Flight plastics NZ first
Supermarket giant Foodstuffs won an award in 2012 for its plastic-wrapped carrots on black polystyrene meat trays sold at New World supermarkets, but it wasn’t an award of which the company was proud.
The Wanaka Wastebusters Unpackit award for worst packaging was one of the catalysts to inspire Foodstuff’s sustainability manager Mike Sammons to develop an alternative to the company’s traditional packaging.
“It started to resonate after a while,” Sammons said. “When you get a carrot Glad-Wrapped to a foam tray, it’s a really bad look.”
Beyond fruits and vegetables, Sammons said, the butchery was the “holy grail” of waste. The majority of meat is packaged on polystyrene black trays. The unrecyclable packaging poses a serious environmental challenge as hundreds of millions end up in landfill each year.
The biggest obstacle to the packaging was to make it sortable for kerbside recycling. First, Sammons visited local councils and the Visy sorting plant to find out what they wanted in their bins, a question rarely asked by business.
What they discovered was that they needed to create a tray that optical sorting machines could recognise as recyclable PET, a test black PET trays failed, as the machine cannot distinguish them from polystyrene.
The team at Foodstuffs spent two years developing products and working to create packaging that meets the company’s specifications.
“The meat tray ticks all the right boxes in terms of sustainability and performance and furthermore it’s made right here,” said Sammons.
The final product is clear and made of 50% recycled plastic. It’s accepted by all kerbside recycling schemes in New Zealand. Consumers just have to rinse the tray under the tap and throw it in the recycling bin.
Dimples in the tray collect fluid from meats and prevent leaking even when tilted or inverted.
The company estimates that the new trays can save the equivalent of 14 Olympic size swimming pools full of polystyrene from clogging landfills each year.
Unless companies demand recycled content in their products, there will be a lack of recycling,” said Sammons. “Ultimately we’d love to have closed loop recycling.”