How to “green” a plastic bag

You’ve heard of “carbon offsets”?

Get ready for “garbage offsets.”

In an effort to make its Ziploc plastic bags as environmentally friendly as possible, consumer-products company SC Johnson has joined forces with RecycleBank to keep more than 100 million pounds of waste out of landfills during the next two years.

Financial details of the partnership weren’t disclosed, but executives from SC Johnson and RecycleBank told me today that  that SCJ will help underwrite the expansion of RecycleBank to new cities, beginning this month in Corpus Christi, as well pay for some of the rewards given to consumers who recycle more and throw away less.

RecycleBank, as you may know, is a New York-based company backed by Coca-Cola and Kleiner Perkins, among others, that rewards consumers for recycling by measuring the weight of the newspapers, bottles, cans and the like that they recycle each week. (See Turning Trash into Cash, my 2007 article about RecycleBank at fortune.com, as well as more recent coverage here and here.) It operates in 300 communities in 28 states.

Recycling rates tend to rise when RecycleBank expands into a new community so, by supporting its expansion, SC Johnson can legitimately claim to be promoting recycling and diverting waste away from landfills.

John Peoples, director of home storage for SC Johnson, who has p-and-l responsibility for Ziploc, told me: “We wanted to do more than our fair share in offsetting the plastic that’s used in making our products.”

The Ziploc website puts it this way:

Every day, the average American generates 4.5 pounds of trash.1 In a year, that adds up to an estimated 250 million tons.2 So where does it all go? Well, approximately 33 percent of that waste is actually recycled or composted, about 13 percent is burned, and the remaining 54 percent gets buried in landfills. But what if we could decrease that landfill piece of the pie by increasing the recycling one? As the makers of Ziploc® Brand products, we are committed to doing just that. Our first step? Landfill diversion.

If this sounds like an effort to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, well, that’s pretty much what it is. But what else would you have SCJ do? Plastic bags will never be truly sustainable–they’re made from oil and most wind up in landfills–but the company, which has a well-earned reputation for trying to do the right thing, is at least trying to taking full responsibility for its product.

Besides supporting RecycleBank, SCJ is marketing reycling on its own–see the message on the Ziploc package above. Ziploc also sells lighter-weight plastic bags called Ziploc evolve which use less plastic and made at a factory which supports the production of wind energy.

I’m a Ziploc fan, I must confess, and because I use the same bags over and over again, they rarely end up in the trash. Ziploc also makes hard plastic containers that last a long time.

Having said that, there’s no doubt that plastic bags have a image problem. Just last week, according to the National Post of Canada, a six-year-old boy in a Quebec kindergarten class was disqualified from a lunchtime contest to win a stuffed teddy bear because he brought a sandwich to school in a Ziploc bag.

Comments

  1. I recently became a Tupperware Consultant, and we too, are recycle enthusiasts. I educate my customers on the advantages of recycling and home to save money by not buying all those landfill…fillers. I fill all my Tupperware with food products when I come home from shopping and it’s amazing how much cardboard and plastic bags become waste. I also use Ziplock products.
    My hometown stopped recycle pickup a few years ago because it was not profitable. I would love it if Ziploc came to my town and opened a factory dedicated to recycling!

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