Recycling non-recycled packaging, crisp packets

Crispy is a collection of serving bowls, 100% made from delaminated post-consumer crisp packaging from structure down to the paint. A non-recyclable packaging is upcycled into a new product that once again contains crisps. Crisp packets are composed of a complex polymer structure categorised as multi-material plastic packaging, often ending up in piles of landfills. In today's conscientious era, where the push is to minimise single-use plastics or increase recycling, this packaging category tends to be overlooked, or its underlying issues remain largely unnoticed.

Crisps are an integral part of British culture, with the UK being the third-highest consumer of salty snacks worldwide, consuming 6 billion packets of crisps annually. However, due to the high salt and oil content, the packaging requires a high-tech multilayered polymer composition that is difficult to recycle and is not widely recycled. Instead, the current fate of this type of packaging is incineration, landfill, or littering the environment. Some recycling programs partnering with major snack brands offer in-store recycling for crisp packaging. However, there is little information on how the companies process the packets, and at best, the packaging gets downcycled, compromising the plastic's quality and limiting the recyclability opportunities. Crispy demonstrates that even complex plastic packaging, like crisp packets, can and should be recycled efficiently by recovering and recycling each material used in the packaging.

As crisps have high oil and salt levels, the packaging needs to be highly corrosive resistant. Therefore the packaging is composed of laminated plastic layers and aluminium, designed to keep air and light out, extending the shelf life of crisps. Most brands use a composition of two or more layers of polymer films. The most common materials used are polypropylene (PP) with ink used for branding and metallised polyethylene terephthalate (PET), or PP.

A specialised solvent-based separation process delaminates a single crisp packet into four distinct materials. The recovered materials are then recycled and processed separately to maintain the plastic quality. The reclaimed PP films are remelted and cast into bowls, while the ink is extracted and made into paint. Each colour of paint is representative of a specific flavour and brand of crisps, and the illustrations are hand-painted. The metallised PET films are made into threads woven together to form a casing that can be disassembled. This transformation not only prevents these non-recyclable crisp packets from becoming environmental hazards but also demonstrates the potential for recycling this type of unreclaimed plastic.
This project has been showcased during Milan Design Week 2023 at the We Will Design exhibition in BASE. It was also exhibited during the London Design Festival 2023 at the Materials Matter Fair in Bargehouse, Oxo Tower.