BOULDER, COLO. — One aspiration of the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC) is to establish a nationwide retail collection platform for recycling used pet food and treat bags. After years of collaborative pilot programs and partnerships, the organization has come one step closer to this goal. On May 22, the PSC announced it will roll out its first regional retail collection program involving pet retailers across the Northeast United States.

According to the coalition, the pet food and treat industry generates roughly 300 million lbs of plastic per year, 99% of which is bound for landfills due to a lack of viable end-of-life solutions. This is because pet food and treat bags have traditionally been made of multiple materials in many layers, making it impossible for recyclers to separate and sort for reuse.

The rise of mono-material pet food packaging solutions aims to address this plastic waste problem, but a significant portion of the industry continues to operate using unsustainable packaging materials. This is where the PSC’s Flex Forward pilot program came into play.

The six-month pilot program, launched in 2020, involved more than 100 independent pet retailers who set up collection boxes for pet owners to return used flexible pet food and treat packaging to the stores. Pet Food Experts collected and transported these materials to a distribution center to undergo recyclability testing. The PSC also worked with recycling partners to determine the optimal method for recycling the used bags. According to the organization, one of 17 recyclability tests conducted yielded a 15% return rate of polyethylene while minimizing contamination. This will be the prevailing method fueling the expansion of the PSC’s return-to-retail package recycling efforts.

According to the PSC, this initial pilot program collected more than 8,000 lbs of multilayer, multi-material flexible pet food packaging in just six months. Lessons learned through the pilot program are now being used to develop a regional — and, eventually, national — Return to Retail recycling program for pet owners in the United States.

The coalition expects the regional rollout in the Northeast will occur this fall, followed by additional regions in 2025 and 2026. According to the PSC, Return to Retail will be unique in four ways: prioritizing inclusivity of brands and retailers, committing to detailed sortation of materials, offering transparency and traceability for all parties involved including the consumer, and supporting the industry as its works to transition to more recyclable packaging.

Find a detailed report from the PSC’s Flex Forward pilot program here.

Read more about sustainability efforts across the pet food and treat industry.  

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