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FPI's Take on Resource Recycling Conference 2013

FPI staff attended last week’s Resource Recycling Conference. It was great to see a few members, many of our association/NGO allies and meet new contacts within the recycling community. We were thrilled with how many folks wanted to talk with us about the work of FPI’s Paper Recovery Alliance (PRA) and Plastics Recovery Group (PRG)! Glad to see the energy, interest and engagement related to our foodservice packaging recovery activities. With this blog, we wanted to share a few of the highlights from the conference…

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle… and Redesign?
Many of the presenters discussed the need to take recycling and other end-of-life options into account when designing new products. What some of the presenters didn’t touch upon were the existing resources on this topic. We’d like to remind readers of a couple of these:

  • The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) has developed a number of recyclability design guides for a variety of materials, which may be found here.
  • The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR) published its “Design for Recyclability Guidelines” last year, with a new Executive Summary out just recently. Links to both, along with details on their upcoming webinar on this topic, may be found here.

The Future of Recycling
Of course, part of the difficulty of designing new products is not knowing what the future holds for the recycling industry. There was much discussion of the growing trend toward single stream recycling, which of course puts the onus on the municipal recycling facilities (MRFs) to do the sorting. This also increases potential contamination – a burden for both the MRFs and the end markets. Technology changes in the future will no doubt help with these challenges.

And speaking of end markets, the impact of China’s “Green Fence” is also altering the future of recycling and end markets. While originally seen as problematic, there was sentiment expressed during the conference that this could be a positive, resulting in cleaner bales and stronger domestic end markets. Fingers crossed this is the case as we start to see more paper and plastic foodservice packaging being recycled.

Changing facilities and end markets point to a changing economic model for recycling in the future – stay tuned on this one.

The EPR (or is it VPR?) Debate Continues
As interest in increasing the amount of material that is recycled grows, the debate on how to accomplish this intensifies. It was pointed out that there is no silver bullet and no one solution. However, proponents continue to discuss the merits of extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs, especially for packaging in the United States. Supporters – including FPI – of a different approach called “voluntary producer responsibility” (VPR) look to achieve more efficient and effective increases in recovery through voluntary, industry-lead programs like what our PRA and PRG are working towards.

Another option that was presented was a “VPR plus” model, in which voluntary programs are coupled with other policy tools shown to increase recycling. According to a new report released by AMERIPEN during the conference, unit-based pricing (also known as “pay as you throw”), disposal bans and recycling mandates appear to have the greatest impact on increasing recovery rates and sustaining financing for collection and recovery. A copy of their report may be found here.
Collaboration is Crucial
The word “collaboration” was tossed around quite a bit during the conference, but it was with whom you should be collaborating that was the interesting part. No question that supply chain partners need to collaborate. It was even suggested that we consider all of us in the supply chain as one, interdependent industry. That certainly makes sense. But equally important is the internal collaboration. It was rightly pointed out that within a company the marketing team, sustainability team and research and development team need to work together. Another team we’ll throw in there is the legal team to make sure you are abiding by the Federal Trade Commission’s all important (but sometimes overlooked) Green Guides.

If you’re interested in learning more about the many facets of the recycling industry, we encourage you to attend this conference next year – slated for September 16-17, 2014 in New Orleans. Hope to see you there.

Posted By Lynn M. Dyer (President) | 9/3/2013 4:34:11 PM