EPR considerations for Sustainable Packaging

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) are policies where the producer holds a responsibility for the disposal of products and/or packaging. Similar to the historical bottle recycling program, EPR policies are utilized around the globe, often as a fee associated with end of life outcomes for products and/or packaging. Once collected, the EPR fees are often used to strengthen infrastructure for end-markets, including recycling. The concept of these fees is to provide an incentive for producers to design and produce sustainable products and packaging. Theoretically switching the responsibility upstream to the producers and away from the consumers.

How EPR Policies Work

Historically the responsibility of the end of life of a product and packaging has fallen on consumers. The consumer purchases a product then discards the packaging. The consumer decides where the packaging should be discarded; recycling, landfill, the street or public waterways, etc. The end-market infrastructure is often financed by the consumers themselves via taxes. Extended producer responsibility fees flip this responsibility to the producer. There are various ways to implement an EPR policy. For example, Europe and Canada use a producer responsibility organization. In the United States, state legislation is leading the path.

Designing with EPR Policies in Mind

Extended producer responsibility policies are targeting the end-of-life of a product and/or packaging. As such, the idea of ‘designing with EPR policies in mind’ could also be thought of as ‘designing with end-of-life in mind’. While EPR policies vary around the globe, here are some general guidelines to design with EPR policies or end-of-life in mind.
Reduce Packaging Materials
A quick first step towards designing with EPR policies in mind is to reduce the amount of packaging you utilize. This approach is called lightweighting. Be careful when using this approach because there is often a point at which damage rate increases when lightweighting. Our add-on module, SCORE can help you track damage rate against environmental indicators. Helping your company maintain packaging requirements while designing an environmentally friendly package.
Evaluate Refill and Reuse Options
Some companies are taking it upon themselves to “close the loop” and create refillable or even reusable packages. When the useful life of a package can be increased, the material usage and overall environmental impact can decrease. With reuse scenarios, a brand has to think through the logistics of distribution, collection, washing, and reuse. In other words, they are taking responsibility for their packaging and making sure it stays within the loop and is not tossed into the trash can or littered. They are recognizing that they can make durable, sleek packaging that has inherent value and can be collected and redistributed. It requires extensive logistics, but if done efficiently and correctly, it can lead to great success in terms of environmental impact, circularity, and EPR.
Use Preferred Materials & Designs
Materials recovery facilities (MRFs) and reprocessors prefer certain materials over others for reasons such as financial value/benefit or ease of sorting. Understanding what is preferred by recovery facilities and using these materials and designs in your packaging can increase the recycling potential at the end-of-life of your packaging. According to the ASTRX report by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and The Recycling Partnership, below are commonly preferred materials in North America for plastics and paper specifically.  Preferred Plastic Materials
  • PET
  • HDPE
  • PP
Preferred Paper Materials
  • Cardboard
  • Newspaper
  • Sort Office Paper
Color plays a role in the recycling potential of a package. The Association of Plastics Recyclers Design ® Guide provides insight on the use of colors in packaging. Clear, unpigmented is the most preferred by MRFs and reprocessors because of its wide array of end-of-life markets. However other colors are also noted as preferred by MRFs. These include, but are not limited to, transparent light blue and green depending on the material.  The package type can play a role in the recycling potential of a package as well. Often correlating to availability of end-of-life markets and ease of sorting. According to the ASTRX report by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and The Recycling Partnership, here are commonly preferred packaging types in North America.
  • HDPE & PET bottles
  • Glass bottles & jars
  • Aluminum beverage cans
  • Steel cans
Keeping these preferred materials and designs in mind during your design phase can help increase the recycling potential of your package. 
Avoid Unwanted Materials & Designs
Just as there is a list of preferred materials and designs, there are some materials and designs that are not preferred in MRFs and reprocessors. Designs such as plastic films and shrink sleeves can wreak havoc at these facilities, sometimes causing the entire system to shut down in order to remove the unwanted item. Some materials and packaging types are recovered more than others. It is important to consider this in your design. For example, a colored plastic may be requested by your marketing department to catch the consumer’s eye at the store, but that colorant may produce a low value plastic at its end-of-life. Perhaps, instead of adding color to the plastic, you could add color to the product – obtaining the same goal from a marketing standpoint while increasing the recycling potential of the plastic.  Plastic yogurt containers are another prime example. These containers are often made of polypropylene or #5 plastics and their acceptance in U.S. curbside recycling programs is miniscule. The acceptance rates are low because recycling polypropylene has historically not been cost-effective. The production of a post-consumer polypropylene pellet is difficult and the end of life markets for recycled polypropylene are limited. Although, it is important to note, end-of-life markets for polypropylene are on the rise. Finally, avoid packaging that uses more than one material type. Multi material packaging can be difficult for MRFs to sort for various reasons. This is applicable to both multi material flexible pouches as well as packaging designs like a glass bottle with a metal lid. Keeping these unwanted materials and designs in mind during your design phase can help increase the recycling potential of your package. 

It Doesn’t Have to be Difficult

Designing with EPR policies in mind doesn’t have to be difficult. With EcoImpact-COMPASS, users can model current packaging designs and quickly analyze alternatives. The software solution goes one step further by providing pre-filled, region specific, end-of-life data. Users can see what is likely to happen at the end-of-life of their package early in the design phase.  Extended producer responsibility policies are here to stay. These policies vary across regions so producers need to keep their eyes and ears open in all directions. With our add-on module SCORE, users can visualize trade-offs between environmental indicators and packaging attributes such as EPR fees. Trayak provides you with stability in the ever-changing world of sustainability. With Trayak, you have an innovative and trusted partner and an easy-to-use platform that makes sustainable package and product design simple, mainstream, transparent, and profitable. Let us get you started. Trayak has been helping leading brands of all sizes make data-driven sustainability decisions for over 10 years. If you would like to learn more about our tools and services please contact us.

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