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[GreenYes] Gabletops
About two-thirds of generated paper and paperboard is currently recyclable by mature community programs.  Part of the remaining paper and paperboard packaging is wax or plastic coated and is not being recycled.  However, there is a technology that uses PET (virgin or recycled) as a coating that would allow all this packaging to be recyclable.

Almost all ice cream containers use the same plastics barrier , high density polyethylene (HDPE), as the paper milk cartons and can be recycled by the same paper mills.  Specialized pulping technologies are needed to separate the HDPE and aluminum layers from the bright white high grade pulp, which represents about 70% of an average package.  Because the HDPE floats, it is a tricky process to remove it from the watery paper pulp.  However, it is being done using specialized pulpers that have been designed to do this.  Your regular paper mill can handle small quantities of milk cartons in residential mixed paper, but not the trailer full slugs of aseptics and milk cartons that are generated from schools and other institutions.

The challenge to pulping other freezer-based packaging is that wax is the favored coating material.  And, there are different types of wax formulations that make designing a pulping system very challenging.  The major paper manufacturers that make waxed boxes tried for years to agree on a voluntary plan to design boxes that could be recycled.  They failed, and the result was a press release urging grocery stores and other customers not to contaminate the recyclable cardboard stream and to make sure to landfill their waxed cartons in a proper manner!

One estimate is that the  weight of wax cascaded and curtain coated fresh meat, poultry, fish, and produce boxes are estimated to fall between 2.5 and 3 billion pounds annually. 

The petroleum industry uses the wax box, bag, and paper markets to dispose of billions of pounds of otherwise surplus paraffin waxes at reasonable profit levels, and the prospect of discontinuing this practice is repugnant to them. The paper makers who have a long-ago depreciated capital investment in wax coating machinery are sure that they don't want to invest in new equipment or allow their market to open its doors to more innovative and environmentally sound products.

There is an alternative.  Replacing wax and HDPE coatings with a PET coating would allow all coated boxes and packages to be recycled in traditional pulping mills.  Currently a number of major grocery chains and product manufacturers are testing this technology, which has been developed by EvCo Research.  See http://www.evcoresearch.com/ 

We do not need to be supporting fiber fuel for this paper, although this is what the paper industry would prefer (Helen has already pointed out some of the problems).   Composting this paper is an acceptable short term strategy because it really requires no additional infrastructure investment, unlike the fiber fuel approach.  

However, we should really be challenging the grocery and the paper industries to use sustainable packaging that is recyclable.  It is possible with today's technology.  It will move us one step closer to zero waste.


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