Packaging News

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Plant-based polymers leave no microplastics - US study

Hopes that breakthrough could signal a new age of eco-friendly materials

Could this research spell the beginning of the end for microplastics?

Plant-based polymers can fully biodegrade at the microplastic level in less than seven months, according to a new US study.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego - in conjunction with a company called Algenesis - found that the biodegradable plastic tested was fully digested by microbes when placed in a compost.

With microplastics becoming more pervasive, finding viable alternatives to traditional fossil-fuel based plastics has never been more important, but the authors of this new research paper believe they can give people hope.

"We're just starting to understand the implications of microplastics," said Michael Burkart, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, one of the paper's authors and a co-founder of Algenesis.

"We've only scratched the surface of knowing the environmental and health impacts. We're trying to find replacements for materials that already exist, and make sure these replacements will biodegrade at the end of their useful life instead of collecting in the environment. That's not easy."

Fellow paper author Prof. Robert Pomeroy, who is also an Algenesis co-founder, said: "When we first created these algae-based polymers about six years ago, our intention was always that it be completely biodegradable.

"We had plenty of data to suggest that our material was disappearing in the compost, but this is the first time we’ve measured it at the microparticle level."

Testing biodegradability

To assess the biodegradability of the plant-based polymer, the research team ground their product into fine microparticles and performed three tests on the material to confirm that, when placed in a compost, it was being digested by microbes. These were:

  • CO2 levels - using a respirometer, the researchers measured how much carbon dioxide (CO2) was released by the composted material. When compared to the breakdown of cellulose - considered the industry standard of biodegradability - the plant-based polymer matched this at almost 100%.
  • Water floatation - 200 days after placing microplastics in water, only 3% of the algae-based microplastics were recovered from its surface, indicating that 97% of it had biodegraded. By contrast, almost 100% of the petroleum-based microplastics were recovered (0% biodegradation).
  • Chemical analysis - gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GCMS) - which detects the presence of the monomers used to make the plastic - indicated that the polymer was being broken to its starting plant materials. Further study through scanning-electron microscopy demonstrated further how microorganisms colonise the algae-based microplastics during the composting process.

A breakthrough for the packaging industry?

Biodegradable polymers have, for some time, been used to create more sustainable packaging that can be disposed of in a composting environment.

Products such as compostable mailing bags and compostable waste sacks are becoming increasingly popular with consumers.

But with the contribution of microplastics to pollution levels and associated risks to human health, opportunites to use a range of polymers that do not create microplastics would no doubt be welcomed across the industry.

"This material is the first plastic demonstrated to not create microplastics as we use it," said Professor Stephen Mayfield, another of the paper's co-authors and co-founder of Algenesis.

"This is more than just a sustainable solution for the end-of-product life cycle and our crowded landfills. This is actually plastic that is not going to make us sick."

Many challenges remain for companies such as Algenesis looking to create eco-friendly polymers - and the creation of a suitable material itself is just one of them.

For any new material to become a viable alternative to traditional fossil-fuel-based plastics, one significant challenge is being able to use that material on pre-existing manufacturing equipment originally built for traditional plastic.

Algenesis has already partnered with several companies to make products such as cell phone cases using the plant-based polymers developed in the laboratory, and the research team from UC San Diego believe they are making progress.

"When we started this work, we were told it was impossible," added Burkart. "Now we see a different reality. There's a lot of work to be done, but we want to give people hope. It is possible."

The full research paper can be found in Nature Scientific Reports, volume 14, article number 6036 (2024).

Aldi trials double loo rolls in bid to cut plastic waste

Larger rolls mean less packaging and fewer delivery journeys

Aldi introduces double toilet roll trial

Aldi has introduced double toilet rolls to selected stores in a bid to reduce plastic waste and their carbon footprint.

The German retailer has doubled the volume of sheets per roll on some of its own-brand lines, which in turn reduces the size of the packaging.

If the trial is successful and rolled out across all Aldi stores, this could remove 60 tonnes of plastic packaging from Aldi per year. Plus, as delivery trucks will be able to fit on more packs, fewer delivery journeys will be required, thereby reducing their carbon footprint.

The UK’s fourth-largest supermarket has launched a number of green initiatives in recent years, including introducing clear milk bottle tops and fully-recyclable handwash pumps in a bid to reduce plastic waste.

The supermarket - recently voted the UK’s cheapest for the third straight year - has also improved recycling options for its customers, by joining the Podback recycling scheme, as well as introducing soft-plastic recycling points to its stores.

The trial, which will take place in the West Midlands, East Midlands and Yorkshire and will see double toilet rolls available to buy in four, six, eight and twelve packs.

Luke Emery, Aldi's plastics and packaging director, said: "At Aldi, we're working hard to reduce our environmental footprint wherever we can, and we're always looking for new ways to make a difference.

"Reducing the plastic waste and carbon emissions related to such a widely-used product will have a huge positive impact, and it’s just one example of some exciting changes we have in the pipeline."

Image courtesy of Aldi.

Get your presents on Santa's sleigh - your last posting dates for Christmas 2023

Royal Mail advises posting gifts early, particularly for International deliveries.

Dont miss your Royal Mail Christmas post deadline!

Christmas is coming and that means presents will soon be flying all over the world to grateful girls and boys - but Santa isn't the only one doing the deliveries!

Royal Mail delivers hundreds of thousands of parcels in the weeks leading up to Christmas and, as the country's leading delivery provider, they will once again be taking up the bulk of the work before auld St Nick himself finishes off the job on the night before Christmas.

With last year's Christmas post affected by staff industrial action, Royal Mail's 2023 schedule is back to something more like normal, but the advice from their advice is still to get your presents posted as early as possible, particularly if posting gifts overseas.

So whether you're sending a gift in a colourful sparkling mailing bag to your eight-year-old niece, a classic paper mailing bag to your 80-year-old grandfather or an eco-friendly compostable mailing bag to your green-fingered auntie, then make sure you get them in the post by the dates below to ensure they make it before the big day.

Royal Mail's recommended last posting dates for Christmas 2023:

Domestic Services

  • Monday 18 December: 2nd Class, 2nd Class Signed For, Royal Mail 48
  • Wednesday 20 December: 1st Class, 1st Class Signed For, Royal Mail 24, Royal Mail Tracked 48*
  • Thursday 21 December: Special Delivery Guaranteed, Royal Mail Tracked 24*
  • Friday 22 December: Special Delivery Guaranteed (Saturday delivery for an extra fee)

* Please note: Royal Mail Tracked 24 and Royal Mail Tracked 48 are available online only. These services are not available to purchase at Post Office branches.

International Tracking & Signature Services

The following recommended last posting dates are for customers purchasing international tracking and signature services at a Post Office. If purchasing this postage online, these recommended dates will be later (see notes 1-3).

  • Wednesday 6 December[1]: Africa, Central & South America, Asia, Australia, Bulgaria, Caribbean, China (People’s Republic), Far & Middle East, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain
  • Thursday 7 December[2]: Cyprus and Malta
  • Friday 8 December[3]: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Eastern Europe, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, USA

[1] Extended to Monday 11 December if purchased online
[2] Extended to Tuesday 12 December if purchased online
[3] Extended to Wednesday 13 December if purchased online

International Standard Service

The following recommended last posting dates are for customers purchasing international standard postage at a Post Office. If purchasing this postage online, these recommended dates will be later (see notes 4-6).

  • Monday 4 December[4]: Africa, Central & South America, Asia, Australia, Caribbean, China (People’s Republic), Far & Middle East, New Zealand
  • Tuesday 5 December[5]: Cyprus, Malta, Portugal, Spain
  • Wednesday 6 December[6]: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Eastern Europe (except Czech Republic & Poland), France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Switzerland, Turkey
  • Thursday 7 December[7]: Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Italy, Poland, Sweden, USA

[4] Extended to Tuesday 5 December if purchased online
[5] Extended to Wednesday 6 December (Cyprus, Malta) or Thursday 7 December (Portugal, Spain) if purchased online
[6] Extended to Thursday 7 December if purchased online
[7] Extended to Friday 8 December if purchased online

HM Forces Mail - British Forces Post Office (BFPO)

  • Monday 27 November: To Operational HM Forces
  • Monday 4 December: To Static HM Forces

M&S launches plastic-free recyclable coffee cup

Retailer says product will be the first 100% paper, plastic-free and easily recyclable takeaway coffee cup on the high street

M&S launches recyclable paper coffee cup

Marks & Spencer has launched a new paper fibre coffee cup, which it says will remove over 20 million units of plastic from its food business.

The high street giant claims to be the first major high street coffee retailer to offer its hot drinks in 100% paper, plastic-free and easily recyclable coffee cups and lids.

The brand new and exclusive cup - which proudly displays a '100% recyclable' banner - is available initially across 20 M&S sites including cafes, vended coffee points and marketplaces within M&S Food Halls, and will soon to rolling out to all 300-plus M&S cafes across the UK.

Regular paper coffee cups have long been a huge thorn in the side of the recycling industry. Whilst most are predominantly made of paper, a thin layer of plastic coating the inside of the cup - to prevent the paper becoming wet - means that the products can not be easily recycled.

As a result, coffee cups have not been suitable for regular household recycling, requiring instead takeback schemes and specific recycling processes, which are operated by only a small number of UK recycling firms.

M&S's new cups and lids are made from innovative organic materials which can be recycled like any other paper products.

Independent testing and assurance found the cups' lining - which has a plastic free accreditation - to replicate the same barrier effect of plastic, but without the same long-term environmental impact if not properly recycled.

M&S predicts that their new coffee cup and lid will remove 20 million units of plastic packaging from its food business each year. This follows on from the introduction of reusable paper bags at tills across every M&S store.

The retailer has a target of removing one billion units of plastic from its food packaging and so is looking for further ways to reduces its environmental impact.

Of course, the most sustainable option for a takeaway coffee is for customers to provide their own reusable cup, and M&S are offering cafe customers a 50p discount on all hot drinks if they make this eco-friendly choice.

For those that don't or can't, M&S believe that their new cups provide the next best thing, when it comes to being kind to the planet.

M&S Food managing Director Alex Freudmann said: "Our customers look to us to lead on the environment and we are constantly aiming to raise the bar and lower our impact on the planet. With one in every two of us visiting a coffee shop several times a week the long-lasting damage coffee cups can have on the planet without being properly recycled is huge.

"That's why we were determined to bring a sustainable alternative to what's out there today, and we're proud to offer customers the first fully recyclable coffee cup on the high street. For me our coffee now ticks three big boxes – it's delicious, it supports our growers and suppliers with every purchase, and now it comes in easy to recycle cups too."

Image courtesy of Marks & Spencer.

Is your business ready for Christmas? Don't miss these last-minute festive packaging offers!

Retailers around the world offer last-minute Christmas packaging offers

Christmas packaging offers 2023

You better watch out, you better not cry.
You better not pout, I'm telling you why.
Packaging bargains are coming to town.

Make a shopping list and then check it twice,
For festive designs and goods that are nice.
Packaging bargains are coming to town.

The festive season is almost upon us and Christmas shoppers everywhere are looking for a festive bargain or two… or three or four.

Consumer spending this Christmas is forecast to be up 3.4% on 2022 (GlobalData) but with retail prices up 9.3% on last year, that means Christmas shoppers will be spending less in real terms.

With customers trimming their budget and seeking out bargains, retailers have to do likewise to keep their prices low, including when it comes to packaging.

But whether you're buying packaging for a business or yourself this Christmas, the good news is there are plenty of Christmas bargains to be had, wherever you are in the world.

In the United States, retailers can pick up festive mailing bags at Walmart, whilst PaperMart offer a great selection of Christmas packaging, including boxes, bags and ribbon.

Canadian retailers will find some smart but festive red paper bags at Creative Bag, whilst Canadian Tire has a lovely selection of Christmas gift bags and boxes.

It might be hot and sunny for Christmas in Australia, but there's still a great selection of festive packaging on offer, including Christmas bags at Gift Packaging and Christmas gift boxes at Box Works.

New Zealand retailers can pick up a wide range of Christmas packaging at Sweet Pea Parties, whilst shoppers looking for an eco-friendly replacement for traditional wrapping paper should look no further than the reusable Christmas gift bags on sale at Felt.

In South Africa, Cab Foods offer a great range of Christmas packaging, whilst online retailers looking to spread the Christmas cheer with their deliveries can pick up mailing bags with a festive design at Desert Cart.

Last but by no means least, UK retailers in need of any Christmas packaging should head to Polybags, who have a range of festive special offers for customers, including a whopping 30% off their range of gift carrier and bottle bags - ideal for a range of Christmas presents - and 15% off extra large clear polythene bags - perfect for Santa to leave a big pile of presents under the tree.

This year, Polybags has expanded its fantastic range of Christmas carrier bags to include classic brown paper carriers, along with their classic white polythene carriers - all printed with festive designs.

Any retailers looking to top up on their Christmas essentials, Polybags also has you covered with the UK's best selection of mailing bags and carrier bags for that busy Christmas period, along with the UK's most extensive range of eco-friendly packaging - including biodegradable, recyclable, compostable and 100%-recycled products.

As ever, Polybags' service comes with fast, free delivery on all UK orders as standard, along with a next day express options for any last-minute Christmas top-ups, plus their five-star Trustpilot rating - with an approval score of 98% - means you can trust them to deliver the packaging you need with the quality of service you want, which means one less thing for you to worry about during this busy Christmas period.

Product images courtesy of the retailers listed above. Christmas tree design generated by Bing Create AI.

Tesco hits packaging milestone as more plastic removed

UK's largest retailer has removed two billion pieces of plastic from its business

Tesco removes 2 billion pieces of plastic from its business

Tesco has announced the removal of two billion pieces of plastic from its UK business in the last four years.

The UK's largest supermarket launched its 4Rs packaging strategy - which stands for Remove, Reduce, Re-use, Recycle - in 2019.

Since then, the retail giant has made many changes to its packaging range, including switching its own-brand laundry packaging from plastic to cardboard and running a year-long reusable packaging trial.

Tesco says that it has removed 500 million pieces of unnecessary plastic from its stores in the last 12 months alone, including:

  • 30 million plastic yoghurt lids
  • 29 million pieces of plastic from its limescale tablet packaging
  • Nearly 24 million plastic windows from its doughnut packaging
  • Nearly nine million pieces of plastic from its nappy packaging

Tesco's responsible sourcing director Kené Umeasiegbu said: "We all have a responsibility to take care of our planet and removing unnecessary plastic is an important way that Tesco can reduce its environmental impact.

"As well as taking action in our own operations, we want to work with the whole industry to continue to build on the progress we’ve made to Remove, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle more."

Tesco's reusable packaging trial - run in conjunction with Loop - was the UK's largest trial of its kind, allowing customers in 10 Tesco stores to purchase over 150 product lines in reusable packaging.

The trial ended in July 2022 with a report calling for greater collaboration across the industry to scale the reusable packaging market.

The 2022 report said: "no single retailer or supplier can move the market on their own", adding that both "need help to work together in a competitive space with a backdrop of competition law on reuse", finding ways to "give products in reusable packaging price parity with their single use alternatives".

In a new 2023 report on their 4Rs strategy - entitled "Working together to tackle problem plastic and packaging" - Tesco has further outlined efforts required by retailers, industry and government to help transform the UK’s approach to packaging. Ideas include:

  • Creating a level playing field for removing packaging in produce
  • Supporting government efforts to introduce consistent kerbside recycling across the UK
  • Ensuring deposit return schemes are viable and sustainable

Image courtesy of Tesco.

16,000 temp workers to help Royal Mail beat the Christmas rush

UK's largest delivery provider to open five temporary sorting centres and expand vehicle fleet in a bid to curb customer dissatisfaction

Royal Mail to employ 16,000 extra staff for Christmas 2023

Royal Mail is set to employ 16,000 temporary workers in a bid to ensure customers receive cards and parcels on time this Christmas.

The new jobs - which will be based in 38 different mail sorting centres around the UK - include 8,000 posts in England, 1,200 in Scotland and 500 in both Wales and Northern Ireland.

Contracts for the posts will run from the end of October to early January, covering the busy Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend in November, as well as the Christmas period.

Five temporary new parcel sorting centres will open for the festive period - in Atherstone, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Daventry and Greenford - with an extra 6,800 trucks and vans added to the company’s fleet.

According to the Pitney Bowes Parcel Shipping Index, 5.1 billion parcels were sent in the UK in 2022, which equates to 162 parcels per second.

Royal Mail was responsible for 1.3 billion of those parcel deliveries in 2022, which means there will be a lot of packages, boxes and mailing bags for sorting office staff to work through during their busiest time of the year.

Whilst they remain the UK's largest delivery provider, Royal Mail's market share has dropped from 30% in 2021 to 25% in 2022, as the company faced a challenging year - including industrial action by postal workers during the Christmas period.

With customer dissatisfaction on the increase, Royal Mail this year lost its 360-year monopoly on delivering parcels from Post Office sites, with Evri and DPD now among the selection of couriers offered to customers at Post Office counters since June.

Against that difficult background, Royal Mail executives know the importance of delivering a good service this Christmas to prevent further customer dissatisfaction, but they believe they are prepared to ensure people can rely on them this Christmas.

"We are pulling out all the stops to deliver Christmas for our customers," said Royal Mail's chief operating officer Grant McPherson.

"It's our busiest time of the year and we know how important it is for people that we deliver letters and parcels on time.

"By planning ahead and hiring more people, vans and trucks, we are well prepared to handle the expected increased festive mail and parcels and deliver the high standards of service our customers expect from Royal Mail."

Image courtesy of Phil Hearing (@philhearing) on Unsplash.

Sainsbury’s switches laundry detergent from plastic bottles to cardboard cartons

Lighter packaging will also help to reduce carbon emissions

Sainsbury's new laundry detergent cartons will reduce the amount of plastic used by 80%

Sainsbury's has become the first UK retailer to switch its own-brand liquid laundry detergent from plastic bottles to cardboard cartons.

The retailer says the new, lighter packaging will reduce the amount of plastic used by 80% - saving 22 tonnes per year - whilst also reducing carbon emissions by 50%.

The new cardboard cartons - to be launched across Sainsbury's entire own-brand range of 750ml laundry detergents - are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) - and can be recycled at kerbside or deposited at recycling banks.

According to data from suppliers Elopak, the new cartons - which are 35% lighter than the original packaging - will take 13 lorries off the road annually, reducing carbon emissions for this range by 50%.

Sainsbury's say the move will help them make progress against their target to be net zero in its own operations by 2035.

The UK's second largest supermarket has also committed to halve its use of own-brand plastic packaging by 2025.

Image courtesy of Sainsbury's.

Lidl introduces twin policies to reduce plastic waste

Lidl introduce twin initiatives to tackle plastic waste
  • Vacuum-packed beef mince to reduce plastic use by two-thirds
  • Own-brand water bottles to incorporate Prevented Ocean Plastic™

Lidl GB has announced two initiatives that will reduce plastic waste across its 960 UK stores.

The discount retailer has revealed plans to introduce new vacuum-packed, recyclable packaging across its beef mince range that will reduce plastic use by almost two thirds (63%).

The UK's sixth-largest supermarket will also be incorporating Prevented Ocean Plastic™ into its water bottles - plastic that would have otherwise ended up in the ocean - becoming the first UK supermarket to make such a change.

These latest initiatives form part of Lidl's commitment to tackle plastic waste and reduce its own-label plastic packaging by 40% by 2025.

Vacuum-packed beef mince to cut plastic by two-thirds

When Lidl introduces new vacuum-packed, recyclable packaging across its beef mince range in early 2024, the switch will reduce the amount of plastic used by 63%.

The new policy will collectively save over 250 tonnes of plastic a year, whilst the valuable space-saving provided by the smaller packs will result in the equivalent of up to 350 delivery trucks being taken off the road per year.

Another benefit of storing food in vacuum bags is the extension of its shelf-life. Lidl estimate that the new packs will double the shelf-life of its 100% British beef, which will half the amount of waste in store.

The new packaging range will provide benefits for Lidl shoppers, including:

  • Beef kept fresh for longer - shelf-life doubled from eight to approx 16 days
  • Easy-peel film, so that customers don’t have to touch raw meat
  • Smaller footprint pack, taking up less storage space in the fridge or freezer

Shyam Unarket, Lidl GB's Head of Responsible Sourcing & Ethical Trade, said: "Plastic reduction is a huge priority for us, but we also recognise the important role that plastic plays in our daily lives.

That's why it's hugely important that our plastic reduction strategy is centred around a progressive circular programme. By ensuring that any new packaging is recyclable, we'll be able to help prevent plastic pollution in our environment.

Ocean waste destined for Lidl water bottles

From this summer, Lidl's own-brand mineral water range will include ocean-bound plastic in its bottles.

The retailer's San Celestino Italian sparkling mineral water bottles will contain a minimum of 30% Prevented Ocean Plastic™ - plastic which would have otherwise ended up in the ocean.

Lidl is the first UK supermarket to make this change, which it says will prevent almost almost 100 tonnes of plastic from entering the ocean each year - the equivalent of nearly four million plastic bottles.

The German-owned retailer has been leading the way in this area since 2020, when it became the first UK supermarket to introduce food packaging using Prevented Ocean Plastic™.

It has since been rolled out across a range of Lidl's own-brand fish, poultry, sausage and fresh fruit products, saving the equivalent of more than 15 million plastic water bottles from entering the ocean in those three years.

Lidl also recently changed all semi-skimmed milk caps from coloured to clear to improve their recyclability - a switch soon to be transitioned across its entire milk range.

Shyam Unarket said: "As pioneers of integrating ocean bound plastic into our packaging in 2020, we have been consistently building and improving on our efforts since, and are proud to now extend Prevented Ocean Plastic™ into water bottles. Through this latest product development, we hope to inspire wider efforts across the industry."

Supplied and developed in conjunction with Bantam Materials, Prevented Ocean Plastic™ packaging is made from discarded water bottles in South East Asia, that have been found within 30 miles of a coastline or major waterway feeding into the ocean.

Lidl says that all plastic waste is then sorted and processed before being used in packaging, with a fully traceable process and robust documented chain of accountability.

Images courtesy of Lidl GB.

M&S recycling scheme targets beauty product packaging

Beauty Takeback Scheme aims to make it easier to recycle beauty product 'empties'

M&S's Beauty Takeback Scheme makes it easier to recycle empties

Marks & Spencer has launched a Beauty Takeback Scheme that will allow customers to drop off empty beauty product packaging at 40 stores across the UK.

The high street retailer has teamed up with beauty recycling experts HANDLE to launch the scheme, which is predicted to collect over two tonnes of empty beauty packaging within its first year.

Packaging is one of the biggest sustainability challenges facing the beauty industry, with poor recycling rates due to packaging materials and components that can not be processed through mainstream recycling infrastructure.

The new scheme will enable this hard-to-recycle product packaging - which commonly ends up in landfill - to be recycled and turned into new packaging and products.

M&S customers can return any form of plastic or aluminium beauty packaging into dedicated boxes located within the store’s beauty section.

This includes packaging items that often fall through the recycling net, such as bottles, tubes, caps, pumps and tubs, and covers packaging from any retailer, not just M&S.

The HANDLE programme is starting out as a take-back recycling scheme, but aims to build toward a circular system for M&S beauty, where the materials collected are used to create new products and packaging.

Carmel McQuaid, Head of Environmental, Social and Governance at M&S, said: "Plastic is one of the biggest challenges facing the beauty industry and, whilst there is still lots more to do, we hope this scheme encourages customers to recycle their beauty empties to give them a second life and reduce the amount of packaging that goes to landfill."

Tom Murgatroyd, Co-Founder of Handle Recycling, said: "We are thrilled to announce our partnership with M&S, our mission is to reduce the environmental impact of Beauty Packaging and this partnership helps to elevate awareness and action toward this mission to the next level."

"We aim to support M&S with projects that promote reuse and circularity, as both are challenging yet critical aspirations for us all to attain for the sake our planet and future generations."

Image courtesy of Marks & Spencer.

Asda and Aldi to introduce clear milk bottle tops to all stores

Two more leading supermarkets to remove colour pigment from lids in a bid to improve recycling rates

Asda and Aldi to introduce clear bottle tops across their milk range

Aldi and Asda are the latest supermarkets to announce they are switching to clear bottle caps on their milk ranges.

The UK's third- and fourth-largest supermarkets are replacing coloured caps in a bid to improve the recyclability of bottles.

The switch means that a combined extra 468 tonnes of High-Density Polythene (rHDPE) per year is now able to be recycled to create new milk bottles.

Asda, in partnership with Arla, the UK’s largest dairy cooperative, is introducing clear tops across its own-label milk range - equating to 207 million plastic milk caps each year. The change will also affect Yeo Valley fresh milk.

Aldi is switching to colourless milk caps across all of its 990 UK stores, following a successful trial last year.

Customers in both stores will be able to distinguish between the different varieties of milk by the coloured labelling on all milk bottles.

Fiona Dobson, Asda's lead packaging strategy and innovation manager, said: "We are committed to finding ways to reduce our environmental impact.

"The introduction of clear caps on our milk bottles is part of our wider commitment to drive 100% recyclability packaging and increase recycled content levels across all of our products by 2025."

Luke Emery, Plastics and Packaging Director at Aldi, said: "We are constantly reviewing ways to become a more sustainable supermarket and cut down on single-use plastic. That means working closely with our suppliers to find solutions that will make a real difference.

"Improving the recyclability of packaging on an everyday product like milk has been well received by our customers, who are increasingly aware of products being environmentally friendly."

Milk bottle tops have always proved more difficult to recycle than plastic bottles themselves - or indeed soft plastics such as clear polythene bags - due to the colour pigment contained in the caps that can not be easily recycled back into food-grade packaging.

As with many recent green packaging initiatives, it was the UK's discount supermarkets that lead the way in tackling the issue, by introducing clear bottle tops to their products.

Along with Aldi's trial, last year also saw Lidl introduce clear bottle tops to its own milk range in November, following a successful trial.

Jayne Paramor, strategic technical manager for plastics at the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP), welcomes leading UK retailers making small but significant steps towards a circular economy for plastic packaging.

"Clear, colourless plastics have much higher demand as recycled material, so removing pigments will help to produce valuable recycled plastics and build end markets for these reprocessed materials, ensuring that they find a second life as new products, including new milk bottles and lids", said Paramor.

"This small but impactful change is helping to make the UK’s milk bottles – which are already widely recycled into new milk bottles and a fantastic example of the circular economy for plastics in action – even more recyclable. An exemplary step in developing a circular economy for plastics."

What is AI's future in packaging?

A futuristic packaging conveyor belt

AI will impact every aspect of our lives, with the packaging industry no exception to this.

In an ever-changing world, AI will play an integral role in the development of packaging, but what does AI itself think about the future of the industry?

We used AI to write an article on the evolution of packaging and the transformative impact that AI might have on the industry.

Unleashing the potential: AI's belief on the evolution of packaging

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has revolutionised numerous industries, and packaging is no exception.

As technology advances at an unprecedented rate, AI is playing a crucial role in reshaping the packaging landscape. With its ability to analyse vast amounts of data, identify patterns, and make intelligent decisions, AI is driving the evolution of packaging to new heights.

Intelligent design

One of the key contributions of AI in packaging is the creation of intelligent designs. Traditionally, packaging design relied on human creativity and intuition. However, AI algorithms can now analyse consumer data, market trends, and even cultural influences to generate highly optimised packaging designs.

By considering factors such as visual appeal, functionality, and sustainability, AI is enabling the development of packaging that resonates with consumers while reducing waste and environmental impact.

Personalisation and customisation

AI's ability to process vast amounts of consumer data empowers companies to personalise and customise their packaging. By analysing customer preferences, purchasing behaviour, and demographic information, AI algorithms can generate tailored packaging solutions.

This personalisation not only enhances customer satisfaction but also strengthens brand loyalty and drives sales. AI-driven customisation can range from simple elements like personalised messages or graphics to complex variations of packaging design for different target markets.

Enhanced sustainability

Sustainability is a pressing concern for the packaging industry, and AI is driving significant progress in this area. AI algorithms can analyse and optimise packaging materials, reducing waste and environmental impact.

By considering factors such as recyclability, durability, and weight reduction, AI helps companies develop sustainable packaging solutions without compromising product protection and consumer experience.

Additionally, AI-powered supply chain optimisation reduces energy consumption and carbon emissions associated with packaging production and distribution.

Quality control and safety

Ensuring product quality and safety is paramount in the packaging industry. AI is transforming quality control processes by automating inspections and detecting defects with unprecedented accuracy.

Machine vision systems equipped with AI algorithms can quickly identify issues such as packaging defects, labelling errors, or contamination. This reduces the risk of faulty products reaching consumers, safeguards brand reputation, and minimises costly recalls.

Supply chain optimisation

AI's impact on packaging extends beyond the design and production stages. It is revolutionising supply chain management by optimising inventory levels, predicting demand, and improving logistics.

AI algorithms can analyse historical data, market trends, and external factors to make accurate demand forecasts, helping companies streamline their packaging operations. This leads to reduced costs, minimised waste, and improved overall efficiency throughout the supply chain.

Will AI revolutionise packaging?

Artificial Intelligence is ushering in a new era of packaging by leveraging its computational power and data-driven insights. From intelligent design and personalisation to sustainability and supply chain optimisation, AI is transforming every aspect of the packaging industry.

As technology continues to advance, we can expect further breakthroughs and innovations in packaging driven by AI, enabling companies to meet evolving consumer expectations while reducing environmental impact.

With AI at its core, the future of packaging looks promising, efficient, and sustainable.

AI-generated image from Open AI's Dall.E 2 system.

Certified compostable plastics biodegrade in real-life conditions - study

Study finds compostable packaging can offer sustainable waste management solution for the packaging industry.

Pre- and post-testing - Compostable packaging mixed with organic waste disintegrate and biodegrade.

Compostable packaging certified with the EN13432 trademark does biodegrade in real-life conditions, a new French research study has found.

The research - carried out by French packaging company Chaire CoPack in partnership with AgroParisTech and the University of Montpellier - was designed to validate the biodegradation of compostable food packaging in industrial composting facilities, as certified by the EN 13432 standard.

Tested over a four month period starting in October 2022, 20 tonnes of household food- and bio-waste was mixed with over 300kg of assorted compostable packaging - certified EN13432 - in real industrial composting conditions, without forced aeration.

A compost test with no compostable packaging added was conducted in parallel as a control.

The preliminary report provides conclusive evidence that certified compostable packaging is a viable sustainable solution to waste management in the food packaging industry.

Test results showed that the addition of certified compostable packaging:

  • Positively affected the composting yield
  • Had no negative consequences on the agronomic quality of the final compost
  • Did not generate ecotoxicity to plants, earthworms and daphnia
  • Met the the decay rate requirements of the compostability standards

Regarding the fate of residual compostable microfragments in the soil, the study found that:

  • Immediate further biodegradation of these fragments was demonstrated
  • The rate of biodegradation increased as the fragments spent more time in the compost

"We are thrilled to see the findings of this study," said Paolo La Scola, public affairs manager at TotalEnergies Corbion.

"The results send a strong signal to governments across Europe to grant certified compostable plastics access to biowaste collection and composting infrastructure. It’s necessary to reduce plastic waste mismanagement."

"These findings are one of many reports that proves that compostable packaging is an essential tool for increasing the collection of food waste and enabling its efficient conversion into compost.

"It is essential that all stakeholders along the value chain cooperate for the recognition of the benefits of compostable packaging in separate collection and recycling of food waste."

Compostable packaging has become increasingly popular in recent years, as consumers look for quality packaging choices offering a reduced environmental impact.

Leading UK manufacturer Polybags is at the forefront of the market, offering consumers a huge range of compostable packaging, including compostable mailing bags, packing bags, display bags, safety bags, waste bags and compostable carrier bags.

All of these products are certified to EN13432 standards. Just keep an eye out for the compostable logo - which denotes a compostable product - in Polybags' online shop.

Image courtesy of TotalEnergies Corbion.

Aldi introduces fully-recyclable handwash pumps

First UK supermarket to offer own-label handwash in 100%-recyclable packaging

Aldi recyclable soap bottles

Aldi has introduced fully-recyclable packaging to its own-brand handwash range in a bid to reduce waste - becoming the first major UK retailer to offer such a product.

The UK’s fourth-largest supermarket says the switch will allow over 200 tonnes of packaging material a year to be more easily recycled.

Whilst plastic handwash bottles have been recyclable for many years, most pump dispensers contain small components - made of metal or glass - that can not be recycled with the rest of the bottle.

By removing these components from their Lacura soap range, Aldi has made the product's entire packaging fully recyclable at home.

This is the latest move by Aldi in their efforts to reduce their environmental impact and develop more sustainable packaging alternatives for its products.

The German-owned retailer recently became the first supermarket to join the Podback recycling scheme for its own-label coffee pods.

They also announced plans to introduce soft plastic recycling points to almost all Aldi stores, soon after replacing their green bottle tops with clear bottle tops to make them more recyclable.

Aldi's plastics and packaging director Luke Emery said: "Reducing waste is incredibly important to us and our customers, and we will not stop looking for ways to improve our packaging to ensure shoppers know they are making more environmentally friendly choices when buying their everyday products."

Image courtesy of Aldi.

Waitrose launches UK-based soft plastic recycling

Customers can recycle their soft plastics at 295 Waitrose stores

Soft plastic recycling is now available at Waitrose stores

Waitrose has announced the launch of soft plastic recycling points at most of its UK stores.

The supermarket - part of the John Lewis partnership - has carried out a successful trial and considerable due diligence to find a UK-based waste management solution.

Customers can now recycle clean and dry soft plastic at 295 Waitrose stores. Recyclable items include:

  • Carrier bags
  • Bread bags
  • Salad, rice and pasta bags
  • Frozen food bags
  • Cereal liners
  • Toilet roll wrapping
  • Cheese, meat and fish wrapping
  • Crisps, chocolate and biscuit wrapping
  • Baby & pet food pouches
  • Bubble wrap
  • Cling film

Caroline Pinnell, Sustainability & Ethics Specialist at Waitrose, said: "We know that recycling is a key priority for many of our customers so we’re delighted to be able to offer flexible plastic recycling across a number of our shops.

"Across both Waitrose and John Lewis, we are continuing to strip away single-use packaging and provide our customers with convenient reuse, refill and recycling solutions.

"We are on track to meet our 2023 Waitrose packaging target, that all of our own-brand packaging will be reusable or made from widely recyclable or home-compostable material by the end of 2023, two years ahead of the industry-wide WRAP UK Plastic Pact."

Film and flexible plastic packaging accounts for around 25% of all consumer packaging, whilst only 8% of all soft plastics were recycled in the UK in 2021 (Source: Edie).

This figure is an increase on the 6% recycling rate from 2019, but it remains very low, mainly due to a lack of kerbside collections and limitations in recycling infrastructure.

Soft plastics collected by Waitrose will be sent to a reprocessing plant in Glasgow where it will be washed, separated and then turned into flakes or pellets that can be made into new products or materials.

Recycled soft plastics can be reprocessed to produce yet more plastic bags, such as bin bags and waste sacks, carrier bags and mailing bags.

They also offer the following range of post-recycling uses:

  • Secondary product packaging (e.g. toilet paper packaging)
  • Shrink wrap for the transportation of goods
  • Bags for DIY, industrial and horticultural products
  • Plastic furniture
  • Guttering
  • Buckets

Image courtesy of John Lewis Partnership.

Pioneering soft plastic recycling site opens its doors

Fife site tackles challenge of hard-to-recycle soft plastics

New recycling centre opens in Fife

A pioneering new recycling facility which will reprocess 'hard-to-recycle' soft plastics has opened its doors in Fife.

The site is the first of its kind to process a mix of plastics - including film - into reusable materials, with the aim of keeping the material in a 'closed loop' and prevent it from being exported overseas.

Co-owned by Morrisons and operated by recycling plant specialists Yes Recycling, the new facility has the capacity to recycle 15,000 tonnes of post-consumer plastic packaging a year, including hard-to-recycle flexible food packaging such as sweet wrappers, crisp packets and salad bags.

It will use patented technology to turn these low grade plastics into plastic flakes, pellets and Ecosheet - a new and environmentally-friendly alternative to plywood, which can be widely used in the construction and agriculture industries.

Omer Kutluoglu, Co-owner of Yes Recycling, said: "The UK is in desperate need of more plastic recycling capacity and, in particular, for the so-called 'hard-to-recycle' plastic waste such as flexible food packaging.

"Our new next-generation recycling plant, which we’ve developed over the last seven years, is designed to tackle exactly these materials. It is a blueprint for the future and will help to kick-start the UK's plastics recycling industry. It will mean we can keep plastic in our own country’s circular economy and out of our seas and oceans."

The UK government has mandated that, by 2027, all local councils across the UK must collect soft and flexible plastic films from households through kerbside recycling collections. On current projections, such a target would require one million tonnes of plastic packaging recycling capacity.

Unlike 'high grade' hard plastics, such as plastic bottles, which have been collected and recycled for years, recycling rates for 'low-grade' soft plastics are generally poor.

Limitations in the technology to recycle this material into commercially viable products means it is typically incinerated, sent to landfill or exported overseas.

Fife Council is currently one of a limited number of UK local councils who collect and segregate hard-to-recycle plastic from its customer collections and send it to a recycling facility.

Cireco Scotland - who operate Fife Council's recycling collection and segregation service - will send all hard-to-recycle soft plastics to the new site, as will Morrisons from their distribution sites and stores.

Jamie Winter, Procurement Director at Morrisons, said: "We’ve done a significant amount of work to reduce our plastic use and now we want to help build a UK infrastructure to recycle the plastic that we may still need to use. By recycling these problematic plastics here in the UK we can give them a new life."

Organisations including Nestlé UK & Ireland and Zero Waste Scotland have also been involved in the development of the new recycling plant, which will create around 60 new jobs for the Fife region, whilst transforming the recycling options for locals.

David Gunn, Zero Waste Scotland’s Recycling Improvement Fund Manager, said: "Zero Waste Scotland has been supporting local authorities through the Recycling Improvement Fund, which helps councils to enhance and invest in their recycling and reuse services.

"It's great to see Fife Council using this support to enable householders to recycle soft plastic by upgrading CIRECO’s material recycling facility. This will significantly enhance the local authority’s ability to deal with ‘hard-to-recycle’ plastics that would otherwise be exported overseas.

"Instead, the separated soft plastics are now supplied to Yes Recycling for processing into Ecosheet, transforming what would have been waste into a highly useful and sustainable product – a fantastic example of a circular economy at work."

Image courtesy of Morrisons.

Sainsbury's to vacuum pack beef mince to reduce plastic waste

New packaging set to save 450 tonnes of plastic each year

Sainsbury's vacuum-packed beef mince

Sainsbury’s has announced plans to vacuum pack its entire own-brand beef mince range in a bid to cut plastic waste.

The new packaging will replace the traditional plastic tray packaging, saving 450 tonnes of plastic per year as a result.

The move is the latest in a series of initiatives from the retail giant in a bid to reach its goal of halving its use of plastic packaging in Sainsbury's own-brand products by 2025.

The new beef mince vacuum packaging falls in line with this pledge, by using a minimum of 55% less plastic than the previous packaging.

Customers of the UK's second-largest supermarket will be able to purchase beef mince in the revamped packaging both in-store and online.

Claire Hughes, director of product and innovation at Sainsbury's, said: "We know our customers expect us to be reducing the use of plastic across our products and we're constantly looking for new ways to innovate to meet our Plan for Better plastic reduction targets.

"We strive to be bold in the changes we are making, which is why we’re pleased to be the first UK retailer to vacuum pack all our beef mince range without impacting the quantity or great quality of product that our customers expect.

"This is the latest in a long line of changes we have pioneered in the space working collaboratively with our suppliers, and customers can expect much more to come."

As well as saving on plastic, vacuum packaging also helps to keep food fresh by removing from the packaging all of the oxygen that typically causes the produce to spoil.

Vacuum-packed food can last for up to five times longer than food packed in more traditional packaging. Furthermore, food packed in vacuum pouches takes up less storage space, allowing for a more efficient use of fridge-freezers.

Vacuum pouches are also an essential element of sous vide cooking - the process of precision cooking using a temperature-controlled water bath.

However, budding chefs should note that sous vide requires specific vacuum pouches designed for cooking, rather than regular vacuum pouches used for food storage.

Image courtesy of Sainsbury's.

Tesco ditches plastic for cardboard laundry detergent packaging

Recyclable cardboard packs to replace plastic laundry pod tubs - saving 252 tonnes of plastic per year

Tesco laundry pod boxes

Tesco is set to replace the plastic tubs used to package its own-brand laundry detergent pods with new recyclable cardboard boxes.

The UK's largest supermarket says the switch will save 252 tonnes of plastic per year, removing over four million pieces of plastic across eight lines.

The new boxes contain more than 90% recycled cardboard, are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and can be put in the normal household recycle bin when empty.

A thin plastic liner will be placed inside the boxes to protect the pods.

The switch comes as part of Tesco's 4Rs packaging strategy, launched by the retailer in August 2019 to help tackle the impact of plastic waste by:

  • Removing plastic where it can
  • Reducing plastic where it can't be removed
  • Looking at ways to Reuse more plastic
  • Recycling what's left

Since the strategy's launch, Tesco says it has removed 1.8bn pieces of plastic and reduced its packaging footprint by more than 10,000 tonnes.

Tesco Group Quality Director Sarah Bradbury said: "Customers are focused on getting great value right now, but we know that they still want to choose products that use less or no plastic in their packaging.

"This is one of many changes we’re making to reduce unnecessary plastic from products right across our stores."

Image courtesy of Tesco.

Korean researchers develop fully biodegradable and non-soggy paper straws

Breakthrough development produces straws that keep their shape whilst also biodegrading in open and ocean environments

Paper straws

Soggy paper straws could soon be a thing of the past, as Korean researchers have developed a fully biodegradable paper straw that keeps its shape when in use.

Paper straws have increased in popularity since the UK government banned single-use plastic straws in 2021, but their replacements have proved to have limitations.

As paper quickly turns soggy when wet, conventional paper straws are coated with either polyethylene or acrylic resin to maintain their structure and integrity.

However, as paper and plastic have a poor bonding compatibility, even a coated straw may have uncoated patches - or patches that can easily tear or break - thus allowing the paper straw to take on water and quickly become soggy.

Conventional paper straws can also prove difficult to recycle and, in some cases - when coated in polyethylene - can still release microplastics into the environment as they break down after use.

Until now, biodegradable coatings have proved problematic - due to problems with decomposition, cost and limitations on mass-production - but now researchers in Korea may have found the solution.

Dr Oh Dongyeop and his team at the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology synthesised a well-known biodegradable plastic - polybutylene succinate (PBS) - by adding to it a small number of cellulose nanocrystals.

These nanocrystals are the same material as the main component of paper, thus allowing the modified bioplastic to firmly attach to the paper surface during the coating process.

This improved coating allowed the straws to keep their shape during use, whilst also biodegrading - even in the ocean - in less than 120 days.

The breakthrough could offer an economical, easy-to-produce and 100 percent biodegradable alternative to traditional plastic straws - which the researchers believe marks a significant step in the right direction.

"This technology is but a small step toward the direction we need to take in this era of plastic," said Dr Dongyeop.

"Turning a plastic straw we often use into a paper straw will not immediately impact our environment, but the difference will be profound over time.

"If we gradually change from using conventional disposable plastic products to various eco-friendly products, our future environment will be much safer than what we now worry about."

Plastic straws were among a number of 'single-use' items banned by the UK Government in July 2021, in a bid to help tackle plastic waste and to protect natural environments and marine wildlife.

Many companies have invested heavily in developing new environmentally-friendly replacements for single-use products, across a range of industries.

Twickenham Stadium in London - home of the England rugby team - last year announced it was to replace all plastic pint glasses sold in the ground with a self-destructing biodegradable plastic pint glass.

The breakthrough product was created by British innovators Polymateria, who have been making waves in the packaging industry with a range of new biodegradable products that are scientifically proven to leave behind no microplastics.

Leading UK manufacturer Polybags has already added a number of new products to their market-leading eco packaging range - all of which feature Polymateria's breakthrough biotransformation technology.

Now, following developments in Korea, can we expect fully biodegradable paper straws to join the list of innovative new products to hit the shelves in the not-too-distant future?

Aldi joins Podback recycling scheme

Retailer becomes first supermarket to join coffee pod-recycling project

Aldi to offer coffee pod recycling through Podback scheme

Aldi is set to become the first supermarket to join the Podback recycling scheme, helping its customers to easily recycle their used coffee pods.

In an industry first, the discount retailer will introduce its own-label pods into the Podback scheme, whilst also promoting the free recycling service to customers in over 980 stores nationwide.

Podback's mission is: "To create a world where every coffee pod is recycled."

Launched in 2021, Podback is the first recycling service of its kind in the UK. It has seen major coffee brands including Nespresso, Nescafe Dolce Gusto and Tassimo come together to make recycling coffee, tea and hot chocolate pods as easy as possible.

Membership has grown to include 16 brands from across the coffee sector and now Aldi is the first supermarket to get on board.

From early 2023, Aldi customers can visit the Podback website to order pod recycling bags. Once they have these, they can either take their used pods to one of 6,500 Collect+ drop off points or, if they live in a participating local authority area, they can also register for kerbside collections.

Plastic and aluminium coffee pods are recyclable, but due to their small size and organic contents, current waste collection and sorting processes are not suitable for processing them, so they usually end up in landfill waste.

Pods recycled through Podback are reprocessed within the UK to recover the plastic, aluminium and coffee, with all materials given a second life.

Aldi is one of the market leaders in own-label coffee pods. By joining Podback, the supermarket's customers could help to recycle up to 268 tonnes of plastic and 20 tonnes of aluminum Aldi coffee pods each year.

Aldi's plastics and packaging director Richard Gorman said: "We’re pleased to be joining Podback on this journey – especially as the first supermarket member.

"It’s important to us that we help customers do the right thing once our hot drink pods have been used, and we look forward to seeing how our partnership with Podback progresses."

Rick Hindley, Executive Director at Podback, said: "We are delighted to welcome Aldi as the first supermarket brand member of Podback. This marks a key milestone for the programme and we are looking forward to working with Aldi to promote our service to their customers.

"We hope other retailers will follow Aldi’s lead and offer their own-brand pod customers the opportunity to recycle through Podback."

Image courtesy of Aldi.