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Post-Consumer Regrind (PCR) Plastic: Definition, Benefits, and Sustainability Facts


PCR (Post-Consumer Regrind) plastics are already substantially impacting sustainability. According to the US Plastics Pact:

  • PCR plastic can reduce energy consumption by at least 79%. 
  • Manufacturing products from PCR plastics already saves more electricity than is consumed annually in all of Los Angeles.
  • PCR-based products reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of nearly 500,000 cars taken off the road.

With consumers, policymakers, and manufacturers all placing a greater emphasis on sustainability, the growth of PCR plastic usage will continue to accelerate for the foreseeable future.

In this article, we define PCR packaging, highlight its potential benefits, and explain what makes it different from other types of sustainable plastic material. 


What is PCR plastic?

PCR plastic refers to plastic material that has been recycled to make new, more sustainable packaging and other products. Also called “Post Consumer Recyclate” and “Post Consumer Resin,” PCR is made from used items that are reground and reprocessed to be reused in safe, cost-effective recycled plastic products. Once reprocessing is completed, PCR plastics may be used in manufacturing like any other polymer resin. We walk through how this process works for thermoformed plastic packaging in our article here.

Because non-recycled plastics (called “virgin plastics”) are processed from fossil fuels, greater adoption of PCR plastic can help directly reduce carbon emissions. According to the Association of Plastic Recyclers, replacing new plastic with recycled plastic can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70%. Additionally, every piece of PCR plastic means less plastic waste in our landfills, waterways, and oceans. 

A plastic product may be made entirely or partially from PCR material. Even switching to 10 or 20% PCR can substantially mitigate a product’s environmental impact, and a broad range of potential PCR mixes allows businesses to find the optimal mix that enhances sustainability while ensuring a quality end-user experience. The proper grades of PCR plastic can provide equivalent strength, performance, and product protection compared to virgin plastics.

PCR plastic products may be recycled once again after use, effectively allowing PCR material to remove plastic waste and reduce carbon emissions over many cycles of product use. This potential for cyclical reuse is why PCR plastics are an important component of the push for a more circular economy. Because traditional plastics, including PCR, are non-biodegradable, circular recycling is critical for limiting the overall stream of plastic waste.

See our article here for a deeper look at the benefits of eco-friendly food packaging.


What are common PCR materials?

Some of the most commonly used PCR plastic materials include:

  • PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
  • PP (Polypropylene Plastic)
  • HDPE (High-Density Polythene)

Recycled grades of these materials are often signified by a lowercase letter “r” appended to the front of their abbreviation: rPET, rPP, rHDPE. 


Are there important limitations on PCR plastic?

While PCR reprocessing results in a final product that is safe and hygienic for a wide variety of applications, certain high-purity applications, such as medical and pharmaceutical products, preclude the use of PCR materials.

PCR materials may also exhibit different coloring and clarity compared to non-recycled polymers, including flecks and other visual inconsistencies. In some cases, these unique visual characteristics can even be incorporated into the design of products made from PCR plastic. In others, additional processing can help achieve the desired appearance.


How does PCR plastic compare to other types of sustainable plastic?

PCR plastic is not the only variety of plastic materials designed to help mitigate the environmental impact of products/packaging. Other important categories of sustainable plastic include:

  • Post-Industrial Resin (PIR): like PCR plastic, PIR refers to material that has been recycled and reprocessed to reduce waste. Unlike PCR, however, PIR material may have never actually entered the consumer marketplace. Examples include excess material from the supply chain and process waste from manufacturing.
  • Bioplastics: these plastics are manufactured using biomass sources (such as vegetable oils, straw, sawdust, food waste, etc.) rather than fossil fuels. Note that this manufacturing process does not necessarily result in “biodegradable” plastics (see below).
  • Biodegradable: this material category is designed to break down much more quickly than normal plastics. Most biodegradable plastics require a well-controlled, industrial-grade composting system to ensure a successful decomposition.

Each of these material categories will have valuable and complementary roles to play in reducing plastic waste and energy consumption, supplementing PCR plastic’s ability to directly reclaim waste from the consumer marketplace.


Which PCR Plastics are safe to use with food?

Food-grade recycled PET resins are widely available, and options for HDPE and other PCR materials have proliferated rapidly in recent years. 

These PCR plastics are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for food-contacting applications. FDA-compliant PCR food containers have proven to be a safe solution across a variety of food and beverage product categories.

As with any food-contacting material, proper handling and adherence to FDA guidelines are critical. These considerations must account for nuances including the types of food, intended packaging use case, and the implementation of relevant quality control measures. To assist food packaging makers, the FDA provides case-by-case advice on which processes are suitable for food-contact applications. You can find this guidance here:

Guidance for Industry: Use of Recycled Plastics in Food Packaging


How PCR Plastics Can Help Drive ESG Progress

Plastic products and packaging offer unique benefits for consumers but also create unique challenges for waste management, energy usage, and recycling. PCR materials can help protect core consumer benefits while promoting more environmentally responsible operations.

As organizations seek to advance their Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals, more widespread adoption of PCR plastics will be critical for helping businesses demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, project a forward-thinking brand image, and appeal to environmentally conscious consumers.

As consumer awareness and demand for sustainable products continue to grow, the adoption of PCR plastics will only accelerate. In this context, working to incorporate a higher PCR mix is a great way for organizations to proactively invest in a more sustainable future. 

Need help sourcing more sustainable options for plastic packaging? Learn more about Lacerta’s commitment to sustainability.

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