Trial promises to crack problem plastics issue

Tesco has started collecting “unrecyclable plastics” for recycling in a trial at 10 stores.

Customers will be able to return everything from pet food pouches to shopping bags and crisp packets, all of which are not usually recycled by local councils at the kerbside.

Last week, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee launched a new inquiry to assess the progress food and drink companies have made in “developing and using more environmentally friendly alternatives to plastics”. Compostable materials for example have been marketed as an attractive alternative for flexible packaging like wrappers and pouches.

The plastics collected by Tesco will be processed using “chemical recycling” machines – these use a thermal cracking process to “crack” the plastic, creating a vapour that is distilled to form Plaxx, a hydrocarbon product that can be used to manufacture new plastic.

The process keeps more plastic waste in the economy and out of landfill and the environment, said Adrian Griffiths, chief executive at Recycling Technologies, the firm hoping to produce up to 200 of the chemical recycling machines (called RT7000s) every year.

Rolling out soft plastics collections to all Tesco stores would result in an additional 65,000 tonnes of plastic being recycled, according to a statement on the Recycling Technologies website. Currently, 83% of Tesco’s packaging is recyclable; expanding this initiative nationwide would increase that figure to around 90%.

“This technology could be the final piece of the jigsaw for the UK plastic recycling industry,” said Sarah Bradbury, Tesco director of quality.

Tesco has committed to ensure that all its plastic packaging is 100% recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025. Later this year it is expected to join a new online shopping service using refillable containers for some products.

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