The supermarkets worked with recycling and packaging production firm Viridor on the recycled solution, which will enable 120 tonnes of plastic to be recycled in the UK every month, starting from July, with the volume expected to rise over the next 18 months.

The solution enables machinery in recycling plants to accurately detect the black pigment in hard-to-recycle packaging items such as food trays and separates them for shredding, melting and re-use in new packaging; a feat which had not previously been achieved at the UK’s waste processing facilities.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove hailed the discovery as a “breakthrough”, claiming that it may enable the UK to export less of its plastic waste. Currently, two-thirds of plastic waste in the UK is exported to be recycled and only 9% is recycled domestically, according to the latest Green Alliance figures.

M&S, Sainsbury’s and Tesco have all pledged to start using the recycled black plastic in packaging provided by UK manufacturer Faerch Plast for their own-brand products from July, after successful trials of kerbside waste collections from households across the UK proved there was a consistent black plastic waste stream.

“The project has proved a commercial process which can be extended across the UK,” Viridor’s commercial director, Paul Ringham, said.

“The more plastic collected, the more is made available to be recycled and put back into the circular economy. In this way, we all contribute to reducing the amount of virgin plastic entering the economy.”

The move comes in the same month that vegetarian food brand Quorn Foods committed to remove black plastics from its packaging supply chain, in a move to make 300 tonnes of its packaging widely recyclable in the UK each year.

Plastic action

The three retailers that have partnered with Viridor have also taken action to reduce the amount of plastics in their supply chain, with Tesco last month calling for a recycling infrastructure reform as it pledged to make all its packaging closed-loop.

M&S has additionally committed to make its plastic packaging “widely recyclable” by 2022 and is planning to develop one recyclable plastic polymer for use across its entire range. Sainsbury’s has pledged to reduce volumes of own-brand packaging by 50% by 2020, compared with 2005 levels.

The trio of supermarkets are also signatories of WRAP’s UK Plastic Pact and its Courtauld Agreement 2025, which aims to achieve a 20% reduction in food and drink waste across the UK and a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas intensity of food and drink consumed in the UK. 

Sarah George

Comments (2)

  1. Katie Lindsay says:

    For this new technology to have any discernable impact, it will need to be available in MRFs across the country. There are already considerable disparities between councils in terms of what can be recycled in what area, based on the technology that is available there. It seems a much cheaper and more straightforward solution is to remove the black plastic packaging from the supply chain as Quorn is doing.

  2. Anthony Pydiah says:

    I agree with Katie Lindsay. Is there a special reason to use black plastic in food trays?

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