What would it take for California and the U.S. to create a closed loop system, where all used packaging materials were collected and reprocessed for use in a new round of products?
Nothing short of a Herculean effort, according to a new report published yesterday by GreenBlue.
It's a lofty task that would need to align the packaging materials value chain from one end to the other. But the state, as well as the country, has many best practices to guide its efforts, including those learned in countries such as Australia, Belgium, Germany and Canada.
These various packaging recovery models are examined in "Closing the Loop: Road Map for Effective Material Value Recovery," which reaches a simple conclusion: There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
"Something I keep coming back to is that people are looking for a silver bullet, and every place does it differently," said Liz Shoch, a Project Manager at GreenBlue. "There is no one-way prescription, but a lot of good information."
The report is the last in a series that is part of the Closing the Loop project, which was funded through a grant from the State of California. The project's goal is to dramatically increase the recovery of packaging materials in the state and in the U.S.
Previous reports include:
• A guide to packaging material flows and terminology that serves as a glossary because many people throughout the supply chain use different words for the same material. "We thought that was a big impediment," Shoch said.
• A suite of four guides for four different packaging materials: glass, steel, aluminum and paper. These are aimed at "helping designers understand that their choices impact what happens to materials" at the end of life."
• A report examining the labeling systems from around the world. "If you're going to label a package for consumers to understand, what does that system look like?" Shoch said.
This final report is intended to be a "capstone" of all the different countries, states and facilities Shoch has visited and to synthesize best practices.
While each locale boasted a different approach, Belgium's waste recovery system stood out to Shoch as shining example of the possibilities.
"Hands down, Belgium as a country has an incredible system," she said. "It's very practical, common sense. They also one of the most cost-effective systems -- the price per person per year is quite low. Every step is well thought-out."
She hopes the report, with its set of recommendations for California, will be useful for policymakers in and out of the state. Businesses who are interested in waste recycling infrastructure may also find the report useful since it pulls together information on several global systems in one place and offers analysis.
The Closing the Loop project may be drawing to a close, but Shoch foresees the issue remaining at the top of the agendas of both GreenBlue and its partner, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.
"It's just a major issue in the U.S. and it's not going way," Shoch said. "What this research brings to the table is just the beginning."
Cans image via Shutterstock.