Back in 1990 Earth Day went global. Over 100 countries decided the earth was worth celebrating. Earth Day’s theme for that year? Recycling. Setting the tone for every think green initiative to follow, it was an exciting time for the planet. We were finally being proactive about all the waste we create.
Nearly 30 years later—despite some of our best efforts—there is still an overwhelming amount of waste generated in our world. According to The World Counts, we create 2,120 million tons of garbage every year. What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snap Shot of Solid Waste Management to 2050, found that our annual waste produces 1.6 billion tons of greenhouse gases.  We’re not just filling up the planet; we’re destroying our ozone with every pound of waste.
The majority of what we throw away is recyclable or compostable paper. It's not as much of a problem because it quickly breaks down. Plastic, however, takes an average of 400 years to decompose. What’s more troubling? What a Waste 2.0 found that plastic makes up 242 million tons of our annual garbage.
So what can each of us do about it?
Understanding the Problem We're Facing Today
Given the amount of plastic waste we are generating, it’s no wonder tiny pieces, known as microplastics, are just about everywhere. These microplastics are lurking in aquatic and land creatures alike. Wildlife and nature are under threat. Humans aren’t safe either. Microplastics are so prevalent they're in our fresh fish, packaged foods and beverages.
We can study the impacts of plastic on our health and create patient treatment plans. But none of that addresses the root of the problem. How is plastic getting into everything? The direct answer is our waste management system—but it’s more complicated than that.
Sure, we need to work harder to recycle. We need to mitigate our waste management problems. But we also need to look at how we’re creating that waste.
Americans produced 262.4 million tons of waste in 2015 according to the EPA. That means the average citizen contributes 1,000 pounds every year. 34.5 million tons of that is plastic and that’s over 13% of our waste.
Chances are you take the time to separate your rubbish. You work hard to make sure that your portion doesn’t end up in landfills. Well, sadly that’s not always the case. About 25% of everything you send to be recycled ends up thrown away. The New York Times interviewed the director of Waste Management who explained that a quarter of what they receive is too contaminated to use.
Recycling is Only One Part of the Equation
You can see why we need to work to reduce the amount of plastic we’re using. This stuff has infiltrated every level of our lives.
Part of the problem is our focus has been on the recycling aspect of the think green movement. Recycling's an important point, but it’s only one of the three Rs. As a society, we need to reinvigorate the other two Rs: reduce and reuse.
We need to think consciously about the decisions we make in our everyday lives. Pick brands that use recycled materials and minimal plastic in their packaging, which reduces the production of new packaging. Use your dollars to support companies who reuse their materials. You have the ability to make an impact on waste generation at the household level!
(Just keep in mind that every solution has its own set of problems though. For example, not everything sent for recycling will be recycled, and transporting reusable packaging also creates additional greenhouse gasses.)
As you can see, every action has an impact—but try not to get overwhelmed. There are some simple steps where you can start to reduce your waste and do your bit, one green step at a time.To Understand How Best to Recycle, You Must Understand the Process of Packaging
Packaging is more complicated than you’d think. Each component has a purpose and each has a carbon footprint and sadly most of those components are plastic. The goal should be to get the most use with the least amount of footprint, but that can be a complex thing to calculate. The decomposition footprint of plastic is greater than glass. Plastic, however, weighs less than glass, increasing the CO2 emissions for glass transportation.
Further complicating things — plastic is made from petroleum. Recent dips in petroleum's cost made new plastic cheaper to make than recycled plastic (a growing issue for new businesses).
This all stems from MOQs, the minimum order quantity requirements for recycled plastic manufacturers. These MOQs make recyclable plastic hader to access for emerging brands. As brands start out, their order quantities are almost always too small to meet manufacturers’ demands, which leaves them relying on manufacturers that don’t use recycled plastic.
This is why most plastic isn't recycled into packaging. Even major companies like Pepsi use less than 10% of recycled plastic in their bottles. Today, most of the plastic that's recycled is also turned into synthetic fabric. Because these cheap fabrics have a higher demand than recycled containers, this increases MOQs at plastic recycling factories—increasing the struggle for small businesses.
At LUXE Botanics it’s our mission to be 100% transparent about all our packaging materials. We use a combination of paper, glass, steel, aluminium and recyclable plastics. The glass we select is purposefully clear, and plastics clear and white, because they are commonly recycled by most city councils around the world. It is harder to recycle coloured or frosted glass and coloured plastics (especially black). Importantly, we list the materials that make up every component of our packaging so that you have a go-to list for recycling as well tips to help your waste management team .
There's More to Recycling Than Separating Your Waste
You work hard to ensure your recyclables don’t end up in landfills. Separating trash seems like such a simple task. Unfortunately it’s not.
It turns out that several types of plastic aren’t recyclable. The same goes for metals, paper, and sometimes even the color of the glass. If that's too much to keep up with, Waste Management has created an easy-to-follow guide. Any time you’re wondering if you can recycle something, give their list a review.
After you’ve determined that your trash is recyclable make sure it’s clean and you separated. Recycling bins are clearly marked for each different material to make things easier on you. Anything contaminated with food or other mystery items goes to the landfill, wasting all your effort.
What Are Brands Doing to Reduce Waste?
In 2018 there was a change in corporations' efforts to manage waste and think green. Outrage began to build over the number of straws littering our oceans. In response, Australian scientists surveyed American coastlines for plastic straw debris. They estimated that between 437 million and 8.3 billion plastic straws are littering the world’s coastlines.
When a nine-year-old boy in America heard about the problem, he wanted to find out just how many straws we use daily. He called the largest straw manufacturers to get their estimates. That's how he came to the number 500 million. That’s 500 million straws used daily by Americans. It's no wonder cities started straw bans all over the country. Starbucks responded by promising to drop straws from every store by 2020. Nike began making shoes from plastic waste recovered from the ocean.
This trend hit the beauty industry with major companies starting mail-in rebate programs, allowing customers to mail back empty containers for rewards. LUXE Botanics looked to see how we could be apart of the solution. While we perfect our waste reduction, we’ve created a customer rebate system. When you take pictures of your empty LUXE containers (photos must show serial number and each washed out component separated into the appropriate bin), we incentivise you to do your bit by offering a 20% discount off your next purchase.
You may have heard of The Loop program which also launched this year. It aims to end single-use containers. Pepsi, Nestle, and Unilever have collaborated to create a service akin to the old-fashioned milkman. Participants have their favourite products delivered to them in reusable containers. Once the container is empty they schedule a pickup and delivery. Loop takes away the empty container leaving behind a full one. Loop cleans the containers, and the parent companies refill them. It’s a brand-new program only launching in four cities in its first year. If you happen to live in the right areas of Paris, New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania, it’s worth checking out!
How Some Solutions Just Create More Problems
When we hear about programs that reuse containers instead of throwing them away, it speaks to us. This is how we get to that zero-waste lifestyle. It’s true, such programs reduce the amount of waste we're creating. But that’s not the only environmental issue we should consider.
The transportation industry emits the highest levels of greenhouse gases. Increasing cars on the roads increases greenhouse gas emissions. That's the problem that programs that reuse containers are now facing. There's a point where things break even. The individual shopper's carbon footprint outweighs that of their delivered goods. Until we meet that point though, delivery services aren't ideal for the environment. This means that while these programs are great, they also come at a cost.
Think Green and Celebrate Earth Day by Reducing Your Waste
Despite this mindfield of complexities, you can still do your part to lower your carbon footprint and think green. Start by being meticulous with your recycling and researching the packaging used by your favourite brands. You have the ability to make an impact, you just have to be conscious in your decisions.
At LUXE Botanics we look to treat every day like it's Earth Day and to bring out the activist we have launched a recycling incentive to benefit both Mother Nature and your skin. By no means the full solution, it is a step in the right direction and we are continually looking for ways we can improve our sustainability footprint further.
Recycle With LUXE, How Does It Work?
- Send us a picture to firstname.lastname@example.org or post on Instagram with the hashtag #recyclewithluxe of your empty bottle with the serial number and confirmation that you've recycled the bottle by cleaning and separating packaging parts
- We'll send you a unique code for a 20% discount off your next order
Please contact us at email@example.com with any of your sustainability ideas.
The LUXE Botanics Team