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Not all recycled paper is created equal. These new guidelines help designers create better packaging

Most every product you buy comes in some kind of packaging. And even though paper is recyclable, it’s not all created equal: Some packaging is much easier to recycle than others.

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) just released a new guide to help product designers make paper packaging as recyclable as possible. It’s not enough that the packaging has the little chasing arrow recycling symbol, which indicates that it can be sent to a local recycling system. There are actually all kinds of design flourishes that can make packaging harder to recycle. The guide show how packaging add-ons, like adhesives or silver embossing, could affect a product’s ability to have a second life.

This report is the first time the AF&PA has offered such extensive guidelines. It pulled data on how non-fiber elements and treatments like adhesives, inks, and dyes affect the recyclability of paper-based packaging. It surveyed 86 paper mills across the U.S. that belong to AF&PA member companies and process recycled paper products. (AF&PA members represent about 86% of the total manufacturing capacity for paper and paperboard in the U.S., according to the association.)

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