Design for recycling: The circular economy starts here
Waste and pollution are design flaws rather than inevitable by-products of the things we make.
By changing our mindset and harnessing new materials and technology, we can ensure waste is not created in the first place but managed as valuable resources and recycled into high quality materials.
Plastic packaging, which accounts for over 60% of the collected plastic waste, will need to transition to a major generator of recyclable plastic waste. Depending on the characteristics of the demand and end market applications, some of this packaging waste will be recycled into packaging, some will go into other sectors. From an economic and technical perspective, it is paramount to understand the matching between recyclability standards and end market applications.
In ensuring the circular transition for plastics and plastic packaging, design for recycling is among the key aspects. Features like compatibility of materials, easy separation, use of additives, pigments, and type of labelling, play a role in determining the recyclability of a given product.
Making recyclability a key requirement and incorporating it with other performance criteria such as product safety, shelf life or branding will enable a sustainable use of resources.
Design efforts are needed to ensure polymers can be correctly sorted and contaminants can be effectively removed during the recycling process. The Design-for-Recycling approach aims to make plastic products or product parts more easily recyclable, where the objective is to ensure that a consistent quantity of plastic waste is effectively recyclable and can be absorbed as recyclates into new products.
NEW EU STRATEGY
In 2018, the European Commission released European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy where it urged the plastics industry and its value chain to encourage and ensure a shift in production of plastic packaging. This has triggered several brands to announce pledges to work towards increased recyclability of packaging. Due to the increased interest and demand for guidance in design for recycling, Plastics Recyclers Europe launched the RecyClass Platform, a comprehensive cross-industry initiative that works to advance plastic packaging recyclability and to establish a harmonized approach towards recycled content calculation and traceability in Europe.
RecyClass is now driven by the interest of the major brands, retailers, converters, raw material producers and recyclers to advance recyclability of plastic packaging and use of recycled material. It is a value chain platform which aims at filling an existing gap between the different industry actors and bringing the knowledge of recyclers to the packaging designers.
ENHANCES THE RECYCLABILITY OF PLASTIC
With a scientific and industry aligned approach, RecyClass enhances and evaluates the recyclability of plastic packaging. The platform offers Design for Recycling Guidelines which provide insight in the design of different components of a plastic packaging and give guidance to the users on how they can improve the overall recyclability of their products.
As the recyclability of a specific product is determined by the recyclability of the different components of a packaging and their combination in a specific recycling stream, RecyClass has established a harmonized methodology to test the recyclability. The scientific testing following the Recyclability Evaluation Protocols, will be done by independent laboratories accredited by RecyClass.
The outcome of such assessments is used to update Design for Recycling Guidelines, based on the scientific data and the impact that a given plastic packaging will have on the quality of the different recycled material streams.
FREE-TO-USE ONLINE TOOL
A free-to-use RecyClass online tool is made available, that assess the recyclability of a plastic packaging and shows to which extent it is suitable for recycling. The analysis will provide the user with a report and a classification for the analyzed package, where Class A represents the best recyclability of a package, while class B, C, D and E represent increasingly lower recyclability. Finally, class F represents packages that are not recyclable and may be only incinerated. In addition, the online tool provides specific indications and recommendations on how to improve the packaging design to make it compatible with current recycling technologies. The tool is continuously reviewed and maintained by recycling experts. In addition to being a tool for packaging designers, RecyClass provides the opportunity to certify the recyclability the plastic packaging.
CONSUMERS CHOOSE SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS
As awareness is rising, consumers are more likely to choose more sustainable products based on educated decisions. The RecyClass certification is operated through accredited and independent Certification Bodies who audits the RecyClass tool analysis results together with documentation from the packaging supplier. Plastic packaging recyclability can be certified according to: Design for Recycling, which enables classification of the technical recyclability of plastic packaging in the EU market. Recyclability Rate, which rates the effective recyclability of a plastic packaging in the specific geographical area where the packaging will be used.
At Norner, we are proud to be a RecyClass Certification Body and support the packaging value chain to make the plastic packaging circular. We are also looking forward to offering scientific evaluation of both rigid and flexible packaging according to the RecyClass Evaluation Protocols to test new product solutions, innovative technologies and further develop the Design for Recycling Guidelines. This will allow the plastic industry to accelerate on the journey toward a sustainable and circular use of plastic materials and ensure that these valuable resources can be recycled into high quality materials.