GreenLabs Recycling Seal of Approval: A Reboot for Recycling
You’ve been lied to about recycling.
Recent investigative journalism by NPR’s Laura Sulllivan has disclosed what many in the industry have known for a long time: the plastic recycling system was built on a foundation of lies, and is fundamentally broken.
From its inception, plastic recycling was never about sustainability or environmental conscience. In fact, it was the opposite; a scam to assuage those concerns, perpetrated by the oil companies that produce plastic, who rightly worried that unsightly mountains of discarded used plastic would cause public backlash and decrease demand for the material. Their solution was simple and effective: falsely proclaim that plastic wasn't being wasted, but recycled and reused.
It was, and still is, a lie.
Oil producers always knew that the high cost of collecting, processing and repurposing plastics would prohibit any broad incentive to favor reclaimed over virgin plastic. The result has been years of a misinformed public, wasting time cleaning and sorting ‘recyclable material’ that would merely join the torrent of discarded plastic clogging landfills and oceans, or being shipped overseas, and a growing demand for virgin material that lines the pockets of oil executives.
GreenLabs Recycling wants to rethink plastic recycling, from the ground up, to be a truly sustainable system with practical and achievable goals, rather than an eco-marketing gimmick.
To make recycling cost effective, we must push manufacturers to make more recyclable products. Take for example, a peanut butter jar. It’s made of ‘100% recyclable plastic’, but the lid is #5, the jar is #1, and the brand label ensheathing it is non-recyclable. So, while the jar is made of recyclable materials, this product is not designed with recycling in mind. The lid will need to be separated from the base, and the label removed before the plastic can be melted down. Repeating this process for thousands of pounds worth of peanut butter jars takes time and labor, driving up the cost of the recycled plastic. Simply making these jars from a single type of material would measurably reduce the cost of recycling the jar.
A peanut butter jar is made from #1, but the lid is #5. Before being recycled, these will need to be separated and the non-recyclable label removed - raising the cost of recycling.
At GreenLabs Recycling, we confront the same challenges collecting and processing scientific plastic recyclables. The pipette tip boxes we collect, which account for ~75% of all recyclable lab plastic, vary in their design and recyclability.
We’ve identified a number of manufacturing features that slow down our recycling process and increase cost. Just like the peanut butter jar, tip boxes are often made of different types of plastic, use different colors and components, and have brand labels or adhesives, all of which must be sorted and separated. This raises the back-end cost of recycling, and serves no purpose to the consumer.
Plastic labels must be removed from pipette tip boxes before they can be recycled.
We should demand better.
GreenLabs Recycling wants to help by informing buying choices, and putting pressure on manufacturers to meet that demand. That’s why we are highlighting GreenLabs Recycling Approved products. Thoughtfully awarded to products we certify as striving to meet our high standard for recyclability, this seal of approval will let our customers know that a product is produced with efficient recycling as a priority.
To grow our list of GreenLabs Recycling approved products, we encourage vendors, customers, and manufacturers to submit recommendations to highlight the product features that enhance recyclability.
We’re awarding the inaugural GreenLabs Recycling Approval to two products this week: Rainin BioClean Ultra pipette tips and Genesee Biotix tips.
GreenLabs Recycling Approved tip boxes. Left, Rainin’s new BioClean Ultra pipette tip boxes have swapped the label for laser printing (photo courtesy of Rainin). Right, Genesee Scientific’s Biotix boxes are made from mostly colorless plastic and are label-free.
Rainin and Genesee have redesigned these boxes to use less plastic, and replaced the non-recyclable brand labels with laser printing. These two simple steps both reduce the amount of plastic used, and substantially improve their recyclability. GreenLabs Recycling applauds Rainin and Genesee for listening to their customers and helping make a difference in the fight against plastic waste.
We invite all our customers shopping for new pipette tips to visit GreenLabs Recycling Approved page of our website and shop from the growing list of products we’ve validated as recyclability-focused. In doing so, you can help us put pressure on plastic manufacturers to keep the goals of impactful recycling and sustainability at the forefront of their business practices.