Scrubbing Bubbles is a product designed by SC Johnson & Son to help make cleaning the bathroom as simple as possible. Housed in a battery-operated container underneath the showerhead, it automatically sprays your tub and shower walls, so you don’t have to. It’s also a perfect example of technology gone wild.
In the mind of packaging experts like Daniel Lantz, it’s exactly the kind of product that clutters landfills because its creators had no plan for the product’s end-of-life. Or just didn’t care.
“We’ve gotten so lazy as a society,” an amped-up Lantz told the symposium at the Toronto Airport Marriott Hotel on November 13, 2012. “If we can’t pull the trigger to clean our bathrooms, we’ve got a problem.”
Lantz is the vice-president of operations at Toronto-based Cascades Recovery Inc., which specializes in recycling and waste diversion across North America.
The growth of extended producer responsibility (EPR) was a key component of the Annual Canadian Waste Sector Symposium in Toronto. Five lectures were dedicated to EPR at the symposium, which was presented by the Ontario Waste Management Association, more commonly known as OWMA.
Consumers are becoming increasingly vocal about products that can’t be recycled, Lantz said. If a product can’t be recycled, more and more people are demanding to know “why not?”
Lantz said he recently tabulated 119 packaging materials categories for paper and plastics — mostly plastics. And the list appears to be growing. His dream is to be able to have regional facilities that can recycle any material. But the reality is that he finds general inefficiencies in the current system of municipal-based facilities that only deal in particular materials. Many are also insistent on maintaining strict geographical borders for processing.
Lantz said he sees the ideal recycling system as “Everybody does all the material everywhere.”
Lantz said he’s constantly frustrated by the number of products that can’t be recycled because there’s no market value in processing the item or simply no facility that will touch them. He often tells a story about a businessman who was pleased that he was able to create a recyclable dog food bag. Lantz said it pained him to tell the man that it didn’t matter that the bag was recyclable. Unless every other dog food manufacturer switched to his design there would be no facility willing to recycle it.
It’s the very serious flaw that, Lantz said, exists within the current system.
“Unless we have the public engaged, we’re not going to succeed,” Lantz said.
The public has made clear that it is interested in disposing of products responsibly, said the next symposium speaker, Joe Zenobio, president of GS1Canada and executive director of Call2Recycle.
Zenobio has contracted several studies to determine consumers’ habits in terms of battery disposal, which is the mandate of Call2Recycle. The studies determined that consumers often look to retailers for guidance about what to do with products that have reached their end-of-life, such as paint, cell phones or computers.
Call2Recycle has some 6,000 collection sites across Canada in major retailers like Future Shop, The Source and Canadian Tire.
One of the studies showed that retail outlets were the second most popular venue for recycling batteries, following community drop-off centres. It’s a statistic that Zenobio said more retailers should recognize.
Not only are consumers recycling at retail stores, they’re shopping there too. The Call2Recycle studies show that only 18 per cent of polled consumers visited a retail store just to recycle. Fifty-six per cent visited a retail store to recycle, then shop.
“If I’m dropping something off, I’m gonna buy something,” Zenobio said.
The question of social conscience and consumer responsibility filled a lot of the Q&A portion of Zenobio’s session. Symposium attendees wondered why people would take the trouble to return used batteries. Many of them noted — and Zenobio agreed — that many people still throw spent batteries in the garbage. How do consumers get motivated to do the right thing?
While Zenobio used the example of Ontario’s deposit-return system for alcohol-based products, there are no tangible or economic benefits to returning a product that’s reached its end-of-life. Solid Waste and Recycling Magazine asked Zenobio if any of his retail clients have ever considered rewards programs for customers who dispose of products responsibly.
Despite the success of The Beer Store’s recycling program, Zenobio said there’s no proof that a deposit-based system would be more of an incentive for consumers to recycle. He also said that a points or reward-based system for returning spent products would be an “administrative and logistical nightmare” that would need dedicated full-time staff.
There are several possible answers to why a retailer would even offer a recycling drop-off program, Zenobio said.
“Some are doing it ‘cause it’s the right thing. It’s in their DNA,” he said.
Others are doing it because it’s been mandated by government. Others still — for consumer and corporate perception.
“Some do it half-heartedly to tick a sustainability box on an annual report,” Zenobio said.