Two M-Classic mocha yoghurt containers and behind them you can see a symbol for a closed circuit

A second life for containers

Making yoghurt containers recyclable

The Migros subsidiary Elsa Mifroma is carrying out pioneering work: Packaging Specialist Micaël Müller aims to make it possible to recycle yoghurt containers.

Micaël Müller
What we do

Firm or creamy, with wild berries, mango or maple syrup – Migros offers yoghurt to suit every taste.
It is nearly always produced by the M industrial company Elsa Mifroma. This company fills 320 million yoghurt containers each year in its production plant in Estavayer-le-Lac (FR). Approximately 90 per cent of these containers are made of the plastic polystyrene (PS). This material is practical: it can be utilised to form thin-walled containers that are strong enough to protect the yoghurt during transport. Unlike PET, however, PS is still easy to break. This is important, because yoghurt is often purchased in Switzerland in packs of two. You can easily separate the pair at home if you want to spoon out one container and store the other in the fridge.

"What we have been doing for a long time with PET bottles must also be viable for yoghurt containers"

Micaël Müller

PS also has a drawback: it cannot be recycled yet and eventually ends up in the waste. But there is one person who refuses to accept this: Micaël Müller (37), Packaging Specialist at M-Industry. “What we have been doing for a long time with PET bottles must also be viable for yoghurt containers,” he says. PS, however, is consumed in significantly smaller quantities than the plastic PET. So it would hardly be worth the effort to develop a yoghurt container recycling system only for the empty containers from Switzerland. This is why Müller sought a foreign partner and found one two years ago in the mineral oil company Total. Total operates a research centre in Belgium that focuses on recycling polystyrene. This is where Müller not only called into play the Migros subsidiary Elsa Mifroma, but also its trusted yoghurt container supplier – a packaging company from Diepoldsau SG.

This initiated an international collaboration to produce a container that is made of 100 per cent recycled PS: the first pilot plant of a recycling factory in Koblenz (Germany) shreds and cleans yoghurt containers from the EU region. The polystyrene is processed into granules and subsequently transported to the packaging company in the St. Gallen Rhine Valley. This melts down the powder and shapes it into new yoghurt containers for Elsa Mifroma. A few containers made of recycled PS were filled with yoghurt on a trial basis. They successfully passed the test run with flying colours: during transport, they reliably protect their contents.

However, the containers will not make an appearance on the Migros refrigerated shelves until 2022 at the earliest. After all, their food safety still needs to be thoroughly examined first. Since the recycling plant involved is located in Germany, an EU authority is responsible. Is it worth all the effort? “Absolutely,” affirms Matthew Robin (55), CEO of Elsa Mifroma. “Because we are conducting pioneering work for the environment here. What we are doing will have a leading role model effect beyond country borders. It is a tribute to Migros’ commitment to sustainability.”

Collection bag: Migros closes the plastic loop

Migros is once again blazing a trail in plastic recycling with a pioneering project. As the first Swiss retailer, it is planning to introduce a plastic collection bag in which virtually all plastic packaging can be collected and passed on for recycling in participating Migros shops. The plastic waste is intended to be converted into packaging for the Migros industry. Discussions are currently being held with regional waste associations, municipalities and authorities to enable a plastic take-back programme in Switzerland in the near future.