This week, Tesco is introducing new plastic packaging made by a pioneering process of recycling soft, flexible plastic packaging. The retailer says that this trial demonstrates for the first time that soft plastic can be continuously recycled into safe food-grade packaging.

The entire value chain has worked together to recycle soft plastic collected from Tesco customers into new food-grade packaging. Plastic Energy, SABIC, Sealed Air, and Bradburys Cheese partnered with Tesco to conduct this trial to prove that soft plastic, that would typically go to waste, can be recycled multiple times into new food-grade plastic as a part of a closed-loop recycling system.

To prove the closed-loop concept, soft plastic material collected from Tesco customers was sent to Plastic Energy who converted the used packaging into oil, through pyrolysis. This recycled oil was used by SABIC in their production process as an alternative to traditional fossil materials to make new plastic pellets that are reportedly just as safe and effective as virgin plastic.

The pellets were used by Sealed Air, who developed one of their existing plastic packaging designs to use this material while still meeting all the performance requirements of Tesco’s cheese supplier, Bradburys.

Seven different cheeses packed at Bradburys using this flexible plastic are now being stocked in Tesco’s stores. The packaging will contain a minimum of 30% recycled material from this new recycling process.

This work comes as a part of Tesco’s 4R Remove, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle programme and an ambition to ensure that all its packaging can be recycled as a part of a closed-loop:

James Bull, head of packaging at Tesco, commented, “We are removing all excessive and non-recyclable packaging from our business and will ensure everything that remains can be recycled as a part of a closed loop. This exciting new partnership has the potential to show that every piece of plastic we use can be recycled. If we can roll out this approach at scale throughout our industry it could be of enormous benefit to our planet.”  

Peter Maddox, director of WRAP UK, said: “This is a very exciting development in the challenging journey towards making flexible plastic packaging recyclable and circular. Tesco, a founding member of The UK Plastics Pact, has demonstrated that by taking an innovative and collaborative approach, new solutions can be found to take plastics from in-store collection points to a food-grade packaging format.

"The next challenge will be to test how scalable it is, and I look forward to seeing how the project progresses.”