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A new way to recycle: MRFF pilot project case study

Historically, only cardboard, paper products, metal, steel, aluminum cans, and rigid plastic containers were recycled. However, the Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF) has worked to pave the way for a new type of recycling. 

Because flexible plastic packaging (FPP) is the most popular type of packaging in the United States, the American Chemistry Council launched MRFF to determine how it could be recycled, recovered, and kept out of landfills. 

MRFF is a research initiative made up of brands, manufacturers, trade associations, packaging companies, and other members committed to improving the recovery of FPP, such as plastic bags and films. Below is a timeline of their findings and improvements they’ve made for recycling and recovering flexible packaging. 

2015-2016: Can FPP be captured and sorted in Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs)? 

Since flexible plastics traditionally get stuck in sorting equipment, MRFF partnered with Resource Recycling Systems (RRS) to determine if this could be reversed. After testing the impact of adding FPP to a residential single stream recycling system, their research revealed that automated sorting technologies could be optimized to collect flexible packaging. In addition, this could further lead to the creation of a new stream of recovered materials, and improve the quality of other recycling streams. MRFF’s next step was to test the economic feasibility of auto-sorting FPP.  

2017: Is automated sorting of flexible packaging economically feasible? 

RSS created a pro-forma model to estimate the cost and benefits of adding FPP to an MRF’s incoming material stream. Their results found that the costs for large facilities were within reason, particularly in areas of the U.S. with economic incentives that promote sustainable land use and end markets. Moving forward, they needed to demonstrate how this would work within a MRF that aligned with the criteria outlined in their research. 

2018-2019: MRFF partners with J.P. Mascaro & Sons Inc.

MRFF partnered with Pennsylvania waste company, J.P. Mascaro & Sons to test single-stream curbside recycling of FPP. Mascaro used new sorting equipment at its TotalRecycle MRF in Berks County, Pennsylvania to perform the pilot. The results revealed that FPP could be recycled and made into a new product bale known as rFlex.

2020: J.P. Mascaro & Sons Inc. offers recycling of FPP to households throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania 

In January 2020, Mascaro announced the expansion ofrecycling FPP through curbside pickup to nine of its municipalities. They aim to continue improving the recovery process of flexible packaging and expand the market of FPP’s recycled product, rFlex. This is only the beginning of new recovery options for flexible packaging. We are thrilled at this program’s progress and look forward to future developments.

Be sure to visit our blog as we continue to follow up on the Pilot Program’s advancements. 

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