Assessing the Costs of Using PCR in the Manufacture of Plastic Packaging & Products
Ocean pollution and depletion of natural resources have been tied to plastic use, with many major brands making commitments to utilize more recycled content. One avenue is utilizing post-consumer resin (PCR) in the production of new products. PCR is derived from consumer packaging that is processed into recycled plastics.
The Canadian government has set an aspirational target of incorporating 50% recycled content in plastic products, where applicable, by 2030. The Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) sought to understand the feasibility and the cost of incorporating PCR in certain plastic packaging applications. The ECCC is a department of the Canadian government responsible for coordinating environmental policies and programs, as well as informing the public about ensuring a clean, safe, and sustainable environment.
The ECCC retained RRS to conduct research and build a model that quantifies the marginal cost of incorporating PCR in the manufacture of five plastic items, including four packaging formats and garbage bags.
RRS conducted interviews with companies that represented different plastic packaging formats and various conditions in which PCR is used in packaging in North America, including plastic reclaimers, packaging converters, and packaging manufacturers. RRS also conducted a literature search to supplement the information gained through the interview process. The team incorporated all the data gathered into a model that generated cost curves reflecting the marginal cost of incorporating PCR in the evaluated packaging applications.
Because the assessment was designed to reflect the marginal cost of using PCR in manufacturing, the model includes only the costs incurred during the conversion process – when the PCR is utilized to produce a product or packaging. It does not reflect the costs of reclaiming post-consumer plastics and producing PCR to the specification required by the converter or the cost of acquiring PCR feedstock.
The most significant costs related to incorporating PCR typically relate to front-end material handling and rejected products (loss rates). Converters also commonly reported increased costs related to testing and quality control, blending, screening, and in one example, upgrading a legacy extrusion line to a multi-layer line.
The research identified the following considerations related to the cost of incorporating PCR in different contexts:
- End-use application
- Food grade (or not)
- Producing from 100% PCR
- Product weight
The research also identified several methods converters use to improve quality and reduce production costs when using PCR:
- Level of PCR content
- Use of additives
- Avoidance of blending PCR and virgin materials
- Automated storage
The study found that while there are marginal costs to incorporating PCR in the production of plastic products and packaging, those costs are limited and do not appear to be the central factor in a company’s determination of whether or not to utilize PCR.
Interviews conducted during the study indicated that most of the additional cost in incorporating PCR is embedded in the cost of the PCR to the converter and is not incurred in the process of producing packaging. Since this project assumed that PCR is available at the same price as virgin plastic, that cost is not reflected in this analysis.
Furthermore, building a sufficient supply of PCR would likely reduce the incremental cost of incorporating PCR in the conversion process.
Please reach out to Bryce Hesterman, RRS consultant, for more information on this study.
Review the full report here: Cost of Using PCR