Three of the world’s leaders in the supermarket, energy and packaging industry are teaming up to tackle plastics. Ahold Delhaize USA, ExxonMobil and SEE announced April 14 their collaboration on an advanced recycling initiative—the first of its kind in the U.S., according to a statement from SEE.
The project, which is expected to begin this summer and scale over time, recycles flexible plastics from the food supply chain and remakes them into new, certified circular food-grade packaging.
The collaboration between the groups aims to help increase recycled content usage by “validating the technical and economic viability of a certified circular system based on advanced recycling technology and mass balance attribution,” SEE said in a statement.
Looking to keep flexible plastics out of landfills, the project will collect these plastics to be designed, recycled and repurposed into new food packaging. The project will help increase the number of times essential plastics can be recycled as well as ensure the safety and quality of packaged foods.
Brittni Furrow, VP of health and sustainability for Ahold Delhaize USA, in an exclusive interview with WGB said this partnership has the potential to radically change the way retailers and manufacturers leverage food-grade recycled plastics.
“This is a partnership that we are excited about because our company has been committed to helping to solve the plastic conundrum for a while,” Furrow said. “We have ambitious goals around recyclability and recycled content and reusable packaging.”
Furrow said “the challenge in the U.S. marketplace is the availability of recycled content to put back into food packaging. It is quite limiting. This partnership is about how do we develop new innovative models—different kinds of partnerships to create some more control around this material.”
For Ahold Delhaize USA, Furrow said the company realizes that taking the packaging, which will be recycled and used for private brand products is a game changer. “For us this is a significant innovation step to say can we control that waste stream with the right partners and repurpose it and put back into our private brand packaging to really close the loop.”
Ahold Delhaize USA research found that 43% of consumers feel sustainability is “extremely important,” up from 28% of consumers pre-pandemic. Furrow said delivering on this advanced recycling initiative “is a strategic growth driver for us as a company. We have to figure out how to maintain our business, but in an environment that is good for people and good for the planet, which means we have to take on some of these issues.”
A critical challenge facing the food industry is driving a circular economy for plastics using packaging materials that have strict hygiene and performance requirements for food protection and distribution. Recovering these essential packaging materials requires innovative recycling solutions beyond traditional mechanical recycling, SEE said in a statement.
SEE President and CEO Ted Doheny said “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.” Doheny said the collaboration 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.”
David Hergenrether, VP of polyethylene for ExxonMobil, said in a statement that ExxonMobil is "delighted to work with SEE and Ahold Delhaize USA on this important project." He said that 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.”