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plastic bottles in trash

Crushing Containers Makes Them Harder to Recycle

plastic bottles in trashEducating consumers not to crush their recyclables can improve the rate at which these items are recovered by today’s single-steam material recovery facilities (MRFs). This is one of the key takeaways from a report prepared by Resource Recycling Systems (RRS) in conjunction with Reclay StewardEdge and Moore Recylcing Associates.

The MRF Material Flow Report was commission by the Carton Council, the American Chemistry Council, NAPCOR, the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, and the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI) to better understand the recyclability of their packaging. It examined the behavior of numerous individual products in five different MRFs — four single streams and one dual stream — to identify opportunities and obstacles regarding their recovery.

Plastic products studied included cups, clamshells, domes/trays, bottles, tubs, lids and other containers. Paper products studied included cups, ice cream containers, gable top and aseptic cartons and take-out food containers.

Key takeaways for packaging designers:

  • Form, material and rigidity have a significant effect on a product’s “sortability” in the MRF.
  • Lightweighting plastics can decrease their recovery in a single stream MRF due to loss to the paper streams.

Key takeaways for municipalities:

  • Regular communication with local MRFs can help municipalities better understand how accepted materials are behaving in the MRF and identify additional materials that could be added.
  • As the list of acceptable materials grows, residents should be continually educated to keep contamination to a minimum.

While dual stream MRFs offer the advantage of reducing the loss of plastics and other containers to the paper streams, they are declining nationally in favor of single stream systems, the report notes.

RRS conducted a survey last year for FPI’s Paper Recovery Alliance and Plastics Recovery Group, which found that contrary to popular perceptions, foodservice packaging has widespread acceptance by MRFs.

Photo: plastic bottles in the trash via Shutterstock

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