Report says used food-service is surprisingly clean and recyclable

By Jim Johnson
Senior Staff Reporter

Published: December 5, 2013 2:45 pm ET
Updated: December 5, 2013 2:48 pm ET

Related to this story

Topics Sustainability, Food service, Packaging, Recycling

Move over chowder, Boston now also can be known for its wicked clean recycling stream.

One trade group is hoping that the results of a recent survey of recyclables, plucked from the curbsides of different city neighborhoods, will prove that food-service packaging is a candidate for recycling not just in Boston, but around the country.

Long considered a problematic source of material for recycling because of the dangers of food contamination, food-service items like plastic lids and tubs and clamshells are not routinely recycled.

The small Boston study also examined other food-service packaging such as corrugated and mixed paper, aluminum cans, foils and pans. A ton of food-service packaging material was randomly selected around town and examined piece by piece to determine contamination levels.

Using a rating scale of 1 to 5, depending on the level of food waste on each item, the study found what has been described as an exceptionally clean steam of food-service packaging.

And that gives the folks at the Foodservice Packaging Institute, a trade group that sponsored the study, hope. But the Falls Church, Va.-based group also cautioned there is more work to do beyond this initial examination.

The recent survey comes following the creation of two independent working groups within FPI to work on voluntary efforts to increase the recovery of food-service packaging, one focusing on plastics and one focusing on paper.

Of particular interest in the food-service packaging mix are cups, containers, boxes and bags as they represent more than 65 percent of those materials.

A key focus, said senior consultant Keefe Harrison of Resource Recycling Systems, “is really engaging the marketplace to accept more of these materials.” Her organization worked with FPI on the study, and Harrison lead a webinar on the results last week.

Ted Siegler is a resource economist with DSM Environmental Services Inc., a Windsor, Vt.-based company that helped conduct the food-service packaging inspection.

Results showed that there was no appreciable difference between the contamination levels of plastic food-service packaging and food contact packaging, Siegler said. Food-service packaging comes from places like restaurants and delis while food contact packaging comes from places like grocery stores.

Packaging was pulled from four different areas of Boston and examined over a four-day period that yielded consistent results, according to Siegler. For example, a sort of plastic food service packaging collected in South Boston showed that 89 percent of that packaging evaluated for the day was considered very clean. That compared to 83 percent of the food contact packaging that also received the highest ranking.

Trend lines, across the four days, show “no appreciable difference” in the level of contamination between food-service and food contact packaging, he said.

FPI calls the results very encouraging with trade group President Lynn M. Dyer indicating contamination might end up being a perceived barrier to recycling.

Those involved in the survey also offered some words of caution.

“However, and this is a really big however, all recyclables that we sorted from all of the areas of the city were exceptionally clean when compared to other cities that we have sorted in,” Siegler said. “So the results may not be representative of cities other than Boston.”

While those involved in the study do not have definite answers regarding why the food-service packaging stream was so clean, there were a couple of possible reasons mentioned during the webinar.

Education through long-standing recycling programs in Boston and surrounding communities could be one potential factor.

“Another reason may be that because a lot of dwelling units are small and tight and there’s not a lot of storage room, that most of the recycling storage is done in the home and, therefore, people are pretty careful about keeping it pretty clean. But that’s just pure speculation. I don’t know why it was so clean,” Siegler said.


Comments

Report says used food-service is surprisingly clean and recyclable

By Jim Johnson
Senior Staff Reporter

Published: December 5, 2013 2:45 pm ET
Updated: December 5, 2013 2:48 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Plastics industry blasted for stance in green building debate

July 22, 2014 2:45 pm ET

The plastics industry has taken high-profile stance in the debate over green building standards. The result, today at least, is that it's getting...    More

Image

Plastics help designers bring home the gold

July 22, 2014 2:15 pm ET

Products with polymer content received multiple gold recognitions in the 2014 International Design Excellence Awards.    More

Image

Evolving with the times helps Ohio's Midwest Elastomers prosper

July 22, 2014 12:53 pm ET

Midwest Elastomers Inc. is 35 years old this year, and if the company hadn't abandoned its roots and evolved, it long ago could have gone the way of...    More

Image

Beer maker Carlsberg enlists suppliers for 'upcycling' project

July 22, 2014 11:14 am ET

Carlsberg Breweries A/S in Denmark has started an ambitious project with its suppliers to optimize its packaging for the purpose of “upcycling....    More

Image

Global market for plastic containers to top 46 million metric tons by 2021

July 22, 2014 10:56 am ET

German research company Ceresana has released a study saying that it expects the global market for plastic containers to rise to 46.2 million metric t...    More

Market Reports

Injection Molders Market Report & Ranking 2014

This special package contains our 132-page 2014 Market Report on the Injection Molding segment and our exclusive 2014 RANKINGS database of 500+ Injection Molders for a discounted package price.

Learn more

Plastics Recycling Market Review & Outlook 2014

This special report from Plastics News examines the North American plastics recycling industry and provides insight into indicators that impact market viability, including Resin pricing trends for virgin and recycled market material and historical Resin production trends for post- consumer and industrial waste.

Learn more

Shale Gas Market - Analysis of North American Region

This report highlights the impact of shale-based natural gas on the North American plastics market and features an in-depth analysis of production trends in the United States during 2013 and a forecast for 2014 and beyond.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

September 10, 2014 - September 12, 2014Plastics Caps & Closures 2014

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events