UK group looks for breakthrough in sustainable food packaging

Posted by Editorial on 22nd April 2009

WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) has recently begun a scoping project with the aim of enabling retailers and brands to use recycled polypropylene plastic in food packaging.Polypropylene is regularly recycled into industry plastics application (such as buckets and pallets) but, until now, recycling it into food grade packaging has not been possible. WRAP has commissioned Axion Consulting, in partnership with Greenstar WES, Fraunhofer IVV and Pira Consulting, to undertake the scoping study to test the process of recycling polypropylene, and the commercial viability of it in food grade packaging. Using recycled polypropylene instead of virgin plastics, for food packaging also presents significant environmental benefits which can be enjoyed by retailers, brands and consumers.

With developments in infrastructure, HDPE and PET bottles are now widely recycled back into new plastic bottles and in some cases, into food grade packaging too. As polypropylene makes up a significant proportion of plastic packaging in the household bin in terms of food pots (e.g. yoghurt pots), food tubs (e.g. margarine), and sauce bottles (e.g. brown sauce), developing a process to enable it to be recycled is an important next step towards sustainable packaging.

“Developing a commercial process for food grade polypropylene is widely seen as the next big challenge for food grade recycling technology,” Paul Davidson, WRAP’s Special Advisor on Plastics, said. “WRAP recognises that the retailers, brand owners and packaging companies all want polypropylene to be available for food grade packaging. However, with its many different grades and colours used in packaging, developing such a process will be demanding.”

Roger Morton, Director of Axion Consulting, believes the challenge will be an exciting one for the project team. “This is a fascinating and technically challenging development project, which will involve us gaining a more in depth understanding of the issues associated with the feasibility of recycling polypropylene for food packaging,” he said. “The project will also test whether the food grade High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) recycling process already in existence can be used to recycle polypropylene which meets food grade standards. The findings will help to identify what further technical requirements exist to developing a successful food grade recycling process for polypropylene and what recommendations need to be made to achieve this.”

The scoping study ends in late August 2009 and WRAP will make findings available later this year.