Nestle outlines plans to bring UK’s first commercial scale chemical plastic recycling plant online

Pictured: One of Plastic Energy's plants in Spain

The consumer goods giant, which owns brands including Kit Kat, Smarties and Aero, hopes the facility will improve the UK’s capacity for recycling packaging formats like confectionary wrappers, dry pet food pouches and breakfast cereal bags.

It is working with Plastic Energy to develop the facility. Plastic Energy’s process involves exposing plastics to a chemical mixture in a heated environment until they break down into monomers in oil form. The oil, called TACOIL, can then be purified and used to make new packaging. Plastic Energy claims that the finished product is food-grade.

A preliminary study into developing a new plant in the UK, with funding input from Plastic Energy and Nestle UK & Ireland, will begin next month. It will take around six months to complete, at which point the companies can disclose possible locations and costs.

Nestle UK & Ireland has targets around both the recyclability and the recycled content of its plastics packaging. It is a member of the UK Plastics Pact and, as such, has pledged to make all plastic packaging reusable or recyclable by 2025. On recycled content, different brands have different targets, in recognition of the variation between packaging formats. Buxton, for example, is aiming for 100% recycled content in water bottles by 2021.

The new facility would drive progress to targets around both of these issues, Nestle UK & Ireland’s group packaging manager Alison Bramfitt said.

“The issue of packaging waste is one where we all have a role to play, to not only cut our use of virgin plastic but also make sure the plastic in our packaging has a second life,” she said.

“We want to increase the amount of recycled plastic we use but there are currently real challenges in the supply of recycled content for food packaging in the UK. That’s why we are excited about the potential of this partnership with Plastic Energy. We hope the outcome of the feasibility study will help offer more insight into the options for supporting the infrastructure in recycling capability in this country.”

Chemical reaction

Nestle’s global business has developed a three-pronged plastics plan, dividing ambitions and actions across pioneering alternative materials, creating a waste-free future and driving behaviour change.

Chemical recycling plays a significant part in the plan. Aside from Plastic Energy, Nestle is also investing in US-based recycling innovation firm PureCycle, which aims to boost the quality of recycled plastics, and French green chemistry firm Carbios, which is pioneering a new chemical recycling process for plastics. Globally, Nestle is planning to spend almost £1.6bn on sourcing recycled food-grade plastics by 2025. 

Nestle’s latest announcement comes in the same week that UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) confirmed that it is allocating a total of £20m to four innovative projects in the plastics recycling space, including two backed by Unilever.

Sarah George

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