OPINION: Design for Recyclability Guidelines – Why do standards matter?

Dimitra Rappou, executive director, sustainable products at Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI) discusses the company’s recently released Design for Recyclability Guidelines and what they mean for the future.

OPINION: Setting the bar high has long been fundamental for progress and innovation in the paper sector and instrumental in its long-term credibility and growth. Today, with the UK recycling rate for packaging paper and cardboard exceeding 80%, and a remarkable 78% reduction in carbon emissions since 1990, the importance of standards in driving such achievements cannot be ignored.

Dimitra Rappou

Paper, as a sustainable, renewable, and recyclable material, stands as a testament to the potential of setting the bar high. However, as packaging evolves to meet consumer demands, it is crucial that these innovations also prioritise recyclability.

The Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI) recently published the 4th edition of the Design for Recyclability Guidelines. Since its first publication in 2019, it was evident that the supply chain needed clear, simple but comprehensive guidelines that provide design parameters which, if generally adhered to, should deliver recyclable fibre-based packaging.


This revised version both seeks to offer guidance on efficient paper recycling, but also gives a direction of travel for future packaging design within the context of the upcoming regulatory changes.

But why do these guidelines matter beyond being a set of recommendations? They define the very essence of sustainable packaging design by setting clear design recommendations, such as limiting non-paper components to 5% of pack weight. They challenge industry professionals to push boundaries and develop environmentally friendly and efficient solutions.

Moreover, with the prevalence of commingled recycling collections, the need to improve the quality of upstream materials has never been more timely. As more materials are mixed together in the recycling process, the level of undesired contaminants in the paper recycling stream will increase significantly.

This trend poses a serious challenge to the recycling process, as contaminated materials impact significantly on the quality of recyclate and increase processing costs. In response, initiatives aimed at enhancing the quality of materials entering the recycling stream have gained importance.

In an era where corporate responsibility is increasingly scrutinised, these standards demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. By setting clear benchmarks for recyclability and resource efficiency, companies are urged to make more responsible decisions regarding their packaging materials and processes. They signal a commitment to sustainability, demanding accountability at every stage of the packaging process.


Right from the start, these Guidelines have been shaped through collaboration, gathering insights from a wide range of stakeholders. This inclusive approach ensures that the guidelines are thorough and reflective of the industry’s collective commitment to sustainability and innovation. As new technologies emerge and policy takes shape, CPI will continue to review these guidelines through a cross-sectoral CPI committee.

The more recyclability testing is conducted via Papercycle, the richer the insights we gather to inform these Guidelines. Additionally, we’re inviting contributions on any technological advancements through an open call for evidence, which will influence future revisions. At the same time, as pan-European efforts to provide guidelines for paper and board packaging intensify, the CPI Guidelines will be as closely aligned as possible with the work being undertaken in Europe.


The time for action is now. As consumers become increasingly conscious of their environmental footprint, businesses must rise to the occasion and embrace sustainable practices. As we navigate through uncertain times, with impending reforms and regulatory changes on the horizon, the CPI Guidelines remain a trusted resource and supportive mechanism for designers of fibre-based packaging. They provide future direction, guiding towards a future where sustainability is not just a goal, but a standard practice.

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