A Swansea researcher has invented a new type of plastic packaging for raw meat which avoids the need for non-recyclable pads inside the trays to soak up the juices, meaning the whole of the packaging tray can now be recycled.
The new packaging is already in use in mainstream UK retailers, helping to increase recyclability of more than 800,000 tonnes per year of food plastic packaging generated by UK supermarkets.
This is a key step to removing the large quantities of non-recyclable absorbent pads that simply end up in landfill year-on-year.
The product is also award-winning, having recently won the Sustainable Supplier Award in the 2021 Footprint Awards.
The work has been led by Alaa Alaizoki, a Syrian researcher completing his Engineering Doctorate (EngD) at Swansea University, under the supervision of Professor Davide Deganello and Dr. Chris Phillips at the Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating.
The work was developed in collaboration with Klöckner Pentaplast, a world leading food packaging company, and the Materials and Manufacturing Academy which has been supported by the European Social Fund through the Welsh Government, helping to drive this cutting-edge research.
Raw meat products require the very highest standards of packaging, for food hygiene reasons, safety, and saleability. Up until now detachable plastic pads in meat trays have been used to absorb the juices, to extend the shelf life and reduce the unhygienic and unappealing appearance that causes the product to be rejected by customers.
Not only do these pads introduce additional cost and labour to the packaging industry, but unlike most of the trays themselves, the pads cannot be recycled.
The innovative packaging does away with the need for a separate pad altogether, while still meeting the required standards. Instead, the tray itself retains the juices through specially designed and manufactured small-scale well cavities at the base of the tray that allow the meat juices to be pinned and trapped inside the well cavities themselves.
The new solution ensures that the juices from the meat stay in place during storage or transport, preventing them from flowing out again. This maintains the all-important shelf life and appearance of the product, while making the packaging itself fully recyclable.
The new packaging product has been patented and is being used for meat products in the UK and across Europe.
Lead researcher Alaa Alaizoki from Swansea University said:
“This product will help cut the amount of plastic going to landfill, making the trays 100% recyclable. I am very pleased to see results of my research already in action by Klöckner Pentaplast; reducing waste, helping reduce the environmental impact. It has been great to work with the company and the whole research team, I really appreciate their pro-active attitude towards environmental issues.”
The research was conducted as part of Swansea University’s COATED M2A programme, which provides industry-led research training for postgraduates in functional industrial coatings technology.
COATED M2A gratefully acknowledges funding by the European Social Fund via the Welsh Government, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and Klöckner Pentaplast Group enabling this research.