Trick or treat: Candy makers battle plastic waste

Bags for recycled candy wrapping paper distributed by Mars, maker of Snickers and M&M’s, are placed among pumpkins in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on October 19, 2022. These bags can be filled with any brand of packaging paper and wrap and mailed to a specialty recycler in Illinois for free. (AP Photo/Dean Durbin)
Bags for recycled candy wrapping paper distributed by Mars, maker of Snickers and M&M’s, are placed near pumpkins in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on October 19, 2022. These bags can be filled with any brand of packaging paper and wrap and mailed to a specialty recycler in Illinois for free. (AP Photo/Dean Durbin)

Halloween treats have a tricky problem: hard-to-recycle plastic packaging.

As the U.S. loads an estimated 600 million pounds of candy for Halloween, some companies are trying to make it easier to recycle all that wrapping paper. But they acknowledged that their efforts had had only a modest impact and said more fundamental changes were needed.

Since the beginning of October, Mars, maker of Snickers and M&Ms, has distributed 17,400 candy waste collection bags to U.S. consumers through its website and community events. These bags can be filled with any brand of wrapping paper and wrap and mailed to professional recyclers in Illinois for free. Recycler G2 Revolution pellets the packaging and uses them to make garbage bags for dogs.

These bags fit about 4 ounces of material; if all 17,400 were returned, that would be the equivalent of 2+ tons of recycled packaging paper. But even so, recycling programs still only solve a small part of the problem.

“What I’d like to see is that over time, the program actually disappears and we have a solution where we don’t need it anymore, and we’re fully recyclable,” said Tim LeBel, president of U.S. sales at Mars Wrigley

Mars is partnering with Lexington, Kentucky-based Rubicon Technologies, a consultant and software provider that connects companies and municipalities with recyclers. Since 2019, Rubicon has launched its own program called Trick or Trash, which mails a free box to schools, businesses and community groups to collect candy wrapping paper for recycling. An extra box, or one for personal use, is $100; Rubicon says that includes the cost of making the box, shipping it in both directions, and recycling the packaging paper. Rubicon expects to ship 5,000 boxes this year.

Mars and Rubicon wouldn’t say how much they spent on Halloween shows. Rubicon noted that it paid UPS extra to offset carbon emissions from shipping.

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Plastic wrapping paper is ideal for confectionery for a number of reasons. They’re cheap and lightweight, reducing shipping costs, said Muhammad Rabnawaz, an associate professor at Michigan State University’s School of Inventory. They’re also easy to modify for different functions; some may have a coating, for example, so the candy doesn’t stick to them.

But plastic packaging paper is a challenge for recycling companies. They often contain mixed materials, such as foil, which must be separated. They are small and fragile, making them easy to bypass typical sorting equipment. They must be cleaned to remove grease, oil and other food waste. They are multi-colored, so when they are mixed together, they turn an unappealing brown.

Even if companies do make an effort to recycle candy wrapping paper, the plastic they produce is so low-value that it is impossible to recoup the cost of recycling.

“It has to be profitable. These people are not social workers,” said Brandon Wright, spokesman for the National Waste and Recycling Association, which represents waste management companies.

As a result, a lot of plastic packaging ends up being thrown away. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, containers and packaging accounted for 21 percent of landfills in 2018.

That’s why it’s crucial to get food companies or individual consumers to fund recycling efforts, says TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky.

The New Jersey-based recycling company recycles candy wrapping paper in the UK through a partnership with Nestlé and Ferrero. In the U.S., the company will ship boxes to consumers to collect candy and snack wrapping paper and return it for recycling. A small box is $86; a large one is $218. TerraCycle says this includes shipping costs and a multi-part recycling process.

TerraCycle has recycled about 40 million candy wraps globally since 2014, Szaky said.

Washington, D.C.-based environmentalist Leah Karrer purchased a TerraCycle box in 2020 and collected 5 pounds of Halloween candy wrapping paper from about 20 neighbors. She loves raising awareness about the issue and supporting Terry Environmental, but she never does that again because the boxes are so expensive.

“It’s not a cost-effective solution for most households because these items can simply be thrown in the bin and picked up for free,” she said.

This year, she ordered a free bag from Mars so she could send the message that consumers care about plastic waste and want the company to turn to sustainable packaging.

“The responsibility for tackling the massive amount of plastic waste cannot fall on the customer,” she said. “The solution is system change.”

Candy makers say they are spending millions to develop new packages that are easier to recycle or compost.

Mondelez’s Cadbury launched an easier-to-recycle package in some markets this year — made from 30 percent recycled plastic. Mars recently partnered with biotech company Danimer Scientific to develop compostable packaging. Hershey has set a goal of making all of its packaging easily recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2030.

The National Confectionery Association, which represents the confectionery industry, said federal, state and local governments also need to invest in more advanced recycling.

But recycling alone will never keep up with the amount of inventory people generate, says Janet Dominitz, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group. Dominitz said single-use plastic packaging needs to be phased out completely.

“The problem isn’t the amount of Halloween candy wrapping paper, it’s our infrastructure that is thrown away 365 days a year,” she said.


This story corrects the name of the program to “Trick or Trash” in paragraph 6.

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Source of information: compiled from LETKNOW by 0x information, the copyright belongs to the author, and may not be reproduced without permission

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