Evolving Packaging Designs Challenge Current Recycling System

August 28, 2014, Ann Arbor, Michigan – Directors of public works, CEOs/CFOs/COOs, environmental engineers, directors of solid waste, board members, and more gathered during SWANA WASTECON to listen to Anne Johnson, RRS Principal and Vice President Global Corporate Sustainability discuss The Changing Waste Stream and the Impact on Municipal Recycling.

While communities drive diversion and brands desire recycling for everything, we are clearly challenging our recycling systems. Lack of knowledge about designing for commodity value and inattention to fundamental best practices is leaving recycling systems vulnerable to expensive alternatives. Johnson shared her experience on the upstream side of recycling, specifically consumer brands and the trends that are leading to impacts on the packaging waste stream.

“Newspaper, glass and steel containers, and other paper and paperboard packaging has seen a decrease in prevalence since 1990. On the flip side, corrugated containers, PET bottles and jars, plastic bags, and other plastic packaging have grown in prevalence over the same time period,” stated Johnson. “This creates a challenge to current infrastructure that was built for the rigid materials of the past. There is also a challenge to end markets due to low bale value – an effect of more complex materials and shapes, more contamination, and less high value materials.”

Johnson took a frank look at how we can design for true recyclability. Currently, designing for recyclability includes consideration for access to collection of the material, however it rarely takes into account compatibility with the material recovery facility (MRF) environment. In addition, bale value is often overlooked during the design phase, even though the quality of the bale contributes to the core commodity value which is at the heart of a healthy recycling system.

Johnson also pointed to the need to expand our focus beyond simply end of life to the full life cycle of packaging. As you move upstream from end of life, there is far more impact at the use, manufacturing and sourcing stages.

The panel The Changing Waste Stream and the Impact on Municipal Recycling was held Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014 at SWANA’s WASTECON in Dallas (Grapevine), Texas. The full slide deck from Anne’s presentation is available on the RRS website: Anne Johnson – The Changing Waste Stream – WASTECON Aug 2014


About RRS

Founded in 1986 and headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, RRS is a sustainability and recycling firm that strives to create a world where resources are managed to maximize economic and social benefit while minimizing environmental harm. The firm has cutting-edge professionals, engineers, economists, and communication specialists who share this vision and possess core strengths in materials and recovery, life cycle management and applied sustainable design. RRS serves both the public and private sectors to manage change in a resource-constrained world. www.recycle.com

Media Contact
Melissa Radiwon, Marketing Manager, RRS
734-996-1361, ext 237 mradiwon@recycle.com