ASTRX: Applying Systems Thinking to Recycling

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition and the Recycling Partnership joined forces to develop resources that will build a roadmap for a stronger American recycling industry.

We believe strengthening the recycling system will provide U.S. manufacturers with a steady supply of raw materials, bring more jobs to the U.S., and reduce our impact on the environment. ASTRX is a systems-level project to increase recycling by strengthening each element of the materials supply chain to create reliable and valuable manufacturing feedstock.

For packaging to be recycled successfully, we must consider how it flows through each of the five elements of recycling: end markets, reprocessing, sortation, collection, and consumer engagement. To increase recovery, ASTRX will examine each element of the recycling system, identify barriers to recovering more high quality materials, and develop solutions that support each element and thus help the recycling system as a whole.

Five Elements of ASTRX

  • End Markets
  • Reprocessing
  • Sortation
  • Collection
  • Consumer Engagement
End Markets
Consumer Engagement

Manufacturers turn processed recyclable materials back into a product for sale.

Taking bales of recovered recyclables and processing it to a form that can be used as manufacturing feedstock, such as aluminum sheet, plastic flake or paper pulp or sheet.

Once at the MRF (Materials Recovery Facility), recyclables must pass through an array of machinery designed to separate materials into individual bales for sale to reprocessers.

Via local governments or private haulers, recyclables must make it from the curb or drop-off facility to the MRF (Materials Recovery Facility) or transfer station.


In this stage of the system, local governments, brands and other stakeholders help consumers understand what to recycle and how to do it properly.



The ASTRX team has developed a number of guides and worksheets that help companies assess how well their packaging flows through the recycling system. For questions or help using the worksheets, please contact


The ASTRX Team Works Under the Principle of Systems Thinking

Systems thinking means analyzing how parts and patterns within a larger system interact and influence one another. There are many ways to define a system, and even more ways to approach thinking about them. The end goal of systems thinking is to gain new insights about how the system works and why, where its problems are, and how changes can be implemented to make the system more effective and efficient.

Because of the intricacies of the American recycling system and the relationships among the five elements, the recycling system is ripe for analysis from a systems thinking perspective.

We use this way of thinking to guide our work.


Want to get involved in our work? Are you an SPC member? 

Join the Next Markets Industry Leadership Committee

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s Next Market Industry Leadership Committee is a group of brands, companies, suppliers, and manufacturers who are working together to explore how companies can create more demand for recycled materials. Participants in the committee must be Sustainable Packaging Coalition members. Learn more.

Core and Fringe

One way ASTRX will break down the complexities of the recycling system is to categorize packaging into groups to help customize solutions. We will start by assessing commodities that are core to the recycling system and those on the fringes. For example, some materials move through the recycling system smoothly. These core materials are well suited to quality recycling today. What can we do to increase the value and reduce the contamination of these core materials?

Fringe materials are those that face a more challenging path to being recycled. Consumers may not yet realize that they are recyclable, they may not sort easily at a MRF, or there may not be enough of them to sell to reprocessors in high quantities. The solutions for successfully recycling fringe materials will differ from those for core materials.

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