Several years ago, Yoplait, one of the worldwide leaders in the yogurt market started to regularly optimize its packaging to decrease plastic quantity used. The company took an aggressive stance on sustainability and, consequently, outlined a roadmap for all of its products targeting to have all of its European packaging reusable or recyclable by 2025.
During that process, Yoplait identified the yogurt pot as a key area to make a difference. Polystyrene makes up 70 percent of Yoplait’s yogurt pots, and the company knew that advancements were being made in the plastics industry regarding this specific material. The chemical structure of polystyrene allows complete recyclability while maintaining performance properties that are important to the consumer, like being a food-safe protective container and “snappability,” a feature that offers the convenience of easily separating and storing the pots.
Yoplait focused on France as a key market to introduce a yogurt pot made with sustainably advantaged material.
The company knew including all value chain members in its conversations would be imperative. This resulted in collaboration with Trinseo, the plastics manufacturer and leader in recycled polystyrene production, and Intraplas, the converter and an expert in extrusion of plastic sheets for the food industry.
The team concluded that replacing traditional fossil-based polystyrene with material using a relatively new chemical recycling process was the best solution. The new recycling process uses polystyrene waste which is collected and depolymerized to its monomer level through a combination of heat and pressure.
The depolymerized recycled product, known as recycled polystyrene (rPS), is identical to virgin styrene and can be used along with virgin fossil-based content with no distinction between the two materials. Polystyrene recycled via this method can be used in high quality, demanding applications, including consumer electronics, packaging, household durables, and even food contact and other sensitive applications such as medical devices.
Trinseo’s role was to introduce the rPS into its process of PS manufacturing. Then Intraplas produced PS roll with this material and it was sent to Yoplait – the brand owner – to form fill, and seal the yogurt pots for delivery to the retailer, and ultimately the end consumer. All along ISCC Mass Balance processses were adhered to for tracking and certifying the sustainable content throughout the value chain.
ISCC Mass balance certification came into play at several key junctures—after the polystyrene waste was depolymerized, after manufacturing, and finally after conversion into yogurt cups upon delivery to the customer. With the certification, Yoplait could then confidently promote sustainable packaging to the consumer.
This is a real-world example of how polystyrene can be reclaimed and reused. Because of the simplicity of the chemistry, polystyrene is infinitely recyclable, meaning that it never has to end up as consumer waste in a landfill again, but will preserve its value as a material that can be constantly recycled for new applications.Julien Renvoise – Plastics Circularity Manager at Trinseo
Sustainability in numbers
The first yogurt pots produced with food-compliant rPS were launched in the French market in May 2021. Made with 50 percent certified recycled PS , this material choice substantially reduces the environmental footprint of the polystyrene yogurt pot, already the lightest of the market within its category. Moreover the ability to the material waste back to its original use without technical limitation, ensures a viable end market for recycled material.
To measure the impact of rPS, Trinseo partnered with Styrenics Circular Solutions on a Lifecyle Analysis (LCA) comparing PS produced with 100% fossil-based material with food quality polystyrene, recycled by various methods. Results of the LCA show that recycled content using depolymerization technology saves approximately 75 percent of CO2 emissions over fossil-based material.
If one wants to be successful on this circular journey, you need the support of partners along the value chain. These three companies—Trinseo as a sustainable resin supplier, Intraplás, the leading packaging convertor, and Yoplait, a leading dairy packaging brand owner—are fully convinced of the need for this collaborationFlorian Trohay – CSR & Sustainability Manager for Yoplait