The Black Plastic Tray Issue

The appeal and cost of the black plastic tray

The black plastic tray is beginning to get the same kind of negative press as the takeaway coffee cup did last year but will this spur us all on to shun them?

Black Plastic Tray

How many of your standby freezer meals are packaged in the pleasantly appealing black plastic tray? And will your affinity for them be changed by the news that they are a recycling nightmare?

When I first read all the stories of the difficulties involved in recycling this item, I wondered why not just change the colour? What benefit does the black packaging have? The only answer I can find is shelf appeal. This is obviously not to be underestimated. I can’t deny I may possibly be drawn to the allure of the bright green vegetables set against the shiny black packaging, but at what cost? Reports claim that state of the art sorting equipment is not able to distinguish this plastic type meaning 1.3 billion trays per year are not being recycled. I think my decision process will be altered in the future.  

Consumer opinions are changed with knowledge and shelf appeal can be lost when it is replaced by a feeling of environmental responsibility. After all, the overwhelming majority of us want to do the right thing.

Change is coming

The great news is that change is already in progress. Last month Tesco announced that they have partnered with Hilton Food Group and packaging manufacturer LINPAC to use packaging made from 95% recycled materials for its meat and poultry. This packaging is also fully recyclable post consumer.

We may not even have to give up on black plastic. Nextek, partnered with Viridor, have come up with a solution that would allow manufacturers to continue to use the much loved black plastic in a responsible way. The current problem stems from the carbon black that is used to colour the plastic cannot be recognised by the sorting system. Nextek, funded by WRAP, have found a way to use black materials without using carbon black, allowing it to be detected by existing technologies. This product has been trialled at Viridor’s specialist plastic recycling facility. Professor Edward Kosior of Nextek has said: “I’m confident that together we have found a technology solution to end these trays filling up landfills. This is a technology that can work immediately in virtually all recycling facilities across UK, Europe and USA.”

The outlook seems good, I can only hope that consumer pressure will accelerate change in this issue as quickly as it did last year with coffee cups.


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