I like to eat yogurt. Yogurt is delicious and nutritious. It’s one of my favorite snacks, but as I eat it I feel guilty and it’s all the yogurt cup’s fault. For most communities, yogurt cups are hard to recycle because of the type of plastic. The process of recycling starts when your community collects your recyclable commodities; this could be collected curbside or from a drop-off location. The recyclables are then sorted, compacted and then moved to a facility to process them into new materials and products.
Ok, so what’s the problem with yogurt cups? Yogurt cups are made from different plastics called mixed plastics. Fancy name right? Mixed plastics are cheap plastics that are used mostly for disposable cups and tubes. Being a cheap plastic you can’t make a lot of money selling it if you are a recycling facility. Mixed plastics are then placed as a lower priority when collecting materials curbside, especially if you don’t have single stream recycling. People then have to drop the yogurt cups off at the recycling center, but in actuality people just throw them away.
There are other things you can do with a yogurt cup like upcycling.
But there are only so many tomato plants you can grow in a season. Upcycling can lead to other problems, one of them is that if you have a lot of supply of a material, but no demand then it’s probably better to recycle. The second problem is that when upcycling, the secondary product may not be recyclable and that material is then thrown away.
What is the solution to the yogurt cup? The solution is first reducing the amount of plastic in yogurt cups to reduce the amount of waste. A solution could be changing the plastic the cups are made out of instead of mixed plastic if they were made out of PET or HDPE (plastics used in soda bottles) then it would be better recyclable. The best solution would be to eliminate the packaging altogether. This could be done through a reusable container that would be washed and reused.
Containers could be made out of ceramics, glass, metal, or heavy duty plastic to be reused. Recycling facilities would then wash the containers and send them back to the food company for use. This system would close the loop for food packaging. If it’s so great why don’t we do it?
The reason why we don’t do it is all economics. It is cheaper to make a new yogurt container than it is to get the yogurt container back to the food company. It, therefore, makes sense for us to recycle plastic instead of reusing it. If economics have created this system economics can create a solution.
So if this solution doesn’t work then what?
The government could implant this solution by placing a fee on each time sold. The fee would cover the cost of recycling it. Companies would then compete for the cheapest way to recycle or reuse their items.
Likely the government won’t step in. Not enough people care about where trash goes and right now where we put trash isn’t a problem. The other solution that could occur is better materials. The next generation of food packaging. These materials could be compostable and made from food waste.
Until the government steps in or new materials are made I guess I’ll just eat less yogurt and buy it in bulk.