If you’ve dined at Northpoint City’s KFC outlet in June 2022, you might not have noticed anything different about the experience. But not only does the outlet have a new type of plant-based food packaging, none of the food or packaging waste will head to the incinerator.


Closing the loop

For the next six months, the waste produced by KFC patrons at Northpoint City will go towards feeding a special waste digester in Tuas instead. This is part of the world’s first pilot for closed-loop organic recycling of single-use packaging and waste. The digester takes in both food waste and packaging and transforms it into farm-ready fertiliser in just 24 hours. This entire end-to-end system is practically zero waste. To consumers though, the entire range of food packaging feels and looks exactly the same.

From plant to packaging to fertiliser

The proprietary system was developed by innovative foodware company and local start-up TRIA. They launched the pilot programme with KFC Singapore on June 1, a collaboration that was facilitated by Enterprise Singapore.

“Globally, no fast food brand has managed to close the loop for dine-in single-use packaging,” said a joint press release by KFC and TRIA. The plant-based packaging is a mixture of paper and bioplastics, which is made from sugar-based plant crops like industrial corn and leftover sugarcane pulp sourced from the U.S., Thailand and Taiwan. The fertiliser made by the digester will go towards local agriculture to support Singapore’s 30 by 30 food security goal or otherwise exported to Malaysia. TRIA CEO Ng Pei Kang told Mothership the research for the technology has been underway for about nine years, and just under S$1 million has been funnelled into its development.


Food waste and packaging recycled together

KFC general manager Lynette Lee said that the need to review how food packaging can be more environmentally sustainable was partially driven by the pandemic. “During the past two years of the Covid pandemic, we saw a shift towards food takeaway and delivery. Instead of less packaging, the food industry saw an increased usage of packaging, be it plastic or paper. Even when regulations are now relaxed, consumers have grown to love the convenience of these services.”

Food packaging is notorious for being hard to recycle, and one main challenge is segregating it from food waste. It is commercially unviable as recycling food packaging would cost five times more than the packaging itself, said Ng. TRIA’s patented technologies to break down the plant-based packaging allow both to be processed together without segregation. At any one time, the food digester can turn 1,000kg of food waste and packaging into 200 to 300kg of fertiliser. Ng shared that he sees potential for the closed-loop system to be used for catering events and on airlines. TRIA also has plans to scale up its closed-loop solution to KFC outlets locally and worldwide, as well as to other global foodservice brands. Source: https://mothership.sg/2022/06/kfc-plant-based-packaging/