The crates are being recycled by plastic packaging specialist Schoeller Allibert and meet European Food Safety Authority Standards (EFSA), according to Sainsbury’s.

Traditionally, old or damaged plastic containers would be recycled for other use but could not re-enter the food supply chain as the plastic was not certified for direct contact with fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, or bakery products, according to Schoeller Allibert.

A total of two million old crates are being ground down into plastic flakes and recycled into a standardised design, which enables Sainsbury’s to stack them together more efficiently.

The new design will also enable the retailer to reduce the number of road journeys needed to transport the crates back to suppliers. Currently a range of crate sizes are used, which takes up more space in the back of trucks.

Speaking about the process, Schoeller Allibert chief marketing and innovation officer Ludo Gielen said that when food-grade crates need replacing due to age or damage, they can be returned to one of their EFSA-approved facilities for recycling.

He added: “Providing they have been used in a closed or controlled loop distribution system, which allows traceability of provenance, we can recycle used high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP) material and mould into new crates for use in the food and fresh produce supply chain.”

Sainsbury’s Supply Chain senior strategy manager Simon Stokoe said: “This piece of work was not only about making the right decision for Sainsbury’s from an efficiency perspective – it was also about making sure we did it sustainably. A win win.”

Schoeller Allibert head of retail sales Simon Moulson added: “Schoeller Allibert’s EFSA-approved recycling and remoulding process has been developed to help retailers meet increasing stringent sustainability targets as well as strict food safety and hygiene standards.”

Liz Gyekye

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