Flexible packaging, such as pet food bags and snack pouches, offers several environmental benefits: it uses less energy and materials than other packaging options and reduces waste by protecting products and minimizing food spoilage.
But it’s typically not accepted in North American recycling programs, which means that flexible packaging usually ends up in landfills.
New research from Resource Recycling Systems (RSS), however, shows flexible packaging can be captured in single-stream materials recovery facilities (MRF) with automated sorting technologies in use today. This could create a new stream of recovered materials while improving the quality of other recycling streams.
The research was commissioned by Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF), a collaborative of brand owners, manufacturers and packaging industry organizations that want to improve recycling and increase recovery rates for flexible film and packaging options. MRFF members include Amcor, Dow Chemical, LyondellBasell, Nestlé Purina PetCare and Nestlé USA, PepsiCo, Plum Organics, Procter & Gamble, SC Johnson, Sealed Air and Target as well as the Association for Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, the Flexible Packaging Association, SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association and the American Chemistry Council.
“Flexible packaging has many positive attributes — highly efficient, great product protection, and low environmental impact. However, recovery has been one of its weak points,” said Brad Rodgers, foods packaging research and development director for discovery and sustainability at PepsiCo, in a statement. “This study is shedding light on pathways that can be deployed to improve flexible packaging end-of-life options.”
This first phase of the MRFF research program included baseline testing, equipment testing, and a series of recovery facility trials to test existing sortation technologies commonly used in MRFs, such as screens and optical scanners. RRS developed the test methodology and conducted the research trials.
Subsequent research will focus on further refinements to sorting technology, economic feasibility, assessing end-use markets for the material, and developing a recovery facility demonstration project.
The research follows MRFF member Dow’s launch of a new RecycleReady Technology that allows polyethylene-based barrier packaging to be recycled as part of existing grocery store drop-off recycling programs.