When talking about packaging sustainability, the focus is often recycling and recyclability. However, it’s important to think about packaging sustainability and responsible management of resources in terms of the whole waste hierarchy – the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. It is known as a “hierarchy” for a reason– REDUCING our use of materials from the start is the most important “R.” Reducing the overall use of material equates to savings: raw materials never extracted, energy and water not used, and decreased transport requirements. It can be challenging to explain the benefits of resources never used in the first place in an impactful way. Also, recycling is such a visual and tangible aspect of sustainability, it often crowds out the REDUCTION message. That’s why I’m excited to share a new infographic we created, based on a presentation from Amcor Flexibles Americas and data from a Flexible Packaging Europe (FPE) study. The presentation, which I first saw at SustPack 2015, included a poignant analogy to illustrate resource efficiency and the trade-offs that are part of sustainable materials management. Check it out and please share it with your networks!
Strong, lightweight plastics are amazing materials that contribute to sustainability by helping to reduce energy use, waste and greenhouse gas emissions. But when plastics end up as ocean litter, their full sustainability benefits aren’t realized. No one wants to see trash of any kind in our environment. Plastics makers realize that ocean litter is a major, global problem and are committed to providing solutions. That’s why we’re pleased to partner in the global release of the Ocean Conservancy’s Stemming the Tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic-free ocean – a first-of-its-kind analysis conducted with the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment, that evaluates specific land-based solutions for plastic waste in the ocean.
Pinpointing the Origins of Waste
Recent research by Dr. Jenna Jembeck published in Science Magazine estimated that roughly 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year and that 57% of it originates in five countries (China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand). These are rapidly developing economies (a good thing!) in areas where waste management infrastructure hasn’t yet caught up to a growing population’s ability to consume more goods. Similar factors could easily give rise to these conditions in other regions (e.g., Brazil, India or countries in Africa). Stemming the Tide builds on these findings by highlighting solutions to contain waste—in essence to stop the “leakage” at the source. Solutions like, containing landfill waste, stopping illegal dumping, increasing recycling, and incorporating energy recovery technologies, such as gasification and pyrolysis, are featured as possibilities for change. From the plastics industry’s perspective, Stemming the Tide is a welcome resource that helps us understand and prioritize solutions.
Global Plastics Industry In Action
In fact ACC’s Plastics Division has been working on solutions to marine debris for some time. In 2011 we developed and helped launch the Declaration of the Global Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter, which has been signed by over 60 companies in 34 countries—through which more than 185 projects have been planned, initiated, or completed. Some of our work in the United States includes providing recycling bins on beaches and in state parks, sponsoring marine debris research, promoting recycling and the recovery of energy from post-use plastics, and encouraging best practices for handling raw materials.
Working Together For Progress
In a video address released Wednesday, Catherine Novelli, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment acknowledged the important role that plastics play in our society today and, she also expressed confidence that by “working together we can create meaningful solutions” to keeping plastics out of our oceans. We couldn’t agree more, and we’re looking forward to taking the results of this data-driven work and putting the strategies into action. Please watch Under Secretary Novelli’s complete address below and check out www.marinedebrissolutions.org for more on the plastics industry’s work on ocean litter.
This post first appeared on the American Chemistry Council blog, ‘Chemistry Matters’.
Polyethylene (PE) film packaging is a widely used component of countless packaging applications around the world, relied on for its performance and economic benefits. So when a major brand owner such as Procter and Gamble (P&G) commits to supporting PE film recycling, the packaging world takes notice. In May 2015, P&G became a member of the American Chemistry Council’s Flexible Film Recycling Group (FFRG), joining existing members such as Dow, ExxonMobil, Wegmans and Trex.
Last month, Greener Package sat down with P&G’s Research and Development Manager Steve Sikra to learn more about the company’s commitment to sustainability and why it joined FFRG. The resulting article, P&G puts focus on PE film recycling, reviews the company’s goal to double its use of post-consumer recycled material by 2020. P&G goals also include using 90 percent recyclable packaging by 2020 and reaching zero consumer and manufacturing landfill waste. “The FFRG is making use of the existing film reclamation infrastructure built around retail stores for collection,” Sikra told Greener Package. “With the FFRG, we hope to expand participation in film recycling via existing and new retail store take-back programs. Further, we look to partner with FFRG to expand film recycling beyond polyolefin films and store collection.”
Check out the full article here.
The Current State of Plastic Film Recycling
The recycling of postconsumer plastic film rose 11 percent in 2013 to reach a reported 1.14 billion pounds, according to a recent national report. This marks the highest annual amount of plastic film collected for recycling, a category that includes product wraps, bags and commercial stretch film made primarily from PE, since reporting began in 2005.
“We’re extremely pleased to be working with P&G,” said Shari Jackson, director of FFRG. “National efforts to educate consumers about the recyclability of bags and wraps are already paying off, and having P&G on board will help extend our reach even further.”
In many cases, recycling can help improve a packages sustainability profile. In addition, when brand owners and package designers develop products that should be recycled there’s an expectation that correct sorting and recycling actually happens. But what exactly does correct sorting and recycling entail? How do these various materials flow once they enter the recycling facility? That’s what five national trade associations, representing a wide range of packaging types, set out to discover with the Material Recovery Facilities (MRF) Material Flow Study. Working together with the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR), Carton Council of North America (CCNA), Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI) and the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) we wanted to learn more about how materials similar to the test samples and other study materials would flow through typical MRF environment. And which of the study materials, not currently accepted by MRFs, could potentially be recycled using existing MRF infrastructure. Finally, we wanted to begin to understand what sort of processes could be modified to allow effective recovery of sample materials.
The findings were not exactly what we expected. We discovered that the size and shape of a package plays a role in where they ultimately end up, even when consumers put them in the bin. In addition, various types of sortation processes have different effects on outcomes. For example, we learned that flattening or crushing items before they go into the recycling bin makes the materials more likely to be sorted incorrectly, winding up as residue. This is a far cry from the old days when the industry preached, “empty, rinse and crush.” This is because items tend to flow with similarly sized and shaped materials, so objects that have a distinct and more 3D shape have a better chance of being properly recycled. The study not only tested items that are already widely recycled, it also included less commonly recycled packages, things like cartons, foam polystyrene, and other non-bottle containers. Many of the lower volume materials weren’t sorted correctly due to the sorters’ lack of familiarity with the objects. Check out the full findings here.
Now that we have a good handle on how various types of packaging moves through a MRF, we can use the information to help boost recycling rates. There is certainly opportunity for improved recovery, and optimization can occur across the value chain- from packaging design to sortation technology. In addition, packaging is always evolving, becoming more diverse and lightweight. The Materials Flow study is a necessary first step in ensuring we recover the value of all packaging. Check out the Study Infographic for a look at the key conclusions.
One of the biggest challenges facing plastic recyclers are containers that come through the stream that may have a negative impact on recycling. Both recyclers and product manufacturers often do not realize the implications of new products, until they have been brought to market, made it through the collection process, and contaminate the recycling stream. Certain types of labels, inks, closures, adhesives are just a few examples of packaging design features that can adversely impact recyclability, or simply cause an otherwise perfectly recyclable container to be landfilled rather than recycled. Either alternative leads to a yield loss for recyclers that are always looking for good, clean material.
Communication is an integral part of that challenge. How can we shift the recognition process from the end of the line to the beginning of the design development stage? How can recyclers communicate with container manufacturers and consumer brand companies about the importance of designing packaging with recyclability in mind? The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR), the trade association representing the plastics recycling industry in North America, is working to provide answers to those questions. APR firmly believes that companies want to design packaging that is recyclable and sustainable, and has developed a variety of tools and programs to aid them along the way.
The APR DesignTM Guide for Plastics Recyclability is a technical document that details the potential for well-designed packaging to be reused and remanufactured into new products and enhances the economic viability of plastic recycling. It was developed for packaging designers and engineers. The Executive Summary helps to ensure brand managers, sustainability and marketing managers, as well as other decision makers gain a basic understanding of the impact of packaging design on recycling. It can also serve as a quick reference tool for packaging designers and engineers. Ultimately, we want all packaging professionals to have the APR website as a link on their desktops, so during the first stages of new product development, they can immediately determine if it aligns with current recycling technology. This would be a huge step forward for recyclers.
The next step will be the release of the new and improved Interactive APR DesignTM Guide for Plastics Recyclability. The updated Interactive Guide will be completely web enabled allowing users to easily access the information pertinent to them at various levels of technical detail. Additional resources will include photos, videos, and quick links to all of the APR documents and tests referred to in the Interactive Guide. This project is expected to launch in the fourth quarter of 2015. APR is expected to announce the publication in a press release this fall.
Going even further, APR has recently embarked on an effort to bring these resources directly to packaging professionals through the APR DesignTM for Plastics Recyclability Training Program. A variety of training options are available, including in-person and online sessions, and each session is developed to meet the specific needs of individual companies and their chosen participants. Beginning in late 2014, this program has continued to grow, with major brand companies reaching out to APR on a regular basis to schedule training sessions.
For more information on The APR DesignTM Guide for Plastics Recyclability, APR programs, or other issues associated with plastics recycling, visit PlasticsRecycling.org.