The Association of Plastic Recyclers

Reflections on Progress, Development, and Meeting the Challenges Facing the Plastics Recycling Industry in 2022

As in years past, 2022 saw significant developments, progress, and challenges for plastic packaging and the plastics recycling industry. Supply issues, legislative and regulatory proposals, negative media, as well as other areas of concern all combined to require greater levels of APR engagement and expertise.

Policy, APR Design® for Recyclability, PCR Certification, and communications efforts were key priorities for APR in 2022. With a focus on counteracting a rising tide of misinformation and fostering rational, fact-based dialogue around plastics recycling, we continued to develop the tools needed to scale recycling effectively as a key solution to reduce plastic waste and move toward a more sustainable, circular economy.

APR's membership continues to grow each year, and we were pleased to welcome 42 new member companies in 2022. The commitment, leadership and support from APR members allowed us to direct additional technical, media, and advocacy resources to focus on these priorities. We introduced new technical programs, updated the APR Design® Guide for Plastics Recyclability, conducted a record number of APR Design® Guide Training programs, significantly expanded the number of innovations recognized for recyclability, enhanced communications and media engagement, and greatly expanded our advocacy and policy portfolio.

As we look forward into 2023 and beyond, read below and listen to the latest episode of APR's Recycled Content podcast, as we highlight some of the accomplishments that APR and our members achieved in the past year, as well as what APR will be focusing on in 2023.  

Focus on Policy

APR works to ensure the needs of the plastics recycling industry are addressed on Capitol Hill, in state houses across the country, as well as internationally. We accomplish this by providing technical expertise and counsel to members of Congress, Congressional staff, state and local legislators, and others.

In 2022, APR greatly amplified its engagement in state and federal legislation and rulemaking and invested in further expanding its voice and impact by hiring a new Chief Policy Officer, Kate Bailey. 2022 was a banner year, with the amount of recycling legislative activity and the substantial progress made on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws, recycled content mandates, and federal grants to invest in recycling. There is tremendous momentum heading into 2023 for greater progress toward improving plastics recycling. APR will continue to be at the forefront of ensuring smart policy solutions focused on increasing supply, improving material quality, and strengthening market demand.

On the federal level, APR is engaged in supporting and monitoring federal legislation, advising federal agencies, and providing technical expertise and building relationships with federal legislators and staff. 2022 saw a record level of bills introduced to address recycling. APR staff met with legislators and monitored over a dozen bills, many of which are expected for reintroduction in 2023. The biggest traction came with the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provided substantial federal funding at $275 million over five years, to support recycling infrastructure and education.

APR continues to work with federal agencies on key initiatives including the EPA's National Recycling Strategy, the FTC's update to the federal Green Guides planned in 2023, and the GSA and National Parks Services' work to implement the Executive Order to reduce single-use plastics and increase recycling. APR is also regularly engaged with the Senate Environment and Public Works committee. and submitted comments on real solutions to reduce plastic waste and scale up recycling for the December federal committee hearing.

APR staff met with several representatives from the US State Dept to help inform their negotiations for the UNEP Global Plastics Treaty. We shared resources on the global reach of APR tools, resource, technical expertise, with a focus on how tools like the APR Design® Guide and recognition programs could be further scaled as global models.

At the state level, APR is supporting, monitoring, and engaging on several types of legislation across dozens of states. The most impactful areas in 2022 include:

  • APR testified and actively supported Colorado's EPR for packaging law (HB22-1355), and provided expertise on California's EPR law, SB54. APR will remain engaged with implementation in Colorado and California, and serves as a technical member of the committee to implement Oregon's EPR program under SB582. APR also supported the NY EPR for packaging bill.

  • On recycled content legislation, APR supported the New Jersey S2515 law and is a member of the technical committee with Washington state agency staff on rulemaking for the implementation of Washington's SB5022 on recycled content. APR also provided feedback on the model bill developed by NERC to help with adoption in other states. In California, APR testified and sent a letter to the Governor opposing recycled content for thermoforms under AB 2784. The bill was vetoed by the Governor due to concerns about adequate supply.
  • APR helped secure continued funding for the Plastic Market Development Program (PMDP) in California, earmarking $10 million for the following year and continued funding through 2026.

The APR Design® Guide for Plastics Recyclability

Throughout 2022, the development of the Meets Preferred Guidance (MPG) Recognition Program led to a substantial number of updates and improvements to the APR Design® Guide impacting PET and HDPE containers. Significant progress towards a new platform to provide an enhanced user experience for the APR Design® Guide has also been underway, with plans for launch in the first quarter of 2023.

These updates and improvements not only ensure that the APR Design® Guide remains the most comprehensive and current resource outlining the plastics recycling industry's recommendations, but reflect the groundbreaking work of the APR Technical Committees and Working Groups:

  • Engaged in a major program to identify and rank the causes of color that forms when PET containers are recycled.
  • Investigated the impact of oxygen barrier materials on PET recycling.
  • Designed and performed the most thorough study of the effects of metallization on the flexible polyethylene recycling system.
  • Surveyed the melt filtration levels used by North American recyclers.
  • Demonstrated that metallization that will not be detected by a metal detector in the sortation process can pass through the recycling system with minimal negative effects.
  • Studied the effects of laminating adhesives and label adhesives on the flexible PE recycling stream.
  • Performed two additional 2d/3d sorting tests with plans to have this protocol in practice by early 2023.

APR launched the Global Design Guidance Catalog in 2022 outlining the most current plastic packaging recyclability guidelines for different countries and regions around the world. The catalog includes information from Denmark, EU, France, Germany, Netherlands, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, and UK. It covers recyclability evaluations for rigid PET, HDPE, PP, and flexible PE film packaging. Chile and Italy will be added in 2023.

APR Design® Recognition and Training

Once again, a record number of significant new technologies, or package components that solve long-standing problems in sustainable package design, received APR Critical Guidance Recognition. Up from 34in 2021, APR was pleased to recognize 50 innovations in 2022. Specific areas of impact include:

  • Mono-material tubes recyclable in HDPE or PP rigid stream.
  • Barrier films (coated or multilayer laminated, compatibilizers for barrier materials) recyclable with PE flexible films.
  • Oxygen ingress barriers (scavengers and/or passive barriers) compatible with PET recycling.

Originally launched in December 2021, APR's MPG program gives packaging suppliers and procurement teams the confidence that design components are categorized as Preferred according to the APR Design® Guide. Continued expansion in 2022 included recognitions for dispensers, pumps, sprayers, and NIR sortable dark color concentrate. The program is set to add the following items in 2023:

  • PET and HDPE base resins
  • Label ink and adhesive structures for HDPE and PET
  • Label constructions for PET
  • Closures for HDPE and PET
  • Closures and labels for PP

The APR more than tripled the number of APR Design® Guide training sessions conducted in 2022 compared to 2021, with 15 full day training sessions and 4 lunch and learns. Several companies participated for a second time, with Kraft Heinz being the first company to hold a third session.

APR PCR Certification

The APR Design® Guide and the APR PCR Certification Program work hand in hand to ensure products are Circular by Design™. APR Certified PCR ensures that recycled plastics from postconsumer sources giving new life to plastic that has met it's intended use. The APR Design® Guide provides the tools to ensure plastic products can be recycled.

In 2022 APR worked to improve and expand the program:

  • Enhanced marketing and communications.
  • Increased the number of reclaimers to get certified.
  • Updated program requirements.
  • Created program logo and new assets.
  • Developed and updated resources including website content, FAQs and procurement guidelines.

Plans to expand APR PCR Certification to certify chain of custody from source to end-product are currently underway with plans to launch in early 2023.

APR Recycling Demand Champions Campaign

The APR Recycling Demand Champions Program, which supports a circular economy & strengthens demand for recyclable plastics, continues to grow and evolve.26 companies increased demand for PCR by an impressive 138.7 million pounds in 2022, bringing the total increase since the program's inception to 384.1 million pounds.

Communications, Media, and Messaging

In person events were back in full swing in 2022, and we welcomed over 300 attendees at each of the March, June, and November APR Meetings. APR reached new audiences through numerous conferences, speaking opportunities, and digital communications.

APR's social media channels continued to grow with +6000 leap in followers on LinkedIn in 2022, which brought APR to 18,000 followers on the platform. APR continues to rank on LinkedIn as not only the #1 most followed organization in our field, but also the fastest growing and most engaged with recycling organization in North America.

APR created reports and educational resources to counteract a rising tide of misinformation and foster rational, fact-based dialogue around plastics recycling across the value chain including:

  • Published Recommit, Reimagine, Rework Recycling – a report outlining APR's recommendations on public policy and investments to improve plastics recycling.
  • Trademarked Circular by Design® and released a supporting video.
  • Distributed regular press announcements, a weekly News Wrap for APR members, and continued to expand media contacts and coverage beyond industry publications including Bloomberg, Financial Times, The Hill, Market Watch, The Guardian, CBS News, WSJ, and others.
  • Published a series of blogs highlighting the facts and realities of plastics recycling.
  • Recorded regular podcasts with topics including the US Plastics Pact's Problematic and Unnecessary Materials List, PP recycling, sustainability commitments, and other pressing issues facing the plastics recycling industry.
  • Experienced record attendance with APR's educational webinar series.
  • Developed a variety of communications resources to support the facts about plastics recycling.
  • Held a Strategic Communications Workshop during the November APR meeting.
  • Updated a published Model Bale Specifications through a collaborative effort with ISRI to more accurately reflect the recycled plastic materials currently being traded in the marketplace.

The Chemical Recycling Research Working Group

The working group defined its focus and initial project scope while building its collective data and knowledge base. The scope of group's initial project includes film and flexible packaging volumes, collection logistics, and material specifications to U.S. pyrolysis markets; the project is underway for Q1 2023 completion.

US Plastics Pact Engagement

APR supported the US Plastics Pact's List of Problematic and Unnecessary Packaging, building alignment around the future of plastics packaging design and what it will take to meet circular economy commitments. APR provides ongoing counsel to the U.S. Pact as a founding Activator and Advisory Council member. APR also co-chairs the U.S. Pact's Design for Recyclability workstream, provided data and technical input on the development of strategy to increase recycling rates, and represents plastic recyclers in On-Pack Labeling and PCR discussions.

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