Written by: RSE Staff on September 30, 2014

As discussed in our previous blog post, product packaging is an integral element for businesses to easily transport, promote, and protect their products. Plastic, paperboard, metal, and glass are some of the most popular and widely used packaging materials today. These packaging materials are highly valuable and can be recycled post use through the various recycling streams such as blue box collection programs and deposit return systems across Canada and the United States. Despite its value and recyclability, an alarming rate of plastic, paperboard, metal and glass packaging are ending up in landfills. Industry leaders are working diligently to address this challenge and are exploring new opportunities to increase the diversion of packaging materials from the waste stream.

PAC NEXT recently held a webinar and invited industry leaders to address opportunities and challenges for recovery and recycling of packaging materials and we have outlined some of the key takeaways from the event:

Plastics Industry

Erica Ocampo, Sustainability & Advocacy Manager at The Dow Chemical Company

Some plastic packaging types are more conducive to recycling than others. For example, plastic beverage bottles are more likely to be included in local recycling programs versus other plastic packaging such as candy wrappers. In order to divert a higher amount of plastic from the waste stream, Erica Ocampo, Sustainability & Advocacy Manager at The Dow Chemical Company argues that it requires industry to look beyond recycling into other tiers of the waste diversion hierarchy. Initiatives such as The Energy Bag Pilot Project in Citrus Heights, co-sponsored by The Dow Chemical Company, aims to address this exact gap by collecting plastic items that were previously treated as waste (e.g. frozen food wrappers, candy wrappers and plastic dinnerware) in purple “energy bags” for the purposes of energy recovery. The three month pilot program has the capacity to generate 600,000 kWh of electricity with the participation of the entire Citrus Heights community.

Paperboard Industry

John Mullinder, Executive Director at Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council

Paperboard packaging materials that are put out for recycling and free of contamination are largely recycled. According to John Mullinder, Executive Director at Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC), despite its recyclability, one of the most significant challenges faced by the paper packaging industry is the relative cost of recycling to landfill. Regardless of the economic barrier, PPEC is serious about keeping paper packaging out of landfills. PPEC estimates that banning old corrugated containers (OCC) from Ontario and Quebec landfills would reduce GHG emissions by as much as 85,000 tonnes. PPEC launched a website earlier this year to provide accurate, concise and current information to customers and consumers of OCC about paper packaging material and continues to urge Canadian provinces to ban OCC from landfills.

Metals Industry

Megan Daum, VP of Sustainability at Can Manufacturers Institute

Megan Daum, VP of Sustainability at Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) views metal packaging as a permanent resource for current and future generations. With 100% recyclability, it’s hard to argue otherwise. Despite its value, recycling rates for both steel and aluminum are relatively low. According to the CMI’s sustainability report, current recycling rates of steel food cans are at 70.8% and aluminum beverage cans are at 65.1%.  Curbside Value Partnership is an initiative, founded by CMI and the Aluminum Association, to engage all recycling stakeholders in identifying solutions to increase participation in curbside collection of valuable recyclable materials. Education and promotion of recyclability alongside community engagement can significantly increase recovery rates.

Glass Industry

Dan Heimann, Director of Cullet at Owens-Illinois

Glass is 100% recyclable and can be recycled indefinitely without loss or impurity yet despite its value, according to Dan Heimann, Director of Cullet at Owens-Illinois (O-I), only 25% of post-consumer glass is recycled.  Such low recycling rates are largely due to contamination that occurs at both the collection and processing stages of glass recycling. Glass packaging innovation and extended producer responsibility were some of the potential solutions discussed during this webinar. As the world’s leading glass container manufacturer, O-I has set ambitious sustainability goals and one goal is to increase the use of post-consumer recycled glass at all O-I plants to achieve a global average of 60%.

Our Thoughts…

Often we come across questions like, “How do we recycle our packaging?” and “How much would it cost to recycle our packaging?” and more often than not, the result demands heavy financial investments and time.

At Reclay StewardEdge we view packaging along the product stewardship continuum. This continuum spans the lifecycle of products from inception to end-of-life. At each point along the lifecycle, decisions must be made that ultimately impact our collective ability to create a circular material flow. Recycling is one aspect of sustainability and although it’s a top priority and should remain so, we must also focus on redesigning our products to be more resource efficient in order to keep primary materials flowing in the circular economy.  In this way, we can achieve the necessary shift in our understanding of waste as a valuable resource.