Recycled Content: A Hot Trend in Packaging

Using recycled content in packaging reduces the environmental footprint of the package and incentivizes recycling. There are plenty of technical solutions to overcome the barriers.

Brand owners have shown a strong commitment to use Post Consumer Recycled (PCR) content in their products and packaging solutions, according to Kim Holmes, vice president of sustainability of the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS). “It is something on a level that we haven´t seen before. Brand owners are taking a real leadership position in terms of driving demand and ensuring their products are compatible to be recycled with the existing systems,” she says.

PLASTICS is interested in funding projects like Material Recovery for the Future, which is assessing the potential of recycling all flexible packaging. Says Holmes, “We are working on how we can overcome the technical barriers to make sure that all plastics products are recyclable. Also, we are looking to extend the tools and the availability for recovery, and not just rely on mechanical recycling but also looking at chemical recycling opportunities. We are beginning to see an increasing interest in commercializing those technologies. For example, we can find Agilyx, a polystyrene chemical recycling system, or the case of Purecycle, which is using a patented technology to recycle PP that P&G has invested in.”

According to Adam Gendell, associate director of the Sustainable Packaging Coaliton (SPC), one of the biggest opportunities with plastic materials is the ability to use PCR content, however, it's also a challenge. “There are considerations around aesthetics, performance, and cost, but the use of PCR content creates a powerful market demand that ensures recyclable plastics actually get recycled and stay out of our oceans,” he says.

One example of this trend was recently presented by Berry Global with its first commercial PCR package: A Burt’s Bees tube yielding a maximum of 62% PCR, excluding the closure. This is achieved by using up to 53% PCR in the tube sleeve and up to 75% PCR in the tube shoulder.

“We found this PCR amount allows the tube to meet all the same quality, performance, and processing standards as non-PCR tubes,” says Robert Flores, the company’s director of sustainability. “We increased our maximum PCR percentage more than five-times with this new material blend, and added PCR to the tube shoulder for the first time. This far exceeds our previous PCR capabilities and greatly increases the amount of PCR we can use in our tubes.”

Also the global packaging processor Amcor is working with its costumers in increasing the use of PCR content, as stated by David Clark, vice president of Safety, Environment and Sustainability. Amcor joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Initiative as a Core Partner to help improve the recovery and recycling of plastic packaging. The vision of the project is to create a system where plastic packaging becomes a resource versus becoming waste.

Make sure to visit Re|focus Sustainability & Recycling Summit and Re|focus Zone, co-located events with NPE2018, where visitors can find information, technical solutions and participate in discussions around the use of PCR content in packaging.

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Get into the Zone: Re|focus

At NPE2018, the new Re|focus Zone displays the latest trends in sustainable solutions and green manufacturing. Something new to look for in the Re|focus Zone is the Sustainability Lounge, a space to learn about PLASTICS and how companies can get involved in the sustainable initiatives they offer.