GRANGEMOUTH refinery owner Ineos hopes to use the capabilities offered by the complex to help tackle a big environmental challenge facing the food industry.

The chemicals giant has joined a project that aims to develop a new way of producing food packaging from recycled polypropylene (PP) plastic.

The product could be used to help achieve a big increase in the amount of pots and the like that are recycled and to reduce the massive amounts of virgin plastic that are used in the global food industry.

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Graham MacLennan of Ineos' Olefins and Polymers operation underlined the scale of the challenge.

He said: “In the UK alone we use over 210,000 tonnes of PP in our food packaging every year. It is found in pots, tubs and trays.

“However, the absence of food-grade recycled polypropylene means that all PP food packaging is currently made from virgin plastics. This isn’t unique to the UK but a large global issue.”

PP is hard to recycle in a form that makes it suitable for use in food packaging. Ineos expects to use its expertise to ‘tailor’ recycled PP so that it can be blended with virgin PP for use in the production of a broader range of food packaging.

Ineos said it would be at the centre of an important two-year project that will inform the building of a demonstration plant in the UK to produce 10,000 tonnes per year of food-grade recycled polypropylene.

It did not say where the plant will be built.

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The NEXTLOOPP project involves firms in the food production industry and related supply chains and universities. These include Unilever, Viridor and The University of Greenwich.

On its website the project notes: “Polypropylene is the most dominant polymer in the recycling stream. In Europe alone we produce 10 million tons of PP and only 15% of this is being recycled.”