Tesco is introducing new plastic packaging made by a pioneering process of recycling soft, flexible plastic packaging. This trial demonstrates for the first time that soft plastic can be continuously recycled into safe food-grade packaging. Cheese in packaging from this trial will be on sale in Tesco stores this week.
An entire supply chain has worked together to recycle soft plastic collected from Tesco customers into new food-grade packaging. Plastic Energy, SABIC, Sealed Air and Bradburys Cheese partnered with Tesco to conduct this trial to prove that soft plastic, that would typically go to waste, can be recycled multiple times into new food grade plastic as a part of a closed loop recycling system.
Retailers use soft plastics to pack foods such as bread, pre-prepared salads, meat and cheese as it helps to maintain freshness and prevent food waste. According to the 2019 UK Household Plastic Collection Survey, the UK uses almost 400,000 tonnes of soft plastics every year, but just under 21,000 tonnes of that is collected1 and this is recycled into non-food grade material. Recycling collection points for soft plastics were introduced into ten Tesco stores in the south west of England in 2019 to discover ways to help address this problem and create a closed loop system.
To prove the closed loop concept, soft plastic material collected from Tesco customers was sent to Plastic Energy who converted the used packaging into oil, through an advanced recycling process called pyrolysis. This recycled oil was used by SABIC in their production process as an alternative to traditional fossil materials to make new plastic pellets that are just as safe and effective as virgin plastic. The pellets were used by Sealed Air who developed one of their existing plastic packaging designs to use this material while still meeting all the performance requirements of Tesco’s cheese supplier, Bradburys.
Seven different cheeses packed at Bradburys using this flexible plastic are now being stocked in Tesco’s stores. The packaging will contain a minimum of 30% recycled material from this new recycling process.
This work comes as a part of Tesco’s 4R Remove, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle programme and an ambition to ensure that all its packaging can be recycled as a part of a closed loop:
James Bull, Head of Packaging at Tesco said, “We are removing all excessive and non-recyclable packaging from our business and will ensure everything that remains can be recycled as a part of a closed loop. This exciting new partnership has the potential to show that every piece of plastic we use can be recycled. If we can roll out this approach at scale throughout our industry it could be of enormous benefit to our planet.”
Peter Maddox, Director of WRAP UK, said: “This is a very exciting development in the challenging journey towards making flexible plastic packaging recyclable and circular. Tesco, a founding member of The UK Plastics Pact, has demonstrated that by taking an innovative and collaborative approach, new solutions can be found to take plastics from in-store collection points to a food-grade packaging format. The next challenge will be to test how scalable it is, and I look forward to seeing how the project progresses.”
Including recycled material in food grade soft plastic packaging has been a challenge for the industry up until this point due to the limitations of traditional recycling techniques. This advanced pyrolysis recycling process overcomes this issue.
In the UK only 16% of local authorities actively collect soft plastic1, yet soft plastic packaging makes up 26%2 of all plastic packaging in the country. The amount of local authorities collecting soft plastic has declined for the third consecutive year1. If innovative approaches to soft plastic recycling are taken and the UK begins to build a consistent recycling infrastructure, thousands of tonnes of soft plastic could be diverted from landfill every year.
Around 90% of Tesco’s packaging can already be ‘widely recycled’. Innovations such as this will help tackle the last 10%.
1 Recoup – UK Household Plastic Collection Survey 2019
2 PlasticFlow 2025 Plastic Packaging Flow Data Report
More about the companies involved
About Plastic Energy
PLASTIC ENERGY is at the forefront of the use and development of a chemical recycling technology to transform traditionally non-recyclable plastic waste into hydrocarbon products (TACOIL) which can be used to make recycled, virgin-quality plastic. PLASTIC ENERGY currently operates 2 commercial plants, 24/7, 330days a year. It is one of the few companies worldwide that has sold millions of litres of recycled oils (TACOIL) from the conversion of end of life plastic waste, using patented technology. It is leading the way in its field in the transition to a low-carbon circular economy for plastics.
The plastic collected in Tesco stores was sent to PLASTIC ENERGY to be recycled. PLASTIC ENERGY processed this plastic waste in its chemical recycling plant and transformed it into recycled oils (or TACOIL), that were subsequently used by SABIC to replace fossil oils. This process has enabled the plastic waste to be recycled, which would have been virtually impossible through conventional recycling methods. Carlos Monreal, Founder & CEO of PLASTIC ENERGY said: “Creating and testing new recycling solutions and implementing them on the market requires a tight collaboration with the full value chain. This first-of-a-kind partnership is only the beginning of the journey to demonstrate the benefits of advanced recycling and develop a circular system for plastics. We are excited to share this concrete success with consumers.”
SABIC is a global leader in diversified chemicals. They manufacture on a global scale making distinctly different kinds of products: chemicals, commodity and high-performance plastics, agri-nutrients and metals. SABIC are working to drive the change needed to close the loop on used plastic. This includes SABIC’s TRUCIRCLE™ portfolio and services which showcase circular innovations, including certified circular products which are produced using a feedstock derived from previously difficult to recycle used plastic household packaging. SABIC are collaborating with retailers, recyclers and manufacturers to close the loop and to accelerate changes to become a circular global society.
To support this closed loop process, TACOIL from Plastic Energy is used by SABIC to create new high-performance pellets through SABIC’s TRUCIRCLE™ portfolio. These certified circular plastic pellets that uses mass-balance approach to deliver the same molecular makeup as virgin quality material are in compliant with the food safety standards.
Mark Vester, Circular Economy Leader at SABIC, said: “This ground-breaking partnership demonstrates that closing the loop on used plastic is achievable, and shows collaboration required across the entire value chain to move towards a sustainable, circular future. At SABIC, we are committed to finding innovative solutions, including our TRUCIRCLE™ portfolio and services, which will help to transform our industry into a circular economy. We are collaborating with a wide range of partners globally to realise this vision.”
About Sealed Air
Sealed Air is in business to protect and solve critical packaging challenges, and to leave the world better than they found it. Their portfolio of leading packaging solutions includes CRYOVAC® brand food packaging, SEALED AIR® brand protective packaging, AUTOBAG® brand automated systems, and BUBBLE WRAP® brand packaging, which collectively enable a safer, more efficient food supply chain and protect valuable goods shipped around the world. Sealed Air generated $4.8 billion in sales in 2019 and has approximately 16,500 employees who serve customers in 124 countries.
To support this closed loop process, post-consumer recycled resin purchased from SABIC by Sealed Air is used to create the food-grade packaging ultimately used by Bradburys Cheese, sold at Tesco. Sealed Air is a global materials and solutions provider that creates packaging for food, consumer goods and medical/industrial supplies.Sealed Air’s team redesigned their existing packaging to include 30% recycled plastic content. Rigorous testing was completed to ensure it met all the requirements needed for safe and effective use in food packaging.
The new plastic packaging produced in the project is certified under the recognised international sustainability certification scheme ISCC PLUS which provides traces of the recycled materials along the supply chain, from the feedstock to the final product.
Steve Garland, Chief Innovation Officer at Sealed Air said: “This project demonstrates the results that come from taking a leadership position and committing to investing in the type of innovation that ultimately eliminates plastic waste. As we redesign our plastic packaging to be recyclable, we are working with key collaborators to recover the same materials before they become waste and keep them circulating through the value chain.”
Bradburys is one of the most diverse companies in the cheese industry, sourcing cheese from over 100 cheese makers ranging from small artisan producers to global high-volume brand owners. Bradburys product is distributed to both United Kingdom and international markets.
Investments in specialised cheese cutting and processing equipment sees a variety of value added cheese types cut, wrapped, sliced, portioned and waxed at their Derbyshire Operations.
To support this closed loop process, Bradburys have played a critical role working in partnership with all stakeholders to deliver production trials for the cutting and presentation of Tesco cheese products. All trials were conducted on the existing Tesco range and have successfully delivered the benchmark or enhanced shelf life.
Brian Owens, Operations Director at Bradburys said: “It is a privilege to have been part of the recycled soft plastic trial. The Bradburys’ team are excited to see this sustainable project come to fruition and are confident that it is destined to deliver significant environmental benefits”
Tesco’s 4Rs strategy – Remove, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – means it will remove non-recyclable and excess packaging from its business. Where packaging can’t be removed, for example where it prevents food waste, Tesco will work with its suppliers to reduce it to an absolute minimum. The retailer is exploring new opportunities to reuse packaging and ensure anything left is recycled as part of a closed loop system.