The Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF) research program recently announced a new partnership with J.P. Mascaro & Sons Inc. to pilot single stream curbside recycling of flexible plastic packaging (FPP) at its TotalRecycle materials recovery facility (MRF) in Berks County, Pennsylvania. This will be the first pilot to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of recycling household FPP from municipal residential single stream recycling programs.

MRFF, a multi-year research project, is an industry collaborative of which FPA is a contributory member. The focus of the program is to examine whether flexible packaging that is predominantly plastic, and currently not readily recyclable, can be auto sorted at a MRF from single stream recycling. The overarching goal is to find the most cost-effective pathway to separate at scale, and create a flexible packaging commodity bale for reprocessing or conversion to energy.

Flexible packaging offers a number of sustainability benefits throughout the entire life cycle of the package, when compared to other package formats including: material/resource efficiency; lightweight/source reduction; transportation benefits due to inbound format and lightweight nature; shelf life extension; reduced materials to landfill; high product-to-package ratio; and beneficial life cycle metrics.

Despite the number of sustainability benefits, there are challenges facing the flexible packaging industry. The main challenges are post-consumer packaging material collection and recycling. There is currently a lack of recycling options for multi-material laminated films, such as snack bags and foil pouches, which are difficult to separate into their various material substrates.

The industry is responding to these challenges with new initiatives to improve the sustainability profile of flexible packaging, and the MRFF and J.P. Mascaro & Sons Inc.’s partnership is one of the numerous industry collaborations that are working to identify technologies to make collection and sortation of flexible packaging waste feasible and economically effective.

Van Dyk Recycling Solutions will add sophisticated sorting equipment to Mascaro’s TotalRecycle facility that will target FPP out of the single stream flow. The FPP will be identified as such and separated by advanced optical sorters, resulting in a new generation bale of FPP.

The pilot program is set to begin in late 2018, after the installation of the new sorting equipment. After an internal testing period, TotalRecycle will begin accepting FPP for recycling from the municipal residents it serves. The pilot program is expected to last approximately two years.