Plastic egg cartons provides better protection than cardboard, and since they are so strong, why not reuse them so we don’t have to keep making more?
A couple of years ago Costco introduced plastic egg cartons, which are stronger and prevented yolk from broken eggs from contaminating the cartons below. While these are made from 100% recycled plastic (props to them), I still feel guilty about how much energy went into the manufacturing of the plastic. They are also surprisingly bulky, taking up more space in recycling bins than should given their weight. Furthermore it requires still more energy to recycle these cartons again; Why not just reuse the cartons instead?
Consumers can drop off old plastic cartons and these can be densely packed and shipped - in the same truck that carried the eggs to Costco - already returning back to the packaging facility. Cleaning and inspection of these cartons are definitely required, but this should be less resource-intensive compared to both manufacturing completely new cartons, as well as to recycle the old cartons.
Costco can benefit in several ways by doing this. Reusing these cartons means they don’t need to manufacture as many new ones. They can either pass these savings to consumers (albeit probably only a few cents), and create a marketing campaign to spread awareness about reusing and recycling plastics.
One drawback is the slight inconvenience that this brings to customers. However, Costco customers almost always drive a car, so they can easily store old cartons in their trunk. The cartons are light and don’t take up too much space so one can even drop these off every other week when they do their shopping.
Another necessary change is that reused cartons need to have an updated expiry date on the container. This can be solved by using stickers instead of etching the expiry date on the side; The cleaning process will get rid of any gunk and old stickers.
Nonetheless the biggest challenge I see is for someone with authority to get behind this project since it involves changing Costco’s distribution logistics, potential legal considerations about reusing customer-provided cartons, and working with other vendors to clean and inspect the reused packaging. However, if Costco is able to put this into practice then I think this represents a significant step in companies recognizing the importance of finding ways to reduce their environmental impact. Other stores, such as UK’s Tesco (they sell 1.3 billion eggs yearly!), have also adopted plastic cartons for several years already, so other stores can benefit from a trial run. Let’s start with eggs and see what this grows into!