Danish Crown: Goodbye to the black meat trays

The technology at the Danish waste sorting facilities cannot recognize the black meat trays, which are instead sent for incineration. Danish Crown is now solving that challenge by changing the color of millions of meat trays from black to green, so that more trays are recycled, and in future they will consist of at least 90% recycled plastic.

Posted on Mar 01 ,00:30

Danish Crown: Goodbye to the black meat trays

Every year, Danish Crown sends 55 million black plastic meat trays to the Danish retail trade, either as packaging for the group's own products or for private label products in the Danish supermarkets. But Danish consumers now have to get used to the fact that the classic black meat tray changes colour.

"At Danish Crown, we have long tried to solve the challenge with the black plastic trays, because as a modern food producer we cannot live with our packaging not being recycled on such a large scale. As early as 2019, we switched to environmentally friendly PET plastic, which should be recyclable, but we can see that the technology in the sorting facilities in particular is straining, and that is why we are now saying goodbye to the black bins", says Tim Ørting Jørgensen, a member of the group management in Danish Crown with main responsibility for the group's commercial part.

The black meat trays pose a particular challenge in waste sorting, as they often cannot be recognized by the optical sorting systems used to sort plastic waste. This is because black plastic does not reflect light in a way that allows the sensors to correctly identify the material. Therefore, black meat trays often end up being burned instead of being recycled. The 55 million black meat trays consist of a total of more than 1,000 tonnes of plastic.

The green color of the new trays has been carefully selected, but not because it should signal that the new trays are more environmentally friendly. The green color is the way to be able to use far more recycled plastic from household waste, and not just from bottles as before. This is what Faerch, the world leader in recycling plastics in the food industry, says, and Faerch, which will produce the new trays for Danish Crown, guarantees that they will contain at least 90 percent recycled plastic.

"By Danish Crown choosing the green colour, we can ensure that the trays contain more recycled plastic than if the trays were in clear plastic, where only plastic that is already completely transparent can be used. The solution Danish Crown has chosen is very circular, as it both ensures a high level of recycled plastic and that used trays can be sorted and reused for new trays", says Elisabet Sandnes, Head of Sustainability at Faerch.

The phasing out at Danish Crown will apply to the packaging for all products that today come in a classic meat tray in Denmark. The vast majority contain minced beef or pork, but also sliced pork and chops will in the future lie in a green tray.              

"We believe to that extent that consumers will be on board with the idea. It may take some getting used to when you have been used to meat coming in a black meat tray for so many years, but we know from our organic products, which already come in a green tray, that it can be done", says Malene Eriksen Vestergaard, who is category director at Danish Crown and adds:

"At the same time, consumers avoid the frustration of spending effort to sort their plastic trays correctly, only to see them being burned in an incinerator instead of being recycled".

The Plastic Industry, which is the industry organization for plastic companies in Denmark, has published a design guide for the reuse and recycling of plastic packaging. Here there is great support for the switch to the new trays.

"It is a strong choice that Danish Crown chooses to replace their black meat trays with trays that are easier to sort for recycling and at the same time contain large amounts of recycled plastic. This is precisely the direction the entire industry must move towards, so that we can take better care of the planet's resources and reduce CO2 emissions", says Christina Busk, head of environmental policy at the Plastics Industry.

In 2022, Danish Crown set off in earnest to reduce the emissions from the group's packaging with a new packaging strategy "Less volumes, more recyclability". In the strategy, the company sets an ambitious goal that 100 % of Danish Crown's products in 2030 must be wrapped in reusable packaging. At the same time, the amount of packaging must be reduced so that in 2030, 30% less is used than today. As early as 2025, 90% of Danish Crown's packaging must be recyclable, and the consumption of packaging must be reduced by 15%.

"It is crucial for Danish Crown's sustainability ambitions that we reduce the amount of our packaging and that the packaging we use must be recyclable. Although the majority of our emissions are out on the farms, we simply will not reach the goal of our sustainability ambitions if we do not also reduce our packaging", says Tim Ørting Jørgensen.

Danish Crown expects that the vast majority of the black meat trays will be phased out at the beginning of April 2024. However, some products will continue to be found in black packaging until the end of June, after which these will also switch to the new, green packaging.

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