2019 SPC Innovator Award: Innovation in Recovery finalist
WestRock: Advancements in Foodservice Packaging Recycling
WestRock has undertaken a number of significant initiatives aimed at achieving wholesale change in the relationship between foodservice paper packaging and the recycling system. On the packaging design front, WestRock has developed and commercialized bleached and natural kraft substrates with novel coatings feautinrg improved repulpability, and they have also developed a new cupstock that was recognized as a winner in the NextGen Cup Challenge. On the recycling front, WestRock has conducted a comprehensive mill trial to demonstrate the compatibility of coated paper foodservice packaging with paper recycling, and they have begun accepting paper foodservice packaging in eight of their recycled paperboard mills and two of their owned material recovery facilities.
Why it’s important:
WestRock is in a unique position of serving as a major supplier of paper foodservice packaging and a major recycler of used paper packaging, and they are leveraging both their scale and role. Advancements in packaging design don’t always equate to increases in recycling, and changes in recycling program acceptance don’t always spur packaging design improvements, so WestRock has attacked the challenges surrounding paper foodservice packaging from upstream and downstream angles, truly “walking the walk” by changing their own recycling systems to demonstrate compatibility with the products they manufacture.
“Advancements in Foodservice Packaging Recycling”
What impact on sustainable packaging has your submission made?
Over 100 billion paper based foodservice packages are discarded in the US each year (Technomic 2016 Foodservice Packaging Report). Historically, this packaging has not been accepted in recycling programs due to concerns over polymer coatings and food contamination. WestRock’s leadership and comprehensive efforts to increase consumer access to, and recovery of, paper-based foodservice packaging merit recognition. These efforts were made in close partnership with our supply chain partners and have led to significant progress in the recovery of foodservice packaging; they include:
- Demonstrated the technical recyclability of poly coated foodservice packaging through a comprehensive Mill trial. Trial results have been publicized across the industry via meeting and conference presentations (AF&PA, TAPPI and SPC) and recycling industry news publications.
- Began accepting foodservice packaging at two WestRock Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) that provide residential single stream service for the cities of Chattanooga, TN and Louisville, KY. Partnered with Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI) to implement the “Community Partnership” programs which include communication and education components to enhance participation and address potential food contamination concerns.
- Announced the acceptance of foodservice packaging at eight 100% recycled paperboard mills and are working to add foodservice packaging to the residential mixed paper collections in the surrounding communities that provide fiber to these papermills.
- Leader in recyclable barrier coatings for foodservice packaging, including commercially available EnShield bleached and natural kraft, A WestRock recyclable cupstock (not yet commercialized) is under consideration in the NextGen Cup Challenge.