The Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers (APR) has launched new online resources created to help grocery chains recycle more of the plastic containers they use and empty onsite. The program is aimed at recycling the 350 million pounds of rigid plastic containers that are generated annually by more than 35,000 mid-sized to large U.S. supermarkets.
APR created a website that includes a how-to guide, technical service assistance, an educational video series, a list of companies that purchase recovered plastics, worksheets to evaluate potential cost savings and revenue, and customizable training materials.
Grocery stores can help stimulate the incremental growth of rigid plastics recovery by increasing the feedstock volumes flowing to North American plastics reclaimers, APR stated.
The association said that with rapidly increased demand for recycled-content plastic packaging, grocery stores play an important role in new recycling opportunities.
"Plastic containers represent a valuable resource for recyclers and a potential revenue stream for the grocers who collect and recycle them," said Steve Alexander, president and CEO of APR, in the news release.
Used HDPE and PP rigid plastic containers are primarily generated in a store's bakery, deli, seafood and pharmacy departments, according to APR.
Many national supermarkets and retailers have already taken a role in adopting sustainable packaging practices in an effort to increase recycling rates while also reducing waste. For instance, supermarket chain Publix has offered in-store recycling of paper and plastic bags since the mid-1970s, Maria Brous, Publix director of media and community relations told PlasticsToday.
In 2011, the company's overall recycling rate was about 49%.
"Often times, packaging is excessive in comparison to the actual product in the package," she said. "By continuing to reduce packaging excess, we become increasingly more efficient, allowing us to ship and store more products while reducing the amount of resources needed to operate our supply chain."
Supermarket chain Kroger has a plastic recycling program where plastic bags, dry-cleaning bags and plastic shrink-wrap can be recycled in all stores. Plastic bags are collected and recycled into other products like plastic landscape and other plastic bags.
This program resulted in 26 million pounds of plastic being recycled from stores and distribution centers in 2010, according to the company.
Since various stores already have programs that recycle cardboard and plastic film, APR believes that expanding those programs to also include plastic containers is a natural fit.
"Many grocery chains have excellent recycling programs already in place. Our new program makes it easy for grocers to generate additional value and strengthen their sustainability efforts by recycling more of the plastics they use every day," Alexander said.
The "Recycle Grocery Rigid Plastics" program has been piloted at Hannaford Supermarkets, a subsidiary of Delhaize America, and the Stop & Shop Supermarket Company, a subsidiary of Ahold USA.
"Recycling plastic containers clearly plays a role in our zero waste strategy," said Christine Gallagher, manager of corporate responsibility for Ahold USA. "Throwing away recyclables is like throwing away money. Waste diversion programs like this can generate cost savings by reducing trash volume. Our stores end up paying less to have their trash removed because there is less to throw away."
APR said both supermarkets are exploring the implementation of full-scale programs to collect plastic containers at all of their locations.
"Hannaford has a long tradition of stewardship. Recycling rigid plastic containers is an important part of Hannaford's efforts to move toward zero waste and to reduce our carbon footprint," said George Parmenter, manager of sustainability for Hannaford Supermarkets. "This work hits that sustainability sweet spot, where what's good for business meets what's good for the planet."
This program was funded in part with a grant provided by the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council.