Many California MRFs are successfully recovering foodservice packaging, although the specific material and packaging types recovered vary greatly.

A 2016 study by Moore Recycling found that over half of California MRFs already accept and sort cups, containers, boxes and paper bags.

Accepting cups, containers, boxes and bags can be a valuable differentiator in a competitive market. Recovering these materials helps your customer communities meet their 75% recycling goal and reduce their disposal volumes and costs!

As MRFs consider accepting foodservice packaging, it is important to have an idea of how much material this will generate:

  • In a city of 250,000 people, roughly 3,200 tons of paper and plastic cups, containers, boxes and bags are generated annually.
  • That means that at a ten percent recovery rate – which could be a realistic initial goal for new materials – a MRF could expect an additional 320 or so tons of recoverable material each year. This volume consists of approximately 250 tons of paper and 70 tons of plastic.

In addition to MRFs, plastic recovery facilities (PRFs), can also be a component in recycling plastic foodservice packaging. Utilizing cutting-edge sorting technologies, such as optical and gravity sorting, PRFs are able to successfully produce segregated resins, which are often sold domestically to plastic reclaimers. For PRFs, it’s interesting to note a recent study from the Association of Plastic Recyclers revealed:

  • Cups made up roughly 6% of the sampled pre-picked bales.
  • Polypropylene was the most prevalent cup material type in all the bales sampled.

Finally, secondary processing facilities are another option to recycle foodservice packaging that may not have been sorted in a MRF. The residue, or unsorted materials left on the MRF conveyor belt at the end of the line, typically still contains valuable materials. Many California MRFs send their residue to a secondary processor, which further sorts the material to recover and sell paper, plastics, metals, etc. This second sorting process also enables a wider range of materials to be captured for recovery, for which the MRF doesn’t have specialized sorting equipment.

In some California communities, mixed waste processing facilities recover recyclables from unsorted municipal solid waste. This strategy can be employed in situations where recycling participation is lower or where source separation is less reliable, for example waste collected from public spaces or multi-family housing.


Case Studies

Current Acceptance of Foodservice Packaging in California
To understand the extent of acceptance and recycling of foodservice packaging in California, FPI commissioned two studies. Taken together, they highlight an opportunity to increase recovery by aligning residential program guidance with MRF acceptance. Read more.

Info Sheet for MRFs in California
For an overview of foodservice packaging recovery and how it could work for your MRF, download our go-to information sheet here.

End Markets
For MRFs to accept materials, there must be end markets! For more information about End Markets, visit our end markets page or view an interactive map of end markets for a variety of foodservice packaging materials.

Food Residue
Some communities have expressed concern about adding foodservice packaging to a recycling program because of food residue. But, two recent studies have shown that foodservice packaging is no more contaminated with food than other commonly recycled food-contact items like bottles, jars or cans. Read more about the 2013 and 2014 studies, or watch the webinar.

Impact of Foodservice Packaging on Existing Bales
Adding foodservice packaging to existing bales makes very little difference to their composition. Read more about the estimated prevalence of foodservice packaging in bales. To test the impact of paper foodservice packaging in mixed paper bales, a bale audit was conducted with bales purchased from New York City and Seattle markets. Read more about the overview of the study.

Plastic Cups Bale Sort Study
As part of the most comprehensive post-consumer plastic container bale sorts done in North America, this plastic cups bale sort study conducted in 2015 showed which rigid plastic bales contained plastic cups as well as the plastic resin types and volumes of plastic cups in each bale type. Read more about the results of this study.

MRF Material Flow Study
FPI, along with its co-sponsors, the American Chemistry Council, Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, Carton Council and National Association for PET Container Resources, conducted a study to analyze the flow of select materials through a MRF and identify best practices to get more recyclables actually recycled. Read more.