Deciding on the right type of packaging for a product can be a complicated and laborious procedure. Not only are there aesthetic features that need to be taken in consideration, but there are also decisions to be made in terms of product integrity, regulatory requirements, costs and (increasingly) recyclability.
The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR) is a North American organization dedicated to helping designers, fabricators and packaging decision-makers design bottles with recyclability in mind. The APR has created Design Guidelines for recyclability that are available on-line. These guidelines are designed to further the well-established North American recycling infrastructure, which currently includes companies that acquire, reprocess and/or sell polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles. Today, there is more capacity to process these resins than there is supply. The rise in overseas demand has created a precarious situation that may jeopardize these markets. APR is encouraging brand owners to help direct recovered bottles to North American markets.
Additionally, the APR has a Champions of Change program that provides testing of bottle prototypes with commercial plastic recyclers. Both programs reflect the association’s belief that fitness of purpose” may be the primary factor in plastic bottle decisions but that recyclability should be “at the forefront” of the decision-making process. The organization introduced the availability of a Confirmation Letter late last year for those companies that have fulfilled its Champions of Change program requirements. This letter provides industry confirmation that the bottle in question has no significant negative impact on the recycling stream.
The APR’s Design Guidelines program offers helpful advice about various elements of a bottle design in terms of recycling. For example, it covers elements such as attachments (which may include closures, closure liners, labels, sleeves and safety seals), as well as additional details that include colour, labels/adhesives, direct printing/directions, layers/coatings, basecups/adhesives, other attachments, non-detaching components and post-consumer content. Design Guidelines are available directly on-line at www.plastics.recycling.org/guidelines-index.asp for the following plastic resins:
– polyethylene terephthalate (PET);
– natural and pigmented high-density polyethylene (HDPE);
– vinyl (V); and,
– polypropylene (PP).
Additionally, the Design Guidelines provide information detailing plastic bottle sorting procedures (including methods, reclamation, granulation/air classification, washing, separation, rinsing/ drying, melt filtering and end markets). Packaging designers can use this information to determine how to modify their designs for easier recyclability. The Design Guidelines also provide information on the density ranges of the major plastic resins and closure materials, as well as the protocols used for testing labels and adhesives.
Champions of Change
The “Champions of Change” program, developed by APR, is designed to encourage consumer product companies, technology companies, suppliers, converters and others to test new bottle compositions with commercial plastic recyclers. The program, which is detailed at www.plasticsrecycling.org/about-champions.asp enables both parties to evaluate the recyclability of a package prior to the actual product or package launch. Potential end results may vary from designer to designer but may include the replacement of undesirable paper fibre and adhesive labels to more recycling-friendly plastic ones. The “Champions for Change” program was developed primarily for testing bottles with barriers or other additives.
Recycling by design
Juggling the various demands involved in designing a new package is no easy task. These designers are faced with an increasing variety of concerns that must be taken into consideration. Taking advantage of innovative services, however (such as those available from APR), will help to address recyclability in the decision-making process.
Cathy Cirko is the director general of the Environment and Plastics Industry Council (EPIC) www.plastics.ca/epic, a council of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association. Email Cathy at firstname.lastname@example.org