Colruyt Group case study: a milk bottle made of opaque PET using less virgin material

 

Three years ago, the Colruyt Group, in consultation with Fost Plus, Inex, Plarebel and the other players in the supply chain, launched a new packaging for its milk bottles of the Boni Selection brand. The company changed the material of which the bottles are made from HDPE to opaque PET. The decision of the Colruyt Group to change what this packaging is made of is part of its objective of supporting more sustainable consumption. As part of a long-term vision, a specific line for sorting and recycling opaque PET was created in collaboration with partners along the entire chain. And now, three years later, the time has come to reap the fruits of our investment.

A major change for the better

Each form of packaging has its particular function and use. Changing the packaging material is not insignificant, but requires a great deal of research, especially for an organisation such as the Colruyt Group, which values the quality of its products above all else.

There are three major reasons for this migration to opaque PET packaging.

  1. 1.    To reduce the use of resources: its light weight reduces the quantity of virgin plastic used. Moreover, this new packaging does not require an aluminium seal, unlike the HDPE bottle. Thanks to a more efficient production process, the processing speed is faster and less water and energy are required to make milk bottles out of opaque PET. A more essential question has to do with protecting the contents, to avoid food loss. Opaque PET is an excellent barrier against light and air. Milk, and especially UHT milk, quickly goes off once it comes into contact with light.
  2. 2.    Recycled PET (r-PET) is currently the only type of plastic authorised for use in food packaging. Milk bottles made of HDPE today may not contain any recycled materials. Yet, by 2030, Europe requires plastic drinks packaging to be made of 30% recycled materials. The new milk packaging for the Boni Selection brand in opaque PET currently contains 25% recycled materials. The Group plans for this amount to increase over time to at least 50%.
  3. 3.    In due course, the cap will be attached to the bottle. European law requires this to be the case by 2024, to make sure that it ends up in the right waste sorting bin and is correctly sorted. Furthermore, the cap of the opaque PET bottle is better suited to achieving that. Because it is more waterproof, once the bottle has been opened, it can be stored horizontally in the fridge without any risk of leakage. This also helps avoid any food loss.

A sustainable choice

Opaque PET is a fairly new type of material for which there is not yet an integrated recycling chain. It is clear that opaque PET has merits, but to develop this recycling chain, a critical mass of the material was needed on the Belgian market. With Colruyt's strategic decision, important steps have been taken in this respect.

The decision of the Colruyt Group to move toward opaque PET packaging is part of its aim to promote more sustainable consumption. With its “Step by step” strategy, the company seeks to take sustainable action in four areas that are essential for its consumers and itself (health, society, animal welfare and the environment). The theme “environment” is aimed at reducing the environmental footprint of its clients and putting forward the way in which it makes its activities sustainable. It is with this particular aim in mind that the Colruyt Group made the deliberate choice to use recycled and recyclable materials for producing its packaging, including those of Boni Selection.

Transversal collaboration

Fost Plus aims to offer a recycling solution for 100% of household packaging placed on the Belgian market in 2025. Colruyt Group was the first retailer to seek to find a sustainable solution for opaque PET. To that end, Fost Plus, the Colruyt Group, Inex, Plarebel (the consultancy organisation for recycling plastics) and the other players in the supply chain, namely the sorting and recycling centres, have collaborated in order to jointly reach a recycling pathway for this material flow. As a result, a three-year innovation process was put in place. Its objective was to establish new recycling markets.

First, opaque PET must be sorted as a specific fraction in the PMD sorting centres, in order to recycle these bottles. A fifteenth fraction will thus be added to the existing ones. Opaque PET has already been sorted for a year at Indaver; the other sorting centres in Belgium will be able to handle it in 2023.

Next, a new recycling centre will be implemented at Neufchâteau, to be operational at the end of 2023. It will recycle transparent PET tubs and clear transparent, blue transparent, coloured transparent and opaque PET bottles. Most of them will have circular applications (in other words, they will be turned into new bottles and tubs).

We estimate that today, 2,500 tonnes of opaque PET are collected with PMD in Belgium. Once sorted, a large part of this material will be recycled in this country, in order to be turned (for the most part) into new bottles. This way, the loop is closed!