Blue, green and red are a thing of the past: In collaboration with UK supermarket chain Waitrose & Partners, Alois Müller Dairy, part of German food group Theo Müller, will replace all colored caps on its HDPE milk bottles with clear variants from April 2022. According to the company, the seemingly small innovation will mean that the closures can also be recycled for food-grade applications. The approach is consistent and logical. And it shows that retailers and brand owners are continuing to ramp up the momentum toward a circular economy – with a direct impact on the packaging value chain.
The colors used in the plastic are being tackled in the spirit of the circular economy. Following a successful internal trial, Müller and Waitrose will test the new clear closures in all of the retailer’s 331 stores from April 4-30, 2022.
Recycling upgrade in quality and quantity
The background to the switch to colorless closures is that the colored variants cannot currently be recycled into food-grade packaging, according to Müller and Waitrose. This is all the more serious as the HDPE bottle (without closure) can in itself be fully recycled in a food-grade manner.
The introduction of clear closures now preserves the closure material for reuse in the food sector. According to the company, the availability of the scarce rHDPE on the market can increase by 1560 tons per year as a result of the color waiver and help to reduce dependence on virgin plastic.
Another benefit of the innovation is that Müller and Waitrose can retain the HDPE bottles they currently use and still upgrade their milk packaging solution to a fully food-grade closed-loop solution.
Consumer survey in advance
The Alois Müller dairy is best known for its Müllermilch brand. In the run-up to the changes now being implemented, the company had conducted a survey to determine consumer attitudes toward colorless capping.
- Slightly more than half of customers look at the color of milk caps when selecting their milk in the store to find the product they want (and are used to). Other orientation aids include colored labels, location in the refrigerated section or signage at the POS.
- Eight out of ten shoppers said they would prefer a milk bottle with a clear, food-grade recyclable cap over a colored cap that is not appropriately recyclable.
The joint action with Müller is not Waitrose & Partners’ only move on sustainability. The company also recently joined the “world’s largest” refill coalition of retailers, whose members include companies such as Marks & Spencer’s, Morrisons, Ocado and CHEP. The group intends to work together to develop a scalable end-to-end refill solution for staple foods such as rice and pasta. It is intended to be usable at the POS, as well as for bulk home delivery.
Packaging needs solutions
Retailers and brand owners are moving very dynamically toward a circular economy. The pace and intensity are growing day by day. The pressure on the packaging value chain is growing accordingly. It must find solutions that pave the way for its customers.
It’s not always about the next new material or the really big thing. Even seemingly small things like not using color on plastic closures can make a difference. As in this case, making it possible to recycle the entire packaging for food applications.
Thinking – and acting – consistently pays off!