WPO Position on Waste and Recycling

The role of packaging in materials recycling cannot be stressed enough. The package protects and informs about the product and enables effective supply chain logistics. While today’s packaging is considered to be highly advanced and well optimized, there is still room for improvement.  , Used packaging is often assessed as waste. This is a misconception as used packaging is a resource and should not be termed waste..  Finding new materials and tools to further optimize packaging is always on the agenda of every packaging technologist. But preventing waste throughout the supply chain must be balanced against the fact that lost product puts a much bigger burden on the environment than the packaging does.

Before a pack is made, designers and packaging technologists need to ensure that only the optimum amount of materials are used to minimise the quantity of resources it contains.  Once the packaging is used, the three ‘R’s’ principle should be examined: Re-use, Recover, Recycle.

In this context we are only talking about packaging waste. The bigger debate is about the enormity of food waste and the burden it places on the environment. In this area much of Academia and many multinational corporations are researching ways of preventing such waste.  And clearly, packaging must be part of the solution.

Reuse of packaging is environmentally sound for regional delivery systems including deposit schemes. Refill systems are good alternatives for many products, but an environmental assessment should preferably be made to compare with single-trip solutions.

In many cultures, consumers expect their accrued waste to be taken away in an organized way. The ideal situation is to have numerous collection points where all the delivered waste is collected and later sorted into streams for recovery. This is best achieved by national legislation and the setting up of organizations to finance and unify recovery systems.

Successful recycling requires a well thought through logistics chain. Separation of materials from mixed waste is technically possible, but not the preferred option. The further upstream sorting is done, the better the quality of the recycled material. As a special subset, the recycling of food packaging into new food packaging is regulated and needs to meet high food hygiene standards.

Recycling of different packaging materials can be challenging. Steel and aluminum are normally well suited for recycling. Glass can be recycled easily after colour sorting, although in some countries outlets for recycled glass are scarce. Paper, corrugated board and cardboard are normally easy to recycle into new fibre products. There are several basic plastics used in packaging: polyethylene, polypropylene , polystyrene and PET All are easily recycled except polystyrene.  And monolayer materials can be sorted and recycled into the same material. However, since multilayer film structures are more difficult to recycle, they render best for mixed plastics recycling or energy recovery. An example of this is metalized films. A special problem is posed by biodegradable materials, which have to be composted or anaerobically digested and not mixed with other plastics waste streams. Many experts agree that the best recycling quality for single trip packaging is achieved through deposit schemes. However, in certain parts of the world, deposit schemes are not effective or desirable, particularly in nations where financial resources are scarce or collection methods are not dependable.

The World Packaging Organisation believes that packaging should be designed to fit its original purpose, while taking all expected recovery methods into perspective. This has to be done to fit into existing or planned waste management schemes. The world is heading towards a recycling society and the packaging community together with all players in the delivery chain must act accordingly. Packaging is part of the solution to achieve tomorrow’s sustainable society.  WPO believes that this position meets our primary objective, “Better quality of life through better packaging for more people.”