Many MRFs throughout the U.S. and Canada are successfully recovering foodservice packaging, although the specific material and packaging types recovered vary greatly. As MRFs consider accepting foodservice packaging, it is important to have an idea of how much material this will generate:


  • In a city of 250,000 people, roughly 3,000 tons of cups, containers, boxes and paper bags are generated annually. About 75% of this material is fiber. That means that at a ten percent recovery rate – which is a realistic initial goal for new materials – a MRF could expect an additional 300 or so tons of recoverable material each year, consisting of approximately 230 tons of paper and 70 tons of plastic.


In addition to MRFs, plastic recovery facilities (PRFs), can also be a component in recycling plastic foodservice packaging. PRFs purchase mixed plastics or pre-picked (#3-7) bales from MRFs, which may include PET, PP, PS and PLA cups and containers. Utilizing cutting-edge sorting technologies, such as optical and gravity sorting, PRFs are able to successfully produce segregated resins, which are often sold domestically to plastic reclaimers. For PRFs, it’s interesting to note a recent study of cups found in mixed plastics bales revealed:


  • Cups made up roughly 6% of the sampled pre-picked bales.

  • Polypropylene was the most prevalent cup material type in all the bales sampled.


Finally, secondary processing facilities are another option to recycle foodservice packaging that may not have been sorted in a MRF. These operations typically buy residue and remainders from MRFs’ conveyor belts and further sort the material to recover and sell paper, plastics, metals, etc.


Foodservice Packaging Information Sheet

Want to know all the basics of foodservice packaging recovery that every community or MRF should know? Download our go-to information sheet here.

Plastic Cups Bale Sort Study

As part of the most comprehensive post-consumer plastic container bale sorts done in North Amercia, this plastic cups bale sort study conducted in 2015 showed which rigid plastic bales contained plastic cups as well as the plastic resin types and volumes of plastic cups in each bale type. Read more about the results of this study.

Impact of Foodservice Packaging on Existing Bales

Adding foodservice packaging to existing bales makes very little difference to their composition. Read more about the estimated prevalence of FSP in bales.


To test the impact of paper foodservice packaging in mixed paper bales, a bale audit was conducted with bales purchased from New York City and Seattle markets. Read more about the overview of the study.

MRF Material Flow Study

FPI, along with its co-sponsors, the American Chemistry Council, Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, Carton Council and National Association for PET Container Resources, conducted a study to analyze the flow of select materials through a MRF and identify best practices to get more recyclables actually recycled. Read more.

Food Residue

Some communities have expressed concern about adding foodservice packaging to a recycling program because of food residue. But, two recent studies have shown that foodservice packaging is no more contaminated with food than other commonly recycled food-contact items like bottles, jars or cans. Read more about the 2013 and 2014 studies, or watch the webinar below:

Current Acceptance of FSP

To get a better idea of the current acceptance of FSP by cities and/or MRFs in the U.S. and Canada, a benchmarking study was conducted in 2013. While the responses varied widely, the results were encouraging. Read more.

End Markets

For MRFs to accept materials, there must be end markets! For more information about End Markets, visit our end markets page or click on the map below to view an interactive map of end markets for a variety of foodservice packaging materials.


Case Studies


The case studies below highlight MRFs that are successfully recovering foodservice packaging, thus providing you with a sense of how it may be replicated elsewhere.

Burrtec | Riverside, California

ReCommunity | Ann Arbor, Michigan

Toolkit brought to you by FPI's Paper Recovery Alliance (PRA) and Plastics Recovery Group (PRG).

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