It bugs me to see this label on certain packaged foods, like the plastic film pouches for cheese:
These pouches are typically polyethylene, which is technically recyclable. So why the non-recyclable sticker?
The industry refers to these types of plastic bags and pouches as FPP (flexible plastic packaging), which brings challenges in material recovery facilities. Being flat and thin, amidst a sea of three-dimensional bottles and cans on a sorting line, FPP is difficult for sorting machines to detect. On top of that, "hand picking such materials is difficult if not impractical," says Joe Foster, CEO of Close the Loop Group, an Australia-based company that develops reusable, recyclable and sustainable packaging solutions.
As a result, the recovery rates of FPP are abysmal; one Australian study found less than 5% of it was salvaged.
Another issue is that because it's flat and sheet-like, FPP can erroneously get shunted into paper recycling lines by sorting machines, which then contaminates and ruins that batch of recycled paper.
Now the "don't bother recycling" label starts to make sense, at least from a ruthless business like Walmart, which is where I bought the cheese.
Thankfully, Close the Loop Group has created a solution through OF Packaging, one of their business groups. Australian food manufacturer Brookfarm makes muesli, which is often sold in FPP. Upon learning that FPP is often not recycled due to the problems mentioned above, the company hired OF Packaging to design a solution.
It took over a year of development and testing, but OF Packaging's designers finally cracked it. The issue is that FPP is essentially a 2D object, and if it was 3D, the scanning machines at materials recovery facilities could detect and sort it. So the designers came up with this Roll 'n' Recycle package, which is just a polyethylene pouch whose label can be partially peeled back.
When the consumer's finished with the packaging, they roll it into a cylindrical shape, then partially unpeel the label and press it onto the cylinder to hold its shape.
"The product label takes on a second life as a sticker to keep the new shape of the packaging," the company writes. The resultant cylinder—or actually, a "9" shape in cross-section, as the company describes it—can now be dropped into curbside recycling bins, according to the company.
Roll 'n' Recycle Packaging won the top prize in the 2021 Packaging Innovation Awards.
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