Designing recyclable packaging for a Circular Economy

Axion (Bramhall, United Kingdom) launch of a new Design for Recycling service aimed at helping the plastic packaging value chain ensures that packaging going into the market is optimized for end of life, while maintaining its primary function of product protection

The circular economy specialist’s service is aimed at a range of stakeholders in the food and beverage supply chain. This includes packaging designers, food manufacturers, brand owners and retailers who all have a vested interest in increasing the recyclability of plastic packaging and addressing the growing global problem of pollution from these short life, high-profile products.Axion Design packaging

This unique service also supports those working with industry initiatives to increase the recycling of plastics and develop end markets for recycled plastics. These include Courtauld 2025, the Plastics Industry Recycling Action Plan (PIRAP), the European Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) and the new Plastics Economy initiative.

In 2016, nearly 70% of the UK’s plastic packaging waste that was collected for recycling was exported, mainly to the Far East, according to latest WRAP figures. With the new National Sword initiative coming into effect in China, this level of export is unsustainable. To ensure recycling targets are met, ‘design for recycling’ will play a vital role in developing a more robust domestic recycling infrastructure.

Axion expects that there will be a push on producer responsibility that will require packaging to be collected and recycled. Brand owners taking action now on their packaging designs can future-proof them against forthcoming issues. This will help to gain a competitive edge in a more environmentally-focused consumer environment.

Richard McKinlay, Axion’s Head of Circular, responds to PlasticsToday’s additional questions.

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Why is Axion positioned for this undertaking and at this time?

McKinlay: Axion has been involved in providing consultancy services in the plastics packaging recycling sector for over 15 years. As a recycler ourselves, we fully understand the technological and commercial challenges of recycling and though out consultancy projects we have gained a very deep knowledge of the industry. As we have always been at the leading edge of recycling and resource recovery, we want to use this knowledge, along with an understanding of packaging design and function, to help improve the recyclability of products.

Recycling of packaging has developed in recent years, but has always focused heavily on PET and HDPE bottles in the UK, with a slightly wider focus across Europe. However, with growing consumer concern around recycling and increasing recycling targets, it’s now vital to target all plastics in packaging. In order to ensure recycling can be carried out, products must be designed correctly.

Does this proactively answer an unmet customer need? Are you aware of other such programs?

McKinlay: Understanding the waste treatment and recycling processes can be complicated, and some brands, retailers and converters do not have internal capacity to develop comprehensive understanding in this area. This is why there is a need to use external experts to bring hands on knowledge to the table when designing and specifying packaging. There is a clear call for packaging to be “recyclable” but how to achieve this can be less clear, and so this type of service and projects are likely to grow in the near future.  

Richard McKinlay of Axion Design

For what markets, products and packaging is this available?

McKinlay: We can offer this service in any country, although the reality of recycling is very different in different nations. The focus of the service is plastics packaging as this has the most complex end of life treatment, but we can advise on paper, glass and metal. Any packaging type, bottle, trays, films, can be included.

What’s done differently now?

McKinlay: Designers and packaging specifiers will be able to fully understand the reality of packaging recycling, enabling them to take this into account to produce the optimum packaging. Previously guidance on recyclability has been available, but this is often short-sighted without a practical understanding of the issues, or based on opinion rather than facts. This service draws on Axion’s years of experience to give real insight into the issues of packaging recyclability.

This is solely experience based advice?

McKinlay:  No quantitative tool is used as such, but the knowledge and experience gained by Axion is based on a range of quantitative projects and a scientific based approach.

Is this free for customers? And what are the benefits?

McKinlay: The service is not free, but ensuring packaging can be recycled could bring benefits such as lower producer responsibility fees in the future, a marketing advantage and demonstration of product stewardship. By identifying the characteristics that reduce the material’s value at end of life, we can suggest alternative choices that can be more readily recycled.

What’s the status—is any customer testing this yet?

McKinlay: Axion has worked with several brands over the years on design for recycling. What is new is that we have launched it as a dedicated service to reach a wider audience.

Final thoughts?

McKinlay: In order for plastic packaging to be recycled, it must be designed for recycling. It is no longer the responsibility of the local authorities, waste managers or recyclers to reach recycling targets alone, and a complete supply chain approach is needed. Recyclability begins at the design stage where informed decisions are vital.  Producer responsibility and consumer awareness are growing, and there is pressure for the brands, retailers and converters to address the issue. What they need is a reliable service to give the correct, informed, impartial advice.

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