What is source reduction or "pre-cycling?"
Source reduction means using less material in the first place. With regard to packaging, and flexible packaging in particular, source reduction means using less material to hold, or package, a product. This, in turn, reduces the volume of packaging material that must be recycled or discarded after consumption. Therefore, flexible packages are "pre-cycled" because they use "less waste in the first place.®"
What's the difference between "pre-cycling" and recycling?
Pre-cycling means using less material at the source. Less paper means less tree pulp is needed, less plastic means less natural gas is needed, etc.
Recycling, on the other hand, means taking an existing package, or material, and turning it into something else. The recycling process involves using fuel to transport the items to recycling facilities, who in turn transport it to end-users. The end-users use energy to recycle the package, use more material to make a new package, and then use more fuel to ship the package to its end destination. With recycling, you may be "closing-the-loop" but you are also using more material and consuming more energy. While recycling is a sound environmental practice, more and more consumers, environmental groups, waste management officials, educators and legislators have come to believe that recycling is only part of a holistic approach to resource conservation.
Can source reduction reduce municipal solid waste?
The U.S. EPA lists source reduction as the number one initiative in combatting our municipal solid waste issues. The National Recycling Coalition (NRC) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) also view source reduction as a viable means to reducing municipal solid waste. Recently, the NRC broadened its mission statement to include source reduction. It states that "ton-for-ton, source reduction is more valuable to society than recycling." The EDF has stated that eliminating excessive layers of packaging is one of the most obvious and most important forms of source reduction, and that source reduction has the potential to alleviate natural resource depletion. In Canada, source reduction efforts have been quantified and documented. The University of Toronto estimates that source reduction efforts between 1970-88 led to a 22 percent reduction in packaging waste.
Do non-recycled packages take up a lot of space in landfills?According to the U.S. EPA’s Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) in the United States: 2005 Facts and Figures the 31% of MSW by weight is containers and packaging. The flexible packaging accounts for about 3% of the total MSW generated. Click here for details. Please click here for a copy of the full report.
The United States is in no danger of running out of landfill space any time soon. Although the number of U.S. landfills has steadily declined over the years the average landfill size, according to the U.S. EPA, has increased and the volume of MSW going to landfills is declining (142.3 million tons in 1990 to 138.2 million tons in 2006). At the national level the landfill capacity appears to be sufficient. Please click here for a copy of the full report.
What role do flexible packages play in helping our environment?
Many. Flexible packages are produced from lightweight yet durable materials such as paper, plastic film, aluminum foil or any combination of those materials. Because flexible packages generally conform to the shape of the product, excessive layers of packaging are eliminated. Additionally, less material is needed to create the packages, less fuel is needed to transport the packages, and less landfill space is needed to dispose of them. If, for example, you replace a steel soup can with a flexible pouch, the weight of the product is reduced 93 percent, and the amount of packaging is reduced 97 percent.