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Is food residue a barrier to recycling foodservice packaging?

The Foodservice Packaging Institute conducts a study to understand if food contamination is a valid barrier to the recycling of foodservice packaging.

The Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI) has completed a study on the levels of food residue on foodservice packaging in the recycling stream, which overall, found that there was no appreciable difference in the amount of contamination between foodservice packaging and broader types of food packaging typically accepted in curbside recycling programs.

FPI’s Paper Recovery Alliance and Plastics Recovery Group are working on overcoming barriers that potentially hinder increased recovery of foodservice packaging. One of the often-cited reasons cities do not accept foodservice packaging in their curbside programs is a concern about increased levels of food contamination. This study offered the opportunity to better understand whether food contamination was a real or perceived barrier.

The study included a sampling of approximately 2,000 pounds of randomly selected curbside recyclables collected in different areas of the City of Boston. For all recycling samples, corrugated, mixed paper, plastic tubs and lids, and aluminum cans and foils/pans were sorted into two categories: foodservice packaging or other packaging in contact with food. The team then used a visual ranking system to rate and record how much food residue was on the selected categories.

“The results were very encouraging,” says Lynn M. Dyer, FPI President. “The recycling samples were found to be exceptionally clean, and showed no appreciable difference in the amount of contamination between foodservice packaging and food contact packaging. At least from this initial study, it looks like food contamination may be a perceived barrier, and not a real one. However we must also take this into perspective and consider this sample as only representative of the Boston area. No doubt, there’s more work to be done.”

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