Innovation Story

16 Apr 2021

Actors across the supply chain join forces to recycle soft plastic collected from supermarket customers into new food-grade packaging

Plastic Energy, SABIC, EUROPEN’s member Sealed Air and Bradburys Cheese partnered with Tesco in the UK to introduce recycled food grade soft plastic packaging from materials returned by customers. In this trial, the companies worked together to showcase that soft plastic, that would typically go to waste, can be recycled multiple times into new food grade plastic as a part of a closed loop recycling system. Cheese in packaging made from this trial was made available for the first time in Tesco stores in September 2020.

Retailers use soft plastics to pack different food products such as bread, pre-prepared salads, meat and cheese as it helps maintain freshness and prevent food waste. In 2019, recycling collect points for soft plastics were introduced into ten Tesco stores in the south west of England to create a closed loop system:

  • Soft plastic material collected from Tesco customers was sent to Plastic Energy who converted the used packaging into oil, through an advanced recycling process called pyrolysis.
  • This recycled oil was used by SABIC in their production process as an alternative to traditional fossil materials to make new plastic pellets that are as safe and effective as virgin plastic.
  • The pellets were then used by Sealed Air who developed one of their existing plastic packaging designs to use this material while still meeting all the performance requirements of Tesco’s cheese supplier, Bradburys.

Seven different cheeses packed at Bradburys using this flexible plastic are now being stocked in Tesco’s stores. The packaging will contain a minimum of 30% recycled material from this new recycling process.

The collection of soft plastics packaging is challenging, but not only: including recycled material in food grade soft plastic packaging is a challenge for the industry due to the limitations of traditional recycling techniques. The pyrolysis recycling process overcomes, this issue and partnerships between different actors of the value chain, such as this one, can allow thousands of tons of soft plastic to be diverted from landfill every year.

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