A trial to significantly increase recycling of black crystalline polyethylene terephthalate (cPET) trays, and potentially close the loop on this type of food packaging, is being hailed as a success.
A consortium from the UK’s packaging, retail and recycling industries says it has successfully demonstrated that a new detectable black tray can be distributed, collected at kerbside, recycled, processed and then recovered back into food-grade trays.
But a key finding of a report by WRAP on the trial is that investment and support is now needed to prove operational and commercial viability for both retailers and recyclers in full-scale commercial conditions.
An estimated 30,000 tonnes of cPET is used in the UK each year. The material is recyclable, but food trays are difficult to process because their black colour is not detectable with near infra-red optical sorting equipment at plastic sorting facilities.
The six-month trial set out to show that detectable black trays could be collected for recycling. The trays were used in a range of ready meals for Marks & Spencer and Sainbury’s.
The post-consumer packaging recovery was undertaken by Biffa and Closed Loop Recycling, supported by Brunel University, Nextek and Faerch Plast for testing of the recovered materials.
A case study on the trial is now available on WRAP’s website.
The next step will be engagement with tray producers, councils and plastic recycling facilities to take the detectable material to full-scale production.
Kevin Vyse, M&S’s primary food packaging technologist, says: “If we can find a workable solution, we could be looking at over a billion more pieces of food packaging being recycled every year.”
Nextek managing director Ed Kosior says: “The results demonstrate that the cPET trays with novel black colourants were as recyclable as PET bottles. This project has addressed most of the issues that will assist black plastic packaging being included in the stream of packaging being collected and recycled.“
Steve Morgan, technical manager at Recoup, said: “The obvious stepping stones are now in place to prove its viability in full commercial conditions, and to make recycling this material into ready meal trays an attractive business proposition for both retailers and recyclers alike.”
A series of reports have been published by WRAP reports to boost plastics recycling
- Plastics Compositional Analysis at Materials Recovery Facilities - a study into the plastic packaging composition arriving at MRFs from established mixed plastics collections
- Developing end markets for PET Pots, Tubs and Trays - to identify potential economically viable end markets for PET pots, tubs and trays
- Optimising the use of machine readable inks for food packaging sorting - looks at the technical and commercial viability of fluorescent inks applied to labels and packaging, which could enable automatic sorting of food contact packaging for a range of target materials such as PET, HDPE and PP
- Analysis of retailers’ front of store plastic film collection - to identify the quality and quantity of what is being collected at front of store collection points for plastic film packaging
Claire Shrewsbury, programme area manager for packaging at WRAP, said: “Working right across the supply chain from collections through to reprocessing and end-markets is vital to help drive plastics recycling. These new reports will help organisations in the sector understand the opportunities and provide the evidence and support for action.”