Why would a brand specify RMS certified materials?
There are many reasons that companies rely on certification standards for sustainability attributes. Some of the primary reasons include a desire for:
a) Labels that are trusted by consumers
b) Assurance of clear and credible claims that meet marketing guidelines
c) Supply chain consistency and transparency
Suppliers often approach issues with different perspectives, interpretations of definitions, etc. Sorting through these differences can be extremely challenging for companies with multiple suppliers. Certification cuts through the clutter and creates a clear set of rules. By having a certified chain of custody, brands can make claims about the use of recycled materials that clearly shows a brand’s commitment to the circular economy in a way that resonates with consumers.
Why did the RMS start with a plastic module?
While the RMS Framework was designed to be applicable to multiple material types, plastics was selected for the first module based on feedback from stakeholders, including SPC member companies. Many companies have near-term goals related to the use of recycled plastics, such as through the Ellen MacArthur Foundation New Plastics Economy Global Commitment or the US Plastics Pact, which they are struggling to meet. We anticipate that the RMS Plastics Module will help these companies meet their goals.
The RMS is an important tool to advance the use of recycled materials and foster investments in recycling. Given the focus on the global plastics pollution issue, we believe there was urgency to prioritizing plastics as the first module. By creating more demand for plastics and adding value to the recycling system, we can increase the opportunity for recovery and help ensure plastics are managed responsibly.
Why is the RMS limited in geographic scope to just North America?
It is not uncommon for a standard to be developed for a specific region and later grow to having a global reach. As a starting point, the RMS was designed around the legal framework that exists in this area, and at this time does not address social issues that may present a concern for recycling via informal economies in developing countries. We anticipate that the geographic scope of the RMS will expand in the future.
Does the RMS certify post-industrial materials?
Yes, both post-consumer and post-industrial materials are eligible for certification under the RMS. We believe there is value in creating chain of custody standard that addresses the entirety of the recycling ecosystem. The standard contains specific definitions and examples of each.
How do I get certified?
Participating organizations must work with an approved Certification Body for certification to the RMS. Certification includes an annual audit to verify conformance with the RMS and maintain a valid RMS Certificate. You can learn more here.
When can I get certified?
The RMS Framework and Plastics Module are available now and companies are encouraged to prepare for auditing. However, we are still working on other elements of the program required for companies to become certified. We are currently focused on accreditation of certification bodies.
Can the RMS be used for both chemical and mechanical recycling?
Yes. “Chemical recycling” is a term used to describe a host of different technologies, also known as “advanced recycling technologies” or “feedstock recycling.” The RMS allows for tracking recycled materials from chemical recycling processes using a mass balance approach, supported by chain of custody tracking. This will help supply chain members make credible recycled material claims while using plastics similar to virgin quality. The mass balance approach can also be used by mechanical recyclers.
How does the RMS handle processes that convert plastics to energy or fuels?
We recognizes that fuels might be created through the same processes creating chemical intermediaries that can be further processed into usable materials. However, fuels are excluded from eligibility under the RMS. In these situations where multiple products are created, having a standard to define and track the eligible materials becomes that much more important. If a process creates both chemical intermediaries and fuels, only the chemical intermediary portion is eligible for RMS; the portion converted to fuel would be considered a “loss” accounted for by the conversion factor.
How does the RMS compare with the APR Endorsement for certification?
APR has developed an “Endorsement” program. If one of their members is verified by an outside party that meets their criteria, they can get recognition from APR. The recognition is limited to the reclaimer (i.e., the plastic recycler), addresses post-consumer plastics only, and lacks a chain of custody mechanism.
We have developed a comprehensive third party chain of custody standard – and a new environmental commodity (certificate based system) we call Attributes of Recycled Content (ARCs). The RMS promises to be the most comprehensive standard available, creating the rigor but also the flexibility for enabling companies to demonstrate their commitments to supporting recycling. The RMS will eventually expand beyond plastics. We anticipate that some APR members will pursue RMS certification using certification bodies which are already approved by APR, which would likely render them eligible for APR endorsement.
Are other certification standards recognized by RMS?
Not yet. But we envision a future where standards work together.
The Recycled Materials Standard (RMS) is a Chain of Custody (CoC) standard that requires participants in the supply chain to be audited by a certification body in order to verify claims for recycled content. There are standards currently in use that offer similar auditing protocols and assurances on claims of recycled content. It is the goal of the RMS to recognize those standards that are comparable in rigor and scope, allowing those standards to serve as an alternate means to verify the origin of the material, at the point of the recycler, and have that claim be carried through the RMS CoC.
Maintaining an unbroken, audited chain of custody while materials move through the recycling and production process is essential to ensuring authenticity of the claims that are ultimately reported by brands and made to consumers.
Recognizing that other standards can serve as a verification method for the point at which materials enter the RMS CoC is important for a number of reasons, including:
- Recyclers of different materials may best be served by different standards,
- Eliminating the redundancy of auditing where possible reduces the costs of certification across the industry,
- Recognizing a range of standards enables the supply chain to find a wider range of recyclers to qualify RMS-eligible materials.
At a minimum, the following criteria must sufficiently be met to in order for a standard to be considered for comparison and recognition by the RMS:
- Standards developed using a voluntary consensus process as defined by the OMB and outlined in the FTC Green Guides
- Must require an audit from an accredited certification body that meets RMS criteria
- Requires due diligence on behalf of the recycler to validate the recycled status of input materials
If a standard meets the initial criteria, GreenBlue will consider conducting a complete crosswalk will assistance from an independent, third-party.
Mass Balance Accounting
How is the mass balance approach perceived by other organizations?
In 2016, the ISEAL Alliance issued a reference document on chain of custody models to help sustainability standards align on common terms and definitions including mass balance. ISO 22095 “Chain of custody – General terminology and models” was issued in 2020 and also serves as a reference for standard setting organizations.
However, while the approach is common – there are differences in implementation within individual standards.
How does the mass balance system work?
With complex supply chains it is often difficult to keep certified materials physically separated or isolated from other materials. However, the purchase and sales of materials can be tracked and traced. If a company is making a mass balance claim, it means they have bought enough material to cover the claim, but it may not appear in each individual product.
In other words, the amount of certified material entering a facility is known and an equivalent volume of the product leaving the operation can be sold as certified.
For example, a chocolate company might buy enough certified cocoa to cover chocolate bars, but the certified cocoa might not appear in every bar – because some ends up in cake mix, or ice cream or other products made at the chocolate factory. We are taking this same idea and applying it to recycled materials.
You can learn more about the mass balance approach as applied to chemical recycling in this white paper issued by members of the Ellen Macarthur Foundation network.
How much do ARCs cost?
ARC pricing is determined by market value. We anticipate that the cost of ARCs will be influenced by a variety of factors, such as resin type, post-consumer vs. post-industrial status, and current market conditions. ARC transactions can be made directly between material processors who generate ARCs and purchasers, or can be facilitated by an ARC trader.
Can I buy ARCs for products manufactured outside of the US?
ARCs may only be generated by entities certified under the RMS. At this time, entities located in North America (i.e., the US, Canada, and Mexico) are eligible for certification. ARCs may be purchased and used for claims in connection with products manufactured in any location.
When will ARCs be available for sale?
Eligible reprocessors of recycled materials will be able to start generating ARCs and offering them for sale once the standard is finalized and they obtain a valid RMS Reprocessor Certificate. At this time, we anticipate that ARCs will be available for purchase in 2021.
How do ARCs support investments in recycling?
Similar to Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) for renewable energy, ARCs separate the environmental attribute from the physical material and allow it to be traded on the open market. To avoid double-counting, the corresponding physical material is sold without a recycled claim. Meanwhile, users of plastics may purchase and retire ARCs, and by doing so, provide financial support to investments in material reprocessing. When ARCs are paired with plastics of the same type used in a finished product or package, that item may carry a claim that it supports investments in recycling.