“Recyclable” Is Not Enough
SAY GOODBYE TO THE IDEA OF WASTE
Isn’t it great to know that the product you just bought comes in recyclable packaging? Maybe it’s even the product itself that is recyclable. But does that mean that it will be recycled? Unfortunately, no.
In the US, a little over 30% of municipal waste is recycled or composted. This is largely due to solid recycling rates for paper and cardboard, which make up a large percentage of the generated waste. When it comes to glass (a perfectly recyclable material), only about a quarter is recycled; as for plastic, the recycling rate is only 9%!
WHY IS THIS?
You might think this is caused by people putting their recyclables in the trash instead of the curbside recycling bin, but it’s a little more complex. Apart from the contamination of recyclables with non-recyclables (think food waste in the container), there are often economic considerations:
“What makes something municipally recyclable depends on whether your local recycling company can make a profit recycling it. If the cost of collecting and processing the waste is lower than the value of the resulting raw material, it will likely be locally recyclable. If the costs are higher, then it likely won’t be.”
This quote is from the website of TerraCycle, a company dedicated to “Eliminating the Idea of Waste”. They point out that even complex trash is technically recyclable – it’s just not profitable. So, they partner with institutions and eco-conscious brands to fund the recycling of virtually everything.
I came across one of those sustainable brands when vetting ELIMS for inclusion in the askBelynda plugin.
Sustainable Shopping Made Simple
SUSTAINABLE ORAL CARE
When Belinda Lau founded ELIMS in 2019, she intended to create a social impact brand. And the setup was perfect: Belinda herself had 15+ years of experience in developing life-saving medical devices, a husband who is a renowned dentist, and a friend who happened to be an expert in sustainable manufacturing. So, the path was clear:
“Sustainable oral care was the obvious win-win-win way to improve the planet and smiles everywhere. Oral care is also a very prominent plastic waster. Our commitment is to reduce waste produced by all healthcare products, so our line of oral care products (and packaging) is 100% sustainable, without sacrificing function or design.”
from the ELIMS website
I was especially intrigued about the oral care industry as a big producer of plastic waste and ELIMS’ approach to solving this problem. But before I come full circle to the recycling options, let’s look at ingredients and materials.
Toothpaste is the most basic oral care product. ELIMS’ toothpaste is made from naturally derived minerals, plant-based xylitol, and nano-hydroxyapatite, as a clinically proven natural fluoride alternative. The whitening properties come from baking soda and coconut oil and the two different “foodie-approved” flavors are created with natural essential oils.
When it comes to putting all this natural goodness into a tube, it’s time to introduce another plant: Sugar cane may not be known as the dentist’s best friend, but the husks of the plant – a residue of sugar production – are a great material to make a plastic alternative. All ELIMS tubes and caps are made from this fully recyclable material.
And to make sure they do get recycled; you can simply send them back to ELIMS when empty.
Toothbrushes contribute a lot to the plastic footprint of oral care. In recent years, bamboo toothbrushes have become increasingly popular, but most of them have two disadvantages: The majority are manual brushes, leaving users of electronic brushes with no alternative, and often, the bristles are made from plastic. That makes it hard or impossible to recycle the brushes at the end of their life cycle.
ELIMS toothbrushes are made from responsibly sourced bamboo, are FSC-certified and their plant-based bristles make them totally plastic-free. They are designed to be fully compatible with Phillips Sonicare electric toothbrushes.
Whenever you replace your toothbrush heads, you can simply collect the old ones and eventually send them back to the producer for recycling.
ELIMS teamed up with TerraCycle to make sure all their products and packaging get recycled, and it couldn’t be more convenient: email ELIMS to get your prepaid shipping label, collect at least 5 items to recycle, and send them back to ELIMS.
The best thing about it? You can include other brands' oral care products with your ELIMS. Wondering what to do with the old toothbrush you replaced with the bamboo one? Have it recycled by TerraCycle, along with the tube of your old toothpaste and the plastic box that held your floss.
Since you ship your recyclables, it's great to know that TerraCycle runs its material recovery facilities in the same country in which the waste originates*.
(*This is not a given – the ugly truth about recycling is that a lot of plastic waste is shipped to poorer countries where workers sort through the first-world trash for a minimum wage and with little to no protection from health hazards. Read this award-winning investigative report from The Guardian to find out more: Where does your plastic go? )
TAKE “SUSTAINABLE” TO THE NEXT LEVEL
At askBelynda, we love brands like ELIMS because they think about all the facets of sustainability. It’s not enough to “just” make a product from natural ingredients, you have to do more than “simply” compensate for carbon emissions (which ELIMS does through carbonfund.org). And even if you make sure that your packaging is recyclable – making sure it actually gets recycled is the icing on the cake.
If you want to discover more of these passionate impact brands and their products: download the free askBelynda Chrome extension. Whenever you shop on Amazon, it will give you carefully curated product suggestions with insight into why we recommend them.
Jennifer Scales is a photo artist and train travel enthusiast. When she is not vetting companies for askBelynda, she spreads her love for sustainable travel by capturing the beauty of nature seen through the train window.
Check out her website Landscape in Motion and follow Jennifer Scales | Fine Art on Instagram to see her artwork.