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Take Two: A Second Look at Foodservice Packaging and Food Residue in MRFs

Last fall, FPI set out to determine if foodservice packaging (cups, takeout containers, paper bags, etc.) collected at curbside had similar or different levels of food residue as  commonly recycled food contact packaging (spaghetti jars, yogurt containers, etc.).  We conducted a study in the Boston material recovery facility (MRF) and were met with encouraging results (check out my previous post here) that found no appreciable difference in the amount of residue in foodservice packaging and food contact packaging. Well, once again, we have found that a commonly cited obstacle to recycling foodservice packaging is more of a perceived barrier than a real one. We just finished our second food residue study in Delaware which, for the second time, showed little difference in contamination levels between these two types of packaging, helping to alleviate concerns some may have about accepting foodservice in their residential curbside programs.

Weve heard from MRFs that one of the main reasons they are reluctant to accept foodservice packaging is the concern that there may be high levels of food residue, which could negatively impact the sorting process or the value of the reclaimed material. Because of this concern, and because the Boston samples were deemed exceptionally clean, we wanted to corroborate our first studys findings by conducting a second study.

In July, consultants sorted through approximately 3,500 pounds of randomly selected residential, mixed, and commercial recyclables collected in different areas of southern Delaware. For all recycling samples, corrugated, mixed paper, tubs and lids (including paper and plastic clamshells), aluminum foils/pans, were sorted into two categories, foodservice packaging or other packaging in contact with food. Our consultants used the same visual ranking system as established at the first Boston study to characterize how much food residue was on the selected foodservice packaging and food contact packaging. This system allowed the team to track residue levels for each category. Heres what we found this time around:


         Foodservice packaging had only marginally more food residue than other food contact packaging.

         Overall, samples of both foodservice packaging and food contact packaging were much more contaminated with refuse (garbage) than the samples in the Boston study. This created a small challenge in determining whether the food residue on the foodservice and food contact packaging items were from mixing with the garbage in the recycling truck or if it was initially contaminated when recycled.

These two studies have helped us to overcome one of the key barriers identified in helping to increase the recycling of paper and plastic foodservice packaging. Highlights from the study will be available on FPIs website soon and will be covered in an upcoming webinar this fall. Stay tuned for more details.

Posted By Natha Dempsey (Vice President) | 9/16/2014 5:07:39 PM