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UK RETAILER TESCO uses SABIC’S TRUCIRCLE™ solutions to introduce the first recycled flexible packaging from materials returned by customers

16/09/2020

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Tesco is introducing new plastic packaging made by an innovative process of recycling flexible packaging. This trial demonstrates for the first time that flexible plastic can be continuously recycled into safe food-grade packaging. Cheese in packaging from this trial is now available in Tesco stores.

An entire supply chain has worked together to recycle plastic collected from Tesco customers into new food-grade packaging. Plastic Energy, SABIC, Sealed Air and Bradburys Cheese worked with Tesco to conduct this trial to demonstrate that flexible plastic, that would typically go to waste, can be recycled multiple times into new plastic as a part of a closed loop recycling system.

Retailers use flexible plastics to pack foods such as bread, pre-prepared salads, meat and cheese as it helps to maintain freshness and prevent food waste. According to the 2019 UK Household Plastic Collection Survey, the UK uses almost 400,000 tonnes of soft plastics every year, but just under 21,000 tonnes of that is collected*1 and this is recycled into non-food grade material. Recycling collection points for soft plastics were introduced into ten Tesco stores in the south west of England in 2019 to discover ways to help address this problem and create a closed loop system.

To prove the closed loop concept, flexible 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 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.

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.”

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. This advanced pyrolysis recycling process helps to overcome this issue.

Carlos Monreal, Founder & CEO of PLASTIC ENERGY said: “Creating and testing new recycling solutions and implementing them on the market requires a tight collaboration with the full value chain. This first-of-a-kind partnership is only the beginning of the journey to demonstrate the benefits of advanced recycling and develop a circular system for plastics. We are excited to share this concrete success with consumers.”

Steve Garland, Chief Innovation Officer at Sealed Air said: “This project demonstrates the results that come from taking a leadership position and committing to investing in the type of innovation that ultimately eliminates plastic waste. As we redesign our plastic packaging to be recyclable, we are working with key collaborators to recover the same materials before they become waste and keep them circulating through the value chain.”

Mark Vester, Circular Economy Leader said: “This transformative collaboration demonstrates that closing the loop on used plastic is achievable, and shows the collaboration required across the entire value chain to move towards a sustainable, circular future. We are committed to finding innovative solutions, including our TRUCIRCLE™ portfolio and services, which will help to transform our industry into a circular economy. We are collaborating with a wide range of partners globally to realise this vision.”

SABIC’s innovative TRUCIRCLE™ solutions encompasses the company’s circular materials and technologies including certified circular polymers from the chemical recycling of used, mixed plastic; certified renewable polymers from bio-based feedstock and mechanically recycled polymers. Click here for more information on SABIC’s innovative TRUCIRCLE™ initiative.

*1 Recoup – UK Household Plastic Collection Survey 2019

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