Why Join a Recycling Coalition?

Diverse stakeholder input and collaboration are the keys to success of the recycling system. The Pathway to Circularity: Residential Recyclability Framework was informed by industry knowledge and experience regarding what it takes for a package or material to be recyclable. When a package or substrate does not meet the Framework’s criteria, companies are encouraged to take action to address the challenges, either through a Partnership-led recycling coalition or other industry efforts.

Recycling coalitions can address challenges and deliver needed scalable solutions. If a coalition does not exist, but a material meets the following criteria, consideration will be given to forming one.

Pathway to Circularity Recycling Coalition Formation Criteria

  • There is a path to scalable, circular solutions that can be achieved through actionable steps.
  • The format/material is expected to have a significant presence in a circular system of the future.
  • There are no viable alternative formats or materials that could serve the same purpose with increased recyclability/circularity.
  • Multiple companies across the value-chain (such as producers, converters, brands, and retailers) are ready to join the initiative with multi-year commitments to make meaningful progress toward a solution.
  • It is aligned with The Recycling Partnership’s mission, leverages the core competencies of The Partnership and does not duplicate efforts.

Driving Recyclability and Recycled Content

The Recycling Partnership works with stakeholders across the value chain to improve the recyclability and capture of all materials in the recycling stream. Read more about the initiatives underway by The Recycling Partnership and other leading industry groups to increase the recyclability and recycled content of many common packaging materials. Circular Packaging Spotlights are included for each material to illustrate how specific format challenge areas are addressed using The Recycling Partnership’s Circular Packaging Assessment, a tool that serves to improve circularity by providing step-by-step instructions to understanding packaging recyclability.

Polypropylene

Polypropylene (PP) is a valuable material that is successfully recycled in communities and MRFs throughout the U.S. The Polypropylene Recycling Coalition, formed in July 2020, focuses on improving curbside access for PP, assisting MRFs with PP sorting improvements and supporting PP end markets. The Coalition has provided grants that have improved PP recycling access by 8%, reaching 20 million Americans and increasing the amount of recovered PP by an estimated 25 million pounds annually. In July of 2022, the Coalition’s transformative work led to the How2Recycle upgrade of PP rigid containers to “Widely Recyclable” in the U.S.

Circular Packaging Spotlight: Polypropylene Tubs

Pathway to Circularity Focus Areas for Action: Access & Adoption and Packaging Fate

While polypropylene container formats such as tubs are generally designed for recyclability, community access to recycling for this material has greatly benefited from the actions of the Polypropylene Recycling Coalition. By bringing together value chain stakeholders to drive strategy and distribute catalytic MRF grants, the Coalition worked to increase access to polypropylene recycling across the nation. Continued Coalition participation is necessary to support the collection and reprocessing infrastructure needed for polypropylene recycling and end markets to grow. Product and packaging producers can also play a role, by driving demand for post-consumer recycled polypropylene, which can increase the supply of food-grade and non-food-grade recycled polypropylene and encourage the circularity of polypropylene.

Film & Flexibles

Film and flexible packaging materials are currently difficult to recycle with typical curbside recyclables. The lightweight, flexible properties that make these products so versatile for packaging also create operational challenges for today’s recycling system. Formed in September 2019, the Film & Flexibles Recycling Coalition is piloting solutions to bring curbside recycling of film and flexibles to more Americans. The initiative involves every aspect of the Pathway to Circularity from design to sortation and end markets.

Circular Packaging Spotlight: Monomaterial PE Bags

Pathway to Circularity Focus Areas for Action: Access & Adoption, Capture Journey, Packaging Fate and Recyclability Prevalence

Monomaterial PE bags showcase how innovative design can help brands and retailers retain the aesthetic, quality, and functionality of their packaging without sacrificing on recyclability. Although Monomaterial PE film is recyclable, consumer access to curbside recycling for film is extremely low. The Film & Flexibles Recycling Coalition is working on multiple pilot projects across the country to assess solutions for film collection and reprocessing. Once best practices are defined, a combination of capital investment, consumer education, and community program support will be required to expand film recycling efforts. While there is limited data available on film packaging, the Film & Flexibles Recycling Coalition conducted research to provide data on the generation and composition of film and flexible packaging in households to inform the recycling value chain of the prevalence of this material.

Aluminum

Even materials with a long history of recyclability, such as aluminum, have areas of opportunity. Aluminum cans play a critical role in recycling by adding significant value, yet some are lost in MRFs because they are missorted. To address this challenge, the Aluminum Beverage Can Capture Grant Program was initiated to provide MRFs with equipment grants to boost recovery of cans even further. While not currently a formal Coalition, the grant program illustrates the impact of collaborative efforts to improve material-specific challenges.

Circular Packaging Spotlight: Aluminum Beverage Cans

Pathway to Circularity Focus Areas for Action: Capture Journey

Aluminum beverage cans are infinitely recyclable, and as long as non-aluminum additional components are kept to a minimum, their design poses few problems to recyclability. Access to recycling for aluminum beverage cans is highly common in communities across the U.S., and end markets for aluminum cans are strong. Since Can Manufacturers Institute’s recent study on aluminum can missortation in MRFs, increased focus has been placed on the economic value lost due to missorted cans. The Aluminum Beverage Can Capture Grant Program seeks to improve the MRF capture rate of aluminum cans by making grants for MRFs to increase recovery.

PET

While PET bottles are highly recyclable, there is broad recognition that the recycling rate must double – or even triple – to achieve a system with compelling circularity. The circularity attributes of non-bottle PET formats such as trays, cups, and clamshells are in even greater need of a boost. Formed in 2022 to leverage those opportunities, the PET Recycling Coalition is aimed at improving the systems that are in place today and increasing new opportunities to change the paradigm of PET recycling.

Circular Packaging Spotlight: PET Clamshells

Pathway to Circularity Focus Areas for Action: Access & Adoption, Packaging Fate, and Recyclability Prevalence

There are several recyclability hurdles that must be cleared, each of which is an opportunity to advance PET clamshell recyclability. From a design perspective, specifically in the use of labels and adhesives, packaging designers should ensure that all design features are compatible with PET reclamation. End markets for PET clamshells are another area of opportunity, with many PET bottle reclaimers having a measured tolerance for PET clamshells and others expressing zero tolerance. Due to some of these challenges, community recycling collection programs often exclude PET clamshells. The PET Recycling Coalition is focusing on advancing opportunities for PET clamshells to flow alongside PET bottles, improving acceptance in community recycling programs and ensuring robust end markets. There is a nascent “thermoform only” recycling stream that is poised for improvement and the Coalition is ready to lean in. Lastly, further research is needed to determine the percentage of thermoforms that are made of PET. Some “thermoform only” recycling streams do not yet have the necessary sorting technology to separate PET clamshells from those made of other resins, suggesting that designing out non-PET clamshells would benefit PET clamshell recyclability.

Glass

Known for their infinite recyclability, glass bottles have a strong foundation for recyclability, as well as several opportunities for improved circularity. In some cases, however, challenges in community access and education, costs at the MRF, and highly regional end markets present barriers to increasing the amount of residential glass recycled. The Recycling Partnership’s Community Grants Program enables communities to expand the amount of glass collected in their programs. The industry-led Glass Recycling Coalition further supports efforts to improve recycling of glass, including grants to MRFs for community collection projects through the expanding efforts of the Glass Recycling Foundation.

Circular Packaging Spotlight: Glass Bottles

Pathway to Circularity Focus Areas for Action: Design for Recyclability, Access & Adoption, and Packaging Fate

Industry design guides for glass packaging are in development to provide design principles for this recyclable material. While consumer access to recycling for glass packaging is high, depending on the recycling program, consumer education on separating and bringing glass to drop-off centers where it is not currently collected curbside may be necessary. More investment to address variable MRF sortability is an opportunity to enhance access and capture. Also, increased recycled content demand could help address regional market issues and economic value to achieve consistently strong end markets for post-consumer glass packaging. The Glass Recycling Coalition works with MRFs to improve their sortation methods and increase the economic value of their recycled glass packaging through the MRF Glass Certification Program.

Paper

Paper in the recycling stream includes corrugated cardboard, printed paper, paperboard packaging, and aseptic/polycoated containers. As a whole, paper is the highest volume and often one of the higher-valued materials flowing through a MRF. Changing market dynamics, overall access to recycling, and consumer education are only some of the challenges impacting paper recycling. The Recycling Partnership’s Community Grants Program enables communities to provide larger collection bins, more regular service, and consumer education to help capture more paper recyclables.

Circular Packaging Spotlight: Pizza Boxes

Pathway to Circularity Focus Areas for Action: Access & Adoption

The design of corrugated cardboard such as pizza boxes poses relatively few challenges for recyclability. The largest concern with pizza boxes has been the presence of food contamination on the inside of the boxes. In 2020, pizza box manufacturers and paper mills released a study finding that pizza grease does not prevent box recyclability. The Recycling Partnership also released a consumer study as well as community resources to help reduce consumer confusion regarding pizza box recyclability. Once boxes reach the MRF and are mixed with other corrugated cardboard material, they experience high sortation rates and vibrant end markets.

Circular Packaging Spotlight: Polycoated Fiber Containers

Pathway to Circularity Focus Areas for Action: Design for Recyclability, Access & Adoption and Packaging Fate

There is growing interest in creating collaborative projects and funding for polycoated fiber containers such as snack and oatmeal containers, paper cups, aseptic cartons and more. Design guidance for the carton sub-category of paper is underway and will be available in the near future while paper industry design guidance includes some, but not all, polycoated fiber containers. Consumer access to recycling polycoated fiber containers varies regionally and by specific container format, but is growing quickly for some formats. While polycoated fiber is often accepted by mills as part of mixed paper, yield for recycled polycoated fiber and its ability to be used in a diverse range of material applications is limited. These formats could benefit from stakeholder engagement across the value chain.

For more information on any of these recycling coalitions, please email pathway@recyclingpartnership.org or fill out the form below.

Join or Form a Recycling Coalition

Interested in joining or forming a new coalition? Please submit a brief message using this contact form.

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Thank you to our partners for funding our efforts to build this pathway, thereby making circular packaging a possibility for Americans.