Innovation insight – Sealed Air

Every little ‘closed-loop’ helps

Tesco ‘closes-the-loop’ on food packaging as the result of a unique trial that has involved the participation of an entire supply-chain. The four synergistic companies collaborated in close partnership to a achieve a global first: the recycling of soft plastic to a high, food-grade standard. Impossible until now, used, soft-packaging can simply be collected from Tesco customers and be re-used to produce high-quality, food-grade packaging.

Sealed Air, Plastic Energy, SABIC and Bradburys Cheese, all partnered with Tesco to conduct this unique trial. It proved beyond doubt that soft plastic, which would normally go to waste, can now be recycled multiple times. The scientifically-based, closed-loop trial resulted in the production of uniform, high quality, food-grade plastic packaging.

Traditionally, retailers have relied upon soft plastics to pack foods such as bread, pre-prepared salads, meat and cheese, as it helps them to maintain their 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 less than 21,000 tonnes of that is collected, and until now even that has been recycled into non-foodgrade material. However, two years ago, Tesco stores installed ten recycling collection points for soft plastics, in order to discover new ways to resolve this problem, and in doing so created an entirely new, closed-loop system.

To prove that the closed-loop concept was both effective and practical, the 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. The recycled oil was then used by SABIC in their production process as an alternative to traditional fossil materials, for making new plastic pellets that are as safe and effective as virgin plastic.

The pellets were then utilised by Sealed Air who reformulated one of their existing plastic packaging designs to include this specially recycled, high-grade plastic. Rigorous testing was conducted to ensure that it met all the performance specifications of Tesco’s quality cheese supplier, Bradburys, for safe and effective use in their food packaging.

The new ‘closed-loop’ packaging material contains a minimum of 30% recycled material. The production of recycled soft plastic from food-grade soft plastic packaging has been an on-going challenge for the industry due to the many limitations of existing recycling techniques. This advanced pyrolysis recycling process easily and efficiently overcomes these traditional constraints.

Steve Garland, Chief Innovation Officer at Sealed Air said: “This project demonstrates the results that come from taking a leadership position and being committed to investing in the type of innovation that ultimately eliminates plastic waste altogether. As we redesign our plastic packaging to be recyclable, we are working closely with key collaborators to recover the same materials before they become waste and keep them circulating throughout the value chain.”

Consistently, SPN recognises that Sealed Air is at the vanguard of global companies protecting and solving critical packaging challenges. Today the company’s portfolio of advanced packaging solutions includes such well-known brands as CRYOVAC® a brand for food packaging, SEALED AIR® a brand for protective packaging, the AUTOBAG® brand for automated systems and the famous BUBBLE WRAP® brand for diverse brand packaging. Collectively they contribute to a safer, more efficient food supply-chain that protects valuable and fragile goods being shipped around the world.

In 2019, Sealed Air generated $4.8 billion in sales and currently employs around 17,000 people, all of which are dedicated to serving customers in 124 countries worldwide. Today, Sealed Air is a leading global materials and solutions provider that creates packaging for food, consumer goods and medical/industrial supplies.

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