Peas help to increase plastic bottle recycling

Pea protein is being used to improve the chances of plastic bottles being recycled.

Research by soft drinks manufacturer Britvic showed that people are 40% more likely to recycle clear bottles than coloured ones. However, clear bottles let in more UV rays, which can break down some of the vitamins in the drinks, particularly vitamin D. Fortified drinks therefore tend to come in coloured bottles – but maybe not for much longer. 

Britvic is to work with Xampla, a spin off from the University of Cambridge that has spent 15 years creating plant protein materials for commercial use. The new £1m partnership, part-funded by Innovate UK, will investigate using pea protein to make microscopic capsules that protect vitamins in the liquids from sunlight. If successful, more drinks fortified with vitamins could be packaged in clear plastic bottles.

Sarah Webster, director of sustainable business at Britvic called it a “win win” – drinks with greater nutritional value in bottles that are more readily recycled.

Research published last week by campaign group Zero Waste Europe and Eunomia, a consultancy, showed 20% of the PET bottles used in Europe are coloured and 2% are opaque. The remaining 78% are clear or light blue – and these are the ones in demand for recycling plastic and integrating it into new bottles. 

Indeed, coloured bottles tend to “cascade” out of the bottle recycling stream and end up being used for “lower quality” packaging, such as hot food trays. From there they can drop out of recycling stream altogether, the authors warned. 

Switching 91% of the coloured and opaque bottles on the market in Europe to clear or light blue ones could increase the ‘upper limit’ of recycled content in bottles from 61% to 75%. Currently, bottle manufacturers use an average of 17% recycled content.

Xampla has also been working with Gousto, with the recipe box company using “cookable stock cube wrappers”. The edible packaging replaces single-use foil or plastic and was “the first plant protein film in the world to go to market”, said Marc Rodríguez Garcia, Xampla head of research.

The packaging is made by engineering and drying a pea protein material into sheets that have “the same benefits as plastic […] but with none of the packaging waste”.

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