Why Can’t Stores Recycle Packaging and Items They Sell?

Go Gingham: Computer recycling

In most states, when you buy a six-pack of beer, you pay a deposit up front for the bottles. Then, when you return the bottles, you get the money back. The point is: you get to take the items back.

This sort of ‘taking back’ is important – and it’s not the money I’m concerned about. It’s the incentive that’s provided to people so they return the bottles to the store so they’re not just tossed in the garbage.

Why isn’t it like this for more items that are piling up in landfills? When we buy items from stores, why don’t they charge us for the packaging or disposal and then when we return them, we get the money back?

Actually, I’d even settle for stores accepting the packaging for free. You’ve sold it – why not take responsibility for it?

Why Can’t Stores Recycle Packaging and Items They Sell?

Here are a few items I’d like companies to take responsibility for…

1. Plastic

Costco is a good example. My family loves the organic apples at Costco – but we can plow through two containers of them in a month. The plastic containers the apples come in are huge – and no, Costco doesn’t want them back. (Yes, I have a love/hate thing with Costco.)

While I really like that Costco is selling more organic items, why can’t they recycle the plastic their goods are packaged in? Costco does recycle lots of cardboard and I appreciate that but the amount of goods packaged in plastic needs to be addressed.

Batteries in a can Go Gingham

2. Batteries

We replaced all of the batteries in our smoke detectors recently and I stashed them in a container to recycle them. I’ve been dragging my used batteries to all of my dead battery drop off sites. These regular spots (Ikea, Best Buy, and my local market) are no longer taking them.

So many items and toys take batteries. It was almost impossible to find out what to do with these on our local government’s website.

Why can’t stores who sell batteries also have to take them back?

3. Styrofoam

I’m not sure what styrofoam is or its origins but it’s everywhere. When purchasing trays of meat or chicken, it comes packaged on styrofoam. Having a picnic? Plates and cups are made of styrofoam. What about carry out containers from restaurants? Styrofoam “peanuts” get shipped with fragile items – or they’re getting blown by the wind down the street.

Will styrofoam ever break down sitting in a land fill? What is it exactly? Should we be putting food on it? Serving hot liquid in it?

We all need to buy items – even if we try to buy less. Can’t more companies emulate the ‘bottle bill’ and charge a deposit and let us return or accept the packaging? Or make it easier to recycle what we’ve purchased? Shouldn’t we hold these companies accountable?

What do you think? Do you have suggestions? Does your city provide a way to recycle these items?

Go Gingham related links:

Green living is often times grey – find out why here
Frugal and green living – of course they go together!
Once a month garbage collection – in a tiny can
My tour of Free Geek – yes, it’s geeky!
Companies are getting with it – More places to recycle electronics

More related links:

Live in Portland, Oregon? You’re in luck –

28 thoughts on “Why Can’t Stores Recycle Packaging and Items They Sell?

  1. Sarah, one of the things that impressed me when we were living in Ireland was how little packaging they used compared to us – plastic (yes, I know) trash bags did not come in a box, just with a label wrap around them. Butter – no box, just (approximately 1 pound) came wrapped in just its foil. And, the hardware store took batteries. I’ve recently moved so I don’t know the deal here, but where I used to live there was a hazardous waste drop off once a year – 2-4 times would have been nicer.


    1. Carroll, I think part of the problem here is the over packaging! Sometimes I’ll see pieces of fruit or vegetables wrapped in plastic. Obviously Mother Nature’s wrapping isn’t enough!
      The hazardous waste drop sounds like a good idea to me! When we lived in Washington, DC we had ‘bulky trash’ day and you could put out anything. Yes, we decorated our home with that trash but it still doesn’t solve the problem of the over-packaging.
      Thanks for writing in, Carroll πŸ™‚


      1. We had bulky trash day too. But if you had a TV, you had to buy a sticker (I think it was $10-20). You should have seen people going through the stuff on that day. Someone took our TV, but we figured the price of the sticker was worth it. Our town also picked up Christmas trees for shredding. Compost from all the leaves and trees the town picked up was free.


  2. Good morning!
    In my county here in Indiana, if you live in town and have garbage service, they also have curbside recyling for 1 & 2 plastics, aluminum, steel, glass, paper, and cardboard. They also have several drop-off sites for those items for us who live in the country. You can also recycle 3-9 plastic type goods at a different location that takes electronics, oil, batteries, paint and books.

    Sounds complicated, but we have a sorting system in the garage, and when the tubs get full, stopping at the recycling place is one of our weekend errands.

    It’s not hard, and I feel better about the little trash I put in the landfill.

    As for those apple containers at Costco…. I’ve saved a few for my Christmas ornaments!



    1. Sarah, very nicely done! I like the use of the apple containers for ornaments.
      Your area sounds really terrific about the recycling – and more people need to make that level of effort.
      Thank you for writing in!


  3. Technically the retailer is just the “middle man” in this cycle. The best way to tell manufacturers that we (as consumers) are unhappy with their packaging choices is to not purchase it and tell them why. If it is a product I still want to purchase (i.e. Tom’s of Maine toothpaste when they switched from aluminum to plastic tubes) I send emails and use “contact us” web forms to tell the manufacturer I am unhappy with their choices. In the case of Tom’s of Maine, they let me know of their plastic tube recycling system, and an address I can send my empty tubes to.
    When purchasing an item, consumers need to consider the packaging as an extra “cost” – to the environment or of our time to recycle it. Even if the price is low, this packaging “cost” may well offset any savings.


    1. Very good point, Liana…

      When purchasing an item, consumers need to consider the packaging as an extra β€œcost” – to the environment or of our time to recycle it. Even if the price is low, this packaging β€œcost” may well offset any savings.

      I’m not sure enough people think about it all but that does need to change. I know that we’ve not purchased items because we can’t recycle the packaging.
      It’s great that you contact companies – and that Tom’s of Maine has a program. I will definitely check into that.
      Thanks for chiming in, Liana!


  4. Most Americans aren’t particularly interested in creating less waste. Plus, it’s easy and economical to buy and later toss in the trash. Even my local food co-op supports this. For example, while I’m credited a small amount for using my own containers, I often pay significantly more for bulk. Instead, why not charge for every bag used and charge more for pre-packaged items?

    I read somewhere that only about a third of people in America even bother to recycle. In my community, curbside recycling is an added cost. I rarely put out my trash can and only fill my recycling container every other month. Yet I pay 30% more than if I would just send everything to the landfill weekly. Shouldn’t creating more waste cost more?

    Both retailers and manufacturers should be held responsible for all waste generated by the production of goods and services. Unfortunately, I suspect economics, not environmentalism, will likely encourage consumers to demand less packaging.


    1. All true – especially the bulk bin food containers. My grocery store won’t even consider bringing in separate containers.
      And yes, creating more waste should cost more and recycling should cost less. That is how it is here. We opted for once a month garbage collection and can put out as much recycling and yard debris that will fit in our containers. Of course, we all had to get brand new containers. 😦
      It does seem that economics are the driving force and not the environment….
      Thank you, Rebecca!


  5. Yes! Packaging should be considered when we purchase a product. I am amazed at the amount of trash we produce in my household and we actually try to purchase with reduced packaging in mind. More grocery stores should have bulk sections; that’s where I save the most on extra packaging and I love it, but it’s something foreign to many people.

    Word of caution, Sara, about your used batteries: don’t store 9-volts without putting a little electrical tape on the tops because they apparently can ignite if they come in contact with each other! Here’s a video on the subject and I’ve been seeing many reports of this lately:


    1. I have that experience, too, when people hear where I shop and from the bulk bins. We’ve never gotten sick or found anything funky. My grocery store run is not complete without a chat with the manager of the bulk bin department! She’s super helpful and always takes my suggestions – like more organic! πŸ™‚
      Vanessa, I will check out the video and get busy with some tape on those batteries. Thank you!!


    2. We had a music teacher getting ready for a concert and stuck a 9volt battery in his pocket. It fused with a key and nick named him “hot pants”. Fortunately he wasn’t burned but the battery fused to his desk!


      1. Yikes! That’s pretty funny – thankfully no one was hurt.
        I now have all the 9V batteries completely taped up and found out where to recycle them. It’s a drive but I’m going to offer to take all batteries on my block so it will be worth the drive.
        Thanks for the story, Meg!!


  6. I walk the beach several times a week and see the evidence of our thoughtlessness along the tide line…millions of minuscule pieces of plastic and styrofoam washed ashore. Heartbreaking!

    I gave up my Costco membership because of the packaging overkill. I just couldn’t do it anymore.


    1. It is heartbreaking! I just read about how even exfoliating scrub/facial cleansers are filled with little bits of plastic. That’s what make them ‘gritty’ and have that texture. I’ve wondered what was in there….My daughter and I immediately stopped buying them. Now I make a little paste of baking soda/water and use a brush. Guess what? Works just as well if not better, no waste, and costs pennies. The more we learn, the more we can all make a difference.
      The Costco membership is tricky and I stopped getting a membership years ago – and then my son got contacts and then we joined again to buy them there – blah, blah, blah – and now my dear mother-in-law treats us with a membership. I really do have a love/hate with them.
      I just wrote on my to do list for tomorrow to call Costco. Maybe if we all call…
      Thank, Auntie M! πŸ™‚


    2. I called Costco and spoke to several folks today. They won’t be adding recycling to their stores but will ask vendors to reduce/eliminate the big plastic packaging. I got some good ideas, too, about how else I might make our city accept different types of plastic as they’ve started doing that in Seattle. Thanks!!


      1. I’ll contact Costco as well. I firmly believe in the “squeaky wheel” theory. I’d renew my membership if I thought they were making an effort.


      2. I am definitely a proponent of the ‘squeaky wheel’ and in fact use that motto in my other ‘job’ – PTA board member at my kids’ school. Yes, it takes effort but things worth doing usually do.
        After speaking with Costco’s corporate person, it seems that legislation forces them to do things as well. California’s new plastic water bottle bill is an example. They have to take those back at their stores! We may have to get other states on board with that….


  7. This is a subject that I think about a lot! We do have the power to effect change – either through what we choose or choose not to purchase, or when we take the time to contact companies directly to let them know we object to their practices. That being said, I don’t think companies pay much attention to one lone person writing a letter; it’s going to take a lot of us speaking out, and unfortunately, I agree with Rebecca, above, who said that most Americans (and I can attest that this applies to most Canadians as well) don’t seem to be interested in generating less waste.

    Our city has a fairly good recycling system for all the “usual” stuff, plus a hazardous waste site for things like batteries and paint, as well as drop sites for electronic waste. And while I support all that, I have to say I wish municipalities would emphasize the “reduce” part of reduce-reuse-recycle, because recycling, as good/necessary as it is, has its own environmental cost. I would completely support an initiative to have companies be responsible for their own packaging.

    With regards to that computer… I saw a program, years ago, which featured the reality of electronics recycling at the time: third world countries dealing with mountains of our electronic discards, toxic chemicals seeping into rivers and groundwater, children picking through the piles… It was horrific, seeing what was happening with all that stuff. I haven’t looked into it lately, but I wonder if these practices have changed, or if this is still what’s happening to the electronics we believe are being responsibly recycled?


    1. Oh, and I just have to say, like auntie M and Costco, I expressly gave up our membership to Sam’s Club (when we lived in the US) because I couldn’t stand the over-packaging!


    2. Marian, you and I could drink a lot of tea discussing this!
      Yes to all you’ve shared here. I do know that some companies will let you trade in your electronics but honestly, it’s not nearly enough. We have ‘Free Geek’ here in Portland which is where our computers – and fax, printers have gone. I’m also typing on a keyboard I bought from their ‘store’ because they refurbish/fix items and re-sell them.
      It is not right for us to ship our trash to other countries. We need to take responsibility for our consumer goods/culture.
      Thanks so much, Marian!!


  8. Sara,
    Recycling is a big thing where I live in British Columbia and we have developed extensive recycling programs at the provincial and municipal levels.
    These programs include:
    1) bottle deposits to encourage returns
    2) eco fees paid at purchase of electrical appliances or technological devices (fees used to establish collection sites for recycling these purchases)
    3) blue box recycling
    4) compostable collection
    5) recycling program at our local high school for all items not accepted into the blue box recycling (used as a fundraiser for the graduating class)
    We currently put out one small bag of garbage per month at our house.
    Can you encourage your municipal and state governments to provide more recycling programs?


    1. Lovi, how wonderful that all of this is going on! We did a home exchange to BC and I was very impressed with the recycling.
      Yes, our government does a really good job of recycling and we are vigilant about it here at home. What I want to see more of is our consumer culture to change – which is no small task but it has to start somewhere.
      I also forget to mention to Marian that while recycling is good it’s the reducing that is more crucial. That’s what really needs to change….
      Thanks for sharing, Lovi πŸ™‚


  9. Because Trader Joe’s store near my home won’t recycle their containers, I stopped shopping there. When the young man in customer service suggested I take my re-cycling to a competitor’s store, I told him I would just take my business there also.


  10. UPS takes packing peanuts. I’ve actually brought them all kinds of packing materials and they happily accept them (when I ask if they want them). But I admit I haven’t asked too many questions–it’s possible they don’t want some types of packing materials.


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