Back in 2019, we published a blog outlining the recyclability of our 25kg and one-tonne malt bags.
That blog can be read in full HERE but, in short, it summarised that:
- Made with 100% polypropylene (PP), our bags are 100% recyclable (Category 5).
- Due to the bags having been used, they are required to go through a wash plant before they are recycled.
- There is a severe shortage of wash plants in the UK and that, combined with the low tonnage – and consequently cost – of the empty bags, means recycling firms see little value in the bags by the time transport and staff costs are factored in.
Three years on, we have been given some hope for the future, but the situation in the short-term remains quite frustrating, predominantly due to the recycling infrastructure in the UK.
In late 2021, we engaged with a UK-based private recycling firm and paid for a ‘Discovery’ session related to our bags.
For this session, the firm collected full samples of our used 25kg and one-tonne tote bags from Beavertown Brewery and analysed them at their in-house laboratory to discover whether there is an alternative recycling route for them.
So, what were the findings? Well, the analysis was broken down into three separate conclusions – reuse, recycling and chemical recycling. We outline each of these below, combining it with our own knowledge and experience of the situation.
Our 25kg malt bags cannot be reused to put more malt in due to food hygiene standards, with the bags classed as dirty after use.
The Bagging Hall is also unable to reuse bags as the bagging line has been designed so it can process new, flat bags only.
In recent years, we have seen customers come up with innovative ways of reusing our bags: from using the material as a liner in the potting of plants, to the making of purses, wallets and shopping bags.
At the end of that lifespan though, we acknowledge that the destination for the bags or the material will likely be landfill or incineration.
Just like in 2019, our 25kg bags are still made from woven PP. This remains the best option for our bags due to the material’s robustness, meaning product quality and security is not compromised.
PP is a thermoplastic material that, for the most part, is easy to recycle a few times before it starts to degrade. However, given that our bags are made from woven PP and that there is a requirement for the used bags to go through a wash plant, of which there are very few in the UK.
It is possible for waste contractors to recycle these, but what they normally do is bale them and send them over in 25-tonne loads to wash plants in the EU. This is not widely available and very much specific to the waste handler, so breweries will need to ask questions such as:
- Do they recycled woven PP bags?
- If they do, how?
- If not, what’s happening to them?
- If they do, where are they normally going?
- If they do, how do they ensure that they are not exported to countries that don’t have the waste infrastructure to recycle them?
It means that there is still not a widely available, cost-effective recycling solution for all parties involved – Simpsons Malt, our brewing customers and recycling companies – to adequately recycle the waste PP in the UK.
But there is some hope moving forward…
Chemical recycling, also known as feedstock recycling, converts plastic waste into chemicals.
This process converts the chemical structure of the polymer into chemical building blocks, including monomers, that are used again as a raw material in chemical processes.
PP has been found to be suitable for chemical recycling and, currently, developers are targeting PP and PE because they yield more feedstock chemicals from the reactor.
In their report, the private recycling firm informed us they were working with a few chemical recycling partners. However, there are currently a couple of barriers for chemical recycling being a solution now.
One is the general state of the market, which is more at the pre-commercial stage, meaning the partners of the private recycling firm are not yet ready to scale-up their operations.
The second is the large format of the sacks, which would need a lot of pre-processing prior to being chemically recycled.
In truth, there have been few advancements since our previous update in 2019 with regards to finding a cost-effective recycling solution for all parties, although we’d encourage all customers to speak with their waste contractors about the recycling of woven PP.
There is a possibility that chemical recycling can become a viable option – but the private recycling firm believe this won’t be the case for 3-5 years.
We have been liaising with the Sustainable Materials Innovation Hub (SMI Hub) – part of the Henry Royce Institute at the University of Manchester – as part of the Beyond Planting Trees project, alongside a small group of craft breweries in Manchester, as well as other malting companies. The project focused on opportunities to reduce the breweries’ plastics waste, which includes 25kg malt bags.
We remain in dialogue with the SMI Hub regarding any developments they make, and our in-house sustainability, continuous improvement and packaging teams are always on the look-out for a suitable, alternative and easier to recycle material than woven PP that doesn’t compromise product quality and the robustness of the bags.
We continue to be approachable and welcome any suggestions put forward to us as we work towards a permanent, industry-wide solution.
If you have anymore questions regarding the recyclability of our malt bags, get in touch with our Sustainability Manager Ben Gothorp, who can be contacted via email: email@example.com.