Designing Recyclable Packaging

By creating packaging that is able to be recycled, products become more attractive to consumers that are becoming increasingly environmentally aware. Recycling is the reprocessing of materials at the end of their primary lives, ideally for use in a similar application. By diverting what would normally end up in landfills, recycling has the potential to manage some of the waste that has been created at the end of a product’s value.

While packaging is a necessary feature for many reasons, it has become a burden for companies simply because of its disposable nature. However, businesses today can optimize the sustainability of their packaging by implementing a “Design for Recycling” strategy. A “Design for Recycling” strategy emphasizes the construction of the packaging in order to facilitate its recovery. Once utilized, it results in many benefits, including:

  • Supplying industry with valuable materials
  • Job creation
  • Conservation of natural resources and energy
  • Reducing the amount of toxins that are released into the environment


Colgate-Palmolive is one personal health care company that has committed to making three of its four product categories with materials that are 100% recyclable. For their fourth, their toothpaste line, they are doing research to develop a recyclable toothpaste tube since most tubes that are already on the market are landfilled at end of life. It is this dedication that makes Colgate-Palmolive a leading example for sustainability in an industry that has yet to make it a priority.

How to Implement

Packaging designers are forced to look at the entire life of a package, including what will happen at the end of its useful life. This includes notifying consumers about the recycling aspect of the packaging. To better prepare for recovery and to encourage the proper disposal of packaging, here are some guidelines:

  • Select packaging materials that have high recycling rates for the region’s current infrastructure. If people know how to recycle something and are able to in their area, then it will have a better chance of being recycled. Ensure that coatings, inks, material combinations, and add-ons are consistent with recycling technology.
  • Avoid/Minimize the unnecessary mixing of materials in the package design. Keep in mind that one component may make the whole package unrecyclable. Also be sure that color and tints don’t impact a packages recyclability. Considering the implications of all materials, features, and add-ons can help reduce complications later on.
  • In accordance with any labeling legislation where the package will be sold, the package should be clearly labeled indicating its preferred recycling stream. Think about this as an opportunity to promote your company’s commitment to sustainability to consumers. For the latest labeling standards visit our partner website


A “design for recycling” strategy is facilitated with COMPASS (Comparative Packaging Assessment) software. When implementing any sustainable packaging strategy, it is important to select tools that will integrate with your current processes. This application not only fits into a company’s current processes but assesses the entire life cycle of a package to better quantify and compare the impact it will have on the environment by giving material guidance to any sustainable packaging strategy.

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