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Why iPhones Are Being Recycled and Bottles Aren’t

Keep your plastics.
Keep your plastics.

Photographer: Fred Dufour/AFP via Getty Images


Recycling, we hardly recognize you. Nearly a half-century after the first Earth Day, big companies are now among the biggest boosters of recycling in hopes of pleasing socially responsible investors and planet-conscious consumers. At the same time, a decision by the Chinese government is now sending some consumers’ carefully sorted bottles and boxes right into landfills, subverting the most traditional idea of recycling.

Under pressure from consumers, the list is growing. In January, McDonald’s Corp. announced a goal to recycle all food packaging it its stores by 2025. And the Coca-Cola Co. said it would aim for an average of 50 percent recycled content for its bottles by 2030. Apple Inc. has pledged “to one day end our reliance on mining altogether” — an ambitious goal, since smartphones have some five dozen different metals in them. Apple already offers customers the option of recycling iPhones and its other products at any of its stores or through the mail. Few companies have embraced sustainability more aggressively than Unilever Plc. Among its latest batch of goals is to offer only reusable, recyclable or compostable plastic in packaging by 2025. In 2017, the Association of Plastics Recyclers began recruiting companies to use more recycled plastics; companies like Proctor & Gamble Co., Target Corp. and Keurig Green Mountain Inc. have already signed on.