Everyone knows what recycling means, right? It’s not a new concept, and nearly all of us have been participating in recycling efforts for some time now. We likely have some sort of sanitation receptacle at home where we put all those things we’re told to recycle, and the contents of this container are collected on a regular basis by our municipal service. Pretty basic stuff by now.
But how much do we really know about this process? Would it surprise you to learn that not everything you faithfully plunk into that trusty collection receptacle ends up being recycled? Let’s look at recycling as it applies to labels and packaging (since that’s what we do!) and break it down by some of the common terminology out there that may be confusing to people.
It’s plastic, and plastic is recyclable, so…
As mentioned before, most of us probably toss things into recycling collection containers and just assume the process takes care of the rest. A plastic stand-up pouch probably ‘looks’ like something that can be readily recycled but may not be. For example, if a plastic stand-up pouch package is composed of more than one primary resin, or if the package is made up of different layers or laminations, it probably cannot be recycled with current methods and technology. Which brings us to our first recycling term – Recycle Ready. A recycle-ready package or component (flexible packaging, labels, and/or rigid container) has been designed and manufactured to enable recycling. For example, a two-layer flexible package can be designed and manufactured with both layers composed of polyethylene (PE). How about a labeled rigid container? A recycle-ready version may have a recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle and a recyclable label with wash-away adhesive, facilitating separation of the label and bottle for recycling.
Even properly designed, a recycle-ready package may need to be directed to a very specific recycling ‘stream’ to be recycled. Many of these specific stream collection points are appearing in supermarkets and other retail locations, and instructions for consumers are becoming more common on packaging requiring special handling. And a growing number of consumer-packaged goods companies (CPG’s) are utilizing recycle-ready packaging.
Consumers want to help
With the increasing emphasis on sustainability and protecting the environment, consumers are becoming more selective about brands they’ll support. They want to be ‘part of the solution’ as the saying goes, and one way to do that is buying products in packaging composed of Recycled Content. Recycled content refers to a package primarily composed of recycled material. The material will have come from one of two sources: Post-consumer or post-industrial. Without going into deep detail, post-consumer recycled material is derived from all those items tossed into the recycling bin at home which, after sorting, can be processed by current recycling methods. Post-industrial refers to those materials reclaimed in a manufacturing process. For instance, when making soda cans, aluminum is cut into a specific shape to accommodate the can molding process. Scraps from the cutting process are melted down and used again to make more cans.1 Both sources are beneficial and promote the efficient use of material in the packaging manufacturing process. Packaging created using recycled content is marked as such so consumers can make informed buying decisions. It is important to point out that not all packaging composed of recycled content is recyclable itself. The sustainable benefits were just realized at a different point. You can learn more about recycled content and recyclability by visiting this page on the Sustainable Packaging Coalition web site: Recycled Content vs. Recyclability. As a final note, recycling professionals recommend consumers rinse out and clean packaging prior to deposit in a collection bin.
The experts at AWT can help you understand all your options when it comes to sustainable packaging and labels and meet your organization’s sustainable goals.
1Sustainable Packaging Coalition