Nearly 90% of the U.S. population has access to paper recycling services, and more than 65% of all paper that is consumed is recovered. In accordance with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s (SPC) Definition of Sustainable Packaging (see www.bit.ly/pwe00427), it is essential to optimize the use of renewable or recycled source materials in package design, to help ensure sustainable management flows by encouraging waste reduction and resource conservation. Utilizing recycled-paper content can have a number of environmental benefits, such as landfill diversion, energy savings, and resource conservation, while still meeting the performance criteria required by many packaging manufacturers.
There are tremendous opportunities to increase and utilize recycled-paper content in packaging, but we need to be aware of products entering the recycling stream. By designing products from the start with sustainability and their full life-cycle impacts in mind, they can be made in a way that facilitates effective reprocessing, ultimately allowing them to become source materials for new products. The SPC, through its systems-based approach, is working toward engaging stakeholders throughout the supply chain in an attempt to make such efforts common practice.
However, this remains a work in progress, and there have been, and will continue to be, bumps along the way. In early 2011, a number of technical reports and media stories questioned the quality of recycled paperboard; in particular, concerns were raised over potential packaging migrants. The possible migrants were identified as mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOH), with their primary source being traced back to inks used in newsprint entering the European recycling stream. The researchers engaged in these studies found that petroleum-based inks used in European newsprint could potentially migrate from the recycled content into some food products, with a high degree of variability between products. The concerns focused on the high levels of uncertainty around MOH’s potential impacts on the human body and their potential to migrate from such packaging into foods.