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Reducing the Complexity of the Recycling Process &  Increasing Recycling Rates

One reason why plastic packaging ends up in nature is due to the complexity of the recycling process, which can be complicated by poor packaging design, the inclusion of problematic materials and the presence of excess packaging. 

Advancing on their first priority, Coalition members have now finalised the complete series of “Golden Design Rules”, for the design of plastic packaging, created to accelerate progress towards using less and better plastic. This set of voluntary, independent and time-bound commitments will create significant value for the industry and wider system, and build the necessary momentum for achieving the further design changes required to achieve the targets laid out in the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment.

The latest design rules focus on eliminating unnecessary plastic packaging, by reducing headspace and plastic overwraps, as well as increasing recycling value in various types of plastic, including PET thermoformed packaging, flexible consumer packaging and rigid HDPE and PP.  Business-to-business plastic packaging is also targeted, with the elimination of all unnecessary packaging that doesn’t reach the consumer. The rules also cover the use of clear and accurate on-pack recycling instructions, which will help consumers to ensure that packaging is sorted for the appropriate end-of-life solution.  The first two rules in the series, published in December 2020, focus on increasing the value of PET bottle recycling and removing problematic elements from packaging, such as carbon black, PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and EPS (expanded polystyrene), which complicate the recycling process.

Coalition members from around the world, with a shared revenue of more than 1 trillion euros and representing more than 10 percent of the global plastic packaging market, have committed to adopting these rules wherever possible by 2025. Members have been asked to voluntarily commit to implement these design changes by 2025 and to report annually on progress, in a process aligned with the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment.

Learn about each Golden Design Rule and the company endorsements below.

Golden Design Rule 1

The first Golden Design Rule is focused on increasing the value of PET recycling. PET is polyethylene terephthalate, one of the most commonly used plastic materials, and this Golden Design Rule applies to all PET bottles in food and non-food applications.

More details about Golden Design Rule 1, including applications and exceptions, are available here.

Golden Design Rule 2

The second Golden Design Rule is focused on removing these problematic elements from packaging because they decrease the recyclability of plastic packaging: undetectable carbon black; PVC or PVDC; EPS or PS; PETG in rigid plastic packaging; and no oxo-degradable. 

More details about Golden Design Rule 2, including applications and exceptions, are available here.

Golden Design Rule 3

The third Golden Design Rule is focused on eliminating excess headspace for all flexible pack types, such that the maximum headspace is 30% or less across the product categories outlined in the rule.

More details about Golden Design Rule 3, including applications and exceptions, are available here.

Golden Design Rule 4

The fourth Golden Design Rule is focused on reducing plastic overwraps, by only using them when “necessary”. It relates to food and non-food categories, including confectionary, crisps and snacks, canned and tinned food, beverages, as well as home care, personal care, and baby care.

More details about Golden Design Rule 4, including applications and exceptions, are available here.

Golden Design Rule 5

The fifth Golden Design Rule is focused on increasing the recycling value for PET hermoformed trays and other PET thermoformed packaging. This rule would provide a boost to emerging recycling infrastructure and increase the quantity and availability of rPET which is necessary to meet targets around recycled content.

More details about Golden Design Rule 5, including applications and exceptions, are available here.

Golden Design Rule 6

The sixth Golden Design Rule is focused on increasing the recycling value for flexible consumer products, likely to end up in the household waste stream or disposed of by consumers during consumption outside the home. “Flexible” packaging is packaging that does not keep its shape when moved or emptied.

More details about Golden Design Rule 6, including applications and exceptions, are available here.

Golden Design Rule 7

The seventh Golden Design Rule is focused on increasing the recycling value in all rigid HDPE and PP, including bottles and squeeze tubes. Rigid HDPE and PP packaging is recycled in practice and at scale in many markets, but there is significant scope for increasing value in recycling and increasing availability and quantity of recycled material.

More details about Golden Design Rule 7, including applications and exceptions, are available here.

Golden Design Rule 8

The eight Golden Design Rule is focused on reducing virgin plastic use in business-to-business plastic packaging, covering all plastic packaging which does not reach the consumer. 

More details about Golden Design Rule 8, including applications and exceptions, are available here.

Golden Design Rule 9

The ninth Golden Design Rule is focused on on-pack recycling or reuse instructions on all consumer plastic packaging. Consumers have a key role to play in ensuring packaging is sorted for the appropriate end-of-life solution; clear and accurate on-pack recycling instructions can increase the chances that this role is fulfilled.

More details about Golden Design Rule 9, including applications and exceptions, are available here.

Learn More

Download the full details of the nine Golden Design Rules.