What is it?
Recycled content is the proportion (typically reported by mass or weight) of pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled material in packaging, with the two sources being defined as:
- Pre-Consumer (or ‘post-industrial’) being materials diverted from the waste stream during manufacturing, also referred to as post-industrial recycled content (PIR).
- Post-consumer being material waste generated by households or by industrial, commercial and institutional facilities, also referred to as post-consumer recycled content (PCR).
Why use it?
As noted in this research, increasing the recycled content of a package once the material is selected almost always reduces negative environmental impacts, including GHGs. As in this use case [link Dainty Use-Case], using 25% recycled PE, instead of virgin PE, reduces impacts.
These environmental benefits are a primary motivation for improved packaging recyclability, and recycling (collection, sorting and processing).
Challenges associated with the use of recycled content, notably food grade PCR, include:
- the time needed to determine, through testing, the threshold of recycled content, past which key package performancerequirements may not be meet.
- cost, which fluctuates, but is often a premium compared to virgin material
- consistent supply
Note: keep in mind that recycled content, by itself, is not a good predictor of lower environmental outcomes when comparing functionally equivalent (substitutable) packaging made from different materials. Packaging design should prioritize the use of materials and formats with the lowest life cycle impact profiles, and then increase recycled content as feasible.
The Government of Canada is considering regulation with respect to minimum recycled content requirements for plastic items [link] The proposed Regulations, which would also include labelling requirements for plastic items, will be published as early as fall 2023, followed by a public comment period.
An important related area is compliance when using recycled material in food-contact packaging. Health Canada’s Bureau of Chemical Safety (BCS) has guidelines to assist recyclers, manufacturers and sellers of plastic materials in determining the safety and acceptability of post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics for this purpose.
The guidelines focus on mechanical recycling processes, as these are considered to represent the greatest potential health concern for food contact applications. Advanced recycling will be an important source for food-grade recycled content [link]
Canada Plastics Pact Guide for Recycled Content (Q1, 2023)
Design for Recycled Content Guide (Sustainable Packaging Coalition, US – 2019), the guide supports brands and suppliers seeking to incorporate recycled content in packaging by outlining existing challenges, areas of opportunity, and dispelling myths about the use of recycled content.
Collaborative Initiatives: Several collaborative initiatives are underway around the world to enable increased recycled content, notable examples including:
- Association of Plastic Recyclers PCR Certification Program (US). The APR endorses third-party companies to conduct certifications on the inclusion of recycled content in commercial goods, including packaging. Reclaimers hire these companies to conduct certification, with APR promoting a listing of certified PCR available from reclaimers who are APR members.
- Recycled Material Standard (North America) – developed by GreenBlue, the parent non-profit of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), the Recycled Material Standard (RMS) is a voluntary, market-based tool to address some of the challenges that brands, their suppliers, and the recycling industry face in incorporating higher amounts of recycled content into packaging.