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Increasing the Availability of Foodservice Packaging Recycling

Foodservice packaging is a source of high-quality virgin fiber and can add value to residential mixed paper by improving fiber strength and yield.

For years, foodservice packaging, such as single-use cups, takeout cartons and pizza boxes, has been discarded and ended up in landfills because concerns about polymer coatings and food contamination kept it out of recycling programs.

That’s changing.

Foodservice packaging is a source of high-quality virgin fiber and can add value to residential mixed paper by improving fiber strength and yield. Residential mixed paper averages about 65 percent fiber yield, and foodservice packaging typically averages more than 90 percent yield.

As the result of trials conducted at WestRock’s St. Paul, Minnesota paperboard mill and its recycling facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Louisville, Kentucky, we found that we can add poly-coated foodservice packaging without disruption to our operations. WestRock now accepts foodservice packaging at eight of its recycled paperboard mills in the United States: Aurora, Illinois; Battle Creek, Michigan; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Dallas Texas; Eaton, Indiana; Missisquoi, Vermont; Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

WestRock manufactures many types of foodservice packaging, and by providing an opportunity to recycle it in the mixed paper we procure, we can “close the loop” and advance the circular economy.

“In order for communities to accept foodservice packaging into their residential recycling programs, they need a place to send it,” said DJ VanDeusen, senior vice president of WestRock’s Recycling business. “WestRock can now take this packaging and turn it into new, usable products.”

In a related project, WestRock, Sustana and Seda, partnered with Starbucks to successfully recycle 25 million coffee cups, converting them into new cups in a groundbreaking demonstration of a closed-loop process.