Recycled Packaging: The Ideal for End-of-Life
End-of-life planning must begin long before a package makes its way to a consumer. It requires a high degree of effort, intentionality, and commitment for a brand to implement more sustainable practices. Once a product reaches its end-of-life, there are numerous potential outcomes: re-using, recycling, composting, incineration, or sending to a landfill.
These scenarios are far from being equal. While both recycling and composting are both preferable options, recycling is the ideal end-of-life scenario. To illustrate, paper fibers can be recycled as much as 7 times before the fibers are no longer useful. If that same material is composted, those recyclable fibers are lost.
To continue our efforts toward global sustainability, Cascades Sonoco is deeply involved in the manufacturing and recycling of paper substrates and water-based coatings. Our line of FlexSHIELD, SurfSHIELD, and FluteSHIELD packaging solutions are certified recyclable and repulpable, and many solutions in the family of coatings are certified compostable.
An Inside Look at the Recycling Stream
Recycling is the process where used material is collected, processed, and remanufactured to create a new product. However, this process differs widely between pre-consumer and post-consumer material.
Industrial recycling is a direct process where materials and waste are gathered from the manufacturing facility and delivered to a source mill or broker to be recycled and used again. OCC material, or old corrugated cardboard, makes up a large portion of post-industrial recycling.
Because of the established relationship between these facilities, this recycling stream is reliable and efficient. Pre-consumer material remains clean, high-quality, and value-priced throughout the process.
Once a product enters commercialization, recycling becomes a more complex process. A product must journey between brands, consumers, and MRFs (Material Recovery Facility) before recyclable material is sold to the end-users or recycling plants. Most post-consumer recycling begins as mixed waste, which requires specialized cleaning equipment to remove municipal waste and packaging components like staples, plastic, glue, or other coatings.
The indirect relationship between consumers and MRFs can cause greater uncertainty about what should or shouldn’t be recycled, how to identify a product, and what the ultimate outcome should be.
As brands take on more responsibility for end-of-life packaging, they can help guide and instruct the consumer through this process. This requires intentional design, strenuous certifications, such as BPI certification, and clear labeling practices.
First, manufacturers must choose sustainable materials. In addition to the cost and availability of raw materials, manufacturers must consider new integrations into existing production lines. Product performance and visual appeal are also important factors.
After packaging is designed, manufacturers must undergo strict testing and certification processes in order to market its sustainable qualities. Once the material is certified, brands must also obtain certification on individual products to assess any added materials.
Now, the final product can be marketed and labeled as recyclable or compostable. Clearly communicating the materials and destination of packaging ensures that a product will move through MRFs and recycling plants as intended.
Since consumers play a critical role in this process, increased standardization in labeling and recycling awareness is crucial to the success of post-consumer recycling. Organizations like How2Recycle.info are at the forefront of this initiative.