Insights / Sustainability

Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) Content: Closing the Loop

Post-consumer recycled content plastic

What is post consumer recycled content? PCR content refers to materials recovered from the waste stream after consumer use, such as plastic bottles and packaging waste. It reduces the need for virgin plastic resins and other virgin materials. Types of PCR content include plastic, glass, aluminum, steel, and paperboard (fiber).

Why PCR Is Important

Incorporating post-consumer recycled content in packaging contributes to a circular economy by extending material life cycles. It reduces landfill waste, conserves natural resources, saves energy, and lowers greenhouse gas emissions.

Adding PCR content to packaging decreases its carbon footprint (reduced energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, extraction of finite natural resources, and landfill disposal) compared to using 100% virgin materials, helping brands meet their sustainability goals.

What's Driving PCR Adoption

  • Consumer preferences for sustainable packaging, consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies' public commitments to increase the recyclability and recycled content of their packaging, and state legislation mandating greater amounts of recycled content in packaging are driving the demand for PCR.

  • Several U.S. states mandate minimum PCR requirements in packaging.

    • California: Plastic beverage bottles sold by beverage manufacturers are currently required by law to contain 15% PCR. That percentage will increase to 25% PCR by 2025 and 50% by 2030.
    • Washington: The state's recycled content packaging law mandates that most beverage bottles contain 15% PCR by 2023, 25% by 2026, and 50% by 2031.
    • New Jersey: By January 2024, single-use plastic beverage bottles sold in the state must contain at least 15% PCR content, and all other rigid plastic containers must contain at least 10% PCR. Levels of PCR content will increase by 5% every three years for beverage bottles and 10% every three years for all other rigid plastic containers until reaching a 50% threshold.

Case Study: Turtle Wax

Turtle Wax trigger sprayer bottles contain 30% PCR PET plastic

Studio One Eleven partnered with automotive care brand Turtle Wax to reduce material use and incorporate PCR PET plastic in their packaging, significantly reducing their environmental footprint. The Studio team also developed a rebranding concept for the brand's three sizes of trigger-spray bottles. Along with a compelling design, the project yielded material reduction advantages.

All new bottles incorporate 30% PCR PET plastic, exceeding California's 25% PCR requirements for bottles in this size range while saving more than 116,000 pounds of virgin resin annually. New, lighter-weight preforms significantly reduced resin use, yielding a 21% reduction for the 16-oz bottle (from 43 to 34 grams) and a 19% reduction for the 26-oz size (from 53 grams to 43 grams) for a total annual savings of 62,000 pounds of plastic.

Explore related topics: Life-Cycle Assessment, Ocean-Bound Plastic, Compostable Packaging, Container Deposit/Refund Programs, Refillable & Reusable Packaging, Mechanical and Advanced Recycling, and Bioplastic

Robert Swientek

By: Robert Swientek
Date: June 27, 2023

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