Minimize and even completely avoid end-of-life impacts

Strategy 3: Improve end-of-life management

End-of-life management is a strategy based on the 3Rs, prioritizing actions as follows:

Plan, right at the design stage, scenarios to maximize the value of packaging at the end of its useful life by taking into account its potential for recycling and compatibility with current recovery infrastructures.

Action 7: Plan for packaging reuse

Action 8: Better recyclability


Action 7: Plan for packaging reuse

Reusing packaging (e.g. using food packaging for storing meal leftovers) extends its useful life. Planning for reuse is not a strategy that is easy to apply to all types of containers and packaging.

Primary packaging reuse

Three options are available for consideration:

  1. Extend the useful life of product packaging intended for consumers by offering lower-cost refills of the original packaging (e.g. make available refills for hand soap pumps).
  2. Offer products in bulk so consumers may refill containers several times (e.g. spice jars).
  3. Design packaging so as to have it perform a second function after its initial purpose, either directly related to the product or for another use. The classic example of this proposed solution is the transport case for an electric drill, which is used for both point of sale packaging and storage by the user. This is known as sustainable packaging.

Designing packaging for reuse requires particular consideration. A balance must be struck between durability and the quantity of materials necessary: you should not over-package a product for the sole purpose of making its packaging reusable.

If the product refill option is selected (e.g. product sold as a concentrate or in flexible packaging), an overall analysis of the reusable packaging and refills system must be performed to ensure that it does not result in more impacts than single-use packaging.

Secondary or tertiary packaging reuse

Secondary or tertiary packaging can be used in a number of ways, particularly in a business-to-business context (B2B). A system for reusing multiple-item or transport packaging, including cardboard boxes, plastic crates, wood or plastic pallets, is an excellent means to that end.

Action 8: Better recyclability

This action consists in minimizing the impacts of packaging at the end of its life by optimizing recyclability. Technical and economic constraints will determine a material's potential for recycling. That is why recyclability must be considered at the earliest stages of packaging design to ensure it is compatible with existing recycling systems.

The choice of materials and their combination, risk of recycling process contamination, the technical capacity of sorting and conditioning centres and existing market outlets are factors that affect packaging recyclability.

Overview of Quebec’s curbside recycling system

The recycling industry generates over $4.7 billion in economic benefits. Companies that collect and process recyclable materials provide more than 10,000 direct jobs to Quebecers throughout the province. Curbside recycling is a complex system involving hundreds of stakeholders (municipalities, sorting centres, recyclers and conditioners, processing services and equipment providers, etc.), and each region has specific needs and faces different challenges.

Checklist for optimizing recyclability

  •   Avoid using materials that are non-recyclable or with low recycling rates.
  •   Choose materials made from a single material to facilitate recovery and sorting, and avoid recycling stream contamination.
  •   Design packaging that is easy to disassemble or with components that are easy to separate manually.
  •   Ensure that coatings, inks, components and additives do not negatively affect recycling and conditioning.
  •   Help consumers do their part by providing effective packaging information on the nature of component materials and sorting tips.
  •   Avoid using compostable packaging if a recyclable alternative exists.

Do you know?

The issue of compostable packaging requires some clarification. Using compostable packaging could be a good environmental choice, particularly food packaging that is too heavily soiled to be recycled.

However, using compostable packaging is only desirable if appropriate composting installations (industrial composting, biomethanization) are available to process that type of packaging. If no such infrastructures are available, compostable materials may contaminate the recycling stream or simply end up in landfills. Materials currently used to make compostable packaging are not designed to degrade under the usual conditions provided by home composters.

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