Wherever possible, packaging should be designed to allow for recycling or recovery and must not contain any hazardous substances, selecting the type of plastic, design and manufacture to increase recyclability and using recycled content wherever practicable.
Factors for consideration include:
- Removing problematic and/or unnecessary plastic packaging
- Increasing the use/weight of plastic ratio
- Whether bio-derived plastic could be a more sustainable option
- Simplifying material choices to those that are most readily recycled
- Simplifying componentry to ensure easy separation into different materials
- Decoration and the impact this has on packaging recyclability
- Pack shape and the impact this has on packaging recyclability
- Ensuring componentry is not too light that it blows around during the collection and recycling process, making it un-recyclable
- Investment in labelling, consumer messaging and collections/recycling/take-back infrastructure to increase circularity
By embedding recyclability principles into packaging design, at the end of its’ life the packaging material can be successfully recycled and used again in new products and packaging, making production simpler, reducing energy usage, reducing chemical loading and inventory.
It is worth mentioning that the packaging volume and weight will be limited to the minimum adequate amount to maintain the necessary level of safety, hygiene and acceptance for the packed product and for the consumer; furthermore, the reusable nature of packaging and the recoverable nature of packaging should also be considered. These requirements are part of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, which is implemented within each EU Member State.
However, the whole product and a whole life-cycle analysis are key; plastic is not inherently bad, but our throwaway use of it is. Over time, consumers have started to see most plastic packaging as waste and this perception is strong enough to force brands to look for alternatives that may or may not be more sustainable.
The recyclability of plastic packaging will be dependent on the recycling infrastructure available as well as the behaviour and understanding of consumers within any region or country.