Q: I’ve been recycling my paper, plastics and glass for years. Lately, I’ve even recycled my CFL bulbs, my car tires, and my old computer. But I was wondering — what kind of impact do I have on the environment? What about the companies that make these products? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial if the recycling efforts started at the top?

A: Well, the truth is that every little bit helps. And your recycling ensures that whatever amount you do consume (trust me, it adds up) is not ending up in the trash, which though it may seem small, is a certain victory for the Earth. But you’re absolutely right. The companies that make these products should be doing their part to become more environmentally responsible, too. That’s why I’m happy to tell you that many are.

Clearwater Paper, which produces more than half of the private label consumer tissue products for grocery stores, will be the first U.S. paper company to make paper from trees that come from forests that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. In addition, they’ve also been awarded the Chain-of-Custody (CoC) certification by the Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood program. Products that carry this certification are tracked all the way from forest to consumer through every stage of processing. Why is that so important? It ensures that the paper you get in the supermarket comes only from suppliers that exercise environmentally and socially responsible forestry practices.

Then there’s a new company, called Biocor, that just announced its intention to do something about plastics made from PLA (polylactic acid). Usually labeled with a number 7, these plastics tend to either get dumped or mixed in with other plastics in the recycling bin. PLA is unique because it can be completely recycled and even composted (PLA is usually derived from corn), but there is little infrastructure to support either concept in the United States. Biocor hopes to change all that by creating infrastructure to recycle PLA plastics and will even turn some into compost. Sounds like a win in my book.

And I’ve saved the best for last. The Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) in France just announced the launch of a standard champagne bottle that will reduce the area’s carbon emissions. The new bottle is 2 ounces lighter, which doesn’t seem like much, but it will reduce the area’s CO2 output by a whopping 800 metric tons, which is equivalent to the CO2 emissions of 4,000 cars! The lighter bottle has been tested rigorously to make sure it will be able to stand up to all of that bubbly. The CIVC initiative is part of a greater carbon reduction program to reduce carbon emissions by 25 percent by the year 2020, after the 2002 results of an environmental impact assessment of the region.

The truth is, this is really just the tip of the iceberg. Lots of businesses out there are doing what they can to go green (like that brewery in Oregon that bought bikes for all of its employees), so don’t get discouraged. Corporate America (at least some of it) is doing its part, too. 

— Chanie

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I recycle everything I can. Shouldn't manufacturers be responsible, too?
Chanie Kirschner is happy to report that some manufacturers are doing their part to make the world a better place.