The purpose of the circular economy is to extract the maximum value and utility from resources by keeping them in use as long as possible, and then recovering them to be regenerated continuously into new materials and products. A key element of achieving this goal is to ensure that as much packaging as possible is recycled.

However, the constant innovation in packaging materials and design makes this a challenge for the recycling industry. In response, Emterra Group — a waste resources recovery and commodities marketing company with operations in Canada and the U.S. — has been working with stakeholders from across the whole value chain to make recycling more successful.
Plastic is a leading choice when it comes to packaging because it’s very versatile and preserves products well. The flipside, however, is not only that recyclers have been bombarded with changes in packaging variety but also that consumers have been confused about what can go in their recycling bins. For Emterra Group, leveraging innovations in recycling processing technology is key to recovering as much material as possible.

“We have a talented team doing research and testing on advanced recyclables collection and processing technology that can effectively and efficiently recover the growing diversity of packaging while also producing cleaner, higher-quality commodities. This is one way in which Emterra and Keurig  can preserve the value and utility of resources in a low-carbon circular economy,” says Emmie Leung, Founder and CEO of Emterra Group.

One brand that is excited about creating sustainability innovations in packaging is Keurig. Working with Emterra Group and Recycle BC, the non-profit industry organization responsible for residential recycling throughout British Columbia, the coffee company is converting its K-Cup pods to a recyclable format. The first step was changing the material used to polypropylene, or #5 plastic, because it is widely accepted by recycling facilities across Canada. The next step was to test how the pods could be successfully recovered in a material recovery facility. Keurig is now converting all K-Cup pods in Canada to this recyclable format by the end of 2018 — two years ahead of the company’s stated North American goal of 2020.

“Keurig’s determination to make their package sustainable and to work with Emterra to enhance recycling infrastructure to recover the K-Cup pod leads the way for other brand owners to make the change too,” adds Emmie Leung. “The conversion to polypropylene can be a tipping point that will create mass for us, enabling us to scale up systems to recover this type of packaging.”

Polypropylene is a high-value resin with a variety of uses. Until now, polypropylene has not been a major contributor of materials in the recycling bin. With Keurig changing the resin used in their coffee pods, and hopefully with others to follow, that is about to change.

“This partnership gives me a great sense of hope and optimism,” says Leung. “It is a great example of consumers, brand owners, and the recycling industry working together to create a circular economy.”

“We have been working with recyclers across North America like Emterra Group and Recycle BC over the last two years to make sure our new recyclable K-Cup pods are not only recyclable, but would actually be recycled,” explains Stéphane Glorieux, President of Keurig Canada. “We strongly believe that working with the recycling community is essential to finding solutions that work.”

As for Recycle BC, they have developed a system to ensure the greatest amount of material can be recycled, while also being able to adapt to the evolution of packaging.

“We want to work with brands and with our partners to provide information that makes it easy for the consumer to do the right thing,” says Allen Langdon, Managing Director at Recycle BC. “For us, it’s been great to work with Keurig, as we’ve seen a commitment to testing you don’t typically see from brands.”

These types of partnerships really put forward innovation, which should encourage other producers of food and beverage packaging to follow suit. The key for the recycling community, municipalities, and producers alike is to find realistic, practical solutions that Canadians can embrace and that have a positive impact.