A collaboration by pet food companies and other industries discovered that plastic pet food bags can be sorted out from other waste using existing technology. This discovery may improve waste handlers ability to recycle pet food packaging.

The collaboration, Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF) of which Nestlé Purina is a member, showed that automated sorting technologies in use today can be optimized to capture flexible plastic packaging, like pet food bags, potentially creating a new stream of recovered materials while improving the quality of other recycling streams.

Research on recycling plastic pet food bags

The research, documented in the Resource Recycling Systems report, “Flexible Packaging Sortation at Materials Recovery Facilities,” demonstrates that with adequate screening and optical sorting capacity, flexible plastic packaging can be efficiently captured in a single-stream materials recovery facility (MRF).

“We now know how flexibles flow through a material recovery facility and that the technology already exists for separating flexibles out of the materials streams,” said Larry Baner, senior packaging research scientist, global packaging and design for Nestlé Purina Petcare, in a press release. “Although there is still a lot of work to be done to define the best way to separate flexibles from single-stream recyclables, this research moves us closer to solutions.”

Common forms of flexible plastic packaging include pet food packaging and bags, re-sealable food bags, pouches for laundry detergent pods, and snack bags.

Further study on flexible pet food bags

This first phase of the research program sponsored by the Materials Recovery for the Future collaborative included baseline testing, equipment testing, and a series of recovery facility trials to test existing sortation technologies commonly used in MRFs, such as screens and optical scanners. RRS developed the test methodology and conducted the research trials.

Subsequent research will focus on further refinements to sorting technology, economic feasibility, assessing end-use markets for the material, and developing a recovery facility demonstration project.

MRFF members include Amcor, The Dow Chemical Company, LyondellBasell, Nestlé Purina PetCare and Nestlé USA, PepsiCo, Plum Organics, The Procter & Gamble Company, SC Johnson, Sealed Air, and Target as well as the Association for Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR), the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA), SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association (SPI), and the American Chemistry Council .