Grocery Stores Pick Up on Consumer Recycling Trends

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Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

When you’re at the grocery store, odds are that checking to see whether your grocer recycles all the plastic containers it uses to ship and store commercial-size food and pharmacy orders isn’t on the list.

But it turns out that grocers use an estimated 350 million pounds of commercial plastic containers every year.

The majority come from behind the counters of delis, bakeries, pharmacies and seafood areas, where bulk portions of fresh food and medicine are shipped and stored.

Instead of wasting all of that plastic, the Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers (APR) has developed a new program that is helping a growing number of America’s grocery stores recycle it.

Since the Rigid Plastics Recycling Program was introduced last fall, grocers have discovered that recycling their commercial plastic containers helps to divert waste, reduce costs and generate new revenue.

“There has already been excellent progress,” said Elizabeth Bedard, Director of APR’s program, who noted that in addition to the individual retailers participating, two chains —Hannaford Bros. Co. and Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. LLC — are already actively recycling and two more are in the works.

“There’s a strong demand for recycled [plastic] material,” Bedard said. “Reclaimers [read: companies that process used plastics for recycling and then sell the processed material] have customers that want more than what is available to them.”

Once reclaimed, rigid plastic containers are recycled into raw material and sold to manufacturers to make “an endless number of things,” Bedard said. “Household products, paint cans, car parts, just to name a few.”

Some of the used containers can be recycled back into their original form, so they could end up as another behind the counter storage tool in your grocer’s deli, or they could become a different consumer product or package on the grocery shelves.

“Our program is all behind the counter,” Bedard added, “but for customers that who want to shop at a store that is recycling as much as possible, this is good news.”

Many common food items and consumer products are packaged in rigid plastic containers. In fact, chances are you have them in your refrigerator right now. Just look for:

  • Tubs for items like margarine, sour cream, cottage cheese, grated cheese, hummus etc.
  • Yogurt cups
  • Produce clamshells
  • Disposable containers from delis for items like potato salad, olives etc.
  • Lidded food storage and take out containers

Consumer access to programs that collect rigid plastics is growing rapidly. In 2011, the recycling of rigid plastics climbed 13 percent resulting in 934 million pounds in just one year.

Today, more than 60 percent of the U.S. population has local access to recycle rigid plastics made from high density polyethylene (HDPE, #2), polyethylene terephthalate (PET, #1), low density polyethylene (LDPE, #4), and polypropylene (PP, #5) plastics, according to the American Chemistry Council. This is in addition to the 94 percent of U.S. households that can recycle plastic bottles and caps.

If you’re not sure whether your curbside program accepts any of these types of rigid containers, check out Earth911’s recycling directory for your best local option.

Editor’s Note: Earth911 partners with many industries, manufacturers and organizations to support its Recycling Directory, the largest in the nation, which is provided to consumers at no cost. The American Chemistry Council is one of these partners.

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