The Need: According to research conducted on behalf of the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC), it is estimated that 300 million pounds of plastic pet food and treat bags are generated in the United States each year. Currently, nearly all of these bags are made by co-extruding and laminating multiple layers of film plastics into a multilayer sandwich structure to form the package. Each layer performs a different functional purpose, and it is nearly impossible to separate layers from each other with the current state of recycling technology. Furthermore, the cost of recycling is more than the value of the materials in the package. As a result, PSC estimates that over 99% of all pet food bags in the United States go to the landfill.
A handful of brands have established recycling options with TerraCycle whereby their individual brands of bags can be returned by mail or dropped off at select retail establishments, which then would mail them back to TerraCycle for recycling. Challenges of the TerraCycle model include limitations to which brands are able to participate, cost, and consumer participation.
Alternatively, some bag manufacturers have begun to offer “recycle-ready” bags that are considered to be recyclable in a polyethylene stream, and to date “recycle-ready” bags only have a small percentage of the market in the single digits.
The Pet Sustainability Coalition has a goal to improve the sustainability of pet product packaging. Within this goal, PSC aims to reduce landfill waste and plastic released in the environment by working to support packaging and recycling technologies, design-for-recycling, and the establishment of programs to collect plastic pet food bags for recycling.
The Solution: In 2019-2020, the Pet Sustainability Coalition, along with our partners, launched the first ever return-to-retail pet food packaging take back and recycling pilot.
What makes it particularly smart or circular? Through the Flex Forward pilot, we are looking to capture the 300 million pounds of pet food and treat packaging and recycle that packaging into materials that can be sold or donated back to the pet industry.
Results, Benefits, and Outcomes to Date: Through the pilot so far, we have astounding success in the collections of materials. We have found that pet parents and retailers can bring back packaging at an astounding rate, if marketed and communicated through in innovative ways.
Which of the Pact’s 4 Targets does your work help achieve? Target 3
How are you communicating your success? PSC has shared the success of this pilot in a variety of ways over the multi-year effort including virtual events and webinars, in-person events, and a downloadable report, and social media campaigns.
What’s Next? Right now, we are in recycling trials for the collected materials. We are working with 9-12 different mechanical and chemical recyclers, universities, manufacturing companies, and chemical companies to find a sustainable end of life solution for the collected materials (looks good so far!) This research, as well as a feasibility study looking at expansion of collections is set to come out in Q1 of 2022.
Roadblocks & Lessons Learned: The biggest roadblock we came up against so far has been COVID. We were set to start collections in March 2020 in the Pacific Northwest, but most of our participating retailers had to shut down for in-store shopping. More information in the Flex Forward Report.
Core Team, Partners, & Participants: Earth Animal, a health and wellness pet products company, was the primary financial sponsor of the program. Pet Food Experts is our distributor partner. PSC has served as the primary project manager. Initially we worked with Kurt Dudska consulting on recycling trials, but that has been expanded greatly. Petsmart funded the initial feasibility study that was produced by Circular Matters.
Time Frame: 2018 – present
Quote: “When the sustainability leaders in the pet industry work together, it is a true force for good that can spark dynamic change. Working with PSC and Pet Food Experts in developing the Flex Forward pilot project did just that. By fostering collaboration between varying vendors and retailers, exploring of innovative solutions to real challenges, and providing crucial learning that can inform our next disruptive initiatives, we’re convinced real positive change is coming to the pet industry.” – Stephanie Volo, Chief Marketing Officer, Earth Animal
Company/Organization Information: The Pet Sustainability Coalition advances business through profitable environmental and social business practices. Founded in 2013 by eight companies who recognized a need for a collaborative platform to address increasing expectations for sustainable products, PSC now supports almost 200 pet companies to measure, improve, and celebrate their environmental and social performance. PSC also mobilizes its member community to advance sustainable proteins, sustainable packaging, and diversity, equity and inclusion. Learn more at petsustainability.org.
Flexing Forward – A pet industry report on the first collaborative in-store recycling program for plastic pet food and treat bags