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ConAgra Foods claims first in rPET tray packaging

By Jane Byrne , 21-Aug-2008

US food manufacturer ConAgra Foods says it is leading the way in sustainable packaging, having launched what it claims is the first ever use of post consumer recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) in frozen ready meal trays.

The processor said that it has teamed up with Associated Packaging Technologies (APT) to exploit new plastic conversion technology to develop frozen ready meal trays using rPET.

ConAgra claims that trays for its brands such as Healthy Choice, Banquet, Kid Cuisine and Marie Callender’s products now consist of 30 to 40 per cent of the recycled plastic.

The trays, according to the manufacturer, are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as direct food contact material.

Current applications for rPET are mostly in bottles and thermoformed sheet products. The material is formed by washing, melting and then reforming PET granules into sheet or film for thermoforming or bottles.

Diversion to recycling streams

ConAgra’s vice president for sustainability, Gail Tavill, said that the move will have a positive impact on the environment by ensuring eight million pounds (lb) of plastic would be diverted from landfill to recycling streams annually.

The company said that it will also impact on Con Agra’s greenhouse gas emissions, reducing them by 15,200 tonnes a year, which it claims is equivalent to taking nearly 2,000 cars off the road on an annual basis.

Spokesperson for APT, John Giordani, told FoodProductionDaily.com that its partnership with the food processor was a ‘natural fit’ as both companies were focused on reducing their environmental footprint.

Giordani would not be drawn on the details of the processing technology that it is using to convert the plastic into food grade rPET, claiming confidentiality reasons.

Regulatory pressure

In recent years, consumer and regulatory pressure has been forcing processors and other manufacturers to cut down on the environmental impact of their operations.

Meanwhile, investors, through the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), are also stepping up the pressure on companies to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced by their manufacturing operations.

The CDP is run by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors in New York, and today is a coalition of about 315 global investors holding $41 trillion in assets.

Its annual survey pushes companies to disclose to the market their CO2 production levels and what they are doing about reducing greenhouse gases.

The responses to the 2008 CDP survey are expected to be published next month.

ConAgra Foods as well as other food manufacturers such as Nestle, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever and Kraft have been publishing regular reports on their efforts to assess and reduce that impact.

Survey

In 2007, CDP sent off the survey to 2,400 global companies, 1,350 of which responded. It said that the responses it received indicated improvements in carbon accounting and the quality of responses, particularly in dealing with complex issues.

The total emissions reported to CDP from all companies, including those in the UK, made up 14 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions attributed to human activity, the CDP estimates.

About 95 per cent of responding companies on the FT500, which tracks the top 500 global companies by market capitalization, reported climate change to be a commercial risk and have implemented an emissions reduction programme.

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