Packaging: Are bakers ready for plastic challenge?

With consumers pressing for a reduction in plastic packaging, bakery firms and multiple retailers are using a variety of initiatives to tackle the problem head-on

Every time a black plastic food tray is used, it’s almost certainly destined for landfill. It is facts such as this, coupled with disturbing footage of sea creatures tangled in plastic debris, that have sparked worldwide outrage.

Reducing plastic packaging, and disposing of it correctly, is at the top of the environmental agenda with everyone in the supply chain encouraged to do their bit.

From advances in recycling to industry-wide pledges, bakery businesses are taking action. So, what progress has been made?

The aforementioned black trays are just one example as they are often used for premium bakery lines, such as croissants.

However, unlike plastics of other colours, black is virtually invisible to machines that sort recyclable materials collected from household recycling bins, so is rejected from the conveyor and ends up in landfill.

That is starting to change due to a collaborative project between retailers Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, recycling firm Viridor and food packaging manufacturer Faerch Plast. They have been working to capture and recycle black plastic, turning it into food-grade packaging.

Thanks to sophisticated optical sorting technology at Viridor’s Rochester facility, as of July 2018, 120 tonnes (t) of black plastic are recycled each month and will be used in new packaging for the retailers.

“The project has proved a commercial process which can be extended across the UK,” says Viridor commercial director Paul Ringham. “The more plastic collected, the more is made available to be recycled and put back into the circular economy.”

While manufacturers can ensure materials used are technically recyclable, consumers still need to place them in the correct bins – something  made more difficult by the number of recycling schemes in the UK.

“All the bags used for our products are recyclable,” says a Warburtons spokesman. “But recycling policies and facilities vary across the UK and many local authorities do not yet have the facilities to recycle them.”

Some are also looking to reduce the amount of plastic used. Speciality Breads, for example, has set out environmental targets, including a 50% reduction in consumption of single-use plastic by 2020.

Roberts Bakery is launching packaging for its bloomer range that can be recycled in household kerbside collection bins (see p4).

Retailers are also making changes. In January, Iceland became the first major retailer to commit to removing all plastic from its own-label products by 2023. For bakery items, Iceland says it will mainly be looking at replacing plastic with paper packaging and aims to use cellulose where it is essential shoppers can see the product.

And Allied Bakeries, Premier Foods and Speedibake are among 42 businesses that, in April, signed up to the UK Plastics Pact, led by the Waste & Resources Action Plan. It sets out clear goals for a more resource-efficient approach to plastics and provides the framework for collaborative action. Notably, signed-up members are responsible for 80% of the packaged products on UK supermarket shelves.

Initiatives from signatories have been varied, with some retailers shifting towards paper bags instead of plastic, and reduced thickness packaging on Kingsmill loaves at Allied Bakeries, which it says will save around 240t of plastic a year.

“We appreciate this is just the beginning,” says Allied’s Nic Daley. “The sustainability challenge faced by the food industry is to make packaging both readily recyclable and able to keep food fresher for longer to help manage the contingent food waste issue.”

 He adds that this will continue to be a key focus for Allied – a view likely to be echoed by many bakery businesses.

PPMA Show

Where: NEC Birmingham

When: 25–27 September

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the Processing & Packaging Machinery Association (PPMA) Show will return to the NEC Birmingham this month to showcase the latest innovations in smart manufacturing, processing technology and packaging machinery. 

New to the show this year will be the Enterprise Zone, which will offer a focal point for learning, networking, discovery and live debate.

Visitors will see 350 exhibitors representing 1,500 brands, all under one roof. Leading players already confirmed include Schneider Electric, Ishida Europe, Bosch, ABB and Omron Electronics UK, ready to connect, engage and network with suppliers and industry peers.

Packaging design and innovation

Waitrose sandwich boxes

Waitrose has worked with packaging manufacturer RAP alongside sandwich suppliers Greencore and Melton Foods to launch new packaging. Rolled out in July, it has a plastic coating that can be easily separated from the cardboard box with a peelable tab, allowing it to be recycled. “The change may seem like a small one, but it’s likely to make a big impact on the amount of packaging recycled,” says Karen Graley, Waitrose’s packaging manager.

New look for Graze snacks

Graze has rolled out rebranded packaging to its retail lines in an attempt to alter perceptions of snacking. The new colourful boxes are a contrast to its plain brown cardboard packaging used previously and the company says it wants to convey a balance between taste and health benefits as it marks 10 years since the launch of the business.

Warburtons football packaging

Warburtons rolled out football-themed packaging ahead of this summer’s World Cup. Five products were given a new look featuring red and blue football shirt designs: six-pack hot dog rolls, six-pack seeded burger buns, 12-pack sliced white rolls, eight-pack sliced white rolls, and six-pack sliced white rolls. The packaging provided the perfect solution for football-themed displays, according to Warburtons.

i2r wavy-top muffin wrap

i2r Packaging Solutions has released a new wavy-top muffin wrap. The wrap has a lower profile meaning a bigger and more visible muffin top, which the firm says gives the muffins a clear point of difference on the shelf. i2r manufactures a variety of tulip muffin wraps and greaseproof paper sheets, which are available in stepped and straight walled profiles, from micro all the way up to sharing sizes. The products are available with bespoke designs.

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