Sunday, April 26, 2009

What's Litter Worth?


I've developed something of a habit over the past few years; bringing along an empty bag to fill with recyclables whenever I walk around the neighborhood. The photo here are a few things gathered about 15 minutes ago on a walk to and from the local supermarket. Some fairly well known brands, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Pepsi-Cola, and Cadbury-Schweppes, as well as some fairly well known containers, a glass beer bottle, a plastic (yes, that's a generalization, and most folks'll think of it as "plastic") soda bottle and an aluminum soda can.

So, what's been gnawing at me for a while is the "value" of these containers to the consumer that ultimately uses the product. What is it? And, if there is a value, why throw it away? There really is no value whatsoever to the container, to the consumer. Maybe there's something to be said for the container as a delivery mechanism or storage container, something that the consumer may desire. The way I see it, the container is ultimately a means of delivering the value of the product to the end user.

What am I getting at here? If the container has no residual value to the user, and the producer decides what kind of container to use, how to get it, and how to deliver the product filled container to the user, why is it that the consumer (and therefore the public) is responsible for its end of life disposition?

I guess what I am wondering about is why we've collectively agreed that organizations that manufacture products (and services to some extent) can externalize the end-of-life costs of those products (and services) to the public?

This really isn't a new realization.

I can't help but think that if we had a tangible and obvious way of tracking the resource intensity and costs of the containers to the users, we'd have the public clamoring for ways to reduce those impacts and costs. Imagine some way to connect the taxpayer price of a tossed aside soda bottle directly to the consumer's purchase. Maybe it's something like the push for home energy monitors; when people see what's happening, they start to pay attention.

So, how might we encourage manufacturers to think about closing the loop with the non-value added components of their product offerings?

Of course, TerraCycle (the subject of an April Fool's prank) mines companies' waste streams to capture the forgotten and unseen value there. They've recently partnered with Mars to reuse packaging from Snickers, Altoids, Big Red and other brands.

1 comment:

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