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New guidelines on how to boost recycled content in plastic packaging

By Rory Harrington , 22-Sep-2010
Last updated the 22-Sep-2010 at 17:57 GMT

A new guide on how to boost recycled content in plastic packaging highlights practical solutions for overcoming common technical challenges, said the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.

The report from the US group identifies the most pressing problems that are curbing inclusion of post recycled material in 27 plastic packaging applications across the beverage, dairy and snack sectors and identifies a slew of best practice tips to address them. Experts from leading players such as Ball, Amcor, Dow Chemical Co, Unilever and Berry Plastics all contributed to the guide.

Common Challenges

Lack of material collection and sorting infrastructure are identified as the main difficulties facing the packaging industry in securing a reliable and plentiful supply of recycled material. International market competition and compliance with direct food contact regulations are cited as two other major issues. Additional hurdles can be material quality, price volatility and process modification needs, said the study.

Best practice

While fully acknowledging the challenges, the guide declares that “several” post consumer recycled (PCR) resin processors and packaging converters have identified ways of increasing the amount of recycled content.

“The best way any company can explore the introduction or increased use of recycled content into any plastic packaging application is to discuss goals and objectives, performance requirements and technical capabilities with their supply chain partners,” said the report.

Identifying packaging design and manufacture as crucial steps, the report lays out a series of best practice tips - including the need to be clear over material specification and the importance that these are performance-based rather than material-based.

Packaging players are advised to consider adjusting their design to allow for PCR content but cautioned against designing in unintended knock-on environmental impacts in the process. Choosing a reputable supplier of recycled content that can supply good technical data and designing packaging that can itself be recycled are also recommended.

Practical advice

The 23-page report details performance requirements, such as atmospheric barrier properties, heat sealability and testing, as well regulatory compliance and technical/processing considerations. Market availability and aesthetics are also examined. These are detailed in both a written overview and a sector-by-sector breakdown – covering the beverage, dairy, snack, over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and personal care segments.

The guide aims to boost communication between converters, brand owners and retailers “who must grapple with technical, regulatory, and aesthetic challenges in making packaging with recycled content,” said the SPC.

“Using recycled content is an environmental strategy that is understood and embraced by consumers, so there’s significant market demand to change the way we make plastic packaging,” said SPC project leader and report author Katherine O’Dea. “This is the first practical resource to offer guidance and solutions for using recycled materials in specific high-volume plastic packaging applications, and it sets aggressive yet realistic expectations for increasing recycled content use.”

The report - Guidelines for Increasing Post Consumer Recycled Content in Plastic Packaging – is free to SPC members and to non-SPC members for $75.00. For more information, click HERE