Closing the recycling loopFor the first time, containers are recycled to manufacture new ones. Photo: Sæplast

When Sæplast began producing polyethylene containers a couple of decades ago, the possibility of them being recyclable at the end of their working lifetime was one of the options the company examined.

“This was one of the great advantages of the product, along with the strength of the containers, their durability and other features,” said Arnar Snorrason, Sæplast’s director of product and market development.

“At that time environmental awareness was already a major part of the development of the containers. So it’s a pleasure to have now reached the point where we see raw materials from used polyethylene containers used to manufacture new containers.”

He commented that Sæplast containers are quite literally getting a new lease on life as the first containers of this kind are in use by Sæplast’s subsidiary, tub rental company iTUB.

“With the PE containers, we are pursuing the goals of the circular economy. We are manufacturing a very strong and durable product that can be repaired to last longer. It’s recyclable and we have a shared arrangement through our rental company, iTUB, which happens to be the recipient of the first containers made from the recycled material,” he said.

“We sometimes feel that the discourse on plastic and plastic products is far too negative, as we believe that we are in fact producing an environmentally friendly product. I could also mention the fact that Sæplast is the world’s only rotomoulding company to power its ovens with electricity.”

PE containers increasingly popular

When Sæplast began manufacturing containers in 1984, the company produced only rotomoulded tubs insulated with urethane, known as PUR tubs, with an outer layer made of polyethylene and the filling of urethane. PE containers are insulated with polyethylene, which makes them sturdier, safer to use for processing and handling of food, and recyclable.

According to regional sales manager Sævaldur Gunnarsson, production and sales of the PE containers have steadily increased since Sæplast put the first container of this kind on the market.

“Our customer group includes users who only buy these containers and don’t want to use anything else. Others are gradually replacing their PUR tubs with PE container,” he said.

PE containers have been widely used in the meat industry from the beginning and their use is constantly increasing in the fishing industry. PE containers now constitute the majority of Sæplast hf.’s container production.

“But the PUR tubs still have a strong position, as they fit the needs of many customers. It is important for us, as a manufacturer, to be able to continue to offer customers both types of containers, while taking steps towards the recycling future and the social responsibility of being able to receive containers from customers after their useful life and re-use them,” Sævaldur Gunnarsson said.

Arnar Snorrason commented that the preparation for this current phase has been in progress for several years. Together with its overseas partners, Sæplast has developed a process for old containers whereby they are shredded and the material then processed to produce raw material that can be used again at the plant in Dalvík.

“The first step is to be able to recycle containers by using this material to mix with the filler for the containers. By doing so, we have closed the recycling loop for the product,” he said, adding that the ultimate goal is to be able to mould PE containers entirely from recycled material.

“This requires a longer development process, but we envisage this possibilityfor the future. We find that like us, our customers are interested in being socially responsible and pursuing recycling and re-use to the extent possible, with the main focus on the quality, durability and reliability of the packaging. That’s our goal,” Arnar Snorrason said.

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