Recycler and packaging specialist take on supermarket food trays

Hilton to build €6m facility under new agreement with Tesco
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UK recycler Viridor has teamed up with packaging specialist Nextek to find a way to sort the supermarket food tray waste mountain.

Similar to the issue of coffee cups, the companies are seeking to end the 1.3 billion plus of black plastic ready meal trays sold by UK supermarkets needlessly being sent each year as rubbish, rather than becoming valuable resource.

Up until now it has not been possible to recycle black plastics commonly found in supermarket packaging due to the use of a carbon black pigment which prevent packaging being recognized and sorted by existing global recycling technologies.

Nextek, funded by government recycling experts WRAP, has created a new black pigment system, which makes use of black materials without using carbon black, allowing it to be sorted at source by existing near infrared (NIR) technology.

Trays made with this system have been trialled at Viridor’s specialist £15 million plastics facility in Medway, Kent.

The companies appeared this week on the BBC to discuss how this development can put an end to the supermarket food tray waste mountain.

With recycling rates falling in England, down 0.7% in the last year to 43%, the innovation is badly needed. Viridor knows that the public want to do the right thing – but the company’s UK recycling index shows that 64% are confused about what they can recycle with black plastics being a prime example.

As recently as last week, government recycling experts WRAP called on councils to add black plastics to their ‘not recycled’ list.

Viridor said its national network of high-tech plants have no problem sorting most plastics. But current generation ready meal or meat trays, whilst shiny and inviting on supermarket shelves, do not reflect light and make it impossible for recycling technology across Europe to detect.

Sarah Heald, Director of Corporate Affairs & Investor Relations at Viridor’s parent company Pennon, said: “Viridor is constantly working on solutions to simplify Britain’s maze of recycling systems, to cut collection costs to council tax payers and to align next generation resources with the needs of UK industry.

“Working with Nextek has allowed us to test the potential for a new UK technology to transform the global problem of supermarket black plastic packaging into a new recycling stream.”

Professor Edward Kosior of Nextek described the collaboration with Viridor and the Co-Op as a potential breakthrough in tackling the global black plastic problem. He said: “Bringing together all the main parties for the first time, from us as technology innovator, to the Co-Op as retailer, and Viridor as the recycler is momentous. I’m confident that together we have found a technology solution to end these trays filling up landfills. This is a technology that can work immediately in virtually all recycling facilities across UK, Europe and USA.”