Size Matters

Imagine a recycling collection truck full of all sorts of packaging, of all kinds of materials sizes and shapes, dumping everything on a screen or belt. What do you think has more chances of being sorted first? The larger ones, of course. As a matter of fact, the sorting process at the Material Recovery Facility (MRF) separates items by size and shape first, then by material. The initial sift loses materials smaller than 2 inches, meaning that all packaging of 2 inches or less will be landfilled regardless of the material. Containers larger than 2 inches will then “potentially” be sorted and those on the smaller side, of course, have little chances of being actually picked up. If you want to think of volume instead, a good rule of thumb is that everything smaller than 6oz will be most likely landfilled – that’s a typical yogurt cup, for example. 

Too large of a packaging is not good either. Recycling machinery, particularly an automatic sorting equipment, is not large enough to accept items larger than two gallons. Think of the plastic baby walker, the old diaper genie, laundry basket or items of that scale. Larger containers jam the systems so most MRFs employ manual sortation before the automatic line to remove the large items. These items are recovered in a stream of bulky rigid containers that are sold and processed as polyethylene since the vast majority of bulky rigid items are comprised of this polymer. 

Bottom line: it is better to not buy nor to accept packaging smaller than 6oz capacity and, if larger than 2 gallons, prefer HDPE (that’s #2).

Do your part

Now take a look at your recycling bin, hopefully you don’t have many of those. If you do, consider buying larger next time, especially if they carry products that won’t spoil soon. Why do you need a little tiny hand sanitizer if you are using it 10 times a day (at least!). And if you are getting those as samples, just refuse it. Politely, of course.

What you can do if you do have small packaging at home: reuse it or dispose it responsibility. Find a recycling center close to you: those centers, usually called CHarM, partner with reclaimers and their advantage is that YOU sort the packaging and bring up to them. Responsible citizen.

  • Choose larger containers
  • Already got small containers? Refill and reuse it (well, sometimes it’s convenient to carry on that tiny hand lotion or sanitizer in your bag)
  • Refuse samples and freebies that you don’t really need
  • Need to dispose small or too large containers? Look for a CHarM facility close to you

Here is a non-exhaustive list of recycling facilities in the US:


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