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It takes a village to boost package recycling

By Jenni Spinner+

07-May-2014

The Recycling Partnership is enlisting the aid of food firms and packaging companies to increase US recycling rates.
The Recycling Partnership is enlisting the aid of food firms and packaging companies to increase US recycling rates.

Food producers, packaging firms, cities, foodservice pros, and others are being recruited to join forces and boost recycling rates.

While recycling rates have climbed every year in the US, there is still much room for progress. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans generate approximately 251m tons of waste (much of it product packaging) each year—less than 35% of that is recycled or composted, meaning millions of tons of material are lost to landfills, along with the potential revenue from the recovered material.

One group is aiming to change that—the Curbside Value Partnership (CVP), an organization focused on boosting recycling rates across the US, has launched the Recycling Partnership as a way for food firms, retailers, cities, restaurants, and others to join forces and engineer ways to increase recycling rates.

Keefe Harrison, CVP’s executive director, spoke with FoodProductionDaily on how higher recycling rates benefit food and packaging companies, and what industry professionals can do to pitch in.

Could you please describe the mission of the Recycling Partnership?

By assessing the overall health of the recycling infrastructure, identifying the current barriers to recycling, and then building a to-do list around those barriers, the Recycling Partnership will create a new framework of public-private collaboration to systematically improve the recycling infrastructure. The Recycling Partnership will pool member contributions and use those private dollars to transform public program performance. 

Overseen by CVP, the project will include essential technical assistance to ensure that the local programs closely follow best management practices and that the contributions from the partners are leveraged and maximized. On July 1, work will begin in no fewer than three Southeastern U.S. communities. 

Designed to increase recycling recovery rates to more than 400 pounds per household, projections show a one billion pound increase. Initial work will focus on four key task areas: access (ensuring all households with curbside collection are served by roll carts); champion building (building support from local and state elected officials), regional coordination (creating strategy across the entire supply chain, ensuring use of best management practices), and education and outreach (increasing participation and reducing contamination).

What traditionally have been some of the roadblocks toward increasing recycling rates of food and beverage packaging?

The road blocks for increasing recycling of food and beverage packaging are essentially the same as for recycling other common materials, such as paper.

These road blocks can be categorized in two ways. First and foremost, recycling needs to be convenient for residents; not having recycling containers or adequately sized recycling containers is a big barrier for some, for example. The Recycling Partnership will work to eliminate these types of infrastructure barriers.

The second is resident education which is why education will be the last component of the Partnership. Making recycling more convenient is crucial but residents also need information to know how and what to recycle.

Are there any specific types of food/beverage packaging (i.e. PET, cartons, etc.) that present greater challenges than others?

The Recycling Partnership will focus on increasing the recovery of many food packaging containers including cans, bottles and cartons. We're looking to the work of the Foodservice Packaging Institute to prove the recyclability and marketability of poly-lined fiber take-out containers to see if those materials will have a good fit in our common suite of recyclables.

What are some ways food companies can contribute in boosting recycling rates?

Many companies have corporate goals to provide sustainable options for their products and packaging. The Recycling Partnership is here to meet their goals.

What steps has the organization taken to increase recycling rates to date?

CVP has a decade-long portfolio of positively influencing recovery rates across the country. CVP will manage the Recycling Partnership.

Additionally, the Recycling Partnership looks closely at all barriers to recycling in each market and strives to address them, followed up by educating residents.

What’s next for the Recycling Partnership and CVP?

We are still meeting and recruiting with new partners. There is a partner briefing taking place on May 29 and we are hoping to announce the first markets and launch activities in early July.

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