Retailers around the world use flexible packaging for food items such as cheese, meat, baked goods, fruits and vegetables to preserve freshness. This single-use plastic can be difficult to reuse or recycle, although it is more essential than ever.
Proving that it's possible to create a profitable, sustainable closed-loop recycling stream for this material requires a complex, collaborative effort – including scientists, food producers, packaging manufacturers and retailers.
In partnership with Tesco, Plastic Energy, SABIC and Bradburys Cheese, we pioneered a process for recycling soft, flexible plastic that can be used for safe, food-grade packaging. This sustainability process, known as closed-loop recycling, occurs when soft plastic is collected from consumers and implemented into existing packaging designs for Bradburys Cheese.
Tesco collects and sends used flexible packaging materials to Plastic Energy, which converts it into oil through a process called pyrolysis. This recycled oil is used by SABIC as an alternative to traditional fossil fuel to make new plastic pellets that are safe for food packaging. Sealed Air uses the new resin pellets to create new packaging film with the same performance and food-grade characteristics as virgin plastic.
This closed-loop recycling programme highlights the vital role that infrastructure and collaboration play in the success of new recycling technologies. Infrastructure is essential to make closed-loop recycling an easier and more mainstream method. It is an immense endeavour to build and integrate the processes that make it possible.
Collaboration showcases what can happen when companies bring together their skill sets and knowledge. This project is the first of its kind to demonstrate that recycling technologies can be replicated and enhanced to drive a more circular economy for plastics.