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Strategy to make non-recyclable products financially, morally, or legally undesirable

jnikola May 11, 2021
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The goal

Inspired by session about cigarette waste, I want to find a solution that would "force" companies that produce cigarettes, non-recyclable coffee cups, plastic bottles, and other hard/expensive-to-recycle products to have a moral or legal obligation to handle/plan/manage the recycling or handling of their waste.

The ultimate goal: the law, finance- or pressure-driven moral responsibility that obliges companies to find a recycling solution in advance or no product can be manufactured at all.

The concept of recycling

Based on the time and site when the product is being recycled, recycling process (in my opinion) can be divided on:
  • industrial waste recycling (on site of production)
  • profit-driven - companies will invest in recycling to reduce the amount of waste and save money
  • planned in forward by manufacuring process optimization, best material selection, ...
  • handling of the "cause"
For example:
Pharmaceutical companies make drugs. If huge amounts of dangerous chemicals are needed to produce the drug, more money is needed to handle the (usually very toxic) waste. That raises the expenses of drug manufacturing and often results in drug development being stopped and the chemical process redesigned to become "cheaper". It works like some kind of a financial break that stop companies to produce enormous amounts of toxic non-recyclable waste.
  • consumer waste recycling (after consumption/usage)
  • legal obligation (EU regulations, government-financed projects, NGOs, ...)
  • rarely profit-driven (start-ups)
  • handling of the "consequences"

The problem

As mentioned in the session, cigarettes and cigarette filter can be found almost everywhere. So can the plastic bags, plastic (coffee) cups, plastic bottles, plastic chocolate bar wraps, batteries, etc. They are usually cheap to manufacture,have no pre-designed waste management solutions, so they pile up and become an enormous ecological problem.

The raising questions

How can a product be manufactured without a waste management solution by the company itself? It's clear and regulated when the waste is produced at the site of production, but how to regulate this in the case of dispersable consumer "after-waste" (which is not produced at the manufacturing site, but much later, on the street, in the bars, etc.)

Available solutions

Treating the causes:
  • "Green policies" - some countries, often forced by the regulatory bodies, slowly turn to greener policies
  • Influencers try to change awareness of the people by sharing and promoting the "green content"
Treating the consequences:
  • Switching to green - many new and a smaller number of older companies tend to change to greener policies. More and more products are being manufactured by recyclable materials and that's really cool.
  • Green start-ups - there are many start-ups that aim to find recycling solutions for Styrofoam coffee cups or bottles and that too could bear some fruit.

Specific problems

All the above mentioned examples do result in a change, but it's often slow (decades) and does not include megacorporations, which produce the biggest amounts of waste, but an insignificant number of "smaller players".
What we need isn't more green policies, but also a thoughtful production.

How to make companies producing etc. cigarettes to find the solution for their product recycling in forward?
Or, how to put enough pressure on the government to regulate this before the beginning of the production?
How to force companies to find "greener" manufacturing solution, although it could be more expensive?

Creative contributions

How can you ensure this doesn't cause more hardship for those with less money

Michelle Christine Jul 03, 2021
I think the answer will have to be a mix of some form of taxing producers and actively paying/subsidizing those with fewer resources. Right now I can pay $10-$15 for a "sustainably made, ethically resourced, responsible" product or buy the (functionally) identical product at the $1 store because I'm supposed to be financially responsible with my very limited budget. We see companies taking some baby steps towards being more green, more sustainable, to the very limited point that they can pass on those costs to consumers. Meanwhile the purchasing power of those consumers don't necessarily reflect their values (if "consumers" include the people who wanted to buy their product and had to choose not to because they didn't truly have that option to begin with). Everything hinges on a financial system that is in true alignment with our longer term goals.
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jnikola3 years ago
Thank you for raising a really important question.
The main thing that should balance the rising costs of sustainable eco-products is the need for less. In terms of consumables, a customer should have an option to re-use the more expensive ecological products and in that way, save money (or spend the same amount).

I agree that this is a big problem because, without a personal added value of the eco-friendly product, it would be hard to convince people to buy the more expensive products just to save the planet.

An example of added value could also be seen in my contribution here (https://brainstorming.com/r/v4OBE7), where a face mask could be made from recyclable products, would probably be more expensive but would give all the gardeners or nature lovers an opportunity to seed a plant.

Do you think this would be enough?
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Michelle Christine3 years ago
I'm not a scientist and can't provide much value on whether a specific product is a good idea / functionally valuable. But I could contribute more to a sort of framework for how that right answer is assessed.

"The need for less" -- I tend to not have a self sacrificial philosophy of purely minimizing the use of resources to get as close as possible to pretending you don't even exist. I prefer ideas that promote abundance and improved well-being for all. That being said, I believe improved well-being can come about with fewer resources, which is the goal to be pursued.

"A customer should have the option to re-use..." -- I agree reusabillity is a key factor that would help both the consumer and the environment. Challenges include (worded in the form of questions)

-how do you educate the consumer to really believe, if and only if it's actually true, that the higher cost would be personally beneficial ("personal added value")? If it's not actually true, and it's not personally beneficial but is truly better overall, how do you fix that conflict of interest? I hate to make every interesting question overlap with boring financial/economic systems, but frankly they just do.

-how do you get people excited about it who don't have easy access to a place to plant? or connect with those who do? there are so many people who want to do good, want to help (also, most), within a reasonable amount of effort, and really just don't know how, in a financial position that makes them feel like they're not really allowed to contribute.
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jnikola3 years ago
Michelle Christine, here you have material for a completely new session titled "How to make people believe in a "higher" more general cause, without any direct personal benefit?" haha. You inspired me to think about it, but I didn't find an answer to any of your questions. I even didn't find a perspective from which the problem could have easy solutions, without the application of marketing tricks. Can we think of a way how people can be thought to live and act in an above-mentioned way?
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Spook Louw
Spook Louw May 11, 2021
Simply raising the tax on any non-recyclable material will discourage manufacturers from producing anything containing these materials, as their profit margins will decrease and the money raised from these taxes could help fund the cleanup efforts.

Belgium has just introduced a tax on plastic, from January 2021 which should be a good indication of whether it will work or not. I don't see how it could fail if the tax is high enough though, either people will stop producing plastic, or the government will have enough money to fund a proper disposal system.

In South Africa, for example, 218 cents per litre of petrol or diesel purchased goes towards the Road Accident Fund Levy, this money is then used to help South African citizens involved in serious accidents on the road.

The exact same thing could be done with non-recyclables. A portion of every purchase will be dedicated to cleaning the environment.




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salemandreus3 years ago
Very often re-using or recycling is actually insufficient in solving the problem or items cannot be safely recycled more than a certain number of times.

Often there is a trade off between different costs as the whole process of production and distribution or even the recycling and reuse may end up causing more environmental impact than the environmentally "unfriendly" options.

In some cases re-usable items can actually contribute significantly more in their harm to the planet overall turn disposable ones, either through how they are used or due to other factors which go into their production. The disposable-plastic-bags-vs-reusable-or-longer-lasting-bags studies are an example of this, where attempts to reduce environmental impact have in fact done the opposite, as broken down very nicely here by SciShow: https://youtu.be/JvzvM9tf5s0.

In a nutshell, the non-plastic "best for the environment" bags have a significant impact on the environment even if they're reused as intended to the point where these efforts to curb plastic use in this common use case may be extremely counterproductive.

For this reason I think the approach will have to be a lot more data-informed and nuanced in relation to particular policies rather than a general incentive on reusability.

Human expertise, reasoning and discretion may be required to push initiatives properly given the complexity of many of these issues (such as logistics depending on individual factors such as whether there is proper support in the area for certain types of recycling or whether we'd end up with longer lasting "recyclable" materials that take even longer to break down lying in a landfill) may be necessary in identifying which initiatives need to be pushed.

Getting the public informed and aware of the nuances of the situation can also help mobilise action and increase the market pressure on companies in a way that is specific to the actual and individual practices and needs, and is also aware of different countries's processes and legislation and how well they are able to actually enforce certain environmentally-friendly practices or whether they'd actually be causing more harm, or would require a more nuanced approach to the specific scenario to be effective.
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Spook Louw
Spook Louw3 years ago
salemandreus That is only addressing air pollution though, there are many other ways single-use plastics hurt the environment, while it's definitely something to consider, it's hard to get by the fact that we simply are not disposing of our waste efficiently. Ergo, waste that disposes of itself would be best, which is why we have to consider biodegradable options and also why recyclable options look good.
The video you cited also doesn't account for the fact that a lot of the agricultural materials used in making these products are by-products of operations that would continue whether we use them or not.

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jnikola3 years ago
I agree that this is the best way and the examples are perfect! I am now wondering how could we put the required pressure on governments to force other countries to do the same, although they have highly profitable industries based on non-green solutions?

Also, the last paragraph defines exactly what I was aiming for with the session. Would you do it on specific products first or it would apply to all?

It sounds amazing, but what is needed for the government to do this step?
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Multifunctional packaging

Spook Louw
Spook Louw May 21, 2021
Wrappers and containers make up most of the entries on the list of the most littered items on earth. Therefore it would make sense to focus on these areas when trying to address the problem. One approach could be to make the packaging functional or reusable.

We can draw inspiration from the way some Chinese restaurants provide takeaway boxes that turn into plates as a way of repurposing the packaging in an appropriate manner.

Or have a look at Yanko Design's first paper disposable razors that has just been unveiled in 2021 as an example of turning the product into packaging.

Keeping along these lines of thought, I came up with an idea to make cigarette boxes out of usable matchsticks on the faces of the pack and match combs on the side. The problem with this idea, of course, is that the box would lose its integrity before all of the cigarettes have been used. So there's still some work to be done.
The purpose of this contribution is simply to get people thinking of creative ways in which we might recycle packaging.


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jnikola3 years ago
Thank you Spook Louw for your cool contribution! The takeaway box/plate idea seems cool but these boxes are usually made out of recyclable materials already, so there is actually no significant reduction in litter/waste produced (regular plates are normally being reused). The disposable razor is, on the other hand, an amazing replacement for usually plastic razors and I think these kinds of product-to-packaging innovations could help us keep the planet green! Very cool!
I'll try to check for more examples of this because it seems like a potentially great solution for the session's problem. The added value/purpose of the packaging could be the strong reason why customers would move from non-recyclable packaging/items to multipurpose recyclables.

PS I would definitely like to hear more about your matchstick cigarette box!
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Consumer waste management index and fees

jnikola May 11, 2021
People film videos and take sad photos of animals, people, and nature being affected by consumer waste (plastics, rubber, etc.). But could it be more effective if we had real calculations of the impact of the product on the environment?

I propose a consumer waste management index (WMi) and consequently, a WM fee.

How would it work

When the product is being manufactured, sold, and passes a certain threshold of sales, it becomes the subject of agencies/companies that calculate the WMi. They take into consideration everything that happens outside of the factory.
Here is a list of some of the factors that would be taken into account:
  • CO2 impact of the transportation
  • type of storage (if it needs to be frozen, it raises the impact on the environment --> increased costs)
  • type of the waste produced (not all waste is equally hard/expensive to recycle)
  • the amount of the waste produced (some products get 99% consumed and some of them less than 50)
  • the type of the waste disposal (containers, bags, ...)
  • can it be easily collected or gets dispersed/mixed
  • distance from the specific recycling location (if can be applied)
  • the percent of the waste found in the nature (and the consequences)

It would all be accounted appropriately to generate WMi.
With quantitative measurement of the product's environmental impact, a mandatory waste management fee would be awarded to a company. It would be recalculated (and reduced) if green solutions were implemented in the production.


That way, start-ups/companies that implement green policies would be more welcome and consequently, more profitable. Companies that retain the old standards of production would be forced to redesign their production processes and turn to more ecologically-friendly solutions. It would help the "reduce" part of the "reduce, reuse, recycle".

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