Plastic packaging producer Berry Global has joined The Recycling Partnership, a move it sees bringing direct benefits to the company and improvements to the recycling system as a whole.
Evansville, Ind.-headquartered Berry Global (formerly known as Berry Plastics) recently joined the recycling nonprofit group as a funding partner. The publicly traded company, which is an integrated plastics reclaimer and end user, has more than 130 locations around the world and 23,000-plus employees.
Robert Flores, Berry’s director of sustainability, recently explained why the company decided to join The Recycling Partnership.
How does joining The Recycling Partnership fit into Berry Global’s larger sustainability plans?
Our sustainability program has four focus areas: natural resources, climate change, waste and social responsibility. Recycling really touches all four. By recycling more materials, we will use less natural resources. Producing post-consumer resin (PCR) has been shown to generate less greenhouse gas emissions than virgin plastic, thereby decreasing impacts on climate change. Recycling is obviously very closely related to waste and our efforts to keep our products out of landfills, or even worse, the natural environment. And finally, for social responsibility, we see encouraging recycling as being extremely important in our efforts to be socially responsible.
What are the biggest issues in the recycling system that The Recycling Partnership is able to tackle?
The Recycling Partnership is addressing several of the biggest challenges to the recycling industry, including access, participation and quality.
Recycling really starts with access. If consumers don’t have access to recycle an item, then it is lost from the system. The Recycling Partnership is working with communities to expand access, not just in terms of households served but also in terms of materials accepted.
Regarding participation, in many cases consumers have access but don’t participate, whether because they have access but it isn’t convenient access or because of confusion about what is and isn’t recyclable. The Recycling Partnership is really data driven. They have lots of data on what does and doesn’t work, and they are partnering with communities to implement best practices to drive participation and increase pounds recycled per household.
In terms of quality, contamination is a major issue affecting the recycling industry. The Recycling Partnership is helping communities improve their recycling education. One of my favorite things they have done is “Oops!” tags to directly educate households with high contamination levels in a non-confrontational way.
How can spending money to support an outside group such as The Recycling Partnership directly benefit Berry Global?
One component is that our customers often ask us about incorporating PCR into their products. The Recycling Partnership is working to increase not only the quantity of material recycled, but they are also trying to decrease contamination to improve the quality of the recycling stream. Their efforts in both of these areas should make recycling more economical, which is important since the hurdle to using more PCR for some of our customers is the cost versus virgin resin.
Also, plastics typically use less natural resources, require less energy to produce and ultimately have a lower environmental impact compared to alternative materials, but plastics aren’t normally seen as being environmentally friendly by consumers. That is partly due to low recycling rates for plastics. As a global manufacturer of plastic products, we wanted to take an active role with this issue, which is why we are excited to partner with other leaders throughout the packaging value chain to improve recycling.
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