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Standardize Bottles

July 14th, 2019
ideas, recycling  [html]

Products come in a wide range of containers varying in material, shape, color, texture, etc. This makes recycling very inefficient: instead of washing and reusing the containers we need break them down into raw materials and build back up from there. Standardization would help a lot here: figure out what range of shapes and sizes you need to cover most of the market, and design some sturdy reusable containers for them. Probably clear glass, which companies can then glue paper labels to. This makes it worth it to collect the containers whole and reuse them.

When I remember using hard glass ketchup bottles instead of modern squeezable ones, however, it does seem like we'd be losing something here. Some variation in container design is valuable. Pushing the standardization via a tax on non-reusable containers would probably be the best option, though you could also imagine some system where you add an exception if the manufacturer can justify why they need to do something unusual.

While the main benefit here is through more efficient reuse of materials giving lower packaging costs, there's also a gain from reducing competition over branding. Manufacturers are often competing over the same number of sales, trying to attract buyers through something unique in the appearance of their product. Just like how laws limiting cigarette advertising accidentally made tobacco companies more profitable, limiting this channel for product differentiation probably would be helpful to neutral for manufacturers.

It would probably be best to try this at a smaller scale before rolling it out for everything. For example, you could start by introducing a standard 250mL (1C) container, and have the tax for non-standard containers only apply to products within a certain range of the sizes that have been standardized so far.

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