Changing social habits are placing pressure on retailers and their suppliers to provide products and packaging formats that help deliver our ‘on the go’ lifestyles. These include fibre-based formats such as oven-ready packs, coffee cups, sandwich skillets and pizza boxes.
Paperboard is a leading bio-based, sustainable, renewable and recyclable packaging medium, so people expect it to be readily recyclable however it is presented to the reprocessor. This can mean that scant attention is paid to the potential for packaging that is heavily contaminated by food being put back into the recovery and recycling system.
All suppliers of food packaging have a duty of care to ensure they minimise the risks of contaminating the food chain. This includes preventing the cross-contamination of new packaging from old. This makes it problematic for reprocessors to accept back into the supply chain paper-based material that they know is potentially soiled with food, even though paper mills use sophisticated methods to remove huge quantities of unwanted materials from infeed.
WRAP’s recycling guidelines and on-pack guidance from OPRL provide valuable information to help inform the public about what should and should not be considered recyclable. Although it is desirable to offer hard and fast rules about recyclability, it is difficult to provide unequivocal guidance for all situations.
So we should continue to communicate widely about the general benefit of recycling paper and board, but caveat messages to draw attention to the risk that soiled recyclable materials can bring into the supply chain. As understanding grows, we should expect the quality of recyclate to improve.
Simon Weston is director of raw materials, Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI)