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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. 

The Hefty® EnergyBag® Program in Cobb County is making “TONS” of progress

In November 2018, Cobb County in Atlanta, Georgia launched a community level program administered through Keep America Beautiful known as the Hefty® EnergyBag® program. As part of Cobb County’s existing waste management infrastructure, the program was a significant step to achieving positive long-term environmental and economic advantages, including fewer plastics ending up in landfills. 

How Does the Program Work?

Participating households place their hard-to-recycle plastics in Hefty® EnergyBag® orange bags. Once full, residents tie the bags and place them in their curbside recycling carts or bins during their regularly-scheduled recycling pick-up.

Participants’ current haulers pick up the tied Hefty® bags along with their regular recycling materials and send them to a local materials recovery facility (MRF) for sorting. The MRF then bales the bags and sends them to a local energy recovery facility, which converts plastics into valuable resources.

Program Benefits

The Hefty® EnergyBag® program provides many environmental and economic benefits, including:

  • The diversion of valuable resources from landfills

  • The conversion of waste into alternative energy, which can be used to power businesses, cars and homes

  • Improved efficiency of existing mechanical recycling programs by reducing the amount of hard-to-recycle materials going to materials recovery facilities, ultimately improving the quality of recycled materials such as paper and cardboard

  • Potential cost savings that aid in the decrease of waste management costs

  • The reduction of fossil fuels extracted from the ground

  • Increased consumer engagement and education of resource recovery

The Results

Within 10 months of program launch, more than 20,000 residents expressed interest in participating, involving additional recycling haulers. Within that time, participating residents have diverted more than 33.6 tons of materials that would have otherwise gone to landfill.

Looking Ahead

In late November 2019, Cobb County started phase 2 of the program to engage another 15,000 households, making the program available to new communities with additional haulers throughout Cobb County.

Learn more about the Hefty® EnergyBag® program here.

Find Your Local Flexible Packaging Recycling Location