Kraft Heinz pilots recycled plastic packaging as roofing material


Dive Brief:

  • Kraft Heinz installed new roofs made of recycled plastic packaging — from post-consumer material that comes from flexible plastic similar to what the CPG giant uses for its products — on manufacturing facilities in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, and Holland, Michigan.
  • The company installed the recycled roofing boards in late 2020 as part of its participation in Materials Recovery for the Future, a nonprofit group pushing the technical and economic feasibility of collecting and recycling flexible plastic packaging. Kraft Heinz will monitor the recycled material’s performance versus conventional building materials, and may standardize its use if the test goes well, the company said. Kraft Heinz will also report the results to the Association of Plastic Recyclers Demand Champion program, which it joined last year.
  • Flexible plastic is an important component of food packaging, but it can be difficult to recycle. In 2018, discarded packaging made up 82.2 million tons of waste — 28.1% of all waste that year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In that year, 14.5 million tons of plastic packaging was made. About two-thirds of it ended up in landfills.

Dive Insight:

Kraft Heinz is literally taking recycled plastic packaging to new heights.

The recycled roof boards are 4 feet by 8 feet, and 94% of each board is made from post-consumer plastic and fiber. The company didn’t indicate how much of the roof had been covered in the recycled boards, but it’s certainly being put to the test. Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, has seen a foot of snow in February, while Holland, Michigan, has seen more than two feet, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

If this test works and the recycled material is as good as the conventional roofing, it could be a game changer for Kraft Heinz. It’s not clear how much flexible packaging the CPG company uses for its products annually. According to statistics on Kraft Heinz’s website, about 30% of its packaging as of 2019 fell into the non-recyclable category, including flexible plastic films or rigid plastic containers.

The company has several sustainability goals, including making 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2025. To reach that goal, the brand is testing a recyclable and compostable paper cup for Macaroni & Cheese in the U.S., and in Europe plans to make its Heinz Ketchup bottles with recyclable food-grade PET plastic.

While Kraft Heinz doesn’t currently use recyclable flexible plastic packaging, it may be a relatively easy move. Earlier this month, General Mills debuted a recyclable plastic wrapper for its Nature Valley Crunchy granola bars, and chose not to patent the wrapper so that other manufacturers could use it. 

As manufacturers are working to reuse their waste products — both through upcycled products that save food items from the trash and manufacturing processes that use waste for energy — a successful test result could put Kraft Heinz in a class of its own. The company could potentially renovate its factories with its own post-consumer waste, which would be impactful. According to Kraft Heinz’s annual report, it has 81 manufacturing facilities worldwide and owns all but three.

Kraft Heinz’s pilot project will be a lasting proof of concept for using recycled plastic as roofing material in industrial buildings. It may help popularize this reuse of plastic packaging, as well as lead to improvements in the strength, weatherproofing and longevity of this roofing material. As of 2018, 46% of recycled plastic film ends up as this kind of lumber, according to a report prepared for the American Chemistry Foundation. The biggest problem left unsolved may be how to get consumers to change their behavior and recycle more flexible plastic — something that currently happens only at drop-off bins placed outside retailers.