A Material Recovery Facility (MRF) is a specific plant that receives, separates, and prepares recyclable materials for different end-user manufacturers. Manufacturers believe that by recycling the durable materials from foodservice packaging into fiber sources, a whole new market could be created.
The majority of foodservice products are wasted because municipalities don’t realize they are recyclable, says Lynn Dyer, president of the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI). However, when material recovery facilities (MRFs) receive foodservice packaging, they accept it, according to a 2013 study of 62 U.S. and Canadian MRFs (pdf). Of the surveyed MRFs, 75 percent of them accepted at least 10 or more of the 19 types of foodservice products included in the study.
“There is a misconception that MRFs and end markets don’t want foodservice packing because it is too food contaminated,” Dyer says. “But our studies found it’s no more contaminated than regular food packaging that is being recycled. So, we are having conversations to clear this up.”
The process of recycling foodservice packaging is very similar to that of other recyclables. Foam products use a special compactor called a densifier. Since foam products are over 90% air, the densifying allows the material to be sold and transported more cost-effectively.
The FPI has been focusing primarily on residential curbside collections since most of the disposable products end up in homes.
“In homes the food is gone or the packaging is rinsed, so we found in two studies almost no difference between food residue on foodservice packaging and other food packaging like peanut butter jars [or most of what is sold in grocery stores],” says Dyer.
The FPI is prompting communities to add packaging to their curbside programs and has started to develop the tools to help them do it.
“Foodservice packaging recycling is in single digits. But it has good fiber, so we are wanting to get it in a condition to compete with other [papers.] We are working with FPI and its members to see how we can increase recovery levels,” says John Mulcahy, vice president of sustainability for Georgia-Pacific consumer products.