Flexible packaging recycling pilot seeks MRF partner

Flexible packaging recycling pilot seeks MRF partner

Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF) to offer technical and financial stewardship designed to help upgrade the U.S. pilot MRF.


Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF), a research initiative of the Foundation for Chemistry Research and Initiatives, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization established by the Washington-based American Chemistry Council, has announced plans to partner with a U.S. material recovery facility (MRF) and its service area to pilot curbside recycling of flexible packaging. MRFF says it will offer technical assistance and financial stewardship to help upgrade the U.S. MRF that participates in the pilot.

The partner facility must process at least 20 tons per hour and meet other essential criteria, according to MRFF. Interested communities or managers of MRFs that meet these criteria should contact Susan Graff, vice president, Resource Recycling Systems, at sgraff@recycle.com before April 7, 2017.

To assist the collective decision to enter into a pilot partnership, RRS developed an economic feasibility model for adding flexible packaging to a MRF’s sorting capabilities. The model provides customized outputs that assess the costs and benefits associated with adding flexible packaging to single-stream recycling systems in a pro forma format.

“With this pilot, we aim to demonstrate the potential to capture flexible film packaging and use the material as a feedstock for U.S. manufacturing while improving the quality of other recycling streams processed at MRFs,” says Stephen Sikra, section head, global research and development, The Procter and Gamble Co., headquartered in Cincinnati.

Flexible packaging is currently present in MRF infeed from curbside collection, but MRFs typically pay to ship the material to a landfill rather than recover it for energy production or remanufacture. Flexible packaging is projected to grow because its consumer benefits and affordability are widely recognized, so collection and recycling strategies are critical, according to MRFF.

Additionally, participating in this new pilot is expected to benefit our MRF partner by improving the quality of paper products through the removal of unintended flexible packaging, MRFF says.

“Flexible packaging is often disposed of as a contaminant of paper products,” says Graff, MRFF project director. “MRFs were not originally designed to sort this lightweight format into a high-quality product.”

She adds, “The members of Materials Recovery for the Future—manufacturers, brands, retailers and recyclers—are actively working to pilot a system that helps the recycling industry develop a new flexible product and better serve consumer demand for recycling.”

The MRF flexible packaging pro forma will vary by location depending on the availability of local end markets and by the sort quality. To further improve the value proposition for those factors, RRS is conducting advanced optical sorter testing with equipment manufacturers, as well as a commodity end use market assessment with a goal of describing product bale specifications for the Association of Plastic Recyclers.

“The intent of the pilot is to help communities that want to recover potentially valuable materials instead of landfilling them and partner with innovators in the MRF industry to recycle this material,” says Jeff Wooster, global sustainability director for Midland, Michigan-headquartered Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics and MRFF chairperson. “Dow is committed to working in partnership with communities and industry to recycle all their packaging, and this pilot will be a major step towards making this a reality.”

The MRFF project members include Amcor, The Dow Chemical Co., LyondellBasell Industries, Nestlé Purina PetCare and Nestlé USA, PepsiCo, Plum Organics, Procter & Gamble, SC Johnson, Sealed Air and Target, as well as the Association of Plastics Recyclers, Flexible Packaging Association, the Plastics Industry Association and the American Chemistry Council.