The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries’ (ISRI’s) MRF Council held a forum during the association's board of directors meeting this week on the potential recyclability of several consumer products packaging items. Included among the 60-plus people participating in the meeting were plastics, paper and metals recyclers; private, for-profit material recovery facility (MRF) operators representing more than 200 MRFS and recycling facilities across the country; municipal MRF operators; recycled material end users, including paper mills and plastics reformulators; brokers; and trade associations.
“Tuesday’s meeting was an important first step in bringing together representatives of key sectors in the recycling chain for a discussion focused on the potential challenges, as well as the opportunities, presented by the ever-changing stream of consumer products entering recycling in order to develop mutually agreeable solutions,” says Robin Wiener, president of ISRI, which is based in Washington. “Successful recycling requires that everyone, from the manufacturers to the recyclers (including the MRFs) and ultimately to the material end users and consumer brand companies, come together to better understand the technical, economic and other requirements of each stage of the chain.”
ISRI invited three organizations to present regarding the work each has done to date related to recycling:
- Keurig Green Mountain Inc. for its K-Cup pods;
- the Foodservice Packaging Institute to discuss paper and plastic cups and takeout containers; and
- the “Energy bag” program regarding flexible film packaging.
Discussions followed regarding the potential impact these items could have on the curbside recycling stream and current and future efforts to improve their potential recyclability. The discussion was centered on balancing the desire of consumers to purchase and use products that will get recycled with the challenge recyclers and end users face from increased contamination and processing costs.
ISRI says it made no decision regarding the recyclability of these items or how they would fit into its “Scrap Specifications Circular" during the meeting. The association says it plans further discussions and collaboration with these organizations and others in the future.
“Given the current high levels of contamination at curbside, combined with China’s significant reduction in allowable ‘carried waste’ in recyclables entering its market, the need to work together before any new materials enter the recycling stream has never been more important,” Wiener says. “ISRI’s specifications are an important tool to help facilitate those discussions and ensure that the needs of the global market are met.”
She continues, “While there is a common desire to increase recycling with a greater volume of materials, a successful curbside recovery program also requires a high-quality stream so the products produced from recycling can meet the exacting specifications rightfully demanded by the end users. Introducing new products without proper vetting could only further increase levels of contamination, which is why ISRI is grateful for the work and involvement of all those in attendance on Tuesday.”
ISRI’s MRF Council says it will continue efforts to work with brands, manufacturers and other trade associations to better establish the recyclability of different products and to develop tools and policies.