A consortium of organisations from the UK’s packaging, retail and recycling industries, led by Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s, are to launch an in-market trial programme aimed at significantly increasing the number of black CPET trays that are recycled, it has been announced.
Approximately 1.3 billion black CPET trays are used in ready meal packaging in the UK every year. 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.
“This represents a world first on several levels in the recovery of black plastic CPET trays from the post-consumer stream,” said Edward Kosior, Managing Director of Nextek Limited. “The trial represents the logical extension of over four years of technical investigations sponsored by WRAP to fine tune the development of these special colourants so that they function without any negative impacts on the manufacturing and recovery of these widely used plastic trays. The technology has the potential to be shared with other packaging and durable applications such as appliances, office equipment and automotive components and could mark the beginning of a new capacity to capture black plastic products at high speeds in the modern MRFs used throughout Europe”.
Resource efficiency expert, WRAP, has worked with industry experts (coordinated by Nextek) to identify a new type of black CPET tray, using alternative colourant, which sorting trials have shown to be able to be detected and separated for recycling.
The project team consists of: WRAP, M&S, Sainsbury’s, Faerch Plast, the Kent Resource Partnership, Biffa Waste Management, Recoup (RECycling Of Used Plastics Limited), and Nextek Limited.
The project team says it will now seek to prove the effectiveness of these new trays through an in-market trial, commencing mid July, by demonstrating the ability to manufacture, distribute and recover them through household recycling collections at plastics sorting facilities. The trays will then be reprocessed using proven decontamination technologies for assessment of the ability to manufacture them back into food grade black CPET trays, aimed at achieving a closed loop system.
A public report will be available once the trial is completed and a full review has been carried out. This will examine sorting efficiency, carbon footprint reduction, disposal cost reduction and commercial viability.
The in-market trial
Faerch Plast has manufactured approximately 2 million detectable CPET trays, which will be used by M&S and Sainsbury’s across their ready meals range. These meals will be sold in the UK over a four-week period, with a high density in the South East of England, where the recovery of the trays is planned to take place.
Biffa will take a lead in using NIR detection technology reprogrammed to sort the detectable black CPET trays. Guidance for reprocessors wanting to make this change on their systems is available on the WRAP website.
Nextek will assist with the automatic sorting and supervise the recycling and decontamination of the material back to Faerch Plast for assessment of the ability to manufacture them back into black CPET trays.
Commenting on the trial, Andrew Speck, M&S’s Commercial and Environmental Packaging Manager said: “Around 1.3 billion CPET trays are used in the UK every year and, whilst they offer great convenience for consumers, the recycling challenge results in unnecessary waste and technically recyclable material being missed. At M&S, we recognise that we have a very important role to play in resolving this, both by ensuring that we use packaging that is easy for our customers to recycle and by working across industries to find a viable solution.
This trial highlights what can be achieved when all the relevant companies and bodies work together – all of us on the project team anticipate this will lead to a significant step forward for plastic recycling and progress for closed loop systems. We look forward to sharing the findings of the trial in the near future.”
Debbie Parry, Sainsbury’s Own Brand Packaging Technologist also commented: “This is a fantastic opportunity to be involved in a project which will not only potentially make our customers lives easier every day, contributing to our 20x20 sustainability goal of putting waste to positive use but also increase the recyclability of our current ready meal trays. It is a great example of the Sainsbury’s value of trusting each other working together, when industry leaders collaborate closely together to achieve a shared goal.”