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Circularity Council identifies building blocks that address recycling challenges

The Recycling Partnership’s Circularity Council says MRF capture rate studies can help determine whether new packaging is recyclable.

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The Recycling Partnership, Falls Church, Virginia, has convened a Pathway to Circularity Industry Council (Circularity Council) to assess what actions must take place to help the U.S. recycling system accept more packaging.

According to The Recycling Partnership, stakeholders from across the recycling industry have been calling for a transparent and inclusive process to assess packaging recyclability. The Recycling Partnership says it is responding to that call with the Circularity Council, which engages 35 senior industry leaders representing various material types, brands, government, material recovery facilities (MRFs), nongovernmental organizations, retailers and trade associations. The Recycling Partnership says the group will address the missing and needed detriments for recyclability of packaging, initiating national engagement around solutions for packaging recyclability.

“Packaging recyclability is critical to reaching a circular economy. Many companies are committed to delivering 100 percent recyclable packaging. Yet, the process to reach that goal has been unclear and at no point in the assessment of a package’s recyclability is the industry that is most impacted, consistently consulted,” says Sarah Dearman, vice president of circular ventures at The Recycling Partnership. “The Recycling Partnership brought together this first-of-its-kind Circularity Council in 2020 to address this challenge through a clear, inclusive process to improve the U.S. residential recycling system—and we are already seeing progress.”

The Recycling Partnership says its Pathway to Circularity initiative defines five building blocks to help brands navigate current and future packaging and recycling system challenges. Those building blocks include: packaging fate, capture journey, design for circularity, package prevalence and MRF and community adoption.

“This is the beginning of a massive, system-changing concept, driving us toward a circular economy for all materials, but more stakeholder engagement is imperative for true industry adoption,” Dearman says. “The councilmembers’ leadership to help set the course is invaluable. We are eager to engage even more stakeholders throughout the value chain to collaborate on and scale these solutions.”

According to The Recycling Partnership, the Circularity Council recently aligned upon the first of several thresholds for determining a package’s recyclability. The threshold the council aligned on is for the MRF capture rate, defined as the percentage of packaging or material that enters the MRF and is subsequently captured in the correct bale or bunker to be sent to market. The Circularity Council determined that a new product’s packaging should not be considered recyclable unless the MRF capture rate is 90 percent. 

The Recycling Partnership says it hopes that by setting “a high recommended threshold” will rejuvenate trust in the recycling system and ensure that residents can be confident that what they put in their bin is recycled and given a second life. The Recycling Partnership highlights more information on its Pathway to Circularity initiative online.