Is Your Fiber-Based Packaging Recyclable? Try The Paper Packaging Recyclability Test

by Chase Kammerer.

Newly developed methods and specifications will help drive the development of innovative uses for fiber-based packaging by providing guidance on what new fiber-based packaging meets recyclability needs.

Introduction to Paper Packaging Recyclability Test Methods & Specifications was created through a collaboration between the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), Fibre Box Association (FBA), and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC).

Corrugated is the most recycled packaging material on the planet, with a recycling rate of around 90% for the last decade. Many companies are evaluating the benefits of fiber-based packaging as an alternative to other materials in niches, such as flexible packaging for beverage containers and food packaging.

Knowing if a package can be converted to usable fiber at paper mills without causing operational issues can make the repulping process more manageable with less waste. Recyclability testing is a tool that helps the traditional recycling stream connect the dots from packaging design to processing and, ultimately, end markets. This project aims to create a quick, reliable, repeatable, and reproducible test of recycling for fiber-based packaging. 

There are two critical parts to recyclability testing – test method and result thresholds. Many recyclability test methods have been developed, and all generally can be broken down into five steps:
Sample Preparation
Coarse Screening
Fine Screening
Analysis of Handsheet / Test Report

Recyclability testing can provide an analysis of many key indicators but includes, at the very least, these six:
The extent to which the fibers can be separated
Visual appearance when formed into sheets
Level of rejects from screening
Level of disrupting materials (i.e., adhesives, metals, plastic film)
Level of dissolved or colloidal solids resulting from non-paper components
Strength(s), which vary depending on the intended end products

For more information about labs certified for recyclability testing, contact one of the following organizations that have developed recyclability protocols – Fibre Box Association (FBA), Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI), Papiertechnische Stiftung (PTS), and Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute (TLMI).

For on-pack labeling organizations like How2Recycle, please reach out directly for a list of accepted protocols and vetted labs available for recyclability testing. 

The paper industry aims to create a marketplace where all fiber-based packaging materials are easy to sort and recycle. Our industry epitomizes the principle of a circular economy, and this new project helps ensure that it continues. 

Chase Kammerer is the Technical Services Manager at Fibre Box Association (FBA). If you have technical questions about the corrugated industry, you can reach him at [email protected]

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