Last week, the U.S. Plastics Pact published its PCR Certification Principles. The principles recognize that, as Pact Activators work toward their 30% recycled material use targets (part of Target 4 of the U.S. Pact Roadmap), there is a need for increased transparency and standardization of accounting. The use of robust certification programs can provide this, and a consistent approach to assessment of certification programs will help level the playing field and ensure that measurement of PCR use is aligned among Plastics Pact Activators.
The principles are especially noteworthy because they reflect a growing alignment among U.S. industry players about what constitutes a good certification scheme. Over the past several years, there have been a number of certification programs in use in North America, but with different attributes that have led to confusion about what brands should be looking for. Product-level certifications verify the amount of recycled content in one product, such as resin pellets, but don’t carry through the supply chain to verify that the final product made from those pellets still contains the specified level of recycled materials. Other certification programs, including RMS, recognize the importance of a certified chain of custody to verify the provenance of recycled materials and ensure that claims are accurately transmitted to the finished product. Meanwhile, there is growing recognition that mass balance allocation is needed to enable the use of certain types of chemically recycled materials, but different certification programs take different approaches to key aspects, such as the treatment of co-produced fuels, and book and claim accounting methods are entirely new to the recycled plastics space.
This alignment around certification principles has value beyond the specific commitments of Pact Activators. Increasingly, we have seen policy instruments, such as EPR schemes and minimum recycled content standards, that make reference to use of certified recycled materials, often with specifics left up to the rulemaking process. As the packaging industry coalesces around shared principles for good certification programs, policymakers can look to these principles for direction.
Let’s take a look at the specific features the principles promote and what brands should be considering when selecting a certification method.
By providing some guardrails around the use of certifications to measure progress toward recycled material goals, the U.S. Plastics Pact is helping to ensure that brands can consistently and reliably track the recycled materials used in their supply chains. At this time, RMS is the only certification that enables companies to employ all of the chain of custody models approved by the U.S. Plastics Pact: average content claims backed by robust chain of custody, mass balance with fuel exclusion, and book and claim. This makes the use of RMS-certified materials a great strategy for Pact Activators that need an “all of the above” approach to meet their 2025 goals.