In June 2019, the ASTRX (Applying Systems Thinking to Recycling) project published a report that examined material recovery facilities (MRFs) and reprocessors to identify packaging types that present the most challenges to recycle. The project is a joint effort between The Recycling Partnership and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) and involved interviewing 11 MRFs and 10 reprocessors in 2018 that handle paper, glass, plastic, aluminum, and steel to learn how well each material moves through their facilities. News provider Waste Dive discussed the report in an article published on June 19, 2019.
Six main conclusions relevant for brand owners are highlighted by the report:
- Brand owners could contribute by helping MRFs invest in technology to better recover flexible films. Plastic films are described as “wreaking havoc” at MRFs and reprocessing facilities where they are not easily separated and contaminate other streams.
- Adding a How2Recycle label on packaging can reduce contamination and discourage consumers from depositing packaging for recycling in places where it cannot properly be done.
- Design packaging to consider the end market post recycling.
- Purchase and use recycled content for new packaging materials in order to ensure there is a market demand for recycling and recycled material.
- Use shrink sleeves with caution. Shrink sleeve labeling on aluminum cans and PET bottles are reported to cause problems in the recycling process, and such sleeves especially on aluminum cans are cautioned to be used only for small product runs and “not be relied upon indefinitely.”
- Develop design guidelines to support creation of efficiently recycled paper and aluminum packaging, just as developed previously for plastic packaging.
“We wanted to bring some clarity between the producers of increasingly complex packaging to the parts of the circular economy that sorts and transforms the stuff we put in recycling carts into something new,” said Dylan de Thomas, Vice President of Industry Collaboration for The Recycling Partnership. “I hope that this critical dialogue continues and we hope to be a part of it with our ASTRX partners at the SPC.”
Katie Pyzyk (June 19, 2019). “ASTRX report identifies most troublesome materials in recycling chain.” Waste Dive
ASTRX (June 2019). “ASTRX review of material flow at MRFs and reprocessors.” (pdf)