Ahold Delhaize USA, ExxonMobil target circular food packaging

Ahold Delhaize USA, ExxonMobil and packaging specialist Sealed Air (SEE) have partnered on what they call a first-of-its-kind plastic food package recycling initiative in the United States.

Under the project, flexible plastics from the food supply chain will be recycled and remade into new, certified circular food-grade packaging, Charlotte, NC-based Sealed Air said Thursday. Plans call for the effort to start this summer and scale up over time.

“We’re proud to work with SEE and ExxonMobil on this collaboration, which has the potential to radically change the way retailers and manufacturers leverage food-grade recycled plastics as a key means of keeping plastics out of landfills,” Brittni Furrow, vice president of health and sustainability at Ahold Delhaize USA, said in a statement. “We’re eager to learn from this work and apply the learnings to advance our own plastics ambitions but also advance these efforts broadly, helping to ensure a better tomorrow for our planet.”

SEE said its collaboration with Ahold Delhaize USA and ExxonMobil will increase the use of recycled content by validating the technical and economic viability of a certified circular system that’s based on advanced recycling technology and mass balance attribution. Through the initiative, flexible plastics will be designed to be collected, recycled and repurposed into new food packaging.

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Strict hygiene and performance requirements for food protection and distribution have made it challenging to create a circular economy for plastics in packaging materials in the food industry.

The project will leverage ExxonMobil’s Exxtend technology for advanced recycling. Overall, Ahold Delhaize USA operates approximately 2,050 stores on the East Coast, including the supermarket chains Stop & Shop, Giant Food, Giant/Martin’s, Food Lion and Hannaford as well as online grocer FreshDirect.

“SEE is leading the packaging industry by showing how high-performance packaging materials can be designed to be remade. Advanced recycling is key to these valuable materials being collected and remanufactured,” according to Ted Doheny, president and CEO of Sealed Air. “Our collaboration with ExxonMobil is opening new recycling possibilities, and by partnering with leading retail group Ahold Delhaize USA, we are paving the way for our industry to protect perishable foods while creating a low-carbon, circular economy.”

For the food industry, establishing a circular economy for plastics in packaging materials has proven challenging because of strict hygiene and performance requirements for food protection and distribution, SEE noted. That mission calls for innovative recycling solutions beyond traditional mechanical recycling in order to recover essential packaging materials, the company said. However, the effort holds tremendous promise: keeping used flexible plastics out of landfills, increasing the number of times essential plastics can be recycled, and ensuring the safety and quality of packaged foods.

“We are delighted to work with SEE and Ahold Delhaize USA on this important project,” stated David Hergenrether, vice president of polyethylene at Irving, Texas-based oil and gas giant ExxonMobil. “This relationship is an example of the value chain collaborations needed to enable a more circular economy. We are excited that certified circular plastics from our Exxtend technology for advanced recycling will play an important role.”

Ahold Delhaize USA, with dual headquarters in Quincy, Mass., and Salisbury, NC, has already been working to cut down on plastic waste from food packaging. Early last year, in announcing new health and sustainability goalsthe company said it aims to reduce overall use of problematic single-use plastics by 2025, including making private-label products 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable and increasing recycled content by 25% by 2025.

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