Pictured above, from left: John Layman of
P&G, who served as moderator; Pam Oksiuta of SC Johnson;
Kelly Murosky of Seventh Generation; and Sarah Dearman of Coca-Cola
For recycling to be successful, brand owners must commit to designing products and packaging that are recyclable as well as to consuming recycled materials in the manufacturing of their products. Representatives from Seventh Generation, Coca-Cola and SC Johnson shared their commitments in these areas during one of the plenary sessions at Plastics Recycling 2018 titled Brand Owners Perspective on PCR.
While Ziploc bags and other plastic film can be recycled through store take-back programs, Pam Oksiuta, senior director of global sustainability at SC Johnson, Racine, Wisconsin, said, “We believe there is a better option than store take-back. It is not a very convenient option for consumers.”
To that end, SC Johnson has been studying the possibility of recovering plastic film, like its Ziploc bags, at material recovery facilities (MRFs) in the U.S., using the pellets created from recycling this material to manufacture plastic garbage bags in Europe.
Oksiuta said 3 billion pounds of plastic film are available for recovery, though only 4 percent of this material is recovered for recycling. The figure for Ziploc bags is even slighter: Only 0.2 percent of the bags are collected for recycling through in-store programs, she said. “We need to work together to find a solution.”
While Oksiuta said SC Johnson understands the issues recyclers face, she asserted that plastic film could be recovered at most material recovery facilities (MRFs), adding that the company’s experience with Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF) has shown that optical scanners are capable of sorting single and multilayer films from the material stream.
“Test results continued to validate that MRF automated sorting is technically feasible,” the MRFF collaborative writes on its website. “Modeling results show costs to add flexible packaging recycling in large MRFs are within reason, particularly in regions with economic incentives that promote sustainable land use and end markets.”
Perceptions don’t align with this conclusion, Oksiuta said. “There can be a sizable end market for this material, but it is perceived as inefficient and unprofitable.”
She added that recycled film can be used in products ranging from pallets to outdoor furniture to decking to the previously mentioned garbage bags.
“We believe there is an opportunity here,” Oksiuta said. “This is not about selling garbage bags but to show there is an end market for this material and it can be a sustainable business.”
Seventh Generation has prioritized the use of recycled plastics in its packaging. (See “Committed to recycled content” in Plastics Recycling, a supplement to Recycling Today, for more on the company’s use of recycled content in its packaging.) Kelly Murosky, a senior packaging engineer with the company, which is based in Burlington, Vermont, said Seventh Generation’s 2020 packaging vision calls for it to eliminate the use of virgin plastics and to produce zero packaging waste.
“We are well aware of the waste that our packaging makes,” she said. “We keep this top of mind when designing packaging.”
The company has prioritized the use of PCR (postconsumer resin) because of the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that can be realized by doing so, Murosky said. It also has incorporated the use of drop-in bio-resins.
Increasing PCR content in its closures remains an issue, however, she said. “Finding a clean stream of polypropylene PCR has been difficult.”
Seventh Generation refers to the Association of Plastics Recyclers (APR) Design Guide for Plastics Recyclability when designing its packaging and works with its sourcing team to incorporate PCR costs upfront, Murosky said. “PCR may be more expensive,” she added, “but there are other steps to take to reduce costs.”
She said her team works with the company’s marketing team to redefine the bottle aesthetic regarding color and clarity to show consumers that PCR is a priority.
The company’s packaging incorporates the How2Recycle label to encourage consumer recycling. “We need consumers to recycle so we can continue to have a source of PCR,” Murosky said.
Sarah Dearman, sustainable packaging program director for Atlanta-based Coca-Cola provided details on the company’s World Without Waste sustainable packaging vision. She said the company would like to achieve 100 percent recovery of its packaging. “It is an extremely ambitious goal,” she said, “but we can do it with the help of others.
The company also is working toward 50 percent recycled content in its packages. To achieve that goal, it first has to work on increasing recovery, Dearman said. “There is not enough supply to go beyond 50 percent PCR in our bottles.”
She said Coca-Cola is engaging its entire system, from marketing through to its suppliers and bottlers, to reach its recovery goals. “We need game-changing solutions that leverage technology to drive more people to recycle the right way.”
The company has already invested $13 million to help improve recycling through various initiatives, Dearman said. “It’s still not enough as the recycling rate keeps going down for bottles and cans.”
Plastics Recycling 2018, organized by Resource Recycling, Portland, Oregon, was Feb. 19-21 in Nashville, Tennessee.