Rigid Thinking and Reusables: Increased Recovery and Recycling of Rigid Plastic a Good News Story

This week’s Reusable Packaging News, like any good reusable packaging application, is about connecting the dots, whether in terms of embracing a systems based approach to packaging, or to environmental impacts.

We see new evidence of reusable packaging providers continuing to work towards providing an easy comparison of environmental benefits of reusable packaging versus expendable packaging. Certainly this was the case this week with ORBIS announcing its Life Cycle Assessment Initiative from MODEX in Atlanta, while over in the U.K., Foxwood almost simultaneously announced the availability of its tool for packaging LCA and environmental comparison.

On another positive environmental note, the recovery rate of non-bottle rigid plastic continues to grow in leaps and bounds. According to a story in Plastics News, non-bottle rigid plastics recycling nearly doubled in 2010, up by 72 percent on a top of a nearly 33 percent gain in 2009.  Of course, being the pessimist that I am, I think of those stray reusables that inadvertently end up in the recycling stream, detracting from the financial and environmental potential of reusable packaging programs, which none the less is still often very compelling.

But as I’ve said elsewhere, blaming container loss on theft tends to be more therapeutic than an exercise in due diligence. We don’t yet have containers that manage themselves, although through RFID initiatives we will perhaps one day get there.  We see pockets of activity around RFID tagged reusables that perhaps provide a glimpse of the future. It is somewhat comparable to the development of pallets in the 1930s and ensuing decades. Palletization began first within plants, and within simple, controlled supply chains. Eventually the use of pallets went viral. We continue to monitor the progress of RFID towards that same end.

But getting back to the report, the rigid plastic recycling gains come from household containers and items, electronics recycling, and new programs aimed at recovering rigid plastics like buckets and pails from the grocery supply chain. At the end of the day, the increased recycling of rigid plastic material is good news for reusable plastic packaging  in terms of demonstrating its environmental sustainability, while in the same breath, increasing supply of recycled resin. And most importantly, it is a story about behavior that results in a successful closed loop. That’s the right kind of behavior to have.



  1. Thanks for this article. Reusables product/service providers often indicate that they are interested in capturing their products at end of life to recycle the content in manufacturing new products. Doing so creates an ideal closed loop system and would be a significant step towards improving the (already positive) sustainability story of reusables. But I have not been able to find any research studies or data out there on how much this is actually happening. I think it would be useful to industry and other interested parties if more validated data were available on what % of reusables are captured and recycled at end of life, and what providers are doing to try and increase this.

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