plastic food packagingTo be marketed as “recyclable,” which criteria should a product or packaging have to meet? Two major plastics recycling groups have announced the four conditions they believe should be met.

The Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) and Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE) issued a joint announcement with the four conditions they say must be met before a plastic item is considered recyclable:

  1. The product must be made with a plastic that is collected for recycling, has market value and/or is supported by a legislatively mandated program.
  2. The product must be sorted and aggregated into defined streams for recycling processes.
  3. The product can be processed and reclaimed/recycled with commercial recycling processes.
  4. The recycled plastic becomes a raw material that is used in the production of new products.

This definition has also been supported by European PET recycling group Petcore Europe.

“The use of the term ‘recyclable’ is consistently used with packages and products without a defined reference point,” Steve Alexander, president and CEO of APR, stated in a press release. “At the end of the day, recyclability goes beyond just being technically recyclable. There must be consumer access to a recycling program, a recycler must be able to process the material and there must be an end market.”

In an interview with Plastics Recycling Update, Alexander noted that, for many brand owners and others, the criterion for “recyclable” has been whether 60 percent of households have access to recycling the material type. The 60 percent number comes from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides.

“We need to look beyond just access,” he said.

Alexander said products have been put on the market that might be accepted in a majority of recycling programs, but they have problematic inks, adhesives, metal components or other attributes that hinder recycling.

“Often it’s inadvertent on the part of brands,” Alexander said. “They didn’t know they were causing problems. We want to be their conduit to a circular economy.”

In the press release, Ton Emans, president of PRE, noted the recent slew of announcements in Europe about legislature measures and industry pledges related to recyclability.

“As recyclers, we are a fundamental part of the solution to the issue of sustainability of plastics, and we need for the appropriate audiences to understand what is necessary to label a product or package ‘recyclable,'” he stated. “We welcome these commitments and encourage others to follow. Nevertheless, clear and universally endorsed definitions and objectives are needed.”

Photo credit: Evgeniy Kalinovskiy/Shutterstock

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