In the UK, Tesco customers can enjoy a world first: cheese packaged in plastic packaging derived from recycled flexible plastic collected from the collection points installed at ten Tesco stores in the south west of England in 2019.
The cheese packaging is part of a trial aimed at demonstrating that flexible plastic , which would otherwise have gone to waste, can be continuously recycled into safe food-grade packaging as a part of a closed loop recycling system.
The five companies participating in the trial - Tesco, Plastic Energy, SABIC, Sealed Air and Bradburys - represent an entire supply chain.
This work comes as a part of Tesco’s 4R Remove, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle programme and an ambition to ensure that all its packaging can be recycled as a part of a closed loop.
The flexible plastic material was first collected from the Tesco customers. This was then 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 virgin-quality resin material. This material was supplied to 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.
James Bull, Head of Packaging at Tesco said, “We are removing all excessive and non-recyclable packaging from our business and will ensure everything that remains can be recycled as a part of a closed loop. This exciting new partnership has the potential to show that every piece of plastic we use can be recycled. If we can roll out this approach at scale throughout our industry it could be of enormous benefit to our planet.”
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.
Packaging expert Sealed Air will continue to work on the redesign of its our plastic packaging ‘to be recyclable’, said Steve Garland, Chief Innovation Officer.
“We are working with key collaborators to recover the same materials before they become waste and keep them circulating through the value chain.”
Including recycled material in food grade, flexible plastic packaging has been a challenge for the industry up until this point due to the limitations of traditional recycling techniques. The advanced pyrolysis recycling process developed by Plastic Energy has helped to overcome this issue, producing oil used by Sabic in the production of its Trucircle portfolio of circular materials. These include certified circular polymers from the chemical recycling of used, mixed plastic; certified renewable polymers from bio-based feedstock and mechanically recycled polymers.