US advanced recycling collaboration looks to scale up food contact production after trial
02 May 2023 --- Industry leaders ExxonMobil, Sealed Air, Cyclyx International and Ahold Delhaize USA have announced their advanced recycling collaboration will be scaled up after the successful conclusion of a year-long trial.
Launched in April 2022, the groups partnered to collect and convert plastic waste from supermarkets into food-grade packaging using ExxonMobil’s Exxtend technology, which breaks plastic waste into molecular blocks and attributes the certified-circular polymers via mass balance accounting. The plastic waste is then converted to new food-grade packaging.
“This project helps demonstrate how Exxtend technology can widen the range of plastic materials that can be recycled while delivering certified-circular polymers with the critical performance attributes of virgin plastic,” says Dan Moore, vice president of polyethylene, ExxonMobil.
“Advanced recycling is making the impossible possible and is an important enabler to support a circular economy.”
Innova Market Insights recently pegged “Plastics circularization” as its top trend for 2023, noting that investment in chemical waste recycling is rising. Rabobank predicted that advanced recycling plants will double to around 140 globally by 2025.
Food contact challenges
While advanced recycling technologies offer the potential to reprocess materials unfit for traditional mechanical recycling methods, achieving strict safety and performance requirements for food contact is a challenge facing the industry.
Ahold Delhaize USA brand Food Lion supported the initial pilot, collecting plastic waste for recycling at select store locations. The company owns more than 1,100 stores across ten US states and is one of the five brands that comprise the Ahold Delhaize USA network – the largest grocery retail group on the East Coast and the fourth largest in the nation.
“Across Ahold Delhaize USA companies, we have ambitious goals around recyclable and reusable packaging,” says Adam Springer, manager of product sustainability at Ahold Delhaize USA. “Based on the initial pilot, we’re optimistic about being able to leverage this process at an additional scale and look forward to exploring it further as part of this collaboration.”
Sorting and preprocessing
Cyclyx, a joint venture between Agilyx Corporation and ExxonMobil, was responsible for sorting and pre-processing waste packaging materials collected from the Food Lion stores before delivering them to ExxonMobil’s facility in Baytown, US.
“The interface between the Food Lion stores and the Baytown facility was critical and required an innovative approach to feedstock management,” says Joe Vaillancourt, CEO of Cyclyx.
“Part of our process is identifying the chemical composition of the waste plastics we receive. This allows us to create custom blends of post-use plastic feedstock that are tailored to the specifications required for advanced recycling.”
At Exxon’s Baytown facility, Exxtend technology is used to recycle valuable end-of-life plastics and attribute them via mass balance accounting to certified-circular polymers.
“The resulting polymers, such as Exceed S, Exceed XP, Exceed and Enable performance PE, have the characteristics of virgin resins, which is critical for food-grade packaging,” says Moore.
Sealed Air converts the certified-circular PE resins into a food-grade flexible film that is used, in the case of this trial, to package select Nature’s Promise fresh poultry. The packaging then returns to stores used on products purchased by customers, demonstrating an example of the circular economy.
“By collaborating with suppliers and customers, we were able to identify, design and commercialize an innovative, flexible packaging solution that supports circularity,” says Ron Cotterman, vice president of global corporate affairs at Sealed Air.
Leveraging ExxonMobil’s existing manufacturing assets, Exxtend technology can be rapidly scaled to process a wide range of plastic waste. To help meet the growing market demand for certified-circular plastics, ExxonMobil plans to increase its annual advanced recycling capacity to 500,000 metric tons by year-end 2026 across multiple sites globally.
By Louis Gore-Langton
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