A market trial is being launched by a consortium of UK packaging, retail and recycling organisations, including Sainsbury's and Marks and Spencer. The trial intends to recycle up to 1.3 billion black CPET food trays; which are most commonly used for ready meals.

Plastic recycling centres have the ability to recycle the trays, but they are currently undetectable because of the black colouring. This means that the Infra-Red sorting technology struggles to separate the trays and move them further along for reprocessing. WRAP, the Waste and Resources Action Programme, have worked hard with experts to develop an innovative type of CPET tray. Claire Shrewsbury, WRAP's packaging programme area manager said “it is great to see cross-sector engagement that allows us to trial its effectiveness in the real world”. The new plastic type contains an altered type of colourant that is finally detectable in the sorting process. With CPET trays likely to be sorted, they will be able to avoid ending up in landfill or being incinerated for energy. Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer are both preparing to launch a trial of the new improvements in August, with two million trays ready to enter supermarkets. Both businesses are keen to reduce their carbon footprint and improve sorting efficiency of their products post-consumption. [caption id="attachment_3194" align="alignnone" width="599"]CPET Food Container CPET Food Container[/caption]

Words from the inside

The proposal is a huge step forward, and an area of plastic recycling that has been calling out for a solution for some time. In June, the chief executive for Marks & Spencer, Marc Bolland, speaking at an M&S conference said:
"We don't want a competitive edge when it comes to being a sustainable business ... This is a joint journey we all need to be on-board with, so we are happy to work and collaborate with other companies."
Following this, the commercial and environmental packaging manager for Marks and Spencer, Andrew Speck said:
"This trial highlights what can be achieved when all the relevant companies and bodies work together - all of us on the project team anticipate this will lead to a significant step forward for plastic recycling and progress for closed loop systems. We look forward to sharing the findings of the trial in the near future."
He continued, adding
“Around 1.3 billion CPET trays are used in the UK every year and, whilst they offer great convenience for consumers, the recycling challenge results in unnecessary waste and technically recyclable material being missed. At M&S, we recognise that we have a very important role to play in resolving this, both by ensuring that we use packaging that is easy for our customers to recycle and by working across industries to find a viable solution.”
This is great news for the recycling world, especially as CPET trays are so commonly used. With many plastics having a low melting point, CPET's high melting point allows it to be used in both microwaves and ovens. Now it can be used in recycling centres too!