I am so pissed about Nature Valley Bars — and not for the usual reasons, which are along the lines of: there is granola stuck in my bra, there is granola jammed inside my keyboard, etc.
Nature Valley, owned by General Mills, recently launched a “recyclable” wrapper for its crumbly ass bars. The wrapper is made of a polyethylene film, a type of plastic, which, according to General Mills spokesperson, “can be sold with other flexible plastics to be used to create synthetic lumber/decking equipment (e.g., products made by a company called Trex), turned back into wrappers, and for injection molding.”
K. This is all fine if not a little niche, I guess, but the most audacious move is that these can only be recycled through store drop-off programs. In other words, if you eat one of these bars you need to save the wrapper and remember to bring it with you to the grocery store and then put it in a specific receptacle for it to be recycled properly.
These drop-off programs exist in many major retailers around the U.S. (think Target) and accept things like plastic bags, certain plastic packaging (like the type that envelops a case of water), and sometimes bubble wrap. The process requires consumers to stockpile their plastic waste until they visit the drop-off center. In essence, the new packaging is pretty much equivalent to a plastic bag — not something most of us want more of?
These wrappers cannot be put in conventional recycling bins, but people will deposit them there, which will contaminate the items that are conventionally recyclable and send them to the landfill instead. In a sense, these wrappers have the ability to create even more garbage. Yeehaw.
It is beyond apparent that we’re unskilled recyclers; to ask consumers to take on a new recycling technique that is already underused is asking for failure. My blood boils as I type this. General Mills knows that most of its consumers are not going to recycle this wrapper properly.
Less than 10% of plastic is recycled as is. These drop-off locations don’t appear to be making such a difference. From The Intercept:
In 2015, the U.S. recycled about 9 percent of its plastic waste, and since then the number has dropped even lower. The vast majority of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic ever produced — 79 percent — has ended up in landfills or scattered all around the world. And as for those plastic shopping bags the kids were hoping to contain: Less than 1 percent of the tens of billions of plastic bags used in the U.S. each year are recycled.
Even so, General Mills has blasted out a campaign that depicts cutesy people recycling their wrappers, which then transform into park benches and picnic tables out in the wild! They even have the gall to promote this advertisement with the hashtag #Recycle4Nature. #Recycle4MyAss, General Mills.
This is greenwashing at its most contemptuous. The good news is that consumers are wisening up to these brazen campaigns full of empty promises. On Twitter, I found responses to the campaign mostly negative, and I enjoyed reading them.
By the way, General Mills anticipated all of this pushback. I believe it’s just betting that there are more people who won’t see the greenwashing for what it is than those who will. When I reached out to a spokesperson, they responded with a number of pre-written Q + As, even before I had a chance to ask my own Qs. For example, they wrote:
If Nature Valley has access to this 100% recyclable technology, why isn’t General Mills converting all of its brand packaging at an accelerated rate (sooner than 2030)?
Our recycling ambition is that all of General Mills brands will design 100% of our packaging to be recyclable or reusable by 2030. General Mills has over 100 brands, representing a wide variety of products and packaging formats. Different kinds of products require different packaging technology, and our brand and R&D teams are actively working on solutions to move our packaging ambition forward. Some packaging formats present special challenges to ensure that they keep our food fresh, meet consumer needs, and achieve recyclability requirements, while other solutions are more straightforward. Consumers should expect to see General Mills brands bringing our packaging ambition to life throughout the next 10 years, as we identify and implement recyclability solutions.
This is a bad answer, a positively bullshit response that means nothing at all. General Mills and its peers make promises for 10 years down the line, etc, so that by the time we get into 2031 we move on (and, by that year, we will probably be eating plastic film for breakfast).
Don’t think for even a moment that Nature Valley is the only one pulling this kind of garbage during the pandemic. Our good pals at Ziploc also recently targeted me on Twitter to let me know they invented paper bags.
Paper bags are a fine alternative to plastic ones, but once they get soiled with mayo or other sandwich fillings, they are no longer recyclable. Similar to how when a pizza box is smeared in grease, you should throw it in the garbage, not the cardboard recycling pile.
The plastic industry pushed recycling on American consumers knowing very well that it would fail. Plastic recycling is a scam, and it was designed that way.
"If the public thinks that recycling is working, then they're not going to be as concerned about the environment." — Larry Thomas, president of the Society of the Plastics Industry
Here, watch this if you want to know more. I just CANNOT go on I am so angry.
I do understand that food products need to be stored in specific types of packaging to maintain the integrity of the food and the shelflife. But it’s not impossible to develop materials that are truly recyclable or better for the planet — I have a great example of someone doing it right that I’ll be sharing next week — and it’s VERY possible to not fudge your efforts just to get consumers to believe you’re doing the right thing.
I see you, Nature Valley. You don’t look good.