A new study aimed at keeping flexible packaging out of landfills and getting it through recycling centers, where it can be recovered like the glass and aluminum containers it is replacing, is bringing together brand owners, manufacturers and other industry leaders.
Flexible packaging is often blamed for gumming up the equipment at material recovery facilities (MRFs) so the initial phase of this first-of-its-kind study — called Materials Recovery for the Future — will monitor how these items move through sortation technologies, like screens and optical scanners, at recycling centers.
The test methodology developed by consulting group Resource Recycling Systems calls for adding a representative mix of the flexible packaging used by consumers — resealable food packages, soup and tuna pouches, pet food bags and snack bags — into a stream of recyclables going through the sorters. The amount of flexible packaging that is captured in the resulting bale then will be measured to determine the sorting effectiveness.
“We believe that data from this collaborative research will help us learn how to recover and divert more valuable resins from landfills,” Diane Herndon, sustainability manager for Nestle Purina PetCare Co., said in a news release.
Nestle USA, PepsiCo and Procter & Gamble are among the project sponsors along with Dow Chemical Co., Sealed Air, SC Johnson, the Association for Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, the Flexible Packaging Association and the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. The group's goal is to enhance recovery solutions for flexible film and packaging using existing technologies.
The packaging is becoming increasingly more popular for a variety of reasons, according to Jeff Wooster, global sustainability director for Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics.
“Flexible packaging offers many benefits we take for granted,” Wooster said in the news release. “It typically uses less energy and materials than other packaging options, helps extend food shelf life and minimize spoilage, and reduces waste by preserving and protecting products until they are consumed. This new sortation research is critical in helping to close the recovery loop for flexible packaging and we are committed to this collaboration to drive solutions for increased recovery rates.”
The research will be a part of a series of projects to create a mainstream recovery system for flexible packaging using technology currently in place. The results are expected to be published in the second quarter of 2016.
A non-profit group called the Research Foundation for Health and Environmental Effects, which was established by the American Chemistry Council, launched the Materials Recovery for the Future project.