The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries' (ISRI) MRF Council held a forum in early November on the potential recyclability of several consumer products packaging items. With more than 60 people participating, including recyclers of plastics, paper and, metals; private, for-profit MRF operators representing more than 200 material recovery and recycling facilities across the country; municipal MRF operators; recycled material end-users, including paper mills and plastics reformulators; brokers, and trade associations, the meeting brought together a large cross section of the industry with different vantage points.
"This meeting was an important first step in bringing together representatives of key sectors in the recycling chain for a discussion focused on the potential challenges, as well as the opportunities, presented by the ever-changing stream of consumer products entering recycling in order to develop mutually agreeable solutions," said Robin Wiener, president of ISRI. "Successful recycling requires that everyone, from the manufacturers to the recyclers (including the MRFs) and ultimately to the material end-users and consumer brand companies, come together to better understand the technical, economic, and other requirements of each stage of the chain."
ISRI invited the following three organizations to present regarding all of the work each has done to date:
- Keurig Green Mountain, Inc. for its K-Cup® pods;
- Foodservice Packaging Institute to discuss paper and plastic cups and take-out containers; and
- The "Energy bag" program regarding flexible film packaging
Discussions followed regarding the potential impact that these items could have on the curbside recycling stream and both current and future efforts that are being made to improve their potential recyclability. The discussion was centered on balancing the desire of consumers to purchase and use products that will get recycled with the challenge recyclers and end-users are facing due to increased contamination and processing costs. No decision was made by ISRI regarding the recyclability of these items, or how these would fit into the ISRI Specifications Circular. ISRI plans further discussions and collaboration with these organizations and others in the future.
"Given the current high levels of contamination at curbside, combined with China's significant reduction in allowable "carried waste" in recyclables entering its market, the need to work together before any new materials enter the recycling stream has never been more important," said Wiener. "ISRI's Specifications are an important tool to help facilitate those discussions and ensure that the needs of the global market are met."
"While there is a common desire to increase recycling with greater volume of materials, a successful curbside recovery program also requires a high quality stream so the products produced from recycling can meet the exacting specifications rightfully demanded by the end users. Introducing new products without proper vetting could only further increase levels of contamination which is why ISRI is grateful for the work and involvement of all those in attendance on Tuesday."
Moving forward the ISRI MRF Council will continue efforts to work with brands, manufacturers, and other trade associations to better establish the recyclability of different products. It will continue to develop tools and policies regarding the challenges and opportunities MRFs currently face with effort to reduce the level of contamination and increase recycling rates.