Eliminate plastic items
More recyclable formats
Many companies have committed to increase their use of postconsumer recycled (PCR) content in their packaging to help drive the scaleup of high-value mechanical recycling systems. PCR content comes from packaging that was purchased and then recovered after use, compared to postindustrial recycled content left over from industrial manufacturing processes that has never been sold to a consumer.
There is increasing demand for PCR from brands globally as both consumers and investors pressure companies to increase the circularity of their packaging. One example of a public commitment to use more PCR is the Ellen MacArthur Foundations’ Global Commitment. Companies that have signed on to the Global Commitment used an average of 6.2% PCR in 2019, a 22% increase from 2018 (1). Analysis by The Recycling Partnership projects that demand for recycled PET could increase by 300% by 2025 (2).
The Plastic IQ tool focuses on PCR content because most plastic waste is postconsumer and demand for recycled content is needed to drive collection, sorting, and recycling for this material. To be accepted for use in food applications, recycled plastic content has to meet a higher standard, sometimes creating a barrier. The table below shows how likely it is for different plastic types to be used as recycled content currently, divided between food-grade and non-food-grade applications.
The following are used for general information and illustrative purposes and do not reflect a preference of or an endorsement by The Recycling Partnership or our affiliates or vendors.
The U.S. Plastics Pact recommends an average target of 30% recycled or bio-based content across a company’s portfolio of plastic packaging (3). This matches the targets of many of the companies involved in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Global Commitment. Beverage companies have set many of the most aggressive targets, with Danone setting its target at 50% by 2025 and Coca-Cola at 50% by 2030. Cosmetics company L’Oreal has also set a goal of 50% by 2025 (1). Regulation is also increasing. For example, California requires all plastic beverage bottles covered by its container redemption program to contain 50% PCR content by 2030 (4).
For some packages, such as PET bottles, it is possible to aim as high as 100% PCR. In fact, numerous beverage companies have already introduced 100% PCR PET bottles or announced a commitment to do so by 2025, including Coca-Cola, Nestle Waters, and Evian (Link). Other companies, such as Organic Girl, use 100% rPET in their PET thermoform clamshells (Link).
PCR is also available in HDPE and LDPE for use in packaging. Seventh Generation uses 100% PCR in multiple HDPE bottles for cleaning products (Link). LDPE film, including overwrap and stretch wrap, is also available with high percentages of PCR. This can be used as a wrap either around a single product or around a bundle of individually packaged items.
Satisfying consumer preference: Consumers often do not fully understand how the U.S. recycling system works, but recycled content is cited as a positive sustainability-related product attribute.
Reduced risk: Using PCR supports the expansion of the circular economy and may reduce the risk of policymakers mandating recycled content.
Decoupling from fossil fuel volatility: Virgin plastic prices fluctuate significantly with changes to oil prices. Companies that incorporate recycled content may be able to decouple their procurement costs from that volatility.
Greenhouse gas reduction Replacing virgin plastic with recycled content saves significant GHG emissions. Plastic IQ estimates that over 80% of CO2e emissions are saved per ton of recycled content used compared to virgin plastics. Companies are encouraged to review published and peer-reviewed LCA information for recycled plastics.
Job creation Recycling plastics creates more jobs than virgin plastic production. For example, Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) estimates that its Demand Champions program created over 2,000 jobs along the supply chain by increasing demand for PCR (6).
Work with suppliers: Packaging suppliers are already able to incorporate up to 100% PCR in many packages. Identify long-term goals and collaborate on increasing PCR in existing packages – or change packaging designs to incorporate more material.
Encourage resiliency of PCR through long-term commitments: While long-term contracts are common with virgin resins and even with PCR content for paper, they have not yet been significantly leveraged for recycled plastic resins (5). Ensure that the resin is certified postconsumer material. There are numerous organizations that can help with the verification of PCR, including APR, which maintains a list of auditors that meet their certification (7).
Support efforts to boost collection: There are various organizations, such as The Recycling Partnership and Closed Loop Partners, working on increasing the collection of recyclables. Companies that want to use more PCR should invest in growing collection through an industry collaboration.
Increasing recycling rates will improve supply: Today, packaging companies must compete with other industries for a limited stock of recycled resins. Investment in improving collection programs for residents will increase the available supply of recycled content.
Invest in the system: Companies and organizations can work together to improve the recycling system in the U.S. by increasing access to curbside service, expanding the materials accepted, and improving the quality and capture of the material going into and out of MRFs and reprocessors.
(1) Ellen MacArthur Foundation – Global Commitment – 2020 Progress Report. (Link)
(2) The Recycling Partnership – Bridge to Circularity Report. (Link)
(3) U.S. Plastics Pact – 2025 Targets. (Link)
(4) Beverage Daily – California PCR Legislation. (Link)
(5) Closed Loop Partners – Cleaning the rPET Stream: How we scale post-consumer recycled PET in the US. (Link)
(6) APR – Demand Champions Year 3 Report. (Link)
(7) APR PCR Certification. (Link)