Green Sheet: This small tweak could improve America’s abysmal recycling record

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Evidence of the increasing effects of climate change is building, as are the investing opportunities and changes in consumer habits linked to environmental concerns and resource use. Here are select dispatches about the companies responding to customer demands and climate risk, the ESG investors and their advisers, and the policy-makers, enterprising individuals and scientists preparing for tomorrow.

A pretty simple way to boost recycling. Tell Americans what their old items — from plastic water bottles to discarded jeans — can become in a next life and they’ll be more likely to recycle. That’s the findings of a trio of consumer psychologists who shared their results on The Conversation. The key may lie with avoiding a broad and “negative” message such as “save the planet,” which is viewed as coercive and can either turn off some consumers or wrongly persuade people to over-recycle, mixing non-recyclables in with recyclable materials in actions colloquially called “aspirational recycling” or “wishcycling.” As the researchers share, about 75% of American waste is recyclable, yet just 30% of it is actually recycled. The figures are even worse with materials like plastic. Less than 10% of plastics disposed of in the U.S. in 2015 were recycled.

Instead, lab observations and real-world advertising campaigns showed that a visual as simple as showing an aluminum can becoming a bicycle can have positive effects. More and more companies such as Nike NKE, -0.37%  , Timberland VFC, -0.09%   and PepsiCo PEP, -0.68%   are incorporating post-consumer recycled material into their products and packaging but would-be recyclers may not know it.

Skechers cuts down on plastic packaging. Skechers USA Inc. SKX, +0.47%   said Thursday it has reduced the use of plastic in its footwear packaging by 85% since 2016. Plastic is now 10% of its foot forms, all of which is recyclable. The shoe maker said all of its packaging materials are printed with soy- or water-based ink. “As the third largest worldwide athletic lifestyle footwear brand with more than 170 million pairs expected to ship this year, we want to be as forward-thinking with our packaging and shipping of our product — and these sustainable improvements can have a tremendous impact on the world,” said President Michael Greenberg.

Sun farmers. More landowners in California’s San Joaquin Valley are finding a lucrative new cash crop: solar electricity, the Sacramento Bee says. As farmers struggle to cope with chronic water shortages, they’ve increasingly turned to solar as a means of supplementing their revenue and keeping the remainder of their farming operations afloat. An estimated 13,000 acres of Valley farmland already have been converted to solar farms, said Erica Brand, the California energy program director at the Nature Conservancy.

And now solar energy is about to swallow even larger patches of Valley farmland, the paper reports. Beginning in January, California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA, will require farmers across the state to gradually reduce the amount of groundwater they can extract from their wells. In the San Joaquin Valley, where groundwater basins have been seriously depleted by decades of over-pumping, the Public Policy Institute of California predicts that at least 535,000 acres of its farmland could be permanently retired over the next 20 years as farmers curtail their water consumption.

Germany’s commitment to rescue its forests. At Berlin’s “national forest summit” on Wednesday, Germany’s federal and regional governments promised €800 million ($878 million) to replant and renew Germany’s woodlands, CityLab reports. The program represents a national commitment — the government has even enlisted the army’s help — to clearing dead wood and replanting over 440,000 acres of trees. Many of the forests, which cover about a third of the country, are now in a very bad state indeed, severely beleaguered in recent years by unusually hot, dry weather and rampant beetle infestations.

A bottled-water giant and its climate-research gift to Caltech. The second-largest gift to a U.S. university was pledged to Caltech and it’s being used for climate research. According to CNN, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of The Wonderful Company, have pledged $750 million to the California Institute of Technology to support research into environmental sustainability. Notably, of course, Wonderful has bottled water brand Fiji in its portfolio. The pledge will allow researchers to pursue research into solar science, climate science, energy, biofuels, decomposable plastics, water and environmental resources, and ecology and biosphere engineering,” Caltech said.

Metals billionaire Andrew Forrest is making a $300 million bet on the next big commodity — plastic