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Design Guide® Definitions


This guide covers plastic items entering the postconsumer collection and recycling systems most widely used in industry today. Collection methods include single stream and dual stream MRF’s, deposit container systems, mixed waste facilities, and grocery store rigid plastic and film collection systems. The impact of package design on automated sortation process steps employed in a single stream MRF, as well as high volume recycling processes is of primary consideration.  

Items recovered in recovery systems where they are source-selected and sent to a recycler specializing in this particular item are specifically excluded from this guide.

An item is “recyclable per APR definition” when the following three conditions are met:

  • At least 60% of consumers or communities have access to a collection system that accepts the item
  • The item is most likely sorted correctly into a market-ready bale of a particular plastic meeting industry standard specifications, through commonly used material recovery systems, including single-stream and dual stream MRFs, PRF’s, systems that handle deposit system containers, grocery store rigid plastic and film collection systems.
  • The item can be further processed through a typical recycling process cost effectively into a postconsumer plastic feedstock suitable for use in identifiable new products.

The APR Design® Guide is itemized by design features commonly used with packaging applications. The recycling impact of each design feature is discussed within the Guide. The APR’s guidance on the design feature is developed considering this impact and broken down into four categories which should be thoroughly understood:

  • APR DESIGN GUIDE® PREFERRED: Features readily accepted by MRFs and recyclers since the majority of the industry has the capability to identify, sort, and process a package exhibiting this feature with minimal, or no, negative effect on the productivity of the operation or final product quality. Packages with these features are likely to pass through the recycling process into the most appropriate material stream with the potential of producing high quality material.
  • DETRIMENTAL TO RECYCLING: Features that present known technical challenges for the MRF or recycler’s yield, productivity or final product quality, but are grudgingly tolerated and accepted by the majority of MRFs and recyclers.
  • RENDERS PACKAGE NON-RECYCLABLE PER APR DEFINITION: Features with a significant adverse technical impact on the MRF or recycler’s yield, productivity or final product quality. The majority of MRFs or recyclers cannot remove these features to the degree required to generate a marketable end product.
  • REQUIRES TESTING: In order to determine compatibility with recycling, testing per an APR testing protocol is required. 

This guide has been prepared by the Association of Plastic Recyclers as a service to the plastic packaging industry to promote the most efficient use of the nation’s plastics recycling infrastructure and to enhance the quality and quantity of recycled postconsumer plastics. The information contained herein reflects the input of APR members from a diverse cross-section of the plastics recycling industry, including professionals experienced in the recycling of all postconsumer plastic bottles discussed in this guideline. It offers a valuable overview of how package design impacts conventional plastics recycling systems and provides useful recommendations on how problems routinely encountered by plastics recyclers might be addressed through design changes that make plastic bottles more compatible with current recycling systems. Because new technological developments are always being made, this guide cannot anticipate how these new developments might impact plastic bottle recycling. Thus, while the information in this guide is offered in good faith by APR as an accurate and reliable discussion of the current challenges faced by the plastics recycling industry, it is offered without warranty of any kind, either expressed or implied, including WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, which are expressly disclaimed. APR and its members accept no responsibility for any harm or damages arising from the use of or reliance upon this information by any party. APR intends to update this document periodically to reflect new developments and practices.


The information contained herein represents a snapshot in a point in time of the capabilities of a dynamic industry.  The APR encourages and anticipates development in both package design features and the recycling infrastructures ability to process features, particularly in the areas of size and color.  This document is intended to be used as a summary and quick reference of some selected items within the Design Guide for Plastics Recyclability.   In no manner is it intended or implied to be a replacement for the actual document.


(indicative only - see definition of Screening
and Benchmark tests)
BASE POLYMER:                 
PET with a crystaline melting point between 225-245°C X          
Post consumer RPET content X          
Blends of PET and other resins   X       PET Critical Guidance
Non-PET layers and coatings   X     Quick Test for Color PET Critical Guidance
Degradable additives   X     PET Degradable Additives Test  
Additives   X     Quick Test for Color PET Critical Guidance
Optical brighteners     X      
Clear unpigmented X          
Transparent light blue X          
Transparent green X          
Transparent colors other than green and light blue     X      
Translucent and opaque colors including white     X      
Nucleating agents, hazing agents, fluorescers, and other additives for visual and technical effects     X      
Dark color with an L value < 40 or NIR reflectance <=10%    X     Evaluation of the Near Infrared (NIR) Sorting Potential of a Whole Plastic Article  
More 2 dimensional than 3 dimensional (one dimension <2")        X    
2 dimensions less than 2"    X      Evaluation of Size Sorting Potential for Articles with at Least 2 Dimensions Less Than 2"  
Greater than 2 gallons in volume     X      
Polypropylene or Polyethylene X          
Closure systems without liners          
EVA and TPE liners in plastic closures X          
Metal parts and foils   X     Evaluation of Sorting Potential for Plastic Articles Utilizing Metal, Metalized or Metallic Printed Components Closure Test
Polystyrene or thermoset plastics     X      
Silicone polymer parts     X      
PVC       X    
PP or PE with specific gravity less than 1.0 X          
Full bottle sleeve labels   X       Sleeve Label Test
Pressure sensitive labels   X     Thermoform Label Test Pressure Sensitive Label Test
Polystyrene labels   X     Labels, Closures & Attachments Floatability Test  
Label systems that sink in water because of substrate, inks, decoration, coatings, and top layer   X       PET Critical Guidance
Paper labels (for pressure sensitive use pressure sensitive category)     X      
Metal foil, metalized or metallic printed labels    X     Evaluation of Sorting Potential for Plastic Articles Utilizing Metal, Metalized or Metallic Printed Components  
PVC and PLA labels       X    
ADHESIVES   X     PET Flake WashTest
Thermoform Label Test
PET Critical Guidance
Non-water soluble/dispersible adhesives     X      
Inks   X     Bleeding Label Test
Flake to Plaque Bleeding Label Test
See appropriate test for label type
Direct printing other than date coding   X     Bleeding Label Test
Flake to Plaque Bleeding Label Test
Direct Print Label Test
Clear PET  X          
Tamper evident sleeves and safety seals    X     Labels, Closures & Attachments Floatability Test PET Critical Guidance
Non-PET attachments    X     Labels, Closures & Attachments Floatability Test PET Critical Guidance
Metal and metal containing    X     Evaluation of Sorting Potential for Plastic Articles Utilizing Metal, Metalized or Metallic Printed Components  
Paper     X      
Welded attachments     X      
RFID’s     X      
PVC and PLA       X    
Before accessing the APR Design® Guide for Plastics Recyclability and its resources the user should thoroughly understand the fundamentals of its concept. The information detailed throughout is based on APR's Definition of Recyclable and APR Recyclability Categories. Please read these Design Guide definitions.
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