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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Sainsbury's, M&S Lead Effort to Recycle 1.3 Billion Plastic Food Trays Annually

Sainsbury's and Marks and Spencer (M&S) are leading a consortium of UK packaging, retail and recycling organizations to launch a market trial aimed at recycling as many as 1.3 billion plastic food trays each year.

The campaign focuses on reducing waste from black CPET trays, which are commonly used in supermarket ready meals. The trays are recyclable, but the black color of the trays makes them undetectable with Near Infra-Red optical sorting equipment typically used at plastic sorting and recycling facilities.

To address this, resource efficiency group WRAP has worked with industry experts to develop a new type of black CPET tray, which sorting trials have shown can be detected and separated for recycling. Market trials will commence this month with two million new trays being rolled out across M&S' and Sainsbury's ready meals range to examine sorting efficiency and carbon footprint reduction.

"WRAP welcomes the opportunity to trial the use of detectable black colourants in the M&S and Sainsbury's product range to validate its true potential in-market,” WRAP's packaging program area manager Claire Shrewsbury said in a statement. "After four years of development work to improve the detectability and recycling of black packaging, it is great to see cross-sector engagement that allows us to trial its effectiveness in the real world."

The effort comes as part of WRAP’s mission to reduce overall waste in the UK. Last year, WRAP found that UK households waste £6.9 billion ($11 billion) worth of food and drink, or 7 percent of overall sales, with the grocery retail supply chain producing roughly 6.5 million tons (Mt) of annual waste. Of this, 3.9 Mt is derived from food and drink manufacturers, with the majority being food. A separate 2013 WRAP study analyzed 50 grocery products with the biggest environmental impact and found that together they contribute between 21 and 33 percent of household greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Some of the products include such staples as bread, potatoes, bananas and milk. This compelled companies such as the Co-operative Group, Nestlé and Sainsbury’s to commit to improving the sustainability performance of some of their products.

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