When it comes to recycling, if you have ever been frustrated by hard to find triangles, tiny numbers or complicated rules, you are not alone. Let’s face it, plastic recycling can be confusing (even to professionals like us) and tossing an item into a recycling bin can sometimes feel more like a guessing game than it should. As a result our waste streams often end up polluted with intermingled recyclables increasing the “cost of sustainability”. So what can be done to solve this conundrum?
Perhaps one reason for the confusion is that the Resin Identification Code (RIC) system was originally developed to identify resin content, rather than product recyclability. In fact, as mentioned in my previous blog, to reduce consumer confusion the ASTM International Subcommittee on Recycled Plastics is working on major enhancements to the Standards Practice for Coding Plastic Manufactured Articles for Resin Identification – replacing the chasing arrows graphic commonly associated with recycling with an equilateral triangle.
In the meantime, one approach taken by many local governments to combat the continued confusion over this issue (described by Pat Reynolds in his recent Packaging World article “Of Master Recyclers and Radiolarians”) has been to offer programs designed to teach interested citizens to become Master Recyclers. In these classes residents can stay current on the latest waste trends and learn important lessons to help them recycle with confidence - such as to never toss multi-material stand-up pouches in your home recycling bin with highly desirable PET and HDPE bottles.
Another approach is to work towards creating a standardized on package labeling system (such as the How2Recyle labeling system soft launched in 2013) that more clearly communicates recycling instructions.
While we think both of these approaches certainly have merit, at TEQ we also believe that those responsible for package design and development need to consider ease of recyclability when creating packaging and packaging systems. In other words, with so much confusion, some of the responsibility falls back on us to make the consumer’s job easier.
One way we have done this at TEQ is to incorporate distortion printing into our package design – a process that allows us to print the design and label directly onto plastic, making the product more easily recyclable without raising questions about contamination. Items such as these can be reground and used in darker color packaging for a variety of uses, including food packaging if a co-extruded layer of thin virgin material is used on the direct food side of the tray/lid.
Another solution we have developed is TEQethylene™, a mono-polymer sterile barrier system that is more easily recycled as it alleviates the need for medical staff to properly sort the different plastics that typically make up medical packaging.
What about you? Has your business or industry developed any solutions to help put an end to the recycling guessing game?