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Container Group Survey: Recycling is Popular, but More Education is Needed

Most U.S. residents want to recycle and believe that doing so helps the environment, according to a recent survey, but there’s still a gap in education that could be sending some reusable plastics to landfills.

The survey, conducted by Research+Data Insights for the Carton Council, was based on a 15-minute online questionnaire of 2,495 Americans who reported having access to curbside recycling programs in their communities. 

In a positive sign for recycling proponents, 82 percent of the respondents said that all or some of the houses in their neighborhood set out recycling on collection day. About 61 percent said recycling should be a priority, and 95 percent said that reusing containers would help the environment.

 However, well-intentioned as they are, people are still not sure about which containers are recyclable in their local area, says a spokeswoman for the group. The council is made up of the four carton manufacturers Elopak, SIG Combibloc, Evergreen Packaging and Tetra Pak. Carla Fantoni, vice president of communications for Tetra Pak, says despite the reusable information stamped on many containers, there’s so many differences between what each community accepts that many residents are just plain confused about what to throw in their bins.

“There’s also currently no standardized way for a consumer to find out if a packaging format is accepted in different places,” she says. “Each community typically has to drive its residents to its own web site for this information, and they even do this in their own way, using very different language from one another.”

Most people want to recycle, but have a continuous need for education, Fantoni says. Less than one-third of the survey respondents, about 29 percent, said they received instructions about recycling from their municipality, instead relying on family, friends, or the local media for advice.

“We’ve already asked American consumers what it would take for them to recycle more of our packages, and among the top responses cited were more easily identifiable information on the package, more information in general on what to recycle, and more reminders,” she says.

She says her group has been trying to lend a hand by ensuring all cartons are imprinted with recycle information, because almost two out of three people will assume a package is non-recyclable if it does not have these markings. Also, the group checks municipality web sites to ensure accuracy, and offers consumers a zip code search on their own web site that will show what cartons are recyclable in that location. Further, the group works with the materials recovery facilities to connect them with brokers to find beneficial end markets for recycled cartons.

Jason Pelz, vice president of recycling projects for the council, said in a statement that with the price of oil so low, there has been a lot of discussion about the short-term economic feasibility of recycling. “Despite some media coverage last year that questioned the importance of recycling, (the survey shows) American consumers care about recycling and the environment. It’s within our power as an industry to unite for the common goal of ensuring every American has access to recycling is recycling all that they can,” he said.

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