Recyclable materials now accepted for store drop-off recycling
There’s no getting around it. A lot of flexible packaging is not curbside recyclable today.
That’s because films wrap around the recycling equipment and can cause significant downtime to the processors. Flexible packaging is typically constructed with multiple materials and therefore not conducive for mechanical recycling and is typically contaminated with food or other residue. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition has gone as far to deem flexible packaging “far and away the biggest and most challenging recyclable challenge facing brands.”
At its core, flexible packaging has loads of environmental benefits over traditional glass or rigid containers, such as material and resource efficiency, transportation benefits and extended shelf life. But as more flexible packaging applications fill store shelves, it’s creating headaches for environmental advocates.
There is a solution, however.
Store drop-off recycling initiatives are paving the way for consumers to recycle polyethylene films. Flexible plastics made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE), used in flexible packaging – such as pouches, stick packs and sachets, bubble mailers, and store grocery bags – are eligible for store drop-off recycling. (Look for those with a #2 or a #4 recycling code).
Consumers can simply take these items to their local participating retail location to recycle along with any plastic shopping bags.
Most major grocery chains have drop-off collection bins at the front of the store for these PE films, and it’s estimated that more than 225 million pounds of material is recycled each year.
As packaging manufacturers, it’s important to note that there are a few ways to create packaging that is eligible for store drop-off recycling.
First, the SPC has its How2Recycle program. With its ubiquitous label, How2Recycle indicates how and where products can be recycled. To carry the logo, materials and constructions must be certified from the How2Recycle program for eligibility. S-OneLP’s ReTreve family of materials is approved for this designation.
The material collected through store drop-off is recycled and given new life in a variety of applications, the most common being plastic shopping bags and wood-alternative lumber. Trex is a company that takes much of this material and turns it into decking and railings. Trex is considered one of the largest recyclers of PE plastic film in North America.
Each year, Trex diverts more than 450 million pounds of polyethylene plastic film, bags, and wrap from landfills in the making of its decking, the company says. Trex has its own recycling program, called NexTrex.
Much like How2Recyle, to qualify for the certified NexTrex designation, product packaging must first be tested to ensure that it meets the criteria for use in the Trex manufacturing process. Unlike How2Recycle, Trex does not require memberships or charge fees.
Once packaging is validated by Trex, a Certification of Acceptance will be issued to the brand owner and the brand will be authorized to use the NexTrex Recycled Packaging Label.
“By giving recycled plastic film a second life as high-performance, low-maintenance composite decking, Trex is providing a solution to manufacturers’ plastic waste concerns,” said Dave Heglas, Senior Director of supply chain excellence for Trex. “Our free package testing and labeling initiatives are intended to encourage more manufacturers to participate in the NexTrex program while ensuring that the plastic material we are collecting meets our high standards for production.”