Tesco to trial plastic-to-oil innovation which makes all packaging 'recyclable'

Supermarket giant Tesco has inked a deal with Swindon-based recycling firm Recycling Technologies, which will see the retailer trial an innovative system that converts soft plastics back into oil.

Waste streams for recycling will be collected from 10 stores across Swindon and Bristol

Waste streams for recycling will be collected from 10 stores across Swindon and Bristol

Under the partnership, Tesco will encourage consumers to bring items which are often not collected in kerbside schemes by local authorities – including pet food pouches, carrier bags and crisp packets – to collection points across 10 of its stores across Swindon and Bristol.

The collected material will then be sent to Recycling Technologies, where it will be fed through the company’s RT7000 machines. The device heats fossil fuel-based plastic until its long-chain molecules crack into short-chain hydrocarbons, which are then treated to separate vapour and solids and to remove chemical contamination. The vapour is then cooled to produce the same solid oil material, called Plaxx, which can be incorporated into new plastic products.

Tesco is the first UK supermarket to trial the technology, and is doing so as it strives to meet its UK Plastics Pact commitment of making all its plastic packaging 100% recyclable, reusable or biodegradable by 2025. If the trial is successful, Tesco may choose to roll out collection points across more of its UK retail estate.

“Reducing and recycling plastics is such an important issue for us, for customers and for the future of our planet,” Tesco’s director of quality Sarah Bradbury said.

“Our trial with Recycling Technologies will make even more of our packaging recyclable and help us reach our 2025 target. This technology could be the final piece of the jigsaw for the UK plastic recycling industry.” 

Tesco claims that around 83% of its packaging is currently recyclable. If the Recycling Technologies collections were rolled out to all UK stores, it estimates that this figure would rise to around 90%. To put this into context, a 7% increase is equivalent to an additional 65,000 tonnes of plastics made recyclable every year.

The move from Tesco has been welcomed by WWF, which recently issued a warning that the amount of plastics produced, littered and incinerated globally is set to rise “dramatically” by 2030 unless businesses collaborate to “drastically change” their approaches to the issue.

“It’s great to see Tesco running this innovative trial offering customers an easy way to recycle more and waste less,” WWF UK’s sustainable materials specialist Paula Chin said.

“While we can all do our bit by reducing the plastic we buy and embracing reusable items, we need producers, businesses and governments to face their responsibilities too.”

Recycling drive

Tesco has been campaigning for the UK Government to reinforce the nation’s recycling infrastructure to create a closed-loop system for plastics for almost a year, and has also shown public support for a national deposit return scheme by offering reverse vending machines.

Tesco is also working with rival supermarkets to uncover a solution for hard-to-recycle black plastic that places recycled content into food-grade packaging.

Within its own operations, Tesco has committed to removing all packaging which is ‘hard-to-recycle’ from the chain’s own-brand products by the end of 2019, with materials set for a ban including expanded polystyrene, PVC and oxy-degradable materials. It has also reduced packaging by weight by 37% since 2007, as it works towards a 50% reduction by 2025.

More recently, the company has turned to plastic avoidance “where possible”. It began removing plastic packaging from 45 fresh fruit and vegetable lines in a bid to monitor whether the remove of plastic packaging for select products will impact levels of food waste, for example. It has also moved to stock cans of water in recent times, to offer consumers the chance to choose a plastic-free on-the-go drink option. Looking to the future, Tesco is set to be the first UK retailer to launch TerraCycle's Loop platform later this year. The model enables businesses to provide product refills while retaining ownership of their reusable packaging.

edie recently published a feature exploring the actions the UK's seven largest supermarkets are taking to tackle plastic waste. You can read that piece in full here

Sarah George



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