If you want a bleak peek into the future of mass consumption, just watch the Disney movie Wall-E, where Americans have destroyed the Earth to the point of abandoning the planet to live on luxury space craft.
While the animated film may be far-fetched, the problem of waste in this country is not. A recent study by nonprofit organization, As You Sow, estimates that Americans generate more waste than any other country in the world, but recycle far less than other developed nations. The damage totals to about $11.4 billion in recyclable materials dumped in the mounting U.S. landfills every year. Wall-E is sounding a little less fictional now.
Recycling is one of the easiest things consumers can do to help the environment – most curbside recycling pickup programs don’t even make you separate your plastic, glass, metal and paper anymore. But the report said that 25% of the population doesn’t have access to curbside recycling. Easy as it is to collect aluminum drink cans and take them to a recycling kiosk (often found at grocery stores or schools), the study said that 40 billion aluminum cans still find their way to landfills.
But consumers aren’t the only ones to blame. In fact, the report, “Unfinished Business: The Case for Extended Producer Responsibility for Post-Consumer Packaging,” points the finger at manufacturers. Waste would be reduced much more effectively if businesses that make the products would be held responsible for recycling.
“Over 47 countries require producers to bear some or all of the cost of end-of-life packaging management that in the U.S. has always been paid for by taxpayers,” the report said. “As You Sow believes it is time to shift financial responsibility for managing packaging to producers through effective and tested policies.”
The U.S. recovery rate is estimated at 48.3% for packaging and 52.7% for paper and paperboard products. Compare that to packaging recycling rate in Denmark (84%), Belgium (78%), the Netherlands (72%), and Germany at (73%),” the report said. “.”
In addition to reducing waste, recycling packaging materials can save money and resources. Resource Recycling magazine, the U.S. could save $12 billion a year, or 168 million barrels of oil at $75 a barrel, by capturing and using more recycled material.
Follow Elise Rambaud Marrion on Twitter @emarrion_cmn.