CPG companies currently tend to fill this need with generic recycled materials (i.e. “rPET” or “rHDPE”). Sourced from recycled material suppliers selling resins aggregated from one or many municipal recycling facilities, generic recycled materials contain plastic from many different types of products and packaging, come from any number of places and have no traceability back to the original product or where the material was generated or collected.
Effectively branding sustainability initiatives, like using more PCR in consumer product packaging, is one of the most significant aspects of driving significance with consumers. Today’s consumer is highly discerning, increasingly concerned with things like supply and production chain sustainability and product recyclability, and highly suspect of ethical claims that are inauthentic, vague or misleading. If branding is all about telling a story, generic post-consumer recycled content may be somewhat lacking in that department.
“Storied plastics,” on the other hand, are resins sourced by waste stream and are sorted by material type (i.e. “recycled beach plastic” or “recycled cosmetics packaging”). This type of recycled content carries a narrative and can be traced to point of origin. At my company TerraCycle, we specialize in the capture and collection of common but difficult-to-recycle streams like personal and beauty care packaging, juice and snack pouches, water filters and more, putting us in the unique position to supply to manufacturers dozens of different storied plastics, sourced from our many collection streams.
The models we have developed to collect traditionally non-recyclable waste include free, nationwide programs, in-store retail activations and city-wide programs, to name a few. Because TerraCycle has found that nearly every waste stream can be recycled for use in new products, the selection of storied plastics available are varied, the possibilities endless. But what these resins all have in common is that they have the critical elements that people can connect with and want to talk about because we engage directly with the collectors and collect pure waste streams.
There remains a “green-gap” between turning changing attitudes into actions despite consumers increasingly reporting that they are more likely to patronize companies committed to making positive social and environmental impacts. Cost is one prohibitive barrier to more sustainable purchases and habits since many consumers are of the opinion that eco-friendly products cost more money. The thing is, they often do—sustainably sourced content, quality materials and more arduous, but quality, production processes tend to drive up costs. Thus, to market sustainability in a successful way, consumers must see sustainable products as comparable or exceeding standard market products in the functional, emotional, and social benefit areas.
Many CPG companies today are using PCR, but using storied plastics provides the exceptional opportunity for manufacturers and major brands to differentiate and command a premium. The traceable, “origin story” component of material comprised of products and packaging people have interacted with in their own lives can be communicated clearly and effectively to today’s consumers, who will find value in their ability to relate to the product and the story behind it.
About the Author
Tom Szaky is the founder and CEO of TerraCycle, a global leader in the collection and repurposing of otherwise non-recyclable post-consumer and post-industrial waste. In 20 countries, TerraCycle creates national platforms to recycle products and packaging that currently go to landfill or incineration, in collaboration with the world’s largest brands (e.g. Mars, PepsiCo, P&G), retailers (e.g. Staples, Target), and cities (e.g. Tokyo, New Orleans).
Through TerraCycle, Tom is pioneering a new waste management process, involving manufacturers, retailers, governments and consumers, to create circular solutions for materials such as cigarette butts, laboratory waste, coffee capsules and even food packaging that otherwise have no other path to be recycled.
Tom is the author of three books, “Revolution in a Bottle” (2009, Portfolio) and “Outsmart Waste” (2014, Berrett-Koehler) and “Make Garbage Great” (2015, HarperCollins). Tom created, produces and stars in a TerraCycle focused TV show, “Human Resources” airing on Pivot TV. Season 3 of the show aired Fall 2016. Tom and TerraCycle have received over 200 social, environmental and business awards from a range of organizations including the United Nations, World Economic Forum, Forbes Magazine, Ernst & Young, and the Environmental Protection Agency.