Brand owners don’t pay enough attention to recycling, Volume 9, Issue 1

Brand owners don’t pay enough attention to recycling

Volume 9, Issue 1

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Brand owners don’t pay enough attention to recycling

A January 2015 report, Waste and Opportunity 2015: Environmental Progress and Challenges in Food, Beverage, and Consumer Goods Packaging, finds that few companies, which use packaging, have robust sustainable packaging policies or system-wide programs to recycle their packages.

In fact none of the 47 fast food/quick service restaurants (QSRs), beverage and consumer goods companies studied attained the report’s Best Practices status. The report by As You Sow, San Francisco, CA, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), New York, NY, states more brands need to assume leadership to boost lagging U.S. recycling rates and enhance sustainable practices so packaging is manufactured and disposed of responsibly. In addition to wasting valuable material, failure to recycle packaging contributes to pollution of oceans, lakes and rivers, and it misses the opportunity to create green recycling jobs.

“We found that most leading U.S. fast food, beverage and packaged goods [firms] are coming up significantly short of where they should be when it comes to the environmental aspects of packaging,” says Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president of As You Sow and report author. He notes: “These companies have not sufficiently prioritized packaging source reduction, recyclability, compostability, recycled content and recycling policies. Increased attention to these key attributes of packaging sustainability would result in more efficient utilization of post-consumer packaging, higher U.S. recycling rates, reduced ocean plastic pollution, and new green recycling jobs.”

“U.S.-based companies that take responsibility for financing the recycling of packaging in scores of other countries fight that responsibility here in the United States without offering viable alternatives,” adds Andrew Behar, CEO, As You Sow. “This industry foot-dragging is one of the primary reasons we recycle only 14% of plastic packaging in the United States. The more we boost recycling rates, the more we reduce the use of virgin natural resources and mitigate emissions that contribute to climate change.”
The report analyzes packaging practices in each industry sector based on attributes such as types of material used; whether those materials are recyclable, compostable and/or made of recycled content; and what the companies are actually doing to promote recycling of their packages.

In the fast food/QSR segment Starbucks and McDonald’s were cited for Better Practices. Starbucks was the only QSR brand that has aggressively sought front-of-house recycling for part or all of its packaging, system-wide. The only organization in the study with better performance, 60-outlet Pret A Manger, ranks as the only company that offers front-of-house recycling and composting at all of its U.S. locations.

While brand owners in each segment can do much more to increase recycling of their packaging, fast food/QSR industries are a particular concern because of the contribution of plastic packaging to pollution in the oceans and other aquatic environments. Plastic litter from takeout orders, including cups, plates and straws, not only contribute to urban blight, but often are swept into waterways and oceans to partially degrade and harm marine life. In fact a Clean Water Action study in four Bay Area cities found that the biggest source of street litter (49 percent) was from fast food.

Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist and packaging report project editor, NRDC, notes: “Companies have an opportunity and an obligation to curb this pollution. Better packaging design and improved support and adoption of recycling are key to turning the tide on this unnecessary waste.”

In the consumer goods/grocer category, Walmart was cited for achieving its commitment to reduce packaging across its global supply chain by 5 percent, and its goal of increasing its use of post-consumer-recycled plastic in products and packaging by 3 billion pounds by 2020. Other firms receiving positive marks include Procter & Gamble for its commitment to make 90 percent of its packaging recyclable by 2020; Colgate-Palmolive for its effort to transition to recyclable packaging in three out of four product categories by 2020; and Unilever for its goal of increasing post-consumer recycling of its packaging 15 percent by 2020 in its top 14 global markets.

The study also analyzed barriers to higher packaging recycling and composting rates, stating that:
A far smaller portion of the U.S. population has convenient access to curbside recycling than previously believed.
A technical glitch is preventing vast amounts of black plastic containers commonly used in QSRs from being recycled.
Significant amounts of packaging can be made compostable, but composting needs to be significantly expanded in U.S. communities.
Increasingly contaminated streams of recyclables are preventing readily recyclable materials such as polyethylene terephthalate bottles from being more widely recycled.

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Sunwarrior chooses rHDPE for transition to resealable container

Sunwarrior, Washington, UT, a maker of plant-based protein powder and supplements, has 
switched to square recycled high-density polyethylene (rHDPE) containers. The recyclable 
rHDPE containers feature a shrink-wrapped design.

“Our [original] bags never displayed as well as we hoped, weren’t recyclable and never sealed well,” recalls Nick Stern, cofounder of Sunwarrior. So Sunwarrier switched to paperboard cartons. But, Sterns says, “Our boxes, despite displaying well and being recyclable, were difficult to hold, wasted money on shipping, required extra packing material and never eliminated the resealing problem.”

The new packaging displays well on shelves, can be carried with one hand, reseals with a twist, saves on shipping, abolishes the doubled-up packaging and minimizes waste. A video with cardboard puppetry celebrates the upgraded packaging. For more information, visit


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Pelletized grade of rPET expands usage beyond through-the-wall container making

A melt-formed pelletized grade of LNO™ c recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) from Phoenix Technologies International, Bowling Green, OH, meets the needs of users who require truckload or tanker shipments of resin, expanding availability of the recycled material.

The original LNO c rPET, developed for through-the-wall container-making operations rather than bulk handling and transport, is formed by compacting a fine-grind powder.


“We view this as a hybrid product,” says Lori Carson, director of commercial operations at Phoenix Technologies. “Users will now get the handling benefits of a melt-form pellet, but still retain the great color and low acetaldehyde characteristics of the original compacted resin. This means that larger volume users who have been evaluating the possibility of using rPET to produce containers…have a new option.”

The LNO c rPET is Food & Drug Administration-approved for conditions of use A-J and can be used at levels up to 100% for containers for food, beverages, pharmaceuticals, shampoos, soaps and detergents. The LNO™ c line offers better color and intrinsic viscosity versus traditional food-grade rPET resins. And for applications such as water bottles, it offers exceptionally low levels of acetaldehyde, sometimes even below that of virgin PET. For more information, visit


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Brewer collaborates on wood fiber bottle

A wood-fiber bottle is the goal of a three-year development project initiated by Carlsberg Group, the Danish brewer. All materials for the Green Fiber Bottle, including the cap, will be developed using bio-based and biodegradable materials – primarily, sustainably sourced wood fibers – so empty containers can be recycled in the waste paper stream or composted.

Bottles will accommodate a threaded closure or peelable seal and be fillable on existing filling lines. Designed for self-manufacturing, the compact production unit relies on patented technology that reduces energy consumption up to 80% versus conventional molded pulp production.
Commenting on the announcement from Carlsberg headquarters in Copenhagen, Andraea Dawson-Shepherd, senior vice president for Corporate Affairs, said: “At Carlsberg we are firm believers in the importance of a circular economy in ensuring sustainable future growth and development on our planet….If the project comes to fruition, as we think it will, it will mark a sea-change in our options for packaging liquids, and will be another important step on our journey toward a circular, zero-waste economy.”

The effort is being undertaken with ecoXpac, a Danish specialist in the development of products made from recycled or natural molded fiber. Other participants include the Innovation Fund Denmark and the Technical University of Denmark.

This initiative is part of the Carlsberg Circular Community (CCC), a cooperation between Carlsberg and selected partners whose aim is to pursue a circular, zero-waste economy by using the Cradle to Cradle® (C2C®) framework when developing and marketing new products. For more information, visit,


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State-of-the-art distillery resurrects former paper mill

A disused paper mill at Laverstoke Mill in the UK gains new life as Bombay Sapphire® Distillery and visitor center. The site ranks as the first distillery to win the 2014 Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM) Industrial Award, a global environmental assessment method and rating system for buildings.

The decision to repurpose instead of build new aligns with the Good Spirited global sustainability initiative of the brand’s parent company, Bacardi Limited, Hamilton, Bermuda.

The renovation of the former paper mill required removal of huge amounts of industrial waste from the site, painstaking deconstruction of whole buildings brick by brick and meticulously reassembly with as many original features salvaged as possible.

A biomass boiler provides clean energy using sustainably sourced wood chips and botanicals left from the distilling process as feedstock. Crews also installed photovoltaic panels for solar energy and a water turbine to harvest rainwater throughout the distillery. Along the same lines, leftover heat generated during the gin-making process is captured and helps maintain the temperature inside onsite glasshouses where many of the botanical ingredients are grown. For more information, visit

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