“The idea is that we could have a combined label that’s dynamic,” said Tom Pollock, GreenBlue’s director of strategic partnerships, noting the potential to also translate what they learn from how consumers are using the searchable tool into broader changes. “So if we have more data about what’s happening in recycling, in the recycling infrastructure, we can use that and share that with our partners so that we can make improvements.”
Opis PetroChem Wire Interview, October 2023
Hot off the presses is a fabulous Recycled Material Standard feature interview from OPIS PetroChem Wire. A news service through the Dow Jones network, OPIS provides traders in plastics and other commodities insight into changing market environments and rising trends like certified recycled material and tradable certificates like ARCs.
The in-depth discussion between Kathy Hall from OPIS and RMS Director, Ross Bergman highlights the comprehensive nature of certification solutions provided by the RMS. From the history of the standard’s development with NSF to using the certification to advance chemical recycling utilization, there are valuable takeaways for anybody working to increase utilization of recycled material.
A topic of particular note is how the RMS can transform sustainability from an aspirational value for a company to a financial incentive. First, by providing all supply chain partners transparency in recycled material usage and validated claims, brands build customer value through trust in sustainable action. Additionally, the ability to trade recycled material claims separate from actual material – via Attribute of Recycled Content certificates – provides growth capital back to recyclers while helping brands accelerate towards recycled material targets.
Recyclers and Consumer Brands alike have been circling the waters on ARC trading, and this interview brings useful insights on their growing value and utility. ARCs are validated evidence of actual material being recycled into a product. With a secure transaction registry and chain of custody auditing through the supply chain, they can’t be double counted. Most importantly, Book & Claim certificates like ARCs are becoming accepted in reporting frameworks as a component of accounting for recycled content. This gives brands a novel tool in addition to sourcing certified PCR to reach their goals and increased value to the recyclers who are making them.
The end of the interview focuses on Mass Balance accounting, while being the only way to trace outputs of chemical recycling, is also applicable to mechanical recycling. Ross details certified RMS recyclers who are using mechanical mass balance across multiple locations to flexibly provide recycled material claims for CPG packaging.
The interview is a must-read for people just learning about certified recycled material or seasoned experts. Make sure to check out the RMS Resource Page for more info on all the topics featured in the interview.
Flexible film packages are ubiquitous in consumer’s lives today. From buying food at the grocery store to ordering furniture online, there is a good chance at least some part of the package is a plastic bag, pouch, or wrap. Despite its prevalence, recycling this material remains challenged. For the majority of the US population, curbside bins are a familiar system to putting recyclable items to be collected. However, when it comes to flexible films, most of us cannot (and should not!) put this material type into our curbside bins. Instead, there are options like Store Drop-off and specialty collection programs that were developed to successfully recover flexible films.
Highlighted during the SPC Advance 2023 session, “The Role of Specialty Recycling Programs as a solution to Hard-to-Recycle Packaging”, were speciality collection programs designed to capture and properly recycle flexible films. While these collection programs are not widespread yet, some communities may have access to centers that accept hard to recycle materials for a fee. To find a location near you, research your local municipality services for information on your specific recycling options.
Other individual localities or businesses may collect challenging materials through partnerships with organizations like TerraCycle. Consumers around urban areas may have access to pick-up subscription services to collect items that cannot go into the curbside bin, such as a program like Ridwell whose top collection categories are polyethylene (PE) plastic films and multilayer plastic (flexibles made of a variety of materials that may or may not include PE). If you have access to a speciality collection program, these are great for giving new use to multilayer films and keeping them out of landfills.
During SPC Advance, attendees heard from Dow and Waste Management (WM) in their session “Advancing residential recycling for hard-to-recycle plastic films through a bold new collaboration” where they highlighted their partnership to pilot a new project focused on collecting flexible films curbside. Over the next 3 to 4 years, up to 8% of households in the US will have access to this pilot. Dow and WM are hopeful for the success of this program as it utilizes an already familiar system, the convenient curbside collection process, meeting consumers where they are and avoiding asking consumers to take additional steps to recycle flexible films. This pilot aims to address the problems that currently prevent flexible films from being collected curbside.
Today, flexibles remain a contaminant in Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs). The equipment at MRFs are designed to sort rigid materials and can become jammed by flexibles, creating slow downs and potentially lowering yields of rigid recyclable material. Additional equipment to specifically capture flexibles has been trialed in various MRFs but has not been widely adopted due to inefficiencies and lack of connection from MRFs to end markets.
Speciality recycling programs help close the gap to end markets by bringing flexible materials to reclaimers to create new items, such as construction materials like composite boards. While the system is not perfected yet, the progress of these programs to keep more materials out of landfills is a worthy endeavor. Currently, the biggest barriers with specialty collection programs are their size and accessibility; they are not available at scale and some even have a subscription cost associated with them. But there is good news–one type of flexible film, polyethylene (PE) film, has a free and readily accessible pathway to recycling for most Americans; the Store Drop-off program.
As we learn about new methods of collecting PE film, and until pilots graduate to widespread systems, it is important to keep supporting the Store Drop-off stream to ensure these materials remain out of landfills. Store Drop-off programs exist where retailers voluntarily set up collection bins in individual stores and this is available to the majority of Americans. Continue to put clean, dry PE films in Store Drop-off bins and look for the How2Recycle label if you’re unsure where your flexible film should go.
For more information on how to recycle flexible films and other materials check out How2Recycle.
“It’s really challenging because as we see that occur, (we’re) operating at a national scale, so figuring out how to adapt to the different states while still communicating to a national market is complex.” – Karen Hagerman, Director, How2Recycle
“One really hot topic with the How2Recycle label, our membership and just recyclability in general is all the movement on policy to regulate recyclability messaging,” she said, referring to California’s S.B. 343 truth in labeling law coming into effect in 2024.
Since 2017, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition has been recognizing meaningful contributions and advancements towards more sustainable packaging through its annual SPC Innovator Awards. As a long-standing awards platform celebrating advancements in sustainability, the Awards have showcased the impressive efforts of more than thirty organizations.
In 2024, the SPC Innovator Awards will look to celebrate innovations in packaging materials and designs with the Innovation in a Product or Material category. In addition to this longstanding category, two new categories will shine a spotlight on innovations in the broader recovery and packaging ecosystems.
The introduction of the two new categories is intended to accelerate our industry’s progress on sustainable packaging. As the waste and climate crises stand at our doors, it is time to encourage and celebrate more ambitious collaborations across the supply chain. To meet this critical moment, the SPC believes it is time for more than improvements to package designs. Today, true innovation lies in transforming how the packaging industry engages with recovery infrastructure, educates consumers, and tackles broader sustainability challenges head-on.
Today, true innovation lies in transforming how the packaging industry engages with recovery infrastructure, educates consumers, and tackles broader sustainability challenges head-on.
Submissions will open on October 11, 2023 for the 2024 awards cycle. SPC Member Companies with innovations in the following three categories are encouraged to submit their work:
1. Innovation in a product or material
This category will recognize breakthroughs in the procurement and use of more sustainable materials. This includes new materials and novel uses of materials in challenging applications, as well as improvements to conventional materials and sourcing practices.
See examples of past innovations in sourcing practices, design optimization, and recoverable packaging here – https://sustainablepackaging.org/engagement/spc-innovator-awards/award-winners/
2. NEW – Innovation in a recovery technology or practice
New for the 2024 awards cycle, this category is intended to recognize innovations that are increasing the quantity or quality of recovered packaging. This includes celebrating partnerships whose aim is to advance recovery practices and increase consumer participation in recycling and composting, as well as recognition for efforts to create end markets for difficult-to-recycle materials.
3. NEW – Innovation in an overall packaging system
New for the 2024 awards cycle, this category will recognize breakthroughs that reduce the need for single-use packaging, such as through reuse and refill offerings. It will also recognize design improvements that solve broader sustainability challenges, such as the prevention of food waste through improved packaging formats. The SPC is also looking to recognize efforts to educate consumers and drive specific behaviors, such as through advancements in labeling paired with education campaigns. Finally, this category intends to recognize breakthroughs that radically break the mold of a current packaging category through wholesale redesign.
With a realigned focus on celebrating companies’ efforts to directly engage with recovery infrastructure and elevate the sustainability of the package-product system, the SPC hopes to catalyze more rapid systems change in the sustainable packaging space.
Submissions for our 2024 SPC Innovator Awards will open October 11th, 2023.
Under the new Recycled Material Standard, companies can trade Attributes of Recycled Content, or ARCs, to support investments in plastic recycling.
A key funding mechanism for expanding the green energy market to its current scale has been the use of an environmental commodity known as a Renewable Energy Certificate, or a REC. Under the new Recycled Material Standard (RMS) program from Charlottesville, Virginia-based GreenBlue, a similar commodity trading system has been developed: Attributes of Recycled Content, or ARCs. Its early supporters say they see vast potential in the new system.
The Recycled Material Standard (RMS) has seen a rapid increase in certified participants and activity over the last few months. At the recent SPC Impact conference in Austin, TX, the RMS team highlighted new certification resources and RMS participants shared the stage to discuss their successes in leveraging different RMS tools.
Perspectives from Early Adopters
An overflowing room of attendees listened as Cherish Changala of Revolution Plastics, Richa Desai of Graham Packaging, and Martha Issa of Veritiv shared insights into their companies’ experiences with RMS. A panel discussion explored the three companies’ experiences as early adopters of strategic avenues to utilize the standard, including traditional recycled content claims supported by chain of custody, mass balance allocation, and Attributes of Recycled Content (ARC) trading.
Revolution was among the first companies to achieve RMS certification, and has used average content claims for certified post-consumer and post-industrial materials. While Revolution has been certified to other standards in the past, Changala said the company wanted to be an early adopter of the RMS because “it was so comprehensive. It’s a new way of looking at [certification].” She noted that certification is important to Revolution because it helps their customers feel confident in their products.
Graham Packaging is now working with newly-accredited certification body DNV Business Assurance USA to pursue certification for two facilities in York, Pennsylvania. Desai noted a few features of the RMS that have helped the process go smoothly. Graham was able to use the new RMS toolkit to ease the burden of preparing for certification, unlike other certification processes that required the assistance of a consultant. Compared to other standards, the opportunity for multi-site certification via RMS has also helped reduce the audit burden, so the company doesn’t have to audit every site every year.
Like Revolution, Graham sees the value in certifying both post-consumer and post-industrial materials. Desai noted that post-industrial materials can help customers with goals to reduce virgin plastic use, while maintaining quality and performance of packaging.
Graham is the first RMS participant to pursue the use of mass balance allocation. According to Desai, there are a few key advantages. First, mass balance gives Graham the flexibility to use materials processed through mechanical recycling and advanced recycling. Second, the company hopes to leverage non-food-grade PCR into food grade applications. Given the lack of supply of food grade PCR, especially for polyolefins, this flexibility will help Graham’s customers meet their recycled material use targets. Mass balance will also give Graham the flexibility to match its specific investments in use of recycled materials with its customers’ variable goals.
Desai pointed out that PCR cannot be incorporated into packaging overnight – it takes investment, infrastructure, testing, and more to incorporate PCR, especially in food grade applications. Graham’s customers have different goals and different willingness to pay for recycled materials, especially as new regulatory requirements are being put in place, so mass balance will enable Graham to meet those requirements while efficiently managing its inventory and capital investments. Desai sees mass balance as key to advancing the use of recycled materials: “We now have EPR as an instrument to drive investment in recycling [collection and sortation] infrastructure. I truly believe that we need mass balance to increase the amount of PCR in products.”
Meanwhile, as a distributor of packaging, Veritiv was excited about the ability to create a pipeline for recycled content without becoming certified directly through the RMS. When Issa first heard about ARCs, the new environmental commodity created by the RMS to support investments in recycling, she thought the idea was brilliant. “For me it was very easy to buy into the concept, because I had in mind that the end goal is to invest in infrastructure for more recycled content.” The bigger challenge was to explain the new concept to stakeholders within her company. Two of the main concerns they expressed were: how can you be sure that investments in ARCs are truly investments in recycling infrastructure, and how can you be sure that claims based on ARCs aren’t greenwashing? For Issa and her colleagues, the RMS was able to provide that assurance. Since every ARC is tied to materials reprocessed by a specific audited project that must meet additional criteria, Veritiv was assured that their investment was credible.
The RMS also gives guidelines on marketing claims so that ARC purchasers like Veritiv can avoid greenwashing. Ultimately, the holy grail is to have more post-consumer recycled plastic, and Issa sees investment in ARCs as a step on the path to get there: “This is not about offsetting or buying our way out. We need recycled content, there is not enough. This is a step forward to doing that.”
These companies’ experiences highlight the importance of the flexibility and adaptability of the RMS, even as it provides robust assurance of the validity of claims. By offering different pathways, RMS can assure validity of both post-consumer and post-industrial content claims, give companies the flexibility to meet their goals through mass balance accounting, and facilitate scalable investments in new recycling infrastructure through ARC trading. With the new resources that are now available to participants, these opportunities will become accessible to even more companies that are working to advance the use of recycled materials.
New Resources for Companies Considering Certification
Dr. Laura Thompson kicked off the first RMS session by introducing the RMS participant toolkit developed with the support of McDonald’s. The session helped companies considering certification think through the process, answering questions like:
- What key internal stakeholders need to be involved in the certification process?
- How might a company align their certification approach with their strategy?
- How should a company define the intended scope of their certificate, including covered sites, products, and types of claims?
- How can the scope of a certificate evolve and grow over time as companies and their supply chain partners make progress on their recycled material goals?
Thompson’s session also touched on some less obvious certification opportunities such as the ability to certify post-industrial scrap (and potentially track any post-consumer content that may be present) and use mass balance for all types of recycling – not just chemical – offering flexibility and simpler inventory management.
Beyond the toolkit, the RMS team has other resources for current and prospective participants, including one-page brochures suitable for sales trading and educating customers on the RMS and a brief video on the often-confusing topic of mass balance allocation.