Breaking down the barriers
New packaging recycling recommendations have been set in place to help climate efforts. In the UK new recommendations allow paperboard packaging to contain up to 15% plastic and still be considered recyclable. This may sound bad, but opens up many more options in food packaging in particular, and this mainly paperboard packaging can have 80% less climate impact than fully plastic packaging.
Paperboard packaging with a thin plastic barrier is an ideal compromise - it combines paperboard’s stiffness for the construction with plastic’s impermeability for purposes such as a longer food lifespan. This type of packaging reduces the use of plastic and has far less climate impact than the equivalent packaging made only of plastic. However, opinion has been divided over whether and how this type of packaging can be recycled. The answer depends mainly on which technology is available in each local market. This has been the case in the UK, which has lacked clear advice on how packaging made of such combination materials should be recycled.
At the beginning of 2020, the UK labelling organisation OPRL (On-Pack Recycling Label) issued guidelines for how to recycle packaging made of paper and board with a plastic coating. The guidelines were developed in cooperation with the relevant industry organisations and specify which recycling label should be put on the packaging to advise consumers. The new recommendations state that packaging can contain up to 15% plastic and still be classified as recyclable and be sorted in the waste stream for paper materials. As of January 2023, the permitted plastic content will be reduced to 10% of the packaging’s weight.
OPRL originally wanted to allow far less than 15% plastic content in fibre based packaging. But increasing awareness of packaging’s climate impact has already persuaded numerous major brand owners to start replacing all their plastic solutions. This is particularly the case with food packaging, where plastic is often necessary as a barrier against moisture, grease or aroma. Setting the limit for plastic content too low would have risked slowing down this development.
The goal of the paper and board industry is to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of plastic in this type of product – a step that requires new, fossil free barriers. Development work is being done in many places, and new and increasingly better solutions will undoubtedly be presented in within the next few years.
OPRL (On-Pack Recycling Label) - https://www.oprl.org.uk