What do kids’ light-up sneakers, detergent pods, and singing greeting cards have in common? They’re all made of “horrible hybrids” says Heidi Sanborn, Executive Director of the National Stewardship Action Council (a group that seeks to get manufacturers to take responsibility for the proper disposal of products they sell). And they are nearly impossible for today’s recyclers to break down and process.
“One of the biggest problems for recyclers right now is all the products containing lithium ion batteries,” notes Kate Bailey, director of research at Eco-Cycle, a Colorado recycler. These batteries can spark easily and lead to fires in recycling facilities.
In addition, manufacturers are increasingly using and touting hybrid packaging, which mixes materials like foil, paper and sometimes multiple plastics in one product or container. These show up in flexible pouches used to package rice, baby food, juice, and more. And, there is also the issue of companies using non-recyclable wrappers around otherwise recyclable bottles and cans. To effectively recycle these, consumers must know they have to remove the printed plastic wraps, and then do so—which can be tricky. Sanborn observes that, “We’ve made recycling too complicated. Who has the time to read a manual for everything they get rid of?”
“We should have it so these companies have to have an end-of-life system for all their products,” said Sanborn. “That’s producer responsibility.”