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10 Codes of Conduct for Recycability of Plastic Packaging

Reading time: 3 min

Did you know that the color of a shampoo bottle can make a difference to whether it is easy to recycle or not?

Plastics are a workhorse material of the modern economy. In Europe, approximately 40 percent of plastics demand comes from plastic packaging. Recycling rates, however, rarely exceed 30 percent – even though plastic waste is a valuable resource. So, to create a more circular economy for plastic, we need plastic packaging that is easier to recycle.

Even though plastic waste could be a valuable resource, recycling rates rarely exceed 30 percent. So, to create a more circular economy for plastic, we need plastic packaging that is easier to recycle.
Geert van Ballaer, Circular Economy Solutions, Borealis

With this in mind, packaging design should be guided by the following three principles:

  • Use as few different plastic types, components and materials as possible.
  • Make it easy to remove all decoration from the main packaging.
  • Ensure the packaging uses as little material as possible, while maintaining protection and functionality.

Here are 10 Codes of Conduct for the design of plastic packaging, that can be recycled more easily:

  1. Only use a single type of plastic for the packaging.  
    So-called mono-materials are easier to recycle than multi-layer packaging from different materials.
  2. Make packaging from transparent, clear or white material.
    Pigmented packaging leads to dark colour recyclates, which sometimes restricts its use in new packaging applications.
  3. Design the package so it can be fully emptied after use.
    Product residue in the packaging complicates the recycling process as it contaminates the recycled material.
  4. Use compatible combinations of materials, dyes and adhesives that can be separated easily.
    Some combinations of materials make it near to impossible to separate them, which makes recycling very difficult.
  5. If using aluminum foil, make sure it can be easily separated from the plastic packaging.
    This means it can be sent for aluminum recycling and the plastic waste remains pure and easier to recycle.
  6. Pay attention to density when choosing packaging components like labels or sleeves.
    In the recycling process plastics are sorted by density in a water-based float sink system. This cleanly separates waste streams of different types of plastic. The type of label can affect density and lead to incorrect sorting.
  7. Design labels, sleeves and printing in such a way that they can be easily separated from the pack. Use the same material and same color for the whole pack.
    Labels, sleeves, etc. could complicate the recycling process and contaminate the recycled product. An optical scanner sorts the packs for recycling and works better when the color of the packs is consistent.
  8. Use as little surface space as possible for printing or labelling on the pack.
    The less space used for printing ink or labels, the more likely a pack is to be recognized and correctly sorted.
  9. Use light-colored inks for on-pack information.
    Printing inks that cannot be removed during recycling disrupt the process.
  10. If incorporating paper components on plastic packaging, design the packs so that consumers remove them the paper parts.
    It is difficult to remove paper fibers in the recycling process as they degrade under heat. That’s why every care should be taken to ensure they do not enter the same waste stream and that they are already removed at the point of use.

For more details consult:
Polyolefin Packaging Design | 10 Codes of Conduct for Design for Recyclability

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