Recyclability tool for fibre-based packaging launches in UK

A paper and pulp mill.

A new tool promises to remove much of the uncertainty faced by packaging designers and others when it comes to understanding the recyclability of fibre-based products (either finished or under-development).

Papercycle is described as the UK’s first comprehensive recyclability assessment and certification service for fibre-based packaging. With Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation on the horizon, this new service could not arrive at a better time, suggests its developer, the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI).

The group says the tool is supported by the UK’s paper-based Industries.

Papercycle’s automated online tool provides a robust, comprehensive system to assess the recyclability of fibre-based products and materials in a consistent and credible way, says the CPI. It also identifies whether fibre-based packaging materials can be recycled in the UK and which type of recycling mills can reprocess them. Recyclability can be tested at any stage, be it finished or semi-finished products.

The tool seemingly provides an instant diagnosis on recyclability following the online assessment, but for more complex products or materials, it can conduct “timely laboratory testing under the Confederation of European Paper Industries (Cepi) recyclability test method”.

“Following a laboratory test, Papercycle can provide a technical review service on how a product behaves under lab conditions to give an insight into how the various components interact with each other, diagnose the most critical parts and signpost potential solutions for material modification. Papercycle can thus help prepare fibre-based packaging for certification and expansion in the UK and other markets, subject to local variations and requirements.”

Whilst in principle all fibre-based packaging is recyclable, innovations in material development can make some products more challenging to recycle. This means basic recyclability assessments based on visual or a simple compositional analysis are no longer sufficient to capture the complexities of the recycling process and accurately reflect the true recyclability of packaging. Without a comprehensive assessment there could be unintended environmental consequences, such as packaging being sent to a recycling facility where it cannot be processed or increased waste and contamination. Simple compositional analysis therefore potentially jeopardises the move to a more circular economy, and can disrupt the recycling supply loop for business.

To address this, CPI says it considered local and European industry standards and engaged extensively with stakeholders across the paper industry who are advising on permissible non-fibre levels and parameters to develop Papercycle. Papercycle enables producers to innovate armed with ‘real knowledge’ of the recycling loop, which will help keep fibre-based materials from packaging in use for as long as possible, contributing to a more sustainable future.

With the EPR reforms underway, Papercycle’s certification service could enable a standardised labelling system where customers could receive a ‘recycle’ label as will be required by the UK’s mandatory recyclability labelling on packaging. Packaging certified as “recyclable” will also attract lower Producer Responsibility (modulated) Fees associated with complying with the reformed Packaging Waste Regulations. Furthermore, for consumers, Papercycle can help avoid confusion on what can and cannot be recycled.

Dimitra Rappou, CPI Director of Recycling, said: “As packaging materials have become increasingly complex, we have seen growing confusion over the recyclability of materials, with an over simplified assessment approach threatening the quality of recycling. Papercycle’s new service can remove the uncertainty faced by packaging designers, brands, retailers, and policy makers on the recyclability of fibre-based products. We see this playing a crucial role in promoting a circular economy for fibre-based packaging, helping to reduce waste and lower carbon emissions by keeping materials in use for longer. By providing accurate information on recyclability, Papercycle enables brands and manufacturers to design and develop packaging solutions that contribute to a more sustainable future.”

Lead engineer, Dr Ed Jones, at Kelp Industries Ltd, remarked: “The Product Development Service offered by Papercycle has been crucial in landing some key clients for us. The tailored report and post-assessment technical review with Papercycle allowed us to give confidence to our customers, by demonstrating the recyclability of our new materials, and with external validation directly from representatives of the paper processing industry.”

Papercycle’s website offers more detail for those developing or seeking to understand fibre-based packaging solutions.