Reuse is the New Recycle

Environmentally minded Americans thought they were doing the right thing. For decades, they diligently separated their garbage into appropriate recycling bins, with visions of the plastic and paper they collected being carted off to recycling centers to begin new lives as something else. But the truth is out, and the picture is not so pretty.

In the early 1990s, the U.S. started offshoring many of its “contaminated” — or dirty — recyclables to China. According to Sierra, China dumped much of the haul into rivers that fed oceans of pollution. At the same time, Americans became lax in their sorting, cleaning and recycling, thinking China was doing the job.

But even China started cracking down on pollution and, in 2018, began banning imports of plastics, as well as some types of cardboard, paper and glass. Lacking appropriate infrastructure to handle the recycling of such a huge amount of garbage, the United States found itself in a recycling crisis. Some communities started sending their recyclables to landfills, and with prices now soaring for recycling programs, some just stopped such programs altogether.


Consumers focus on the second R

“Reduce, reuse and recycle” are often referred to as the “three R’s” of sustainability. With the reality about recycling laid bare, consumers now know recycling was never the full solution, and they are turning their sustainability focus to the second R: reuse.

“Recycling has been over-praised through the years,” Jonathon Engels writes for OneGreenPlanet. “While it’s great that we have found ways to break down our waste and create something else (or the same thing) with the recycled materials, it still requires a lot of energy. What’s more is that, if we simply recycle everything, we are likely using new resources each time we buy that item again. In other words, it’s better than sending things to the landfill, but recycling should hardly be our first thought on helping the environment.

“For those of us looking to care for the planet, we need to get back to reusing. Recycling should be a last option, just before the garbage can.”


Customers demand reusability practices

As sustainability-minded consumers align their consumption with reusability principles, they expect the companies with which they do business to do the same. This shift coincides with a n exponential, pandemic-induced increase in online shopping, especially in the areas of grocery and meal-kit delivery, which necessitates more and more packaging.

Armed with the knowledge that single-use packaging, including plastics and corrugated cardboard, likely won’t have an admirable afterlife, customers are demanding reusable packaging. Smart brands are re-examining their packaging through a reusability lens and are turning to innovative, sustainable alternatives, such as PackIt Fresh totes. Fully freezable PackIt Fresh totes are completely reusable, so there’s no unnecessary contributions to landfills or our oceans.

Consumers are considering true sustainability more than ever in their buying decisions, and brands that offer reusable products and packaging are taking their rightful place at the top of shopping lists.