We got to talking about this topic with a passionate advocate for DOG food bag recycling, Kurt Duska of Kurt Duska Consulting.
Kurt started in the plastics industry in injection molding. He became interested in the benefits of recycling plastics and in 2008 bought an EREMA recycling machine. After building a successful plastics recycling business, he eventually sold that business to focus on working with groups on sustainability initiatives.
He helps businesses to develop circular economy solutions using his plastics processing and manufacturing systems knowledge and experience to help companies ‘design for recycling’.
He was attracted to the challenge of dog food bag recycling, both from his personal experience as a dog owner and through meeting the Pet Sustainability Coalition, who asked if he could help them as a recycler.
Working with EREMA, they’ve developed a working model for DOG food bag recycling, the first of its kind in the US.
Dog food bags are very difficult to recycle. This is in part because there is no standardization in the industry. Some bags incorporate multiple layers including barriers designed to keep products fresh and the bags must be durable to withstand product weight and the demands of shipping. Dog food bags are heavily printed also, making recycling more challenging.
Dog food bags that are made of LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) can be recycled into useful products such as garbage bags and synthetic lumber.
Kurt’s vision, which is beginning to come about, is to have retailers that sell bagged dog food collect the bags for recycling. This is likely a very doable model. According to a recent survey of pet owners, “nearly three-quarters said they are interested in learning how to live more sustainably with their pets, and 81 percent said that taking care of their pet in an environmentally-friendly way is important to them.”
Clearly there will be benefits to DOG food companies in embracing this interest in DOG food bag recycling to not only help the environment, but to also build their brands.
“When we brought in our first bale to test, it was probably the cleanest post-consumer product I’ve ever seen”, says Kurt. A testament to the willingness of his sample audience to making this work.
“With the process that we’ve developed, anyone that has an EREMA can run this, it runs great, it’s easy, and it's applicable everywhere” he says. “I can see a day when there’s an EREMA machine within a few hundred miles of most anyone reprocessing dog food packaging into usable products. In these times, retailers and consumers are expecting recyclability from their products, and dog owners are even more passionate. We’ve got the cost of recycled LDPE close enough to virgin material that there’s really no reason for brands not to embrace this. Within a few years, the major dog food brands will be competing on this”
He notes that for this to work, that the industry must converge on standards for consistent designs. “We need a clearinghouse for best practices on this issue” he notes.
“In order for programs like this to work, society needs to understand that the chasing arrows don’t mean it’s recyclable as a fact. Without a systems approach, you can’t effectively and profitably recycle. Unless it’s profitable, it’s not sustainable. Really the chasing arrows should signify demand, logistics, and product design because that’s what it takes.” Kurt says.
You can hear more from Kurt here:
And watch a full walkthrough of dog food bag recycling here: