Everybody is talking about sustainability lately. It’s certainly a buzzword in commerce, and companies are clamoring to communicate how ‘environmentally-friendly’ their processes and products are. But what does it really mean to be ‘sustainable?’ Let’s take a look at it from a packaging perspective, since that’s our business!
We at AWT have recently developed a flexible package which meets many sustainability requirements. Primarily, this package is capable of being recycled, allowing the plastic material to be used again as another package or something else. So you’d assume that once the “recycle ready” package has served its purpose and is ready to be discarded, you could plop it into a recycling receptacle and all would be right with the world. That would be wonderful, but we’re not quite there yet! Here’s why.
It’s a Local Thing
Recycling is a process handled largely at the municipal level in the U.S. by local material recycling facilities (MRFs). Without getting too deep into the complexities of single and multi-stream MRF processes, there are very specific materials that can be handled by each facility. Materials outside of the capabilities of a given facility will sometimes be sent to a secondary sort facility, where a broader range of recyclable materials can be handled. But just as often, the first facility is the last stop before remaining materials are sent to landfills, unless the package recycle status is clearly identified.
Go With the Flow–in the Right Stream, That Is
So our package needs to be ‘directed’ to the proper stream in order for it to live up to its recyclable claim. The end user, which in the case of our package will be a consumer, will need instructions as to how this package should be prepared, and where it should go in order for it to be recycled. Fortunately there are a good number of excellent resources providing this direction. One of these standards is How2Recycle (www.how2recycle.info). This organization has developed a standardized labeling system to clearly communicate recycling instructions to the public. Depending on the package type and the material composition, How2Recycle will provide the necessary instruction to get the package into the proper recycling stream. Take our plastic flexible pouch, for example. Ultimately one of our customers will employ this pouch as a package for one of their consumer products. After going through the process to have this package evaluated, and assuming they have gone through the necessary steps to become a How2Recycle member, they will be provided with a graphic similar to this to be printed on the package.*
As you can see, this graphic clearly indicates to the consumer that the package will need to be cleaned and dried prior to being introduced into the recycling stream. It also informs the consumer that ‘Store Drop-off’ is the preferred destination to ensure the package gets into its proper stream. Obviously this label only applies to bags made of plastic, but there are labels pertaining to metal cans; glass bottles and jars; paper packaging; and most other conventional packaging methods.
Eventually We’ll Get There
This seems like a lot to have to do in order to ensure a package gets recycled. But consider how far recycling technology has come, and the benefits of recycling to our environment. Most consumers have no problem doing what they can in order to ensure a healthier planet, and will gladly participate if they know what to do. It will be nice when the technology advances to the point that anything capable of being recycled can all be sent to one process, but until then we need to all pitch in.
AWT offers a variety of sustainable materials capable of being recycled, as well as compostable and bio-degradable materials. Our experts can help you decide which options are right for your packaging strategy, and make sure you are communicating the sustainable benefits of your package and/or label. Visit our web site for more information about sustainability options – www.awtlabelpack.com
*Only members of ‘how2recycle.info’ who have submitted package specifications can feature the label on their package.