Sainsbury’s and M&S close the loop on ready-meal packaging

A new trial aiming to significantly increase the recycling rates of black CPET trays, used in supermarket ready meals, has been hailed as a success.


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The six-month trial, led by Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury’s, demonstrated that the CPET trays – developed by Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) – could be fully recycled.

The success of the trial could have significant impact on plastic recycling rates. An estimated 30,000 tonnes of CPET is used in the UK each year, equating to 1.3 billion black trays.

WRAP estimates that if all black CPET trays were recycled this would save local authorities between £2.2 and £2.8 million per year in disposal costs.

Business proposition

M&S’s primary food packaging technologist Kevin Vyse said it could lead to over a billion more pieces of food packaging being recycled every year, but the project partners firsy have to engage tray producers, local authorities and plastic recycling facilities to take the new trays into full scale production.

They also aim to convince other retailers and food manufacturers to switch to the new trays.

Industry-wide problem

While black CPET trays have always been recyclable, the colour of the trays has made them difficult for the UK recycling industry to process with their Near Infra-Red optical sorting equipment. As a result they usually end up in landfill or processed into energy.  The new trays solve this problem. 

The trial also proved that recovered trays meet the required standards to be manufactured back into food grade black CPET trays, effectively closing the loop on their life-cycle.

Vyse added: “The success of the trial demonstrates what can be achieved when a number of different organisations collaborate to tackle an industry wide problem and the learnings will be invaluable in plotting out the future steps for detectable black recovery.”

Lucinda Dann

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