One of the few perennial snags with flexible film packaging has been limited recycling options and participation. These plastics are generally not recycled to make new food packaging materials, and other recycling possibilities still need to be researched. Unification in testing and designations for recyclability are what the new coalition, Global Plastics Outreach Alliance, aims to resolve.
Three plastics recycling groups have partnered in the coalition: The European PET Bottle Platform (EPBP), Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE) and The Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR). Their goal, according to Packaging World, is to globally simplify plastics recycling protocols for a streamlined process that benefits everyone.
Existing Testing and Design Protocols Vary
All of the groups included in the coalition have developed plastics recycling design and testing protocols. They help determine what is recyclable and how to go about it. The problem does not lie in a lack of research and development, but in protocol consistency around the world.
APR president, Steve Alexander, tells Plastics Technology Online, that the differences between protocols have created a complicated testing process with more steps than should be necessary.
“Differences between our protocols may require a company to conduct three separate tests to achieve the same recyclability designation. We hope to clarify those differences and align all segments of our testing protocols.”
Global Protocols Promote Recycling Innovation
There is no shortage of research and testing in plastics recycling. With every link in the supply chain more committed to sustainability goals, not to mention consumer demand, more manufacturers have committed to developing testing protocols. However, the differences from one organization to the next, says Alexander, require as many as three different recyclability testing processes just to achieve the same designation.
PRE president, Ton Emans, says the coalition should fill a void in the plastics recycling industry. With the “tremendous amount of work done” to improve recyclability, now the industry needs a “coordinated voice.”
EPBP representative, Andreas Christel, says the industry needs simplification. The fewer complications that engineers and designers face, the more innovation can flourish.
Plastics Testing Should Become Streamlined and Reduce Costs
With APR, PRE, and EPBP working together, the future of plastics recycling should become much simpler. Without the coalition, innovation would continue and protocols would evolve. However, they could grow further apart, creating more challenges and unnecessary steps across the industry instead of fewer hurdles.
APR communications director, Kara Pochiro, explained to Plastics Recycling Update that currently, all of the processes are “very similar.” By aligning now, the organizations can grow stronger and more effective together. Innovation that benefits everyone can be shared across the industry. Testing protocols can be developed as a group and implemented at every link in the chain.
In the future, plastics testing for recyclability should require only one step, says Pochiro. Whether for recycling in the United States, the European Union or any other participating country, one test makes the process quicker, less costly, and less confusing.
Currently, recyclability in flexible packaging materials is one of the few enduring challenges. It is not that the plastics are not recyclable, but that there are not enough opportunities to do so. Options for manufacturing using recycled flexible materials also requires further research. In this environment, the Global Plastics Outreach Alliance could advance recyclability testing and support sustainability goals in a significant way.
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