How to Better Recycle Packaging

Recycle Packaging

A new study has been published on how to recycle better packaging; because, as it turns out, not everything that’s recyclable gets recycled.


Source: Packaging World

The study, titled “MRF Material Flow Study”, focuses on the recycling flow through different kinds of materials recovery facilities, (also called MRFs), and how to get more recyclable packagings actually recycled in a sustainable manner. The process was as follows:

[quote]Five U.S. MRFs were selected for the study, representing a range of operations, including those of different sizes and processing systems, and different recycling streams (single- and dual-stream). Materials, including paper and plastic cups, clamshells, containers, domes/trays, bottles, tubs, lids, and gabletop and aseptic cartons, were added to the mix of standard recycling items coming into the facilities. Materials were processed, and then sample bales of paper, plastic, and residue were tested, with bale contents being sorted into more than 100 categories, to where the materials flowed naturally, without intervention from the MRF operators.[/quote]

The study has been commissioned by five national trade associations: the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers, the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI), and the National Association for PET Container Resources, in addition to CCNA, whose Vice President of Sustainability, Derrick Brown, defined the current state of the recycling facilities as the place where “the proverbial rubber meets the road”.

Furthermore, he also warned that “if [cartons and rigid plastics] do not flow efficiently through a sorting facility and to the right place, all or some of their value may be lost, and they may end up as residue, possibly in a landfill.”

MRF Recycling

Three were the proposed improvements, based on three different criteria:

First, differentiation of size and shape: items tend to group in similar sizes and shapes, so flattening or crushing should be avoided. Materials that hold their shape easily have a higher likelihood of being properly recycled.

Second, good separation: not only from customers but proper equipment on the MRFs themselves.

And, finally, optical sorters: as the recycling stream evolves into diversity, optical signifiers will become more and more necessary to sort easily different materials.

Sustainability is not the only reason to enhance recycling. Mike Hower wrote on GreenBiz some months ago about the billionaire potential savings:

“Major brands (…) are wasting about $11.4 billion a year in potential savings by failing to incorporate recycling into their packaging choices.”

According to a January report (PDF) by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the CSR nonprofit As You Sow: “only 14 percent of all plastic packaging is recycled. The rest goes to landfills or is littered on streets where it washes into storm drains and eventually into waterways.”

If eco-responsibility doesn’t push the big brands towards sustainability, money surely will.


Sources, (photos):