So there I was at the mall one day with my kids, eating lunch at the food court after a heavy morning of back-to-school shopping. It was time to clean up, and my friend’s young daughter proudly grabbed her tray and announced, “I can help!” Quick like a bunny (she loves to help), she swept everyone’s trash onto her tray, marched over to the trash cans, and dumped the tray’s contents… into the recycling can. Oops – it happened so fast! I experienced a quick moment of panic while I made sure my credit card didn’t wind up in there – whew! And then, a fleeting moment of guilt. I knew everything recyclable could go in there (it says “commingled”), but there were definitely a few things on that tray that probably should have gone into the “trash” can. The napkins with pizza sauce on them, the unused ketchup packets, that baby sock with the hole in it that I found at the bottom of the stroller. Oh well. I couldn’t be the only one that accidentally chucked a few trash items in there today.
But I wondered, “What happens to that stuff?” Does it ruin the whole batch? Does any of that really get recycled anyway?
We at Stonyfield decided that we really wanted to find out! So on a beautiful sunny fall day, some of my fellow Stonyfielders and I went on a field trip to find out what happens to trash after the trash can. We were pretty excited, because let’s face it – in the first place, even as a grown up it’s pretty exciting to take a field trip. And in the second place, we have a genuine interest in what happens to packaging “beyond the fridge,” because we don’t just make yogurt – we make the containers the yogurt goes in, and that’s a big part of our mark on the world.
E.L. Harvey & Sons is the destination for Stonyfield’s trash, and for a lot of the recycled goods and trash in the area around us in New England. Trish, our friendly tour guide for the day, took us through the steps of how recycled goods come in mixed up, and are pulled apart again into sorted goods. When stuff comes in, it begins its journey by being sent to the right building based on what type of stuff it’s supposed to be – there’s a building for paper, one for metals, and so on. Each building has equipment designed to “weed out” what doesn’t belong there, and people trained to pull out what the equipment misses (this is where your baby’s sock will get removed from all that perfectly good recyclable plastic). In the end, all the materials are separated by type (aluminum! different kinds of plastic! 19 different grades of paper!), formed into enormous bales (like hay bales only much larger!), and sold to companies that can manufacture them into new things. Walking around among all the bales of plastic and paper and metal with Trish was fascinating – it was amazing to see products with potential at the end of the stream of garbage we saw at the beginning.
So what happens to Stonyfield’s yogurt cups? Great question! A lot of the cups we recycle here go directly to a company called Preserve, which makes them into great products like reusable serving containers, and toothbrush and razor handles. Our #5 cups are recyclable at more places every day; if you find that your local provider doesn’t accept our #5 cups, feel free to drop them off at participating Whole Foods grocery stores – they’ll make sure they get recycled through their Gimme 5 Program! Let’s keep working together to make sure every yogurt cup has a new life as something else. And what happens to your own recycling and trash? Be sure to check with your local provider, check out the website www.earth911.com for more information. And be sure to let your children and grandchildren in on the information – kids, especially, need to know that their trash doesn’t just disappear; what they do with it determines whether or not it will have a new life as something else. One yogurt eater at a time – it really does make a difference.