Small plastic items such as travel shampoo bottles often cannot be captured at materials recovery facilities. | Kris Black/Shutterstock

Five brands have partnered with a nonprofit and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to find a way to keep small plastic items in the recycling stream.

Colgate-Palmolive, Procter & Gamble, the Estée Lauder Companies, L’Oreal and Haleon want to make their small format plastic products – those less than two inches long – compatible with MRF collection systems.

The MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative and nonprofit The Sustainability Consortium are working on a prototype that could make this goal a reality. The companies want the solution to work with the products exactly as they’re currently manufactured, which means handling a wide range of resins and shapes. 

The prototype will ideally be developed into an inexpensive piece of sorting equipment that can be easily integrated into a MRF’s current technology. 

Jennifer Park, collective action manager at The Sustainability Consortium, told MIT News that the project is an example of pre-competitive collaboration and an interesting approach to brand sustainability goals. 

“They’re investing in innovations that they hope will be adopted by the recycling industry to make progress on their own sustainability goals,” Park said. 

She added that the “companies manufacturing these products recognize that they cannot shift entire systems on their own.” 

“Consistency around what is and is not recyclable is the only way to avoid confusion and drive impact at scale.”

A version of this story appeared in Resource Recycling on Feb. 13.

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