With technology, innovation and consumer buying habits constantly changing, five US packaging associations commissioned research to better understand recyclability. The study examined the behaviour of numerous individual products in materials recovery facilities (MRFs), yielding data on cups, clamshells, containers, domes/trays, bottles, tubs, lids, tabletop and aseptic cartons and other materials. This has given the funders of the work a greater awareness of the opportunities and obstacles to the recovery of each of the materials examined.
The MRFs where packaging is processed, are, the report says, “the intersection between consumers, residents and the industrial infrastructure that creates the products and packaging we use every day”. As materials in use change, it is not always easy for sorting technologies and techniques to keep pace with the expanding materials mix. Everyone in the chain of consumption, reuse and recovery faces the same challenge. One particular finding was that received wisdom to crush materials is counterproductive when it comes to recovery – as three dimensional materials keeping their orignal form are more likely to reach their intended bale or container – whether sorted manually or mechanically.
Therefore the output of this Material Flow Study, published this week is a set of guidelines that can, it says, help improve recovery at all stages of the packaging life cycle. Guidelines set out in the study are:
- For packaging designers – form, material and rigidity have a significant effect on a product’s “sortability” in the MRF and Light-weighting of plastics can decrease recovery in a single stream MRF due to loss to the paper streams.
- For MRF Operators – more equipment steps (disc screen decks or other separation equipment) can improve the accuracy of splitting two-dimensional from three-dimensional materials; properly maintaining the disc screens (cleaning and replacing discs) can significantly reduce loss of containers to the paper stream and minimizing compaction to maintain the form/shape of incoming material improves separation. Also continually training sorters to recognize a wide range of acceptable packaging is of growing importance
- For MRF equipment designers – further research and development is needed to improve consistency of behaviour of non-bottle plastics in the MRF and further testing and refining of optical sorter programming is needed to effectively optically sort a wider range of packaging
- For municipalities, regular communications with local MRFs is critical to understanding the behaviour of materials currently accepted and identifying additional materials that could be added. Also, as the list of acceptable materials grows, continual education for residents is essential for keeping contamination to a minimum. For single-stream programmes, educating the consumer to not crush materials can improve their recovery
- For the recycling industry – continually evaluate and match MRF product quality and end-market capabilities to ensure true recovery
At Clarity we provide a range of options for recyclable material – get in touch to find out how we can help on 0845 129 7177. You can also find us at RWM 2015, 16 – 18 September, NEC Birmingham so come and have a chat at stand 4N39.