Michael called me at work tonight to say he’d just heard that Clif Bar has a new program to take back its plastic energy bar wrappers and “upcycle” them in a partnership with Terracycle, the good folks who got sued by Scotts Miracle Grow for selling worm poop compost in recycled soda bottles and claiming it was better. (I’m sure it is better. Sue me.) In a joint effort, which I would have known about last week if monitor problems hadn’t kept me from reading all my email, Terracycle will send free prepaid energy bar wrapper collection envelopes to anyone who signs up for the Wrapper Brigade Program and will then manufacture them into “unique accessories and other upcycled products.” And Clif Bar will donate .02 per wrapper to the charity of your choice.
Sounds good right? Well, it didn’t sound good to me. In fact, I got all huffy about it. “Oh great!” I ranted. “Like anyone needs a tote bag made out of Clif Bar wrappers. This is just a way to allow companies to keep creating disposable plastic wrappers from virgin plastic and let consumers feel morally superior for keeping them out of the landfill a little longer. They’re still made out of petroleum. They’re still made from nurdles, the plastic pellets that are polluting our oceans, harming wildlife, and concentrating toxins in the food chain. This isn’t ‘upcycling.’ It’s the same old ‘downcycling’ we’re always bemoaning because the loop never gets closed when you’re talking about plastic!”
And then Michael said, “But what about people like me who aren’t ready to give up Clif Bars? Isn’t this better than throwing the wrappers away?” And I thought, the man has a point.
I get so worked up about finding the absolute best solution to problems that I forget there are also good solutions that aren’t necessarily the best but might head us in the right direction. Various shades of green. Terracycle is definitely doing a service by keeping plastic bottles, juice boxes, yogurt containers, and now wrappers here at home where we can take some responsibility for our own waste instead of shipping it to Asia. And yet even Clif Bar admits that the Wrapper Brigade is not the best solution. In their e-mail newsletter, they write:
We’re not psyched about the fact that our wrappers end up in the garbage. We’ve been working hard to come up with a more sustainable solution; since we haven’t found the answer just yet, we’ve partnered with TerraCycle to launch the Energy Bar Wrapper Brigade. Get this: TerraCycle will convert all of the energy bar wrappers they receive into handy accessories and will donate two cents for every wrapper to the charity of your choice. Sign up for free and become a shepherd for the program.
So what do we do? Nothing, if we’re trying to live plastic-free. I’ve switched from energy bars to granola and other cereal that I buy from bulk bins and store in my own containers, leaving no packaging waste behind. But if we’re not quite there yet, we can at least divert a little waste from some landfills by using this program. And let others know about it too.
I’m hoping that Clif Bar means what it says about coming up with a more sustainable solution. I’m glad they speak that language. It’s my hope that companies are moving towards waste reduction as preferable to recycling. In the mean time, we have what we have. What do you think?
(BTW, I know I said I’d post a recipe today. But Beth Terry is nothing if not opinionated, and when the opportunity and mood strikes, she’ll usually go with some kind of rant and save the nice stuff for another day.)