POWER Engineers

When it comes to recycling, many consumers don’t have a clue about how to do it properly. It’s not completely their fault. Sometimes it’s because of greenwashing. That’s when a food company intentionally tells consumers to “please recycle” on the front of a package when, in reality, the material is not routinely recyclable in most communities and out of compliance with the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides.

More often, it’s Murfs’ problem or an infrastructure issue. That’s when a majority of local materials recovery facilities (MRFs, pronounced “Murfs”) don’t accept a package because their systems aren’t designed to handle it, or the package contains a blend of plastic resins or materials that make it difficult to separate, recycle or reuse.

To clear up the confusion and streamline the recycling process, GreenBlue, a nonprofit organization, and its Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) are launching a pilot program of the Packaging Recovery Label System to test how to clearly and consistently communicate with consumers about how to properly recycle the various packaging components after they use them. Starting in 2012, five companies such as ConAgra Foods and Costco plan to begin using the label nationwide on a subset of their packages, according to GreenBlue.

Because municipal MRFs vary significantly on what they recycle, the label indicates what’s widely recycled, such as paper bags; what’s not recycled, such as certain plastic films; and, most importantly, when consumers need to check locally with their community to see if packages such as a plastic tray is accepted or not.

That’s because nearly each local recycling program has different requirements, noted Anne Bedarf, senior project manager, GreenBlue. “With ‘check locally,’ 20% to 60% of the population has access to recycling of that material,” she explained. “Given that our recycling infrastructure is so varied, we cannot say definitely if something is recyclable or not.  It depends on the availability, the reprocessors and what kind of treatment the package had.”

In the baking industry, clamshells — primarily those used by in-store bakeries — pose one of the greatest challenges for recyclers, according to Ms. Bedarf. They’re made using a variety of plastics and use a variety of label adhesives, making them difficult for MRFs to easily identify in today’s systems. In Canada, she added, there is a push by Wal-Mart to require all clamshells to be made solely of PET materials to make them more easily identifiable and therefore recyclable. Unfortunately, the program may thwart efforts to create clamshells and other packages made using a blend of virgin and post-consumer materials. It’s one of the many Catch-22s in the complicated world of recycling.

This story is sponsored by POWER Engineers, which has one of the most comprehensive teams of engineers and specialists serving the baking and snack industry. As an extension of its clients' engineering teams, the company provides program management, integrated solutions and full facility design for the baking and snack industry. Learn more at www.powereng.com/food.