Nestle and Unilever look to create food packaging circular economy
Unilever and Nestle are part of a collaborative project that aims to improve the recyclability of 'flexible packaging' such as sweet and crisp wrappers.
The two-year REFLEX project, funded by Innovate UK, aims to create a circular economy for flexible packaging, which makes up nearly a third of consumer plastic packaging in the UK.
Currently, the overwhelming majority of this packaging - around 556,000 tonnes - ends up in landfill. The goal of the campaign is to match plastic-bottle recycling rates - around 56% - within 10 years.
To reach that target, project members must overcome a variety of problems unique to flexible packaging.
"It represents a huge challenge to current recycling routes, because seemingly 'simple' packages, such as a biscuit wrapper, may incorporate several functional layers in order to deliver heat-sealable packaging with high tear strength, good puncture resistance and minimum cost," said Roger Morton, director of Axion Consulting, one of the waste recovery experts working on the project.
"The complexity of these multi-layer films makes them virtually impossible to recycle by current methods because of the mix of polymer types and inks used."
As a result, the new Reflex campaign will investigate new base-materials, new designs and a new automated sorting technique.
Unilever and Nestle will also lead by example in disseminating industry-wide guidelines for recyclable packaging.
Unilever has recently been particularly active in searching for new ways to recycle packaging, entering a formal alliance with the innovation centre at Northumbria University.