Challenges and opportunities for recycling complex fibre packaging


Complex paper-based packaging is currently sorted with paper and cardboard, but there are challenges involved in recycling it efficiently in this flow. Fost Plus wishes to offer a recycling solution for all household packaging brought onto the market. Together with the sector, at Belgian and European level, the possibilities to provide a recycling solution for composite fibre packaging are being investigated as well. One of the options is to set up a separate circuit. 

In recent years, there has been an increase in composite paper-based packaging that includes fibre (paper and/or cardboard) packaging that has, for example, been treated and/or fitted with a ‘barrier’ suited for contact with food. These include certain types of packaging such as for cold cuts or dairy products. At the moment, packaging in Belgium must consist of at least 85% paper fibres to be accepted in the selective collection (in the event that they are not contaminated with food residues) and in order to fall within the Green Dot rate for paper and cardboard. However, this complex packaging is not easy to recycle via the existing paper-cardboard flow.

As this is not a purely Belgian problem, the whole paper and cardboard sector (CEPI) at European level is cooperating to find an answer. To assess the recyclability of fibre packaging objectively, CEPI recently published its harmonised test protocol. This test protocol has been further supplemented by the minimum requirements that packaging must meet to be accepted in a standard recycling facility, based on the Design4Recycling guidelines, which provide for extensive evaluation of the impact of each component of the packaging on its recyclability. 

 With the project, we are looking into the possibility for a separate circuit for complex fibre packaging. To this end, the entire chain, including collection, sorting and recycling, has to be examined. If, in future, complex packaging is to follow a separate recycling flow, that will lead to a separate Green Dot rate for this operational flow that corresponds to the chain deficit caused by this flow. That will also mean that the application criteria for the declaration of paper and cardboard packaging will have to be re-examined so that going forward they can better reflect the operational reality.

 Preference for a single-layer packaging or for separable materials

From the perspective of recyclability, Fost Plus still prefers packaging that is made of a single mono-material, and thus we encourage members to develop packaging that is in line with our Design4Recycling guidelines: 

  • Opt for packaging made of one, single-layer material.
  • Avoid packaging made of multiple layers of different materials that cannot be separated.
  • Use packaging material that can be sorted and recycled via the blue bag or via the paper, cardboard or glass fractions.If it is really necessary to use several layers or different packaging elements, provide for a system where the different layers can be properly separated from one another and communicate clearly about the need to separate the layers. With some packaging, it is often possible to ensure that the layers can be properly separated by using as little adhesive as possible on the packaging.

Click here for more information about the Design4Recycling guidelines.