Food packaging

How we are switching to recycled food packaging

Plastic plays an important role in preventing food waste. It has an exceptional ability to keep out air, moisture and bacteria that can cause produce to disappear before it is cooked or eaten. And it’s often the most efficient and cost-effective material for wrapping food for transport and storage.

In a recent Boston Consulting Group survey of 15,000 people worldwide, 83% of Millennials and Gen Z consumers said they would be willing to pay more for products delivered in sustainable packaging. .

This demand has sparked a new ecosystem of alternative packaging materials and new business models, including the use of recycled and recyclable plastic specifically designed for food products to ensure safety.

To meet consumer demand and tackle plastic waste, our R&D teams are working to develop solutions to keep plastics in the circular economy while finding new materials to replace single-use virgin plastic.

Closing the loop on plastic packaging waste

A circular economy only works if the food packaging, after its intended use, returns to the economy to be used again as food packaging.

However, there is currently no uniform legislative framework in place for the use of recycled plastics in food packaging. So, as the demand for recycled plastic is set to increase, we need clear and consistent legislation with industry support to develop and supply food-grade recycled plastic.

Use mechanical and advanced recycling to increase supply

“Currently, the supply of recycled plastics is insufficient to meet the needs for use as food packaging,” says Sanjeev Das, Director of Packaging Capability at F&R.

The availability of recycled food-grade plastics is limited, particularly recycled food-grade polypropylene (rPP) and polyethylene (rPE) plastics, which account for 75% of the plastics used in our food packaging.

That’s why our Foods and Refreshments R&D team worked to source sustainably using two complementary pathways.

The first is mechanical recycling, which consists of sorting objects according to their material. For example, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic used to make plastic bottles is sorted in one recycling stream, polyethylene (PE) used to make plastic bags in another.

Once separated, they are cleaned and transformed into recycled raw material to make new objects. All our Hellmann’s plastic bottles and jars in the United States and Canada are made from 100% recycled and recyclable plastic that has been recovered this way.

The second way we are increasing the supply of recycled plastic is through advanced recycling. This sees mixed plastic waste broken down into its basic elements and rebuilt to make new plastic packaging particularly suitable for food grade packaging.

Together with our partner SABIC, we are using this technology to provide us with easy access to food-grade recycled polypropylene plastic to manufacture our 30 million Magnum trays. sold throughout Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

To scale, we need common policies and legislation

As it stands, however, we have the technology, but not the common standards and scale.

“To facilitate the circular transformation of food packaging, there is an urgent need to align with related goals and policies. This would allow further investment in collection, sorting and recycling infrastructure and technologies, including mechanical and advanced recycling,” Sanjeev said.

Only with a common policy framework and industry collaboration can we begin to make real progress in creating sustainable supplies of food-grade recycled plastic at the scale needed to meet the growing demand.

The more others join us and seek to solve this problem together, the greater the impact we can have in helping us achieve our vision of a waste-free world.

Le Boucher Végétarien, a tray redesigned with a view to recycling

Vegetarian Butcher's Raw Burgers are made from 100% recycled plastic and designed to be reused in the circular economy

In 2021, The Vegetarian Butcher launched a new raw, plant-based burger that looks and cooks like its meat-based counterpart. With the circular economy in mind, the team set out to create packaging that consumers would instantly recognize, while being designed for recycling.

The result was a refrigerated retail tray that looks no different to consumers, but is made from 100% recycled plastic. Its success means that since mid-2021, The Vegetarian Butcher’s entire range of fresh products has been packaged in recycled PET (rPET).

But the innovation in packaging doesn’t stop there. The R&D team now aims to make all parts of the product packaging recyclable without compromising shelf life or preventing food waste.

“Our next project for the refrigerated portfolio is to find a recyclable mono-material top film that seals the packaging. We are currently testing options extensively and will launch them when we have found the right solution that achieves the same level of food protection,” says Dorcas Akintola, Packaging Innovation Manager.