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Successful in-market trial demonstrates the closed loop potential for CPET trays

Successful in-market trial demonstrates the closed loop potential for CPET trays

23 March 2015

Successful in-market trial demonstrates the closed loop potential for CPET trays

A consortium of organisations from the UK’s packaging, retail and recycling industries have carried out Europe’s first in-market trial to significantly increase black CPET tray recycling in order to achieve a closed loop system.

The project team, led by Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s, has successfully demonstrated that a new detectable black tray can be distributed, collected at kerbside and then recovered at plastics sorting facilities in order to then be manufactured back into food grade black CPET trays.

An estimated 30,000 tonnes of CPET is used in the UK each year, equating to approximately 1.3 billion black CPET trays. Whilst they are recyclable, the trays have proven difficult for the UK recycling industry to process as the black colour of the tray is not detectable with Near Infra-Red (NIR) optical sorting equipment at plastic sorting facilities. As a result, they are usually missed and end up in landfill or being processed into energy. The success of this trial therefore marks a significant step forward for plastic recycling and progress for closed loop systems.

Following the trial’s success, the next step is to engage with tray producers, Local Authorities and plastic recycling facilities (including Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) and Plastics Recovery Facilities (PRFs)) to take detectable black CPET to full scale production. Further work will also include getting buy-in from other retailers and food manufacturers to switch to using detectable black trays. By promoting the trial findings and key learnings with industry, it is hoped that black CPET tray recycling becomes successful, thereby closing the loop for this packaging material.


The trial – further information


The trial set out to show that detectable black CPET trays could be collected for recycling and then suitable for input into new trays instead of being sent to land fill. The six month long trial began when with the detectable CPET tray went into production and were then used in a range of M&S and Sainsbury’s ready meals. The trays were then recovered from the waste stream before being washed, flaked and tested against the latest industry standard for inclusion into new trays.


The post-consumer packaging recovery was undertaken by Biffa and the Closed Loop Plastic Recycling Company and supported by Nextek, Brunel University and Faerch Plast for the final testing of the recovered materials.


A case study on the trial is now available on WRAP’s website and here.


Comments from the team:


The project team consisted of: WRAP, M&S, Sainsbury’s, FaerchPlast, Kent Resource Partnership, Biffa Waste Management, Recoup (RECycling Of Used Plastics Limited), Nextek Limited.


Commenting on the trial, Kevin Vyse, M&S’s Primary Food Packaging Technologist said: "The success of the trial demonstrates what can be achieved when a number of different organisations collaborate to tackle an industry wide problem and the learnings will be invaluable in plotting out the future steps for detectable black recovery. The team have been fantastic and it’s really good that we can report a positive result from the trial – if we can find a workable solution, we could be looking at over a billion more pieces of food packaging being recycled every year."

"Having led the way on a 100% food safe recyclable crate last year with our partners Schoeller Allibert, we’re delighted to be continuing with this important work" said Debbie Parry of Sainsbury.

Claire Shrewsbury, WRAP’s Packaging Programme Manager said: "The project’s success in proving the recycling potential for black CPET should help to drive further work to enhance this opportunity. WRAP is pleased to have been a part of the collaborative partnership and looks forward to seeing how industry considers next steps."

Nextek’s Ed Kosior observed: "We believe that this is the first time that the recycling behaviour of CPET has been examined in detail and we have learnt a lot about its specific performance in detection and separation, the washing and recycling process and the ability of CPET to undergo rigorous decontamination stages. The results demonstrated 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 from RECOUP said: "This project has provided the technical and operational foundations to find a recycling solution for this plastic format that currently is destined for landfill or energy recovery. The obvious stepping stones are now in place to prove its viability in full commercial conditions, and to make recycling this material into new ready meal trays an attractive business proposition for both retailers and recyclers alike."


For further information:

Emily Dimmock, Marks & Spencer Press Office, 0208 718 1223

Sainsbury’s Press Office, 0207 695 7295