News & Updates Sustainability

Food-Grade Recycled Polypropylene is Poised for US Intro

The NextLooPP initiative’s success and breakthroughs across the Atlantic and an FDA Letter of No Objection to 14 companies bode well for food-grade PP recycling on American shores.

At a Glance

  • Research suggests PP residual contamination levels one-tenth of HDPE milk bottles and one-hundredth of PET.
  • 2024 trials of recycled PP achieved food-grade purity levels exceeding 95% in packaging applications.
  • New performance standards and an automatic sorting technology breakthrough will ease market acceptance.

In May 2023, we published an article in Packaging Digest announcing the NextLooPP initiative’s success with food-grade recycled polypropylene (rPP) in the UK and EU, and our decision to replicate that success in the Americas. Since launching the project in 2020, 53 participants across the plastics supply chain have steadily broken through most of the barriers to producing recycled food-grade polypropylene (FGrPP) from post-consumer waste. We continue to share our science-based findings and expertise with US organizations.

Since that 2023 article, the FDA has given its Letter of No Objection (LNO) to 14 companies in North America, Asia, and Europe to use their recycled resin products for food-contact packaging. Yet, so far, there is no information or publicity on applications of recycled food-grade Polypropylene (PP) resin that are actually being used in food-contact packaging.

It didn’t take long to understand why, given that PP is just embarking on its recyclability journey. If we consider the most widely recycled polymers to date — PET and HDPE — their recycling journey was not an immediate overnight success, either.

I recall when we were first producing food-grade rPET (in the UK) there was considerable reluctance to its use in food-contact packaging, and it required extensive trialing before being adopted for standard production. Now this is an everyday occurrence.

Related:Polypropylene Recycling Venture Sets 2023 Launch in the Americas

PP is currently going through the exact same phase.


Recycled food-grade PP is at the starting gate.

PP accounts for more than 20% of global plastics production and food packaging is one of its primary products. In the USA PP is one of the most converted polymers with a market share of about 20% (in 2018) yet it is also one of the least recycled (3% to 5%) mainly due to its use in non-bottle packaging, such as cups, tubs, and trays.

To understand why recycled food-grade PP resin is still dithering on the sidelines, even with an LNO, we need only check PET and HDPE’s first, tentative recycling steps. The reticence to accept a new resin’s safety is wholly understandable.  It comes from a lack of experience and awareness that this food-grade recycled material can be safely used in consumer food-contact packaging.

The challenge with recycled polypropylene (rPP) is that until now it has not been possible to accurately differentiate between PP packaging that once contained non-food products from those containing food. Consequently, FGrPP has been limited to closed-loop recycling, hand sorting or advanced recycling technology processes based on mass balance (which is not yet recognized as recycling in the EU).

Characterizing residual contamination levels in rPP.

Progress is rapidly catching up, however, through science-based explorations to close the loop on post-consumer food-grade PP. Achieving this has meant methodically addressing every roadblock along the way and diving into the specific sorting and decontamination requirements for the recycling processes for PP. This led to NextLooPP’s investigation to determine the residual contamination levels of post-consumer PP packaging, which up until now, have never been characterized.

A lack of data showing the misuse/mis-selection rate within PP feedstocks prevented any reliable way of defining the residual levels that could potentially migrate into food, and any understanding of which molecules to target via decontamination processes. NextLooPP’s study aimed to identify substances that might cause samples of rPP to be outliers from the expected input stream that could represent challenges to the final safety of the recycled plastics. The key issue was to check whether the substances observed could potentially be genotoxic.

Considerations include the shape of the package.

Although being olefinic, the packaging format of consumer PP packaging reduces the chances of it being in such a consumer-misuse scenario. A large proportion of PET packaging is relatively durable, with a tight closure, making it a container of choice when used for storing hazardous materials. Likewise, HDPE packaging is also in bottle form with a closure meaning it, too, may be used in such a scenario. PP food containers, on the other hand, are less likely to come in bottle form and much more likely to be pots, tubs, or trays with limited closure capability, making them a less likely candidate for consumer misuse.

Characterizing the residues in post-consumer packaging that have been sorted into mono-polymer fractions was done by analyzing and testing multiple batches of food and non-food samples to see what molecules are present and if there are any areas of concern.

To achieve this, our team of scientists worked on 20-tonne (US 22.5-ton) batches of PP bales sourced from a UK-based materials recovery facility (MRF). Using automatic optical sorters to separate color fractions of natural (clear), white, and colored articles, each color fraction was hand-sorted to separate articles from food and non-food applications.
The analytical study involved 700 tests, representing approximately 17,500 different PP packs based on 25 significantly sized flakes per test. This was estimated to be a cross-sectional representation of 7% of the packs from the combination of batches of 260,000 packs.

Following this contamination study, researchers characterized the contamination levels in PP, concluding that they are on the order of 10 times less than that which we expect in HDPE milk bottles; and 100 times less than that expected in PET. This is not surprising given the applications that select PP as the packaging material.

“Finding validated local end-of-life solutions for post-consumer food-grade PP packaging has been the driving force behind NextLooPP’s participants.”

New food-grade resins challenge the status quo.

This study marked a turning point in the NextLooPP project, giving us the confidence to use our PPristine food-grade rPP resins in food-contact packaging.

The performance standards we have now developed will enable us to help organizations reach a high level of technical performance as well as commercial and legal confidence in food-grade rPP. By deploying NextLooPP’s expertise and technical backup, we aim to license the technology to ensure that the resin standards can be fast-tracked into US-produced rPP food-grade packaging.

Finding validated local end-of-life solutions for post-consumer food-grade PP packaging has been the driving force behind NextLooPP’s participants, who continue to produce and trial a range of unique grades of high-quality food-grade recycled PP resins produced using Nextek’s patented PPristine decontamination technology.

Commercialized trials prove the concept.

Eighteen of NextLooPP’s brand and converter participants have now finalized 55 commercialization trials using five PPristine resin grades: Natural food-grade IM, Natural food-grade, White food-grade, Mixed Color food-grade, and non-food grade Mixed Color INRT. The results have been outstanding. For example, trials using 30% of PPristine resins in both extrusion and thermoforming trays achieved product quality comparable with the virgin products with no changes in processing conditions.

Breakthroughs lead the project toward the finish line.

The multi-participant project fine-tunes resin quality standards that are poised to become standard for food-grade recycled PP, and the success continues.

Sorting trials conducted in February by NextLooPP together with Tomra Recycling have confirmed a major breakthrough in the automatic sorting of food-grade PP packaging. The trials combined Tomra’s near-infrared visual spectrometry and GAINnext deep-learning technology. The trials achieved food-grade purity levels exceeding 95% in packaging applications. This is an exciting development and an invaluable boost to the NextLooPP project.

The technology has the potential to be rolled out to all PP packaging sorting facilities and will help produce valuable food-grade, post-consumer recycled PP streams. By providing a sorted food-grade PP PCR stream, GAINnext will enable the NextLooPP decontamination process to be carried out in many more recycling operations globally.

After nearly four years of intense collaboration, the NextLooPP participants are now breaking down the final barriers to producing food-grade recycled PP from post-consumer packaging into new circular economy products, and the initiative is looking forward to launching the NextLooPP Americas project to achieve similar outstanding results.


News & Updates Sustainability

Algae’s Remarkable Role in Sustainable Packaging’s Future

Cutting-edge algae-based bioplastics could revolutionize sustainable packaging (and beyond) while meeting consumer and regulatory demands.

At a Glance

  • Innate biodegradability and renewability make algae an ideal solution to traditional plastics’ environmental issues.
  • Applications include water bottle replacement, food wrappers, drinking straws, and condiment sachets.
  • The global bioplastics market is projected to rose from $8.14 billion in 2021 to $18.05 billion by 2027.

Algae, once primarily associated with marine ecosystems, is emerging as a game-changer for sustainable packaging solutions. With the escalating global concern over plastic pollution and the urgent need for eco-friendly alternatives, algae-based packaging has stepped into the limelight — and is not leaving anytime soon.

Below, we’ll explore how this remarkable resource is transforming packaging, why startups are investing heavily in it, and the immense potential algae holds for the future.

The science behind algae-based packaging

Algae refers to a diverse group of aquatic organisms possessing remarkable properties that make them an ideal candidate for sustainable packaging. They can be cultivated rapidly, requiring minimal nutrient input and obtaining energy from sunlight. Algae can thrive in saltwater and even wastewater, reducing the strain on freshwater resources. This adaptability makes them a cleaner alternative to traditional raw materials.

At the heart of algae-based packaging lies its innate biodegradability and renewability. This edge makes it ideal for food packaging and a viable solution to the environmental woes caused by traditional plastics. Algae also absorb atmospheric carbon during growth, further reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Remarkably, they contribute to approximately 70% of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Related:PLA a Prescription for Sustainable Healthcare Packaging

As a packaging material, algae-based polymers offer comparable functionality to traditional plastics while presenting a sustainable end-of-life solution through compostability and biodegradability.

The rise of algae-based packaging

The global algae market is rapidly growing as new uses for algae are continually discovered, generating about $1 billion in sales each year. Here are various innovative applications for algae and seaweed as alternatives to plastic, showcasing their potential to revolutionize packaging and other industries:

  • Notpla’s Ooho water pods: Notpla’s Ooho is one of the most prominent examples of algae-based packaging. It’s a seaweed-based edible and biodegradable water pod. It’s a sustainable solution used in conjunction with reusable bottles and has gained significant attention at major events. Over 30,000 Ooho pods were distributed to runners during the 2019 London Marathon, replacing thousands of plastic bottles and substantially reducing plastic waste.
  • Evoware’s biodegradable food wrappers: Indonesian startup Evoware has developed biodegradable food wrappers made from seaweed. These wrappers are used for packaging various products, from coffee to cookies to soap. The materials are edible, biodegradable, and home-compostable, ensuring they can safely return to nature without harming wildlife.
  • Loliware’s seaweed-based straws: U.S.-based Loliware has created seaweed-based straws designed to replace single-use plastic straws. Unlike paper alternatives, they maintain their structural integrity for up to 24 hours after getting wet. While edible, Loliware straws will naturally degrade in the environment within two months.
  • MarinaTex’s fish waste and algae packaging: London-based startup MarinaTex has developed a bioplastic film made from fish waste and red algae. This innovative material is designed for use in packaging and has been awarded the James Dyson Award for its potential to reduce plastic pollution. This bioplastic is stronger than LDPE (low-density polyethylene) and decomposes in four to six weeks under home composting conditions.
  • Skipping Rocks Lab’s condiment sachets: Skipping Rocks Lab — the creators of Ooho — has also developed an eco-friendly alternative to single-use plastic packets for condiments and sauces to reduce plastic waste in the food industry. These seaweed sachets biodegrade within six weeks.

The potential for long-term impact

The potential for algae-based packaging to make a significant long-term impact is immense, driven by continuous advancements in research and technology. Ongoing improvements in extraction and processing enhance algae-derived biopolymers’ properties, making them more viable for various applications.

The role of algae in sustainable packaging is poised to expand exponentially as the urgency to combat plastic pollution intensifies. Packaging leaders can harness algae’s inherent properties to spearhead the transition toward a more sustainable and eco-friendly future.

The global bioplastics market, valued at $8.14 billion in 2021, is projected to reach $18.05 billion by 2027, with a CAGR of around 14% from 2022 to 2027. Despite a slight decline in global plastic production, bioplastic demand is rising steadily, driven by technological advancements, increased research and development, and expanding applications.

The rapid growth of the bioplastics market underscores the economic and environmental benefits of sustainable packaging solutions like algae-based materials. Algae require minimal resources to grow and significantly contribute to carbon sequestration. These advantages position algae-based packaging as a scalable, eco-friendly alternative to traditional plastics, addressing environmental concerns and market demands.

Embracing a sustainable future

By embracing algae-based packaging, companies can capitalize on bioplastic technology advancements while meeting consumer and regulatory sustainability demands. Integrating algae-based solutions promises a future where packaging is functional and environmentally responsible.

Incorporating algae-based packaging into your company’s sustainability strategy reduces environmental footprint and positions your brand as a leader in responsible practices. Explore this cutting-edge technology to enhance your product offerings and contribute to a greener future. Your proactive steps today can set the standard for sustainable packaging in the future.

News & Updates Sustainability

Bottled Water Microplastics Litigation Is Making a Splash

Plaintiffs argue companies that make and sell bottled water have violated consumer protection statutes by labeling their bottled water as “natural” when the products allegedly contain microplastics.

Class actions involving bottled water is on the rise as attention focuses on chemicals and plastics in food packaging (in particular, PFAS and microplastics). Following studies in 2018 and 2019 and a fresh February 2024 Consumer Reports study, microplastic litigation should be on every consumer packaged goods manufacturer’s radar. While there is no consensus within the scientific community on harm caused by microplastics, the plaintiffs’ bar has chugged its drink and ran straight to the courthouse.

Plaintiffs across the country, with nearly identical allegations (and for some, the same plaintiff), are not bottling it in anymore. They argue companies that make and sell bottled water have engaged in a host of consumer protection statutory violations by labeling their bottled water as “natural” when the products allegedly contain microplastics. So far this year, we have seen five class actions brought against bottled water manufacturers seeking to certify nationwide and state-specific subclasses.

Without scientific consensus on the impact of microplastics, or guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency or FDA on the presence of microplastics (nor the definition of “natural”), defendants are left to draw analogies to other trending litigation, such as PFAS and glyphosate claims, to challenge these claims. In similar litigation, defendants have found some success in arguing that the FDCA preempts migratory substances like PFAS from disclosure as an ingredient. Likewise, courts have recently found that a “natural” claim could not lead a reasonable customer to believe there are no “accidental or innocuous amounts” of glyphosate in a product. These types of challenges could support dismissal as defendants attempt to put a lid on claims in the bottled-water battle.

Of these five cases, plaintiff Dotson voluntarily dismissed both complaints in April. The other cases are in various stages of motion to dismiss briefing. We’ll watch out for future splashes and keep you updated.


News & Updates Sustainability

This Water Bottle Diverts Ocean-Bound Plastic

In partnership with rePurpose Global, the sale of each Chlorophyll Water bottle supports the equivalent recovery of one ocean-bound plastic bottle.

For plastic litter, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of recovery. That describes the notion of diverting ocean-bound plastic by collecting plastic bottles before they ever reach the water.

The latest bottle brand to wade into the greener waters of preventive sustainability is Chlorophyll Water, a uniquely formulated, green-colored functional water. 

With the brand’s new partnership with rePurpose Global, the sale of each bottle supports the diversion of the the equivalent of one ocean-bound plastic bottle. This ocean-bound plastic is then recycled, reducing the need for virgin plastic.

rePurpose Global is a major Plastic Action Platform that has recovered more than 25 million kilograms/27,558 tons of plastic waste from the environment to date, protecting vulnerable coastal regions across the Americas, Africa, and Asia.Chlorophyll_Water_Buyone_Saveone_2024-720x450.png


Chlorophyll Water has gone deeper into sustainability over the years since the beginning. It debuted in 2019 in biodegradable plastic bottles. In October 2023, it switched to 100% recycled PET bottles. In that same move to rPET, the brand selected CleanFlake label technology from Avery Dennison to optimize the recyclability of the bottles.

Chlorophyll Water was also the first bottled water in the US tested for heavy metals, pesticide residues, and plasticizers to pass stringent Clean Label Project certification.

“Chlorophyll Water is committed to sustainability and using technology to lessen packaging’s environmental impact,” says Matt Levine, founder. “By originally launching in landfill-biodegradable bottles and recently transitioning to 100% recycled plastic bottles, we aim to significantly impact the plastic waste issue and reduce the use of virgin, fossil-fuel-based packaging. Our partnership with rePurpose Global further supports this progressive mission by preventing ocean plastic pollution with every bottle of Chlorophyll Water sold.”


News & Updates Sustainability

Sainsbury’s switches to pulp and cardboard packs for own-brand fish and chicken

Sainsbury’s is introducing a number of packaging changes across its own-brand chicken and fish lines, set to save 694 tonnes of plastic annually.

All own-brand salmon fillet trays are switching to pulp cardboard instead of plastic, a UK retailer first, which will result in 70% less plastic, saving 346 tonnes of plastic a year.

The supermarket giant said the pulp trays are made from sugarcane pulp, and are lined with polyethylene film.

Sainsbury’s is also rolling out cardboard trays across its Taste the Difference and by Sainsbury’s breaded chicken lines, which it said will save 300 tonnes of plastic a year.

The retailer is also making the same changes to its Taste the Difference breaded fish fillets, set to save 48 tonnes of plastic a year.

It added that the pulp cardboard trays from all salmon lines and cardboard trays across breaded chicken and fish are easily recyclable.

Claire Hughes, director of product and innovation, Sainsbury’s, said: “With salmon being one of our most popular fish, we made it a priority to reduce the plastic on the packaging of this much loved product as we work towards our Plan for Better goals.

“We are now the first retailer to make the move to have recycled pulp card trays across all our bySainsbury’s and Taste the Difference salmon products, enabling a whopping 70% plastic reduction. Together with changes to our breaded fish and chicken packaging, we are set to save 694 tonnes of plastic a year – a significant step towards our plastic reduction goals.”

Sainsbury’s recently launched its ‘Good to Know’ logo to help customers find products that are more sustainable, including those with reduced plastic packaging.

The new logo is aimed to help customers understand the retailer’s work around sustainability and its work towards its Plan for Better ambitions. Customers will be able to find the ‘Good to Know’ logo on the latest packaging across its salmon products.



‘Packageless’ products can reduce plastic waste and increase sales

The urgent need to eliminate single-use plastic packaging and drastically reduce waste has become a pressing business imperative. However, despite the evolution of technology and the availability of innovative solutions that enable smart and sustainable practices, much of the industry remains mired in outdated paradigms, resistant to the major shifts required, says Nevo Hadas of digital transformation consultancy DY/DX.

“We are at a pivotal moment where the technology exists to make significant strides towards sustainability in retail. A true circular economy solution is not just about recycling, it’s about completely rethinking how products are packaged and delivered to consumers, reducing waste and improving efficiency, while still increasing sales,” says Hadas.

Despite the clear benefits and the pressing need, Hadas says the industry’s response to finding solutions that reduce plastic has been tepid.

“While profit-drivers like new product trials receive substantial funding and resources, pilots focusing on packageless retail and sustainability are often underfunded and under-resourced,” says Hadas.

“Retailers may claim slow consumer adoption, but they run pilots that can only fail by choosing to poorly implement trials in the back corners of stores and by selecting sustainable options that are too expensive. Dispensing technology is often based on gravity bins and scales, which many research reports indicate have significant usability flaws for consumers. There’s an urgent need for retailers and manufacturers to boldly embrace innovation in this area, and invest in technology that offers real solutions.”

Hadas points out that in many countries, retailers already provide purchase options from bulk sections.

“Packageless retail, done well, reduces wastage, increases hygiene and improves the customer experience significantly. It allows bulk sales to move out of a wall at the back of the store, right to the aisle. It gives consumers a wider choice.”

“The retail sector’s slow movement towards packageless solutions mirrors the hesitancy seen in other industries disrupted by technology. Yet, those who have embraced change, have seen substantial benefits. Others were left behind.”

Signs of progress

The Smartfill IoT dispenser, an innovation developed through a partnership between DY/DX and retail solutions provider Smollan, is a case in point.

This IoT dispenser is poised to transform traditional retail shelf models by enabling packageless sales, significantly cutting down on single-use plastics, driving product affordability in developing nations and aligning with the growing demand for sustainable shopping experiences.

This aligns with the principles of the circular economy, aiming to minimise waste and make better use of resources.

By enabling packageless sales and reducing single-use plastics, innovations such as these contribute directly to several United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Specifically, it promotes responsible consumption and production (Goal 12), supports climate action (Goal 13) through waste reduction, and fosters partnerships for the goals (Goal 17) by leveraging technology for sustainable retail solutions.

“The OECD projects a 67% increase in global plastics use by 2040,” says Hadas.

Packageless pilot shows strong consumer demand

The Smartfill system has already demonstrated its value and viability through pilots at leading retailers like Spar and collaborations with global brands such as Unilever. These initiatives have shown that not only is packageless retail possible, but it also offers a compelling business case.Image supplied

The case studies demonstrate how the technology can be successfully integrated into a retail setting, offering customers a convenient and eco-friendly way to shop. Customers can use their own containers or paper bags, fill them with the desired amount of product from Smartfill dispensers, and only pay for the product they take.

“Everybody tells you customers are not interested in packageless refill options. However, Smartfill pilots demonstrated strong consumer demand, with 40% of the users coming back,” says Hadas.

Consumers purchased varied amounts that were not prepackaged on shelves, while the retailer enjoyed higher margins by selling from bulk at small-size prices, Hadas explains. “The pilot tripled the sales of product under 1kg, moving over 550kg of product. We outperformed 3m of shelf space in 30cm.”

Offering zero plastic packageless options could enhance affordability for developing markets, rather than being limited to eco-friendly elites and speciality stores, according to Hadas.

Packaging costs contribute significantly to the overall price of products and services, up to 40% of the total cost in cases.

Research conducted in Smartfill trials in South Africa and Kenya with Spar and Tiger Brands showed that gross margins for retailers increased by an impressive 17% to 32%, depending on the product, demonstrating that the unpackaged approach can be economically viable for both consumers and retailers.

Needs of the customer

Understanding customer behaviour and usage patterns is crucial in this transition. Hadas argues that the current pre-packaged retail paradigm simply does not consider the benefits of allowing consumers to purchase exactly what they need.

A Unilever pilot in Bangladesh showcases the adaptability of Smartfill technology. The project focused on delivering personal care products in a packageless format, demonstrating that even industries heavily reliant on traditional packaging can successfully embrace this new approach.

While small-quantity sachets were thought to be a favoured choice, a shift to dispensing machines with the option of small bottles soon showed that this option was preferred by customers and led to more efficient use, without the waste that sachets create.

Hadas believes that engaging with customers and clients about the reality of how they use products can lead to unexpected insights. “By challenging the limited options available in the traditional retail world and truly understanding customer needs, there is an opportunity to rethink and innovate for better sustainability and efficiency in retail practices.”

Overcoming barriers

The industry cites consumer convenience and perceptions, regulatory and health concerns. Supply chain and logistics and lack of infrastructure as barriers to packageless retail.

However, the biggest barrier is industry response to innovation in this area, says Michael Smollan, director of international retail solutions company, Smollan.

“It frustrates me that we do not adopt viable solutions to global problems faster,” says Smollan.

“Solutions like Smartfill can solve the devastating plastic problem in a smart, user-friendly, data-driven and cost-neutral way, yet due to a combination of inertia and legacy systems, mainstream adoption is much slower than it should be. It takes brave and future-facing people to partner with, to take a risk and ultimately do the right thing, even if it’s not the easiest thing at the time.”

The call to action for retailers, brands, and manufacturers is clear: the time to embrace packageless retail solutions is now, says Smollan.

Collaboration across the industry, along with supportive policies and consumer education, will be key to accelerating the adoption of package-free retail solutions and achieving the environmental benefits.

“The technology exists, the business case is compelling, and the environmental imperatives are undeniable. It is time for the industry to move beyond lip service and take bold, decisive steps towards sustainability. Let’s rethink the possibilities, embrace available innovation and technology, and lead the charge towards a more sustainable and responsible future.”


News & Updates Sustainability

Moving the needle on reuseable packaging

If the packaging industry wants to make reusable packaging systems more mainstream and widely used, boosting efficiency is key. One company aiming to facilitate this is Sykell, whose ‘Circular ERP’ product has been designed to revolutionise how companies manage and judge the performance of reuse projects. We spoke with the company’s co-founder, Michael Kappler, to learn more.

I think it’d be good to start with some context: What is Sykell’s Circular ERP?

The CIRCULAR ERP offers an Operating System to companies in the circular economy to efficiently manage their inventories of reusable assets. Sykell has developed a reusable packaging system that enables retailers and partners in the food, beverage, cosmetic and drugstore sectors to shift from disposable to reusable packaging and towards a circular economy.

In addition to the primary functionalities of an ERP solution, including clearing and deposit processing, CIRCULAR ERP also unlocks synergies within return logistics and washing.

How does it work in practice? Please take us through each step of the process.

The CIRCULAR ERP accompanies an asset from production, through usage, washing and deposit clearing to the end of life. All operationally relevant product components are rounded off by comprehensive analysis tools and data processing to create detailed LCAs and sustainability reports.

1. Production & Procurement Whether straight from production or supplied by a producer, the system enables quick, effortless creation or import of all essential asset information.

2. Assets & Inventory Maintaining complete visibility over the asset portfolio. The system enhances the capacity for precise demand planning and forecasting.

3. Orders & Logistics Tackling the increasing complexity of order management and logistics optimization as user’s systems expand. The CIRCULAR ERP automates all these processes so users can focus on their operations.

4. Clearing & Deposits The system is engineered to provide unparalleled transparency in handling intricate deposit setups across various partners within the clearing process. Tracking all deposit operations down to the individual asset or by quantity.

5. Financials & Analytics Generating comprehensive financial reports and maintaining audit-ready data and usage history with ease. The dashboard provides a quick overview of crucial KPIs, ensuring users are always informed in their daily operations.

6. Sustainability & LCA Creating sustainability reports based on real-time insights and using them as starter or additional data for life cycle assessments (LCA).

You’ve already collaborated on three use-case projects: Please could you tell us more about some of these?

In addition to the advantages such as efficiency and transparency for the system partners, we also support service providers along the sometimes individual cycles to connect to the CIRCULAR ERP (e.g. via API) and providing all system partners in real-time the tracking status, clearing information and updates about the asset conditions.

Using the CIRCULAR ERP solution, Sykell successfully operates its own reusable system with more than 2 million reusable assets all over Germany: EINFACH MEHRWEG. The reusable packaging system, which has been awarded the Blauer Engel (Blue Angel) ecolabel, has been embraced by consumers thanks to its ease of use and convenient returns via reverse vending machines, which makes returning used containers and cups as easy as returning deposit bottles.

Sykell has a nationwide network (ca. 7.500) of EINFACH MEHRWEG system partners, including major food retailers, petrol stations and restaurants. The asset portfolio includes different containers for take-away food and pre-packaged foods as well as various cups for hot and cold drinks.

Zerooo is a reusable system for cosmetics and drugstores. Parallel to the successful piloting of care and cleaning products under its own SEA ME brand in the reusable deposit system, SEA ME GmbH began in 2021 to set up the infrastructure for the return, cleaning and refilling of the specially developed reusable containers.

From January 2024 reusable containers from the zerooo system will be available in more than 900 stores and the empties can be returned. With new, innovative reusable packaging solutions, more retail partners, more product categories and more sustainable brands in the system, SEA ME GmbH is expanding the reusable system as a transparent, resource-saving and low-emission alternative to the standard disposable system.

What is the carbon impact of these projects, and how is this calculated?

The carbon impact of the CIRCULAR ERP can be calculated based on various factors, because the software facilitates other companies to implement, manage, and operate their reusable assets efficiently. Primarily, the CIRCULAR ERP enables the reduction in single-use packaging through external companies, which indirectly leads to a decrease in waste generation and directly contributes to carbon emissions reduction.

This is assessed by comparing the carbon footprint of single-use packaging, including production, transportation and disposal with that of reusable packaging over its lifecycle, including production, transportation, return logistics, washing and disposal. Moreover, the efficiency gains in logistics and transportation, enabled by streamlining processes through the CIRCULAR ERP, result in reduced fuel consumption and emissions.

By optimizing routes for return logistics and minimizing empty trips, the carbon impact of transportation is mitigated. Integrating more projects and reusable packaging into the CIRCULAR ERP besides our own reusable system EINFACH MEHRWEG like zerooo and dotch, enhances operational efficiency and reduces the environmental footprint of their products. As mentioned above, the carbon footprint and impact of the reusable packaging are calculated by conducting a comparative life cycle assessment (LCA).

Ideally, the LCA is conducted according to the ISO 14040/ISO 14044 standard to ensure standardized and accurate results. (Additionally, the results of a comparative LCA are subject to third-party verification. It is also possible to conduct a simplified LCA not following those standards, but transparent communication of the calculation method is essential.)

To understand the carbon impact of the reusable packaging, it is necessary to select a single-use alternative utilized in the same use case, as well as a number of reuses or uses of the packaging to create a realistic comparison of the life cycle stages.

A comparative life cycle assessment and its third-party verification are in execution for all EINFACH MEHRWEG products according to the LCA Standard ISO 14040/ISO 14044. The life cycle impacts for all EINFACH MEHRWEG products, as well as its single-use alternatives, are calculated, such as climate change, water consumption, and material consumption.

The results show the emissions, water, and waste saved when reusing an EINFACH MEHRWEG packaging 50 times compared to the usage of 50 single-use packaging. Additionally, the break-even point is calculated for each impact category to determine the number of circulations and reuses required for an EINFACH MEHRWEG packaging to outperform single-use packaging across various impact categories, thereby resulting in a lower environmental impact.

In terms of the whole value chain, as well as legislators and regulators, what can be done to make reusable packaging systems more widespread?

We see different efforts on the part of national legislation and the EU to decide on the right framework for the use of reusables. Unfortunately, this currently mostly fails due to different interests and measures taken by the disposable lobby. But the implementation or obligation to offer reusable products does not necessarily mean a visible change.

In Germany, for example, the urgently needed control measures have been lacking since the obligation to offer was introduced on January 1, 2023. Unfortunately, this is usually due to the fact that no authority simply feels responsible or that authorities are understaffed.

In addition to the legal framework, the success of reusable reusables is, above all, acceptance, both externally and internally. Externally means the consumer, who must be convinced in particular by a high level of convenience and quality.

From simply borrowing hygienically perfect containers to adequate deposit amounts and return options suitable for everyday use, for example the approach of cross-system and cross-location returns (“return anywhere”).

At the same time, internal acceptance also plays a major role. This refers to all employees who are involved in the cycle or who have direct customer contact as ambassadors for reusables. Here too, processes must be designed to be simple. This is the only way to actively offer the customer a reusable alternative.


News & Updates Sustainability

The Brief: Getting to grips with seaweed in packaging

In the latest edition of the Brief, we cover everything we know about seaweed-based packaging so far – how it works, where its sustainability claims come from, what designs are currently on the market, and the developments to look out for in the future.

This article is part of Packaging Europe’s membership tier – a brand-new series of briefings and in-depth reports on the most important packaging stories, plus recordings of all the industry-leading discussions from our 2023 Sustainable Packaging Summit. To become a member and access more content like this, click here.

What is seaweed packaging?

Seaweed grows naturally in both the sea and freshwater without requiring any additional substances to grow. When grown sustainably, it is expected to contribute towards the reduction of fossil-based plastics through the production of thermoplastic monomer PLA, to name one example; its vitamin, mineral, and fibre contents are also thought to make it compatible with edible packaging applications.

As they are a source of polysaccharides, seaweeds are anticipated to serve as a raw material or active agent – perhaps a better and more sustainable solution than their chemical alternatives. Due to their natural antioxidant properties, scientists say that polysaccharides can also minimise lipid oxidation and increase the shelf life and nutritional value of packaged food.

Three main types of seaweed exist – red, brown, and green. Scientifically speaking, these pigmentations fall under the respective categories of rhodophytes, ochrophytes, and chlorophytes. Red seaweeds contain sulphated galactans that are largely applied to biopolymers for food industrial applications – also containing gelling, emulsifying, and thickening properties that apparently make them useful in food and medical applications.

Meanwhile, polysaccharides derived from brown seaweed are thought to influence the properties of film packaging and join compounds like citric acid and enzymes in the production of active packaging – a process that, according to research, has the potential to be sustainable. When applied to packaging, they are said to increase hydrophilicity, or solubility in water, as well as enhance its mechanical properties such as tensile strength and elongation at break.

Various scientific studies have examined the specific qualities exhibited by seaweed-based packaging; a blend film made with chitosan and kappa-carrageenan apparently produces flexible packaging with a smooth finish, high tensile strength, and improved water resistance. In particular, the kappa-carrageenan cuts down the water vapour permeability, water solubility, and elongation at break. The addition of the organosulfur compound allyl isothiocyanate also improves the gas barrier and coating properties.

Specific types of seaweed, such as Himanthalia elongata – more commonly known as thongweed, sea thong, or sea spaghetti – inhibit the growth of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. This means that their cell walls respectively retain and do not retain the crystal violet stain used in the Gram staining method for bacterial differentiation, and because of this, the thongweed could be used as antimicrobial packaging.

But why seaweed?

Other sectors are already producing seaweed waste; for instance, the food industry adheres to strict quality standards that result in inedible seaweed falling by the wayside. If this re-enters the natural environment, it could have a detrimental effect on marine life.

This is because the rising demand for seaweed is stimulating its cultivation. According to Data Bridge Market Research, “the increasing shelf life of products in the absence of additional logistical support is a major factor driving growth in the global seaweed-based packaging market during the forecast period [2022-2029]”, as well as the increasing concern for sustainable packaging solutions, changing legislation and government policies, and “the establishment of a base for raw materials such as plant-based sources”.

The ability to process seaweed into various forms is anticipated to be another reason behind its market growth, yet Data Bridge Market Research warns that market progress has been slowed due to a temporary lull in production resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic – as well as the apparent superiority of plastic alternatives in terms of tensile strength. Nevertheless, the organisation anticipates that seaweed-based packaging will reach a market value of US$613.42 million by 2029, and DS Smith places the European figure at €9.4 billion by 2030.

Sustainability is also a driving factor. Material innovation company Kelpi explains that seaweed does not require arable land, fertilisers, or fresh water to grow, and is carbon-absorbent. In theory, this results in a renewable, sustainable, and carbon-negative process that deacidifies and deoxygenates the ocean, saves valuable resources, and provides a source of carbohydrates for the production of biomaterials.

“If we cultivated seaweed across just 9% of the world’s oceans, we could remove 53 billion tonnes of CO2 annually from the atmosphere,” claims Vincent Doumeizel in his book La Revolution des Algues. “That’s more carbon sequestered than is currently being emitted.”

An impact report by Notpla has suggested that its own seaweed-based packaging designs have saved 2.83 million single-use plastics from leaking into the environment; furthermore, that its products have displaced 4.4t of plastic in 2022, and that 19 tonnes of CO2 equivalent were avoided by sales of Notpla coating last year. It also conducted an LCA that claims a 70% impact reduction in comparison with traditional paper packaging; an 88% and 72% cut in CO2 equivalent compared to paper and a Heinz ketchup sachet, respectively; and an 88% difference in land impact compared to PLA lining.

Nor is widespread seaweed cultivation thought to take up much space. If Seaweed for Europe’s prediction that European seaweed farming will utilize anywhere between 2.8 million and 8.3 million tonnes of fresh seaweed across various sectors is correct, Notpla calculates that this would require a cultivation capacity of between 7,700 and 26,300 hectares – at maximum, this would fit into the Atlantic Ocean approximately 404,790 times.

That being said, FutureBridge and PKG Branding make similar observations about the price of seaweed packaging. Currently, it costs more than plastic due to the necessity of manual processing. An increase in price could serve as a disincentive for companies to make the transition – or, for smaller organisations with less expendable income, it could become a complete roadblock.

Undecided also attributes the expense to the fact that the scaling-up of seaweed materials is still in progress. In most cases, it remains at pilot scale. For many companies, the chance to switch will not be immediate, but as trials, prototypes, and technological developments continue to emerge, it is not unthinkable that possibilities will arise in the near future.

So, who should we look out for?

Data Bridge Market Research’s report points to such European organisations as Notpla, Tomorrow Machine SE, and Mantrose UK as major players in seaweed-based packaging.

Back in 2014, Tomorrow Machine collaborated withthe start-up Infarm to develop an indoor farming system called Microgarden. Serving as a miniature greenhouse that can be folded and unfolded at will, the solution claims to be made of reusable plastic and uses a seaweed-based, clear agar-agar gel as a growing medium from which plants can absorb moisture – apparently meaning that growers will never need to water their plants.

Around this time, Notpla was founded, with the brand solidifying itself in 2019. Currently, its 30% paperboard material takes unspecified by-products of other seaweed-based production and optimizes their paper properties, adding them to a blend of pulp. The entire process is said to be free of synthetic additives that can impact the product’s biodegradability, like sizing agents and stabilizers – the production process is reportedly completed without utilizing chemical processing, and by extension, the paperboard claims to biodegrade in home compost environments in the span of six weeks.

Notpla’s grease- and water-resistant packaging formats with a plastic-free barrier made of seaweed have been adopted by Just Eat’s webshops in the UK, Austria, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, and Ireland. The packaging was also distributed at the Women’s Euro final at Wembley Stadium; the Women’s Champions League Final in Turin; the Men’s Europa League final in Seville; and the Erste Bank Open ATP 500 tennis tournament in Vienna. Its Ooho edible bubble was also used by Lucozade Sport at its sporting events in 2018.

Since then, Notpla’s seaweed-based packaging has become the first material recognized as “plastic-free” by the Dutch Government in line with the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive.

FlexSea was nominated as a finalist in the pre-commercialized climate category of the Sustainability Awards 2022. Rather than producing its own materials in-house,it relies on red seaweed, which has apparently been cultivated at scale for over half a century – as opposed to brown seaweed, which is sourced from wildly harvested kelp or beached and partially decomposed sargassum – to produce a flexible bioplastic. Once again, the product claims to be home-compostable and biodegrade within eight to twelve weeks, even stating that it is natural enough to be edible.

In the same year, cleantech start-up Sway’s seaweed-based solution to replace petroleum plastics was selected as a finalist for a TOM FORD Plastic Innovation Prize – an award it would later go on to win alongside Notpla and Zerocircle. It describes its packaging as ‘rapidly compostable’ in both home and industrial environments, with the materials hoped to enrich the soil and counteract the environmental harm caused by conventional plastics.

Currently focusing on flexible, thin-film packaging, Sway applies its material to pouches, polybags, and product windows for food, clothing, and homecare products. It is certified at 100% biobased; colour, texture, and transparency customizable; and offers heat sealability and low permeability to air and oil.

As recently as 2023, Kelpi has received over £3 million in funding to contribute towards seaweed-based biomaterial coatings for recyclable and home-compostable food, drink, and cosmetic packaging.

So, too, is Go Do Good Studio commercializing a ‘plastic-free’ flexible material made from seaweed collected from India’s coastal regions. This solution also claims to biodegrade completely within eight weeks, offering an oil- and water-resistant, food-grade, and home-compostable material for the production of cling films, edible films, and transparent pouches.

Sourcing its seaweed from the Indian coast, the company aims to keep the supply chain short, support local fisher communities – a large portion of whom live below the poverty line – and tackle the 11 million tonnes of single-use plastic waste reportedly generated in the country every year.

Innovation is not limited to seaweed-dominant products, however. Seaweed cannot yet and does not intend to replace plastic in every single context, but serves as an alternative for certain applications, as in the internal coating of SUPA’s ‘plastic free’ eco-mate paper bottle. To prevent water damage, the coating consists of seaweed and natural plant latex, with biodegradable accelerators expected to drive its natural breakdown at end of life.

DS Smith previously trialled a production process for such natural materials as seaweed, following its research into how seaweed fibres can be implemented into paper and packaging products as an alternative fibre source to wood.

What comes next for seaweed packaging?

Seaweed is expected by Seaweed for Europe to result in a 5.4 million tonne reduction of CO2 and spare eutrophied European coastal waters from thousands of tonnes of nitrogen and phosphorus, protect coasts from erosion, and preserve biodiversity. The European seaweed industry could potentially generate around 150,000 jobs by 2030.

Adrien Vincent, programme director at Seaweed for Europe, stated: “It is important to distinguish harvesting of wild seaweed and seaweed farming. The former consists of harvesting seaweed from natural underwater forests and doing so in a way that allows for the resource to regrow naturally. Today, 99% of European seaweed production is harvested from the wild, but this part of the industry has been plateauing for the past decade.”

Therefore, he encourages the growth of seaweed ‘spores’ on underwater ropes and nets in a hatchery. He believes that this can be achieved on an even greater scale than is currently available – not only on coastlines but, as research and pilots are beginning to suggest, on large-scale seaweed farms offshore, possibly even integrating with windfarms. Industrial-scale biorefineries could contribute to an increased production of biopolymers, for example.

Oceanium is already on its way towards this vision with its ‘green and clean’ biorefinery technology. Sourcing seaweed from a network of farmers, its biorefining facility apparently takes advantage of the whole plant to produce nutraceuticals and cosmeceuticals, protein and fibre, and seaweed-based materials for bio-packaging.

B’Zeos has a similar, reportedly ‘green’ process of cultivating seaweed, then compounding materials and manufacturing packaging that claims to be home-compostable, recyclable, and even edible. The company is currently working towards the production of flexible film and paper coating. Late last year, it received €1.2k in Eurostars funding from the Eureka Network to develop its SeaweedPack R&D project in collaboration with its partner Moses Productos.

FlexSea’s seaweed-based, 3D-printable pellet for use in the prototyping of home-compostable materials is currently in its pre-commercialized stages. Made from red seaweed polysaccharides and a small amount of bio-based additives, it aims to outperform its home-compostable competitor, PHA/B, with its low processing temperatures and less demanding production process in terms of land, water, and chemicals.

FlexSea claims that the pellet is compatible with 3D printing nozzles instead of filaments, a solution thought to lower cost and energy consumption and preserve the integrity of polymer chains by negating the need to reprocess the material into filament form. Tests are currently being carried out regarding food contact and food migration accreditation alongside the highest compostability and ecotoxicity standards, the company says.

Sway adds that further progress in the seaweed space depends on researchers answering remaining questions about the ecological benefits and implications surrounding its use. These should inform the development of seaweed farms and the introduction of ecologically driven regulation. Also, stakeholders across the value chain, from farmers and product innovators to conservation organizations and policymakers, should discuss, debate, and establish a shared vision for the sustainable development of a seaweed industry.

Undoubtedly, there is still more to come where seaweed is concerned. Although it is a relatively new development in the packaging space, this solution theoretically ticks several boxes on the revised Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive’s agenda and claims to meet the varying needs of manufacturers across the industry. As it scales up further and releases more thorough sustainability credentials, this is certainly a new material to watch out for.



Breakthrough’ in polypropylene recycling could boost plastic packaging circularity

A significant hurdle standing in the way of increasing the use of recycled plastics in food packaging is the risk of potential residues causing non-compliance with food safety standards. Professor Edward Kosior and Paul Marshall of Nextek and NEXTLOOPP claim to have found an innovative solution to this issue, which they outline in our latest comment article.

According to a report by Eunomia, focused on improving the circularity of plastic packaging, undertaken on behalf of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), the lack of common recyclate specifications or consensus in the European market is impeding progress in achieving circularity goals.

The report claims that despite several scientific and EU publications emphasising the need for high-quality recyclate, not to mention existing standards such as the EN standards, the definition of quality recyclates remains unclear, and a framework to implement such quality in the recycling process is lacking.

As a consequence, the European plastics industry is still unable to reach its recycling targets due to insufficient volumes of recycled plastic that fully meet the required quality for all key packaging applications.

If we drill down to one of the most prolific polymers in circulation for both food and non-food applications, Polypropylene (PP), there is no recycled PP authorised for use for direct food contact other than those originating from recycling schemes that must use material from a closed loop system.

This measure, which prevents the inadvertent inclusion of substances that might be introduced by consumers or the goods it contains, has limited recycled PP to secondary or tertiary food packaging articles such as crates, pallets, and totes.

End markets for PP include food packaging, sweet and snack wrappers, hinged caps, and microwave containers, in fact of the PP that is used for packaging, 70% is used for injection moulded pots, tubs & trays. Yet recycled post-consumer plastic from rigid packaging meets only 3% of the demand for PP.

It goes without saying that this is insufficient to meet future targets such as those proposed by PPWR that specify that by 2030 the European Union must include at least 10% recycled content for all packaging, increasing to 50% by 2040.

As such there is a pressing need to recycle post-consumer PP packaging into a suitable material for primary food contact packaging, and understand the sorting and decontamination requirements needed to achieve this.

Given that roughly 20% of the world’s virgin plastic production is PP, boosting the production of food-grade rPP makes both economic and environmental sense.

Mechanically recycling PP also means closing the loop on a valuable material that would be wasted if diverted to other end-of-life solutions with higher carbon footprints, such as waste-to-energy or chemical recycling.

Overcoming the contamination hurdle

Achieving high-quality recycled food-grade PP resin requires eliminating all contaminants from post-consumer waste that could be harmful to human health. It must also be proven that the recycled material does not change the food composition, taste, or odour in an unacceptable way.

Until recently, this was not possible, hence the reliance on virgin plastics for food packaging. Now we have powerful new technologies to not only sort post-consumer packaging, but also effectively eliminate potential residues in the recycled plastics which would cause non-compliance with food safety standards.

Restricting the feedstock to only accept post-consumer PP will ensure many potential contaminants are deliberately excluded. This is reflected in the European Food Safety Association (EFSA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements, stating that all of the feedstock for recycling come from food-grade resins that were previously used for food and that no non-food items are to be intentionally added.

As it stands, material recovery facilities (MRFs) and plastic recycling facilities (PRF) are only sorting materials by polymer type and colour. Sorting of food-grade materials from non-food-grade materials is only being performed by hand, and is an expensive, labour-intensive and time-consuming process.

Harnessing advanced sorting and decontamination frontiers

New technologies have been developed, however, to sort an extended range of categories by machine-based systems. These include the use of fluorescent markers, digital watermarks and artificial intelligence to sort by shape.

Nextek’s patented fluorescent tracking system, PolyPPrism is a simple but highly effective technology that makes use of luminescent materials applied to plastic packaging labels or sleeves. The labels contain markers with specific wavelengths that emit when illuminated under ultra-violet light at 365nm. This emission can be coupled with the spectroscopy response of the polymer to uniquely identify and eject the packaging item. This allows a wide range of products to be uniquely separated from a mixed stream of packaging items.

This step is followed by a unique, high-performing decontamination process that extracts volatile and semi-volatile compounds from the PP. This involves a two-step process, starting with decontaminating during a high-temperature extrusion stage under high vacuum for an extended residence time (minutes), followed by a second stage of decontamination through exposure to vacuum in the solid state for a much longer period (hours).

Using this technology NEXTLOOPP has conducted the EFSA and FDA challenge tests that require deliberate contamination of the plastic material to higher levels than that typically found in the post-consumer stream. These challenge tests demonstrate the removal of all types of contaminants that might come in contact with the post-consumer plastic packaging back to food-grade standards to ensure safety in food contact applications.

Characterising PP contamination levels in post-consumer packaging

This raises the important topic of characterising the residues in post-consumer packaging that have been sorted into mono-polymer fractions. This is done by analysing and testing multiple batches of food/non-food samples to see what molecules are present and if there are any areas of concern.

Until recently there has been very little data showing the misuse rate within PP feedstocks, yet this background level of post-consumer product residues is vital as it defines the molecules that will need to be removed by the decontamination process and the residual levels that could potentially migrate into food.

This led Nextek to undertake their own study into the contamination rate of PP feedstocks in the UK to establish a reference contamination level for PP using the techniques used by Franz and Welle. The key variation to the Franz and Welle methods is that a GC mass spectrometer (GC-MS) was used to analyse the headspace of PP flakes, allowing for the identification of substances that cause samples to be outliers.

This provided further information as to whether the substances observed are genotoxic, which is the critical criteria for EFSA safety evaluations, and potentially determine if the substance is likely to be derived from the mis-selection of a piece of non-food PP packaging, which is not necessarily a case of misuse.

Although PP has very similar properties to HDPE being olefinic, the article format of PP being mainly trays, pots and tubs and rarely in bottles, may reduce the chances of it being in a consumer-misuse scenario.

A large proportion of PET packaging is relatively durable, with a tight closure, making it a container of choice when used for the storage of hazardous materials.

Because HDPE packaging is in bottle form with a closure it may also be used in such a scenario.

The proportion of PP food containers in bottle form is expected to be relatively low in comparison to PET and HDPE, where the majority of PP food containers would be in the aforementioned pots, tubs, or trays, with limited closure capability.

Nextek conducted this in-depth study of PP using a 20-tonne batch of PP bales sourced from a UK-based materials recovery facility (MRF). The co-mingled kerbside collections were sorted into material types such as fibre, plastics, and metals, and plastics were further sorted into categories of PET, PE and PP.

The 20-tonne batch was first sorted using automatic optical sorters into separated colour fractions of natural (clear), white and coloured articles. Each colour fraction was then hand sorted into articles from food applications and articles from non-food applications. The output mass of each food application fraction was 5.2 tonnes of natural, 1.7 tonnes of white, and 3.5 tonnes of multi-coloured PP. The average mass of a PP article was measured to be approximately 40 g per article; therefore, each fraction represented 130,000, 42,500 and 87,500 individual items respectively, and 260,000 individual items collectively.

Compositional analyses were carried out on each of the food application fractions. The articles were granulated into flakes as batches followed by washing in a conventional caustic hotwash. Samples of washed and dried flake (approximately 2 kg per sample) were taken every 15 minutes throughout the processing of the batches.

A composite sample for each batch was made by combining the samples collected during processing. The flake size was such that there were approximately 50 individual flakes per 1 g, and approximately 12 – 13 flakes accounted for half the sample mass. It’s estimated to be approximately 25 significantly sized flakes per 1 g. Approximately 200 subsamples, each 1 g, per composite sample were placed into 20 mL headspace vials for GC-MS analysis, resulting in an approximate combined total of 700 samples used in the analytical study.

The 700 tests represent approximately 17,500 different PP items based on 25 significantly sized flakes per test, estimated to be a cross-sectional representation of 7% of the articles from the combination of batches of 260,000 articles.

Following their contamination study Nextek was able to characterise the contamination levels in PP and conclude that they are in the order of 10x less than what we expect in HDPE milk bottles and 100x less than expected in PET.

These results reinforce Nextek’s global multi-participant project, NEXTLOOPP, which is closing the loop on food-grade recycled PP. By deploying innovative technology to effectively sort post-consumer PP packaging, the project is now harnessing these study findings to fast-track the production of their unique INRT-grade of rPP and food-grade rPP.

Unlocking the full value of plastic materials will go a long way towards reducing global plastic pollution, not to mention reducing plastic’s carbon footprint. If we hone in on PP alone, recycling 63,000t of PP per year would save a minimum estimated 105,600t in CO2 emissions in the UK per annum.

We now have the technology and expertise at our fingertips to make a fundamental impact on improving plastic packaging’s circularity, and in so doing, reducing our CO2 footprint and our plastic pollution.


News & Updates Sustainability

Compostable Tray Nudges EPS From the Meat Case

SEE’s new compostable tray performs as well as standard protein trays on food processing equipment and in distribution.

t a Glance

  • SEE’s new compostable meat tray offers an alternative to EPS and PET meat packaging
  • The tray runs at high speeds on existing overwrapping equipment
  • Tray is BPI-certified as industrially compostable, with DIN home-composting certification expected soon

SEE, formerly Sealed Air, has developed a bio-based, industrially compostable meat tray to replace expanded polystyrene (EPS) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) trays on existing overwrappers with no changes to the equipment.

The food-contact-grade tray was introduced at the recent International Product and Processing Expo, held January 30 to February 1, 2024, in Atlanta.

The new Cryovac compostable overwrap tray is made from a resin that’s USDA-certified as having 54% bio-based content chemically derived from responsibly sourced wood cellulose.

In addition to cellulose, the tray material contains 45% recycled content from mixed waste. This waste, which includes a variety of difficult-to-recycle plastics, is broken down into molecules to form acetic acid, which is then combined with wood pulp to create resin pellets.

SEE developed the compostable tray as a more environmentally friendly alternative to EPS and PET case-ready meat trays. The bio-based resin contains no per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

Compostable tray: in-plant pluses and products.

“SEE’s compostable tray has been proven to maintain the same operational efficiencies on food processing lines as traditional trays. The tray is engineered for high speeds, including denesting, machine handling, and boxing operations,” says Tiffani Burt, executive director of sustainability, graphics, and smart packaging, at SEE.

Packaging applications for the new tray include fresh poultry, beef, pork, lamb, veal, seafood, smoked and processed meats, and alternative proteins.

SEE reports that the lightweight biopolymer tray’s performance and stability are comparable to that of conventional trays. Extensive testing throughout the food value chain showed the compostable tray performs well, without leaking, cracking, or breaking, in demanding manufacturing and distribution environments and at extreme temperatures.

“A leading brand owner initially collaborated with SEE to test the compostable tray on existing food production lines and is now using the tray to package some products for retailers,” Burt says. “We continue to test the tray with leading processors.”CompostableTray_PorkGroup_Angle-1600-570.png


Tray’s compostable certifications.

BPI has certified the new tray — sans overwrap, pad, and label/sticker — as compostable, which means it can be broken down via biological treatment at large-scale, commercial composting facilities.

Home-compostable status is on the horizon, as well. “The home-composability certification process for SEE’s compostable tray is underway now. We expect to receive DIN [Deutsches Institut für Normun] certification” in summer 2024, Burt says.

Additionally, TÜV Austria has certified the tray’s resin as soil- and marine-biodegradable; microorganisms existing in nature can break down the material with no microplastic left behind.SEE-CompostableTray_Chickbrst_Aerial-1600x900.png


Overwrap and retail considerations, options.

SEE currently offers the compostable tray in a 9-in. x 7-in. format (also known as 3P), “which is one of the largest-volume trays in the industry. Additional tray sizes will be available later this year,” Burt says.

The filled tray is finished with a heat-sealed overwrap film and is compatible with commonly used overwrap films, including Cryovac side-end-seal (SES) film, barrier display film (BDF), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) film.

Shelf-life for proteins packed in the biopolymer tray is comparable to that of products packed in either EPS or amorphous PET (aPET) trays, SEE reports.

The bottom of the tray is embossed with language stating that it is industrially compostable. In addition, “retailers may choose to apply for the How2Compost label to be placed on the overwrap film or use other language stating the tray is compostable. Brands are also able to make labeling choices based on their needs,” Burt says.

“Ultimately, messaging on the overwrap film will depend on the sustainability needs/goals of the processor, brand owner, or retailer,” she adds.