Video: Learn from clamshells how to make your packaging recyclable

Posted by Chandler Slavin on Oct 15, 2020 1:54:59 PM

Learn how clamshell packaging became recyclable in this new video. All packaging can be recycled; it just requires work, time, investment, and collaboration. Make your packaging recyclable, too, by working with all stakeholders to isolate the challenges in order to develop the solutions.

In my last post on plastic ocean pollution, I discuss the complexities of recycling. I want to share a success story to demonstrate that things can be recyclable, it just takes a lot of industry collaboration and hard work.

In 2009, I found out that the plastic clamshells Dordan manufacturers are not collected for recycling, and I didn't understand why this was, because our clamshells are made out of plastic bottles, which are recyclable.

The FTC defines "recyclable" as "the majority of communities having access to facilities that can collect [insert packaging type] for recycling."

Ultimately, it comes down to the recycler. A recycler is not going to want to add a new packaging material to its process unless there is enough generated in the waste stream to justify its collection and sortation, its 'easy' enough to sort; and, there is an end market. 

The case with PET is unique in that the supply does not meet the demand. The idea was that in adding PET thermoforms to the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure, the supply would increase, hopefully driving down the cost of RPET such that it is more competitive with virgin material.

Once the economic argument was established, we had to demonstrate to recyclers that adding PET thermoforms to the bottle recycling stream would not compromise their product. This was done by identifying the obstacles to recycling thermoforms with bottles such that they could be overcome.

First, the issue of look-a-like contamination had to be addressed. Clamshells come in all different materials, some of which, render the recyclate useless if processed together. How do you sort a PET clamshell from a PVC clamshell when its flying down the line at the MRF? Fortunately, Infrared technology is able to separate PET thermoforms with bottles from other clamshells that are contaminants to PET recycling. Most recyclers are equipped with Infrared technology, so the issue of look-alike contamination was overcome.

Next, the issue of labels and adhesives had to be resolved. The labels on thermoforms, specifically, freezer-grade labels, can be extremely challenging to remove during the wash stage at the recycler, because the adhesive is so aggressive. To overcome this obstacle, the industry collaborated and developed adhesives that could be more easily removed when washed. Furthermore, design for recycling guidelines were developed that helped thermoform and label manufacturers develop packaging configurations that would not compromise the success of PET recycling.

Lastly, specs for thermoform/bottle bales had to be developed. While specs for PET bottle bales existed, specs for thermoform bales did not. Through an understanding of the end markets for RPET, mixed and dedicated bale specs for thermoforms were developed, and now clamshell containers are recycled nationwide.

I'll talk about extended producer responsibility in my next post, which is a non tax-payer funded way of financing the recovery of packaging.

Click here for authors bio.

Topics: Plastic clamshell recycling, Sustainable packaging, Recycling thermoforms, plastic clamshells, Clamshell recycling, Recycling clamshells, Clamshell packaging, Thermoform recycling