beef, eggs and milk all come from UK farms."

> I've seen this don't with the equivalent of "100% recyclable" as the name of the company to pass the product off as environmental.

Can you give a source for a company using this? I can't find anything about it online and suspect it's just an urban myth like the first one.

I'm not sure this is true. I've previously heard the exact same thing referring about "100% beef" in the US, but mcdonalds explicitly says on their website that it isn't true [0], which I assume they wouldn't do if it actually were true. I can't find anything about "100% irish beef" , but I kind of doubt it's true unless you can find some source talking about it.

[0]: https://www.mcdonalds.com/gb/en-gb/help/faq/18916-is-beef-a-...

Yeah, exactly. The recycling trucks here in LDN have a campaign on the side of them that has words to the effect of "if you're unsure - leave it out!" because as you say, even partial contamination screws entire bales of reclaimed material.

My eternal bugbear is Pizza boxes. Used greasy pizza boxes can often be recycled in many municipalities, BUT only in the organic or food waste. Greasy card in the paper recycling stream screws everything up.


I used to live in a fairly large warehouse community and 'made myself responsible for the recycling', so I have greyer hair than I should and a slighly less shallow awareness than many people of the problems in all this... :\

What you say, plus occasional reminder to wash your recycleables before throwing them into the bin, is why I consider the whole recycling scheme to be worthless distraction.

Nobody in their right mind has the time and space to properly sort and clean the trash. For the rest, inefficient use of water and detergent has an environmental cost too.

This stuff should be all handled by a combination of centralized work at sorting plants and alterations to packaging. Containers can be cleaned more efficiently in a centralized location, and as for the pizza boxes, perhaps it should be mandated that pizza boxes must be fully lined with aluminum foil on the inside - this would be a win for both recycling and product quality, as the pizza would stay warm for longer.

Japan, or certain cities in Japan, have pretty complex recycling rules, at least relative to California.

You're required to separate glass, PET plastic, other plastic, aluminium, clean paper (books, magazines, newspaper), burnables (food, soiled paper), unburnables, and then also large items and electronics require extra fee and an appointment.

Further, it's arguably part of the culture to clean your trash. This is probably because burnables are collected twice a week, unburnables once a week, recyclables once a week, and, if you live in an small apartment complex, of which here are many, there is no place to put the trash. You're required to store it in your apartment until the day of collection, which means if you don't clean it it will stink up your apartment.

So, people do have time or make time.

But, I 100% agree with you that this stuff should be handled by the trash companies. They could do it much more efficiently. They can do it correctly. Having it done in a few locations is also much easier to monitor, regulate, enforce.

If you wash up manually in a bowl, you can use the remnant liquid to do your recyclable washing before pouring it down the sink, but .. well, as you suggest "I ain't got no time for that".

As for your pizza box idea, I'm not sure that's not simply complicating things - now you'd have two independently-recyclable materials tha most consumers will simply leave together and dump in the box, leaving you with sorting problems, and oil going from foil to card anyway.

Also, I think the quality of the pizza might be impacted - my gut thinks that a pizza that's allowed to release some of its heat/grease into card makes it less squidgy and sweaty than one left to sit on foil. I haven't researched this though! :)

I mean, for crissakes - a neighbour in my block thinks that actual pizza crusts and leftovers are recyclable.


> I mean, for crissakes - a neighbour in my block thinks that actual pizza crusts and leftovers are recyclable.

Live in an apartment and oh the things people throw into the recycling dumpster. Plants, chairs, mattresses, clothes, you name it. People toss it into the recycle.

I honestly would not be surprised if 10% of what gets tossed into that bin actually gets properly recycled.

I've heard that Pringles tubes (foil lined cardboard with plastic lids) are a bit of a recycling nightmare for that reason.

Yep, which brings us full circle here, as Pringles tubes prominently display that bloody Green Dot logo. My partner likes the occasional Pringle, and she keeps putting the used packaging in the recycling.

Drives me nuts!

> Nobody in their right mind has the time and space to properly sort and clean the trash.

How do folks have time to clean their glasses but don’t have time to wash a milk bottle or whatever? It takes like 15 seconds…

> How do folks have time to clean their glasses

They don't. They put it in a dishwasher.

> It takes like 15 seconds…

Not counting setup and cleanup times afterwards. Given the two are large enough and most packaging isn't dishwasher safe, it makes sense to clean a bunch of trash in one run, which requires having space for extra trash containers at home...

Wait people batch clean their recyclables? That seems more time intensive since the food is going to dry/harden. It’s much quicker to wash when everything is still wet.

15 seconds isn't worth it.

Interesting to come across the word “bugbear” — would you mind sharing which part of the world you are posting from? I’m not sure if I’ve heard that word before.

Edit: is LDN London?

My apologies! Yes - from the UK, and LDN is short for London.

I've somehow gotten myself into the habit of using that shortcode over the past few years. I should really stop - the energy saved from not using three characters isn't really worthwhile :)

They could be posting from the Forgotten Realms part of their imagination. It’s a Dungeons & Dragons setting where Bugbears are abundant.


Is that actually true? According to [1], McDonalds (in 2020) was buying EUR160e6 worth of Irish beef accounting for 20% of its beef sales across Europe. It would make quite a loss for them if they shipped beef into Ireland while buying that much locally and exporting it. I can't find anything that mentions this "100% Irish beef" theory.

[1] https://www.rte.ie/news/coronavirus/2020/0323/1124769-corona...

> EUR160e6

Deliberately obtuse way to write €160 million. Why write that like?

Because people near Ireland use an obtuse definition of million/billion. Engineering notation is precise and unambiguous.

Arguably, the short scale, not the long scale used in Ireland is obtuse. 12 zeroes for billion and 18 zeroes for trillion, 24 for quadrillion etc is 6n where n is numerical value of Latin prefix, with short scale you've got 3n+3


> The meaning of the word "million" is common to the short scale and long scale


If you're going to use the scientific notation for billions, you should just use it for everything. I don't think it's so obtuse anyway, it's exactly how I'd spell that number in code.

I'm just curious what 160 million Euro would mean in Ireland. Can you explain, please?

I think "1 million" means 1e6 everywhere. But the confusion might be because "1 billion" means 1e9 in USA but 1e12 in UK/Ireland. "1 trillion" similarly is 1e12 in USA but 1e18 in UK/Ireland. This is called the short/long scales. It's a headache.

I knew billion was different, but the commenter mentioned million specifically as having a different meaning.

I'm not sure that's the same problem. I think Parent means that beef from elsewhere arrives in Ireland, is processed there and becomes 'Irish beef', which is clearly a bit of a stretch of the truth.

It's the same in Europe with many types of olive oil - much of it is grown and extracted in Iberia, but then sent to Italy, etc, for processing, becoming 'Italian' olive oil..

Doesn't bother me though - my favourite olive oil comes from Spain...

Yeah I'm not disputing the general point that some people would do something like that. But the specific claim about a company called "100% Irish Beef" sounded a bit outlandish, so I googled it.

> I'm not sure that's the same problem. I think Parent means that beef from elsewhere arrives in Ireland, is processed there and becomes 'Irish beef', which is clearly a bit of a stretch of the truth.

The problem is that it isn't true - the 100% British & Irish beef is actually beef from Britain & Ireland. It's a myth that it's the company name.

English & Irish law on the country of origin of products is pretty strong and certinally does not allow processed beef from other countries to be labelled/marketed as British. Also a 5 minute google search shows this is just simply an urban legend.

I can't respond to your response to my response (!). but clearly I misread parent's post. d'oh.

As you were!

> Yup -- another business trick is in McDonalds -- the company that supplies the beef in Ireland is called "100% Irish Beef" and thus they put that on the packaging even if the beef doesn't come from Ireland.

Yea, I'm going to call bullshit on that. "100% Irish Beef" is a marketing slogan by Irish beef producers to signify that all of their beef comes from Ireland.

> another business trick is in McDonalds -- the company that supplies the beef in Ireland is called "100% Irish Beef"

This is definitely not true. And it's a common myth in Canada as well.

> If people think there is a small chance that something is recyclable they will throw it in the recycling bin -- this is the complete wrong approach. Put everything in the trash unless you're 100% sure it's recyclable.

I disagree with this, there are some municipalities that will fine you for putting recycling in the regular trash.

> But if you put that recycling symbol in a green circle it means something else -- "that the companies that produces the product is committed to recycling" -- whatever that means.

Presumably you're referring to the Green Dot / Der Grüne Punkt [1]. Its often confused with the symbol that indicates recyclabililty. I'm never sure whether that's intentional or not.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Dot_(symbol)

> Its often confused with the symbol that indicates recyclabililty.

Are people actually getting confused by this? It looks very very different from the recycling symbol. It's a different shape both inside and out, a different color, has a different number of arrows, and the arrows abut. It doesn't look anything the same to me.

> Are people actually getting confused by this?

Yes. Until about 3 minutes ago, I believed this symbol meant "recycleable", and just assumed that it's another case where producers can't (or don't want to) agree on a single symbol scheme.

Yes. This is pointed-out in the wikipedia article.

Also, anecdotally, I know multiple people who believed (and in some cases still insist) that it indicates recyclability.

Metalized plastic film (as used as packaging for potato chips / crisps) is particularly aggravating because it will often be printed with a green dot but is very rarely recycled, and it effectively poisons the genuinely recyclable material that it is often mixed with.

I've definitely always assumed it means "recyclable."

The other thing is, how does California define recyclable?

As far as I know San Francisco recycles clean plastic food containers, plastic cups, plastic plates, and utensils [0], but backwards Mountain View specifically does NOT recycle utensils, black-colored containers, and fruit containers [1].

[0] https://www.recology.com/recology-san-francisco/your-three-c...

[1] https://www.mountainview.gov/depts/pw/recycling_and_zero_was...


I’ve been putting everything with a recycling symbol in the recycling waste. I find it reprehensible that it’s not recyclable.

Good chance it did not matter because recycling does not happen many times.



I am under the impression it mostly used to mean plausible deniability for consumers whose consumption could be exported back to China for “recycling”.

Some JS stops me reading the article after the first paragraph or so. But it seems to about using that specific "three arrows" symbol.

One annoying thing I've noticed in the UK is some products having a symbol that looks a lot like the recycling symbol but upon closer inspection is not the same symbol. It turns it can be processed in a specific plant of which only one exists in the entire country. I doubt many get sent.

As many HNers are aware, plastic can't really be recycled at all. It can be reprocessed, but never recycled. That plastic tray your food comes in will never become another plastic tray that food comes in. So the recycling symbol doesn't seem to mean much apart from being a way to help people sort their waste.

Also here in the UK - I noticed that annoyingly more and more items openly advertise, on the front of the packaging " NOW RECYCLABLE!" with an asterix next to it, and upon reading the small print it says it's recyclable, but only if brought into this special collection point, which they only have in like 5 sainsburys across the country. So if you just throw it in your recycling bin it goes to the landfill.

I don't understand how that's even allowed.

A similar thing is ongoing with the term "compostable" for some plastics -- often it only means through special municipal composting facilities. If you threw it in your backyard compost heap, it would not deteriorate quickly.

> It can be reprocessed, but never recycled

Huh, I didn't know that. TBH, I was pretty sure most of it was just going to landfill somewhere in Asia, with only a small portion really being recycled. What does "reprocessed" mean though? Taking the example of a prepackaged meal tray, what might happen to it?

It gets processed into pellets which can be melted down and extruded. Generally these are lower grade materials, meaning they are used for different purposes [1]. This might be water bottles getting made into polymer fibers for cushion filling and the like, or disposable cups into plant pots. Eventually they get processed to the point where the grade is too low to be recycled any further, at which point they end up in landfill. Modern recycling practices have extended the recyclable life of plastics, but often by creating a lot of unusable byproduct which again, is chemically treated to then be put into landfill.

[1] https://plasgranltd.co.uk/plasgran-guide-plastic-recycling-g...

Meal tray probably is going to landfill.

Otoh plastic water bottles may end up as "carpet, clothing, plastic packaging."


Yeah, which is not a cycle. It's a linear path with the landfill at the end. I doubt there's even many examples with more than two hops before the landfill. That's why I call it "reprocessing", not recycling. According to that article, only 8.4% of plastic can be reprocessed. So that's 91.4.% with one hop to the landfill, 8.4% with two hops. It's not recycling by any stretch but they've been allowed to hijack the word.

Germany. My mum never accepted this, she did wash the plastic waste partially in the dishwasher - because it would be "reused". She always pointed at those recycling videos, were people sorted through the trash by hand.

About damn time. I've always been confused by the sign - it's on pretty much all plastics, but only a fraction are actually recyclable. And like many people, I chuck it all in the recycle bin and hope some of it gets recycled and that the non-recyclables don't screw up the whole works.

It really shouldn't be this hard.

Just fyi, this was completely intentional[1]. There was a big concern about increasing plastic use in the 1990s. So, the plastics producers started producing ads and adding the recycling symbol to plastics. The consumer assumed they were doing "good" and left it for the municipalities and recyclers to figure out or to just dump in the landfill. A lot of plastics can be shredded up and reused to some degree but not recycled in the truest sense. I honestly think we need to be recycling only aluminum and cardboard (from the curb). We also need to start taxing all the excessive plastic packaging and single use mindset. As long as convenience is so cheap, we'll never consider alternativess.

[1] https://www.npr.org/2020/09/11/897692090/how-big-oil-misled-...

> we need to be recycling only aluminum and cardboard

And glass?

Only about 30% of "recycled" glass is actually recycled in the USA and its going down with a lot of municipalities removing it from their programs completely.

In short because glass breaks and contaminates paper and aluminum plus needs to be sorted by color it costs too much to handle and economics are more important than environmental externalities.

Which sucks because isn’t glass one of the few things that is fully recyclable (if done right)?

There are concerns about the weight of glass (energy cost), the energy required to create and recycle, the likelihood that even things like "reusing beer bottles by just washing" have risks with glass chipping or having cracks that extra costs to reuse. I'm less up to speed on all of these costs and risks so take with a grain of salt.

> energy cost

It takes less energy to melt recycled glass than to make new glass from sand.

I stopped putting a lot of plastic in the recycle bin. The main reason because it's not recyclable - you're just increasing the cost to recycle. It needs to be sorted out and as a result cost more... It feels bad but I think it is better... For example a cereal box - has the plastic inside and the paper outside... I take the plastic out into the trash and put the paper into the recycle...

Whoever is picking up your recycling will have info on what can and cannot be recycled. If you're concerned I'd reach out to them and they should be able to give you a list of recyclable items. For me they only accept plastics with a number in the symbol except numbers 3 and 6, no plastic bags, and items must be thoroughly cleaned.

It's also regional, so friends of mine a few cities away have a totally different list of what they can recycle because its based on the capabilities of the facility it ends up at.

It's much more confusing and stupid than that. You can't rely on the symbol and the number because the forming process used on items like bottles and clamshell packages affects whether they can be recycled or not (which in addition is a function of the local recycling processes, which vary). I found this out because our recycling center posted notices saying that only bottles with narrow necks can be recycled, and if they find more than a fraction of the "wrong" plastic in a batch, it all goes to the landfill.

I'm surprised that they would accept symbol 7 ("other") in recycling for you. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recycling_codes

More strangely, it’s on many styrofoam packaging products.

Styrofoam actually is recyclable, though you'd have to check with your local municipality to see if it's accepted. For example, it's listed as a "blue bin" item in Toronto: https://www.toronto.ca/services-payments/recycling-organics-...

It is recyclable here in Santa Barbara, but you have to take it to the recycling center yourself.

there are some biodegradable packing peanuts that someone like me thought was styrofoam - a way to tell is to take one and see if it "melts" in warm water...

I THINK those can go in compost, but I'd check your local regulations

You'd think this was obvious to do. Sometimes I absolutely loathe the performative nature of most recycling initiatives.

Before reading this article, I thought it was trivial "recycling symbol is used for recyclable items", and "no recycling symbol means that the item is not recyclable", why do they allow them to mis-use it (or mis-use any symbol) in first place?.

Because companies probably found through research, that adding a recycle symbol, increases revenue by some percentage.

The whole movement to recycle plastic was an industry scam to knowingly profit from destroying the planet.


While true, that has nothing to do with what I stated. I was referring to consumers being more apt to purchase something that shows recyclable. Subconsciously or not.

Because different cities have the ability to recycle different types of resin. So the number in the middle of the symbol is used by the recycling plant to separate what can and cannot be recycled.

The ridiculous part is that recycling plastic generates more carbon that making new plastic, and burying it is actually a great way to sequester CO2.

So the entire plastic recycling effort has been discovered to be counter-productive.

I'm a fan of this but I still think we're so far away from a solution. I gave up on recycling at my apartment because the bins get filled with things like toilet paper, soiled pizza boxes and dog poop. Mislabeled plastics are the least of my issues.

What does it mean for my friend who has a large recycling symbol tattooed ?

I hope they’re not confusing the resin symbols with the recycling symbol.

Clearly the resin identification code and the recycling symbol are causing consumer confusion due to the fact that almost everyone confuses them.

The US Society of the Plastics Industry designed their resin identification code in 1988 and made it similar to the recycling symbol which had been in use since 1970, even though many of the plastics thus labeled were not generally recyclable.

According to wikipedia[1] they eventually changed the RIC "chasing arrows" to a solid triangle in 2013 to address consumer confusion, but I still see a lot of plastics sporting the chasing arrow symbol.

I hope efforts like California's succeed so that the recycling symbol can be reserved for products that can be recycled in practice. (i.e. there are more than a token number of municipal facilities that process that type of plastic into a reusable form)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resin_identification_code

By 88 there weren't many products using the recycling symbol on their labels. The resin identification symbols were the first ones to get widespread usage, and I imagine they used the arrows because they are about recycling, even if they don't mean "this product is recyclable".

The ideas about government policy on product labeling became popular a bit later than that, and the resin identification codes, together with food nutritional values were the main responsible for that.

> by [19]88 there weren't many products using the recycling symbol on their labels.

My understanding[1] is that in the 1970s the paper industry was the first to adopt a three-arrow symbol for paper products that could be recycled and later a slightly different three-arrow symbol for products that were made from recycled paper products. These seem in alignment with consumer understanding of the symbol. I also recall seeing the three arrow recycling symbol on bins at school in the 1980s so it was certainly in use by that point.

> I imagine they used the arrows because they are about recycling

Had resin identification codes restricted their use of the three-arrow design to plastics that were widely recyclable or products made from recycled plastic then I would have no issue. But some of the resin symbols (e.g. 7) essentially mean "not recyclable" and that is obviously causing confusion to consumers because people keep putting them in the plastic recycling.

It's confusing enough that the recycling center near me provides the following guidance: "The numbers on plastics are not great indicators of whether something can be recycled in a typical recycling program. Our advice is to think about the shape of your plastics. If they are clean and empty plastic bottles, jars, jugs or tubs, they are what we are looking for!"

> even if they don't mean "this product is recyclable"

Using a symbol to mean the exact opposite of its conventional meaning seems liable to cause consumer confusion.

[1] https://medium.com/@shengmorni/1970-ad0c58b5a9dc

The Resin code was designed to help with recycling to determine what can be recycled.

It says so in the article you linked. It's the last column on the first chart.

In reality, it the resin code was a deliberate attempt to confuse consumers by the plastics industry to prevent consumers from making an informed decision to move away from plastic packaging on the grounds of it's bad for the environment.

Similar to how the junk food industry is all about telling people to "balance what you eat and what you do", and shrinking portion sizes while also selling "shareable" packs. They are trying to avoid customer ire and/or regulations against them.

This is a cynical opinion that isn't based on any facts.

unless you have evidence of this "great resin code conspiracy"?

The charitable interpretation is that their original intent of using the well-known recycling symbol around the resin code was to provide consumers with information to help them recycle more effectively.

However the fact that recycling programs (at least in my state) advise consumers to ignore the number and focus on the shape of the plastic means that (at least in my state) these symbols are not serving their intended purpose.

For example, many forms of polyethylene terephthalate are not recyclable even if the product is labeled with a RIC1/PETE symbol. In fact, the only time the RIC number is helpful to me is when confirming that a product is most definitely not recyclable. Of course, in those cases the use of the three-arrow recycling symbol to indicate a product's non-recycleability seems liable to confuse consumers.

> The charitable interpretation is that their original intent of using the well-known recycling symbol around the resin code was to provide consumers with information to help them recycle more effectively.

This isn't the "charitable interpretation" - this was the stated and official purpose of the symbols with the numbers.

The "charitable interpretation" is that the people involved in the decision truly believed their stated rationale. In that case the fact that the symbol has actually confused consumers in practice and has caused unrecycleable plastics to contaminate plastic recycling streams is simply an honest mistake.

The "uncharitable interpretation" is that it was a dishonest way for plastic manufacturers to label unrecycleable plastics with recycling symbols to confuse consumers into thinking a greater number of single-use plastics were recyclable than actually were recyclable with no consideration given to the difficulties this would cause for the organizations actually responsible for recycling the plastic.

Because I was not there I do not know whether the people involved were misguided or unethical or somewhere in between.

Why were they allowed to change their symbol to resemble the recycling symbol?

The recycling symbol is in the public domain. It's not even trademarked.

That doesn't mean the plastics industry should be able to pass off their materials as recyclable. This is is a good move by California.

The resin symbols were purposely made misleading to let consumers think that plastic was recyclable even when it wasn't. I don't think banning them would be that bad.

No. They were made to help communities separate plastics into those that can vs cannot be recycled.

That's why they are on the plastic, and why they have the recycle shape.

Who is "They" that you hope are not confused? Are you worried about the legislators and their expert advisors?

Certainly some experts at least are academically aware that U+2672 ♲, three clockwise arrows in a triangle, recycling symbol which indicates the product can be recycled or is accepted by curbside recycling pickup programs, is not the same as U+2676 ♶, three clockwise arrows in a triangle with a tiny number inside indicating LDPE resin, which typically means the product is not accepted for recycling.

But this is not common knowledge. I hope you're not confused into thinking that the average consumer knows the difference between the resin symbols and the recycling symbol!

smh this is some evil shit. damn plastic industry.

That's exactly what's happening. They're banning the use of the resin symbol unless it's also recyclable (by California standards), to reduce consumer confusion.

As a regular guy who sometimes decides to put things in the recycling or the trash, I absolutely am confusing them. I had no idea, until reading this comment, that those are separate things. Now I don't understand anything.

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