Two methods toward generating zero waste are now being considered:
• Extended producer responsibility. There is a quiet movement afoot, largely in California, to expand the concept of producer responsibility in product and packaging design.
A product’s life cycle has many stages, including the early stages of extracting the raw materials that go into the product, such as crude oil that goes into making a plastic container. For example, consider a bottle of orange juice, just the container for now.
At local supermarkets you will find both paperboard containers and plastic containers. Each container has a life cycle. With plastic, the raw material is crude oil, and for paperboard it is trees. One is from a finite resource, another from a renewable resource. Both are durable packaging materials, important in shipping and handling. Both are lightweight, helping to reduce shipping costs.
But if we think about the end of life of the two containers, where do they go after consumption of the juice? In Bangor, they go to the incinerator in Orrington or to the bottle return redemption centers where they will be transported to a recycling center and reused once to be made into an alternative product.
So the focus of extended producer responsibility is the design stage. Today, products aren’t designed with end-of-life in mind.
The design technician doesn’t have to think about how the container will be used after consumption; safe transport, shelf life and product appeal are points of concern. End-of-life isn’t a concern, because in today’s society the property tax payer pays for the disposal of the container through tipping fees at the incinerator or landfill.
If companies design their products with end-of-life in mind, we can reduce resource depletion, property taxes, toxic emissions and landfills.
• Resource recovery parks, or drop-off recycling parks. The end-of-life product, in this example the empty juice container, must be transported by the consumer to the resource recovery park or drop-off center.
Bangor’s drop-off center on Maine Avenue ideally would be located at the Airport Mall parking lot, where the container may have originated.
Resource recovery parks must be convenient for the consumer. If shoppers can combine trips — taking recyclables back to the grocer or retailer where they originated, they can go shopping for new products while returning the old all in one trip or stop.
Actually, when you think about it, we already have a drop-off center at the Airport Mall — we can drop off our empty beverage containers at the bottle return at Hannaford. We just need to expand this to the parking lot with stalls for newspaper, tin, cardboard and No. 2 plastics.
So the evolution has begun, and the next stage is to get designers and end users together to make a product that has many lives.
In New Brunswick, Moosehead, Labatt’s and Molson breweries get up to 20 uses out of their glass bottles by washing and refilling them.
In the long run, the question is, what’s more expensive, building resource recovery parks in supermarket parking lots, or incinerating or landfilling products after one use?
Jay Dresser is a member of the Bangor Recycling Committee.