Written by: Betsy Dorn in March 2013 for Resource Recycling

The Foodservice Packaging Institute’s (FPI) ongoing packaging recovery initiative is seeking to capture more of what’s being thrown away at restaurants and other establishments where foodservice packaging is found. This article describes the group’s progress, the biggest challenges they’ve encountered and how FPI is working to address them.

In the world of packaging waste recovery, the focus to date has been on capturing high-value, high-tonnage materials. However, as consumer interest has grown in doing what’s “right for the environment,” so has the interest in recovering less prevalent, seemingly more problematic materials. Used foodservice packaging (FSP) fits in this category. Although less than 3 percent of the total municipal solid waste stream by weight, FSP is, of course, highly visible to consumers.

Paper and plastic FSP is made from a wide variety of material types, including paper and coated boards, molded pulp, rigid and expanded polystyrene (PS and EPS, respectively), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polylactic acid (PLA) (see Figure 1 on page 32). These materials, while often recyclable when sourced as independent resin and fiber types, create recovery challenges as they are typically combined at the point of sale (think paper cup with plastic lid) and sometimes end up with food and beverage residue after use. Consequently, there is uncertainty as to the quality levels of the recovered materials. And to complicate matters, approximately three quarters of FSP at a typical fast food restaurant “walks out the door” and travels to homes, workplaces and public venues, scattering supply about and making economic recovery all the more challenging.

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