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Setting the Record Straight: Top Myths of Foodservice Packaging

Our offices are in the DC area. But we dig out of the snow and/or daily drama of the Hill to travel to meetings and conferences. There we frequently find ourselves discussing the importance of increasing the recovery of foodservice packaging (FSP). As part of my new year’s resolution, I mentioned resolving to spread awareness and dispel some misconceptions we most frequently hear. So today, I want to take this time to discuss some of the most frequent FSP myths we’ve heard. Through the work of FPI’s Paper Recovery Alliance (PRA) and Plastics Recovery Group (PRG), we have found many of these common beliefs are actually just myths and in the coming weeks, I will follow up and work to debunk each of these myths surrounding FSP.

Myth #1: There are too many barriers surrounding foodservice packaging to have successful recovery.

Recycling, composting, and energy recovery are well understood, and in many cases, very effective ways of reducing certain types of waste going to the landfills. FSP has been considered a difficult material to recover because of barriers such as an absence in collection infrastructure, lack of end markets for the recovered materials, and most of all, lack of understanding by consumers that foodservice packaging can be recovered.  But through the work of the PRA and PRG, we’re focusing on getting those boxes, containers, cups and bags moved out of the “not commonly recovered” category and into the “please compost or recycle” set. In the coming month you’ll see us roll out our new online FSP recovery tool kit citing example after example of how those barriers to recovery are breaking down.

Myth #2: There is not a lot industry activity towards FSP recovery.

Many folks believe FPI is working alone in the effort for FSP recovery, causing many of the real and perceived barriers to go unanswered. With FPI’s launch of PRA and PRG, there has been great success in contributions towards the increased recovery of FSP but we are not the only player on the court. There has been great effort coming from multiple sources including individual member companies as well as organizations. We know we can’t do it alone and the last thing we’d want to do is duplicate another effort. That’s why we spend a lot of time making sure we’re in step with our allies, sharing findings, coordinating efforts. A good example of this cross-organizational alignment can be seen through our partnership with American Chemistry Council, Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, Carton Council and National Association for PET Container Resources in our collective MRF study that is under way. That study is still a few months out from completion but we can’t wait to share some of the key outcomes.

Myth #3: When all this FSP comes to a material recovery facility (MRF), they’re going to have a hard time putting all this material in a FSP bale. And then that bale is going to be difficult to market and sell!

Okay, you got us on this one. But you know what? We agree with you.  But are we driving towards putting all this FSP into one bale? No! The PRA/PRG efforts are working to connect FSP to existing marketed bales. Unlike other key recovery materials such as plastic bottles, metal containers or printed paper, FSP items make up a VERY small portion of the material stream. It’d be tough to get enough material to fill truck loads full of bales.  And then there is the issue of the different material types. Good news though – we’re seeing success in getting that good quality paper and plastic into existing mixed paper, polycoat, PET, and mixed plastic bales.

Myth #4: Okay, let’s look at a specific example. PET thermoforms have no place in PET bottle bales.

When it comes to those PET clamshells that little #1 on the bottom of the container results in a series of questions. Is it recyclable or not? It’s the same resin, but a different packaging format and a different manufacturing process. This does not mean that PET thermoforms should be thrown out of consideration, however. Sorting and baling specifics are still in the works in order to help communities and MRF operators understand how just many thermoforms can successfully be incorporated into a bottle bale. FPI is pleased to be partnering with several PET representatives including NAPCOR, the trade association that supports PET recycling, to help reduce the amount of confusion over details of thermoform collection and baling. Look for more details to come.

Here are just a few myths to get us started. I look forward to addressing more in posts to come. Have your own question? Let me know! We’ll get to the bottom of it.

Posted By Natha Dempsey (Vice President) | 1/28/2014 9:03:02 AM