A recycling consultancy and resource management firm has said policy-makers should avoid setting minimum targets for recycled content in food packaging.
Richard McKinlay, head of circular economy (CE) at resource recovery specialist Axion, warned that minimum targets could have perverse effects in the food packaging market. He said these could be counter-productive in areas such as polypropylene (PP) food packaging.
This was because the technology and infrastructure needed was not available to produce food-grade recycled PP from post-consumer household packaging, which would force manufacturers to use PET instead.
McKinlay said: “As several WRAP studies have shown, the lower quality of PET recycled from pots, tubs and trays makes it unsuitable for many end-use applications.
“This means you might substitute a recyclable pack that is good in every other way, but without recycled content, for a pack that may not be as good for recycling yet has recycled content.
“Established markets for recycled PP already exist, such as automotive parts and furniture, and these markets can more easily increase recycled content than in packaging applications.”
McKinlay said food safety was the priority for packaging: “Perhaps we should encourage a CE approach where virgin polymer is used in food packaging, which is then recycled into non-food packaging and other long-life products.
“It’s all about creative thinking around end applications and not worrying so much about closed-loop recycling.
“In the future, targets will be a great help but we’re not quite there yet. We must ensure that we don’t take one step forward and two steps back.”
A number of industry figures and waste management companies have argued that introducing minimum recycled content in products is an essential step in creating a market for secondary materials.
MRW’s Industry Insight survey found that 91% of respondents think minimum content is of the upmost importance.