Can I recycle plastic pouch containers?
-LaShay, Oakland, CA
You’re probably seeing plastic pouches everywhere in the grocery store, especially in the baby food aisle. Portable, squeezable, and spill-resistant, baby food pouches have been a huge hit with parents and kids. Aside from robust sales, companies like them because they protect the food inside very well and they’re versatile, able to hold many types of food.
They are also much lighter than the glass jars that are still standard for baby food. The CEO of Plum Organics, which produces a super popular line of baby food pouches, estimated that nine times more fuel is needed to ship glass containers compared to the pouches, and compared to glass, the pouches occupy just 1/14 the amount of space in a landfill. It sounds like the pouches are a sustainable packaging option, but that last point — that pouches occupy space in a landfill — is an important point.
Millions of these pouches are being sold, and millions of them are ending up in landfills.
Pouches, like the ones often seen holding baby food, coffee beans, and snacks, typically consist of layers of different materials laminated together. Materials could include polyester, aluminum foil, polyethylene, Mylar, paperboard, and more, plus spouts, caps, or zipping mechanisms of various plastics. Some of these materials are recyclable on their own, but they are fused together in the pouch and very difficult to separate, and therefore very difficult to recycle.
Curbside recycling programs don’t accept these laminated mixed-material pouches, and mail-in or drop-off programs are limited, being mostly available on a manufacturer-by-manufacture basis. Baby food pouches from Earth’s Best, Ella’s Kitchen, and GoGo squeeZ can be recycled through a Terracycle mail-in program. Honest Kids drink pouches also can be recycled through a free Terracycle recycling program. Plum Organics pouches aren’t recyclable, but they’ve partnered with Preserve to recycle the caps.
The best way to avoid sending unrecyclable food pouches to the landfill is to invest in a reusable pouch, like the BPA-free ones from Squooshi. Like reusable containers that hold your lunch, reusable pouches provide convenience and closely resemble the disposable ones, with the added benefit of being used over and over again, saving you money and preventing waste.