How important is consumer education, particularly through the on-package How2Recycle label?
Russell: Consumer education is a major component of WRAP. We partner with state and local recycling agencies and grocery and retail stores to educate residents about how easy it is to bring their used PE film back to participating stores. In most cases, it’s as easy as grabbing a plastic shopping bag full of used film as you leave home to go grocery shopping. The How2Recycle label fulfills a critical role in the process because it reminds consumers to recycle via store-drop-off as they’re discarding an item. The consumer has the option to look at the item she’s holding in her hand for recycling information.
Can you comment on the Hefty Energy Bag program?
Russell: Not all plastics can be economically recycled today, but some innovative companies and cities are creating opportunities to use more of these valuable resources. The energy bag program is a terrific opportunity to collect these non-recycled plastics, which can help reduce contamination of existing recycling streams, and convert them into alternative energy that displaces the need for standard fuels such as oil, coal and petroleum coke. The City of Omaha should be commended for its leadership in implementing both energy bag and WRAP programs, and we hope to see this type of program spread throughout the country.
What’s the biggest challenge facing industry’s efforts to recycle flexible packaging?
Russell: Establishing mechanisms to collect used flexible packaging and growing end markets for recycled flexible packaging are current challenges. Most of the film and flexible packaging on the market today are made of PE, which—when kept clean and dry—can have high-value end markets. However, we’re looking to increase our nation’s ability to process and absorb all of the PE film we collect. Multi-material pouches present a different set of challenges. These items can contain multiple polymers and sometimes paper or metal. When aggregated for recycling, it’s difficult to identify the mixed materials and their characteristics in order to process them. Multi-material film might require additional processing steps, such as further separation, washing and densification.
Optimizing infrastructures to handle commercial and residential flexible packaging is critical, but work is still underway. Although WRAP has focused on residential sources, commercial film packaging makes up the greatest volume of material. ACC is working to better understand commercial film flows and logistics for recovery.
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