Simply post a pic with a couple of tags, and the water brand promises a ‘speedy response.’

By Mike Pomranz
Updated August 14, 2019

As silly as it sounds, one of the hardest parts of recycling can simply be knowing what is and isn’t recyclable. For instance, many coffee cups are made out of paper, which would seem to be recyclable, but oftentimes the protective layer inside isn’t. It really just depends. But in the digital age, where we all have access to the internet in our pocket, shouldn’t there be a simple solution to this problem?

Credit: sdominick/Getty Images

Bottled water brand Poland Spring and nonprofit The Recycle Partnership are taking a step in that direction with an assist from Instagram. They’re hoping to help people answer a simple question — “Can I recycle this?” — by giving them a simple solution: Post a photo of the item to Instagram tagging @PolandSpringWtr and #NotTrash, and they promise a “speedy response” on whether the item can be recycled or not. The program began yesterday and, according to a Poland Spring spokesperson, currently has no end date (which is admirably ambitious).

To test out the system, I tried posting something while writing this article. After about 45 minutes I received a response asking for more information, which you can check out here. To be fair, it’s not like recycling is typically an immediate decision, so I wasn't in a rush. (I also live in England, so maybe my very British tube of Tesco Garlic Purée is outside the scope of this program.)

“What we're hearing is that consumers are concerned and confused about plastic bottles,” said Yumiko Clevenger-Lee, vice president and chief marketing officer of Nestle Waters North America, owner of the Poland Spring brand. In June, Poland Spring announced a commitment to use 100-percent recycled plastic by 2022. “And we're taking it a step further by working with organizations like The Recycling Partnership to help remove some of the confusion about recycling.”

This new Instagram program is definitely a cool concept, though it’s clearly only a stopgap solution — one that seems to speak to the need for some awesome artificial intelligence app that could do this for photos instantaneously without the need for human intervention. But until then, feel free to ask Poland Spring. Frankly, no matter what you post, it will probably be less trashy than a lot of what ends up on Instagram. Hopefully, your stuff will actually be recyclable.