A trio of reasons is helping to hold back recycling of plastic packaging into food-grade post-consumer resin, according to new research.
Consulting firm Stina Inc., in a report for the Canadian government, is out with a new look at factors limiting the greater use of used packaging to create food applications.
Stina, formerly known as More Recycling, conducted interviews with 16 organizations and companies associated with plastic packaging as part of its research that determined the reasons for the disconnect.
Work on the report titled "Assessing the State of Food Grade Recycled Resin in Canada & the United States" was initiated by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) as that country looks to increase use of post-consumer resin (PCR).
Stina found three key impediments in the current market:
The package or product was initially produced using nonfood-grade resin.
Converters add nonfood-safe additives during product or packaging production.
Packaged products leach nonfood-safe contaminants into the package.
"While there are pathways to make gains in the supply and use of PCR in food-contact applications, much more effort and investment, from across the value chain, will be required to support the Government of Canada's target of 50 percent PCR content by 2030," the report states.
"Given that reclaimers stated they would expand capacity if there was more supply of recyclables, the focus should be on supporting production of products that are suitable for food contact and getting that material collected.
"While there is growth in PET bottle production, a good source for food contact PCR, generation of natural HDPE [high density polyethylene] bottles is declining. However, use of PE film and flexibles, currently a challenging application in terms of collection, recyclability and to produce suitable food-grade PCR, is increasing.
"There is a need for a holistic, systems-based approach to more recovery and reduction of environmental impact from plastics," the report states.
Stina's work focuses on traditional mechanical recycling of plastics to create food-grade resin. Interviewees include companies that produce or consume post-consumer PET, HDPE and polypropylene. Those are the three main resins used in food packaging and as well as the three post-consumer resins mainly used in food packaging.
"In Canada and the United States, the vast majority of plastic products and packaging produced each year and placed on the market is not suitable for processing into food-grade PCR. Out of all the plastic produced, packaging is the primary focus area for sources of suitable plastic for use in PCR for food-contact applications," the report states. "Within the packaging portion, the focus is on rigid plastics (predominantly PET and natural HDPE bottles)."
One barrier to expanding use of recycled resin is simply supply. "Flat or declining recycling rates for the three main plastic categories used in food-grade packaging means that there is very little source material available to be recycled back into food-grade recycled resin," the report states.
Stina conducted a total of 16 interviews, including two trade groups, two global equipment manufacturers, five reclaimers and recyclers, four consumer packaged goods companies and three large packaging converters.