Alternatives to landfill for plastic waste



Summary and Conclusion
The project team engaged with stakeholders across the meat waste industries and forged some good links. The meat industry has begun to address packaging waste issues. It has been reducing the weight of packaging it uses over the last 10 years by reducing the amount of cardboard in the supply chain and reducing plastic weights. The industry is now incorporating life cycle thinking‘ into the design process which should not only improve waste packaging but also reduce waste product.

Anecdotally, the industry has improved its recycling rates especially for clean cardboard and plastic.  There remains a challenge with how to make better use of packaging used for primal vac-packs.

This work will be continued by Christine Walsh (now an EBLEX staff member).

The UK industry generates in the region of 11,000 tonnes of contaminated plastic and over 3,000 tonnes of contaminated cardboard which is sent to landfill.

The recommendations are summed up below:
1. Carry out research into the most sustainable use for this contaminated plastic.

  • Engage with WRAP to investigate if they would be interested in identifying the best end of life treatment for this material in the light of the global oil shortage and reducing landfill opportunities.

2. Continue to support the industry and the retail packing companies to develop methods to reduce the amount of plastic being used or waste being generated. This could be done in the following ways:

  • Further work could be done to transfer knowledge to the meat supply chain as a result of this project, including detailing the options and the names and addresses of the companies
  • Gathering information on this part of the sector is very difficult. Most companies collect little to no information on how much of this material is going to landfill.  Engage with the BMPA and Environment Agency to improve data collection. This activity has started and the environment agency has become involved
  • Continue EBLEX support for R&D activity.

3. Identify all the EfW sites and start to inform the industry. Liaise with the EfW and cement companies to increase their demand for this material, the following issues need to be considered in seeking opportunities to utilise this waste stream:

  • Calorific value of the material. To this end, all material specifications are required. Getting this information from the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for all materials is difficult. To enable the material to be used as a fuel alternative it requires a value of greater than 17MJ/kg
  • Moisture content. The cement companies and the waste from fuel companies want dry sterilised‘ plastic. The lack of moisture is important and has a direct impact on the odour and potential calorific value available. It will vary from site to site depending on storage and previous uses. Normal specifications require less than 15% moisture
  • Contamination with any metal and dense plastic is unacceptable
  • Chlorine (Cl) content. Most cement and RDF power companies treat chlorine as a contaminant. Burning PVC, etc. can result in Hydrochloric acid which is exceedingly corrosive. Must be less than 1% Cl
  • Particle size. Most companies do not want large baled product in its ex-factory gate state. They require it to be washed and ground down into small particles. This enables it to be taken in with other raw materials
  • Setting up geographical collaborative and cooperative meetings with the main players in the various regions and the associated waste and cement companies to identify what possibilities exist.

4. Investigate an alternative type of recycling plant which is an integrated facility using electrical and heat energy from low quality materials to run the recycling of the higher quality materials.

Beef & Lamb
Project code:
01 October 2011 - 30 September 2012
AHDB Beef & Lamb
Project leader:



About this project

The Problem:

A number of studies have been done looking at waste in the red meat sector. Primarily these have concentrated on meat and its by products rather then the packaging associated with the flow of meat through the supply chain. However in 2009 WRAP commissioned MLCSL and IGD to produce a meat resource map to identify and quantify how each animal is utilised in order to generate data on product waste, packaging waste, water usage and greenhouse gas emissions. This study highlighted several issues most of which are being targeted by the industry with support from EBLEX and BPEX.  There is some waste reduction activity happening across the industry in the area of packaging and supermarkets have been driving improvements through their supply chains especially in light weighting retail packs and improving shelf life.  According to the WRAP study, however, the meat processing industry uses and  throws away 110,000 tonnes  of packaging used for a variety of purposes including transfer between businesses and maturation.  The packaging used for this is not readily recycled nor used for other purposes for a number of reasons.

The Environment Agency and Wrap collect the data on waste and have worked to improve recycling opportunities especially uncontaminated cardboard however little work has been done in the UK on addressing the amount of primal packaging being sent to landfill.


Aims and Objectives:

Project Aims

The objective of this project was to assess the feasibility of alternative uses for meat packaging; to reduce the overall amount of plastic from the meat industry going to landfill and investigate the obstacles that stop the industry converting this waste material into a fuel.


An up to date report will be available to the industry with advice and potential opportunities, together with the obstacles and costs associated with them.



1. The project will aim to ascertain exactly how much of this waste is available, what are the different types of plastic that are going to land fill, are there any other routes for disposal and to what extent they are contaminated.

2. Liaise  with the EA, WRAP and Defra to identify

  • what are the obstacles to using this material as a fuel for biomass or other power generation
  • review regulations to understand how much more of this material could be used
  • what pre-process is required prior to incineration or transformation into diesel

3. Research the plastic to diesel process to verify that it could cope with primal packaging. Review activity in other countries. Understand the economics of the process to identify whether there could be financial benefits of this process for the meat industry

4. Discuss opportunities with industry players that could use such waste to provide heat, power or alternative transport fuel sources.