Is Take-Back Packaging Really All That?

I’ve been reading a lot about take-back packaging programs lately—think Loop, Terracycle, and Patagonia. It’s really exciting to think about a future where companies are taking back their products or packaging and trying to make zero-waste the rule, not the exception.

But while I’m generally an optimist, the cynic in me wonders if we’re too focused on the “returnability” factor and not asking whether or not these types of programs offer legitimate benefits to the planet and to people.

Here are some of the questions I’ve been asking:

  • Isn’t what goes into the product packaging just as important as the take-back packaging itself? In other words, if the product—the toothpaste, laundry detergent, or cleaning supplies—are full of chemicals that are harmful to humans and animals then are we really getting ahead?
  • What happens to the product or packaging materials after it reaches the end of its useful life? Is it viable to recycle? Is it downcycled? Is it discarded? For example, is a shampoo bottle converted into running shoes that cannot be recycled at the end of its life, leaving it to be landfilled or incinerated? 
  • What’s the full emissions impact of all the transportation involved when it comes to this new system? 
  • Is this accessible or affordable to everyone who wants it? Probably not, especially those in rural areas, or those who are living in lower-income households. And does the cost of creating these innovative new reusable products or packaging place pressure on the prices of other non-reusable packaging and products?

Until there’s a bit more transparency on the actual FULL cost of these types of setup, I’m sticking with companies who are true to “from the earth, to the earth” values. You know, companies like etee.

As my family works to make the switch to a more sustainable lifestyle, we really appreciate the attention given to producing smart, scientifically sound and safe cleaning products—for every body and every thing in our house. I love, for example, etee’s hand soap that comes in biodegradable beeswax pods. They arrive at my door, I mix them up in a glass jar and presto, I have what I need to wash my hands. No wasteful transportation, no harsh chemicals, no worry about where the package will end up. Just pure, planet-friendly, hand-cleaning goodness. 

BTW, did you hear that etee is stocking a new-and-wildly-improved soap dispenser? And that they come in two great options?

Be Well,

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