Product Design and Collection: Keys to Shaping Sustainability – Environmental Leader

Product Collection

Most consumers don’t consider how to recycle a product until it actually reaches the end of its useful life. With the proven effectiveness of single-stream curbside recycling for newspapers, plastic, aluminum cans and glass containers, the majority of people see this convenient solution as a viable option for all recyclables. However, some common household waste items such as fluorescent bulbs, paint and more are not, by law, allowed to be recycled curbside.

The absence of a convenient, at-home recycling alternative may hinder consumers’ participation, particularly for those in rural areas. Because most national recycling programs historically have been created with urban and suburban populations in mind, rural areas are challenged to find any solution at all. The issue of convenience becomes a secondary factor. Without the ability to use curbside pick-up, citizens may be forced to transport recyclables—sometimes hazardous materials—long distances for proper processing or disposal.

To help meet the need, many municipalities across the US have established certain collection facilities to serve as a central recycling hub for urban, suburban and rural residents. These venues, while vital, offer limited collection options, including select operational days and hours.

Consumers with access to environmentally responsible retailers have additional and flexible recycling options. Retail chains—such as Best Buy, The Home Depot, RadioShack, Staples and Lowe’s—offer in-store collection programs for their shoppers. These make it convenient for consumers to recycle items such as small electronics, fluorescent light bulbs, and rechargeable batteries as part of their regular shopping trip. And, these collection programs supplement retailers’ corporate sustainability efforts.

Legislation Bridges the Bookends

The laws governing recycling and take-back programs can help or hinder even the most environmentally responsible recycling and waste collection program. Product stewardship laws, as a case in point, can lack consistency in how they are developed as well as how they are mandated state-to-state. Additionally, most legislation is implemented to address specific materials rather than to provide overarching guidelines for design and collection of all materials.

A lack of unified standards leads to challenges for manufacturers, retailers and consumers. For retailers, complying with multiple, state-specific mandates is confusing and expensive. An international, big-box retailer, for example, might need to comply with numerous laws in different jurisdictions across state and national borders. For this reason, manufacturers will advocate for federal legislation when two or more states adopt product stewardship laws. Federal legislation can remove compliance hurdles that come with multiple state laws.

While each legislative effort raises valid and sometimes daunting challenges, collaboration across similar categories can go a long way to resolve them. For many years, product stewardship organizations have been working independently to educate consumers and legislators, raising awareness about the methods and relevance of recycling individual products. Imagine the enhanced levels of influence that can be achieved by combining forces–advancing shared goals, needs and educational efforts.

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