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How to increase the recyclability of paper packaging

Confederation of Paper Industries, publishes guide for packaging designers to increase recyclability of paper products; to improve recycling quality, suggests limiting laminates, coatings, inks, varnishes, and adhesives to no more than 10% of pack weight, aspirational goal of 5%; standard paper mills cannot process much laminate, e.g. coffee cups, cold cups, beverage cartons

Across Europe, approximately 74% of paper and board products are recycled and packaging specifically is even higher, 82%. 4evergreen, an alliance of European industries in the paper packaging value chain, has a target of 90% recycling rate for fiber-based packaging by 2030 (FPF reported). Building upon the increased collaboration and goals of the European paper supply chain, on August 31, 2022, the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI), representing the UK paper industry, published updated guidelines for recyclability. The guidelines define “components of paper that can normally be dealt with by standard paper mills and those that can be problematic and, depending on their amount, composition and interaction with other components, can lead to undesired consequences.” By outlining the types of materials, contamination, and non-fiber components that a paper mill can normally handle, CPI aims to advise designers on how to make their products easier to recycle.

According to CPI, “components such as laminates, coatings, inks, varnishes, and adhesives can be problematic, and the Paper Industry recommends that they are limited to a maximum of 10% of pack weight.” The non-fiber components of packaging can decrease the efficiency of the machinery and lead to lower quality products. It has also been shown that these contaminants can increase the quantity, and thus migration, of non-intentionally added substances in recycled paper products (FPF reported). CPI would like it if no more than 5% of a product was non-fiber but acknowledges that “this is an aspirational target and will likely take time to achieve as technology in cellulose fibre-based packaging improves.” Plastic components can be problematic and “papermakers would prefer all plastics be minimized.” Packaging such as “coffee cups, cold cups, beverage cartons, oven-ready meal trays, or other laminated products can be reprocessed if collected and presented in baled form to mills that can handle them” but for standard paper mills these products often must be removed. For the purposes of paper recycling, it makes no difference whether the plastic component is biodegradable. To improve recyclability CPI suggests, in order of preference, to (i) remove or reduce plastic components, (ii) design the component to be removable by the consumer, along with a call-to-action to do so, (iii) make any plastic easily detectable in the recycling process, and (iv) make it minimally impactful to the machinery and environment. Packaging designers may be assisted by the circularity guide for standard paper mills that 4evergreen published in early 2022. The guide is split into sections based on the non-fiber components of packaging, e.g. coatings, adhesives. Within each subsection 4evergreen has a table listing many of the options a designer has for a component and a rating of whether the option is compatible with the standard recycling process. For example, a paper product maybe be coated by dipping in wax – which is not compatible with standard recycling processes – or by a plastic laminate that is removable by consumers – which has no impact on recycling once separated. 4evergreen plans to publish two more guides detailing the capabilities of deinking mills and specialized recycling mills later in 2022. This article was republished with permission from the Food Packaging Forum. View the original version.


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