M&S and Sainsbury's unite to increase plastic tray recycling

A consortium of organisations from UK packaging, retail and recycling industries, led by Sainsbury's and Marks and Spencer (M&S), are to launch a market trial aimed at recycling up to 1.3 billion plastic food trays each year.

Current black CPET trays are undetectable using Near Infra-Red sorting equipment at recycling facilities

Current black CPET trays are undetectable using Near Infra-Red sorting equipment at recycling facilities

The initiative focuses specifically on black CPET trays, most commonly used in supermarket ready meals. Although they are recyclable, the black colour of the trays makes them undetectable with Near Infra-Red optical sorting equipment used at plastic sorting and recycling facilities.

Resource efficiency group WRAP has worked with industry experts to create a new type of black CPET tray, which sorting trials have shown can be detected and separated for recycling. Market trials will begin this month with two million new trays being rolled out across the M&S and Sainsbury's ready meals range; to examine sorting efficiency and carbon footprint reduction.

M&S's commercial and environmental packaging manager Andrew Speck said: "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."

His comments come not long after M&S chief executive Marc Bolland spoke at a M&S Plan A conference in June: "We don't want a competitive edge when it comes to being a sustainable business ... This is a joint journey we all need to be on-board with, so we are happy to work and collaborate with other companies."

A shared goal

WRAP's packaging programme area manager Claire Shrewsbury commented on the benefits of this cross-sector collaboration: "WRAP welcomes the opportunity to trial the use of detectable black colourants in the M&S and Sainsbury's product range to validate its true potential in-market.

"After four years of development work to improve the detectability and recycling of black packaging, it is great to see cross-sector engagement that allows us to trial its effectiveness in the real world. WRAP looks forward to the trial and its results, and considers this a great step toward enabling closed loop recycling."

Sainsbury's Own Brand packaging technologist Debbie Parry said the project would help to make Sainsbury's 20x20 sustainability goal a reality and emphasised the cooperation between the businesses. "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," she said.

Matt Field


Engagement | food | packaging | retail | WRAP


Waste & resource management
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