Recycling high density polyethylene milk bottles back into milk jugs may soon become a reality in the United Kingdom, in what would be the first recycling venture of that kind worldwide.
Chris Dow, managing director of London-based Closed Loop London, said the firm must decide soon on whether to add an HPDE recycling line at its £12 million ($24 million) plant under construction in Dagenham, near London, slated to begin operations in December. It will be the first U.K. plant to recycle PET into resin and flake that can be used to make food-grade containers, the company said.
The plant is expected to process 70 million pounds of post-consumer plastics annually, with PET bottles equaling 50 percent and HDPE 20 percent of that mix.
The joint public and private sector venture has five investors, including Waste & Resources Action Programme, a nonprofit group in Banbury, England, created in 2000 by several government groups to encourage and enable businesses and consumers to be more efficient in their use of materials.
``I expect to make the decision in the next few weeks,'' Dow said in a May 9 interview. ``I would say that we are now out to April 2008 as a first production date.''
Dow said Closed Loop, a subsidiary of Visy Closed Loop in Melbourne, Australia, still is working to secure supply and financing and to line up firms to buy the milk bottles, which would contain 30 percent recycled HDPE.
Marks & Spencer plc, a large London-based retail chain and grocer, sold 60,000 4-pint bottles made last fall in France and funded by WRAP.
The firm has agreed to send the plastics waste from its London stores to Closed Loop and to buy even more products made with recycled PET for its packaging.
Equipment for the HDPE line would cost about $6 million, said Edward Kosior, technical director for Closed Loop London and managing director of NexTek Pty Ltd. of Sydney, Australia. Kosior founded 3-year-old NexTek to find technical solutions to environmental and recycling challenges facing plastics.
Kosior said the Closed Loop trial showed that recycling HDPE milk bottles into resin that can be used to make more milk bottles is economically feasible if you can process 2,000 pounds an hour. But because ``capital costs are not that high,'' he said it is possible the line would be designed to process twice that much material. WRAP estimates there are 260 million pounds of plastic milk bottles used annually in the U.K., far more than Closed Loop London would need.
``The keys are securing the appropriate technology for bottle sorting, washing and decontamination, having an enthusiastic market for the finished product, and having a supply of appropriate milk bottle materials without too much contamination,'' Kosior said. ``Contamination wouldn't affect quality, but it would affect the yield and the economics.''
He said the process uses infrared optical scanners to separate HDPE milk bottles from other natural-colored HDPE bottles. The HDPE milk bottles are flaked and washed in a 2 percent caustic solution to remove surface dirt, paper labels and adhesives. The flakes are dried, color sorted, cleaned and extruded into pellets. The recycled HDPE bottles tested used a blend of 30 percent recycled and 70 percent virgin resin, he said.
If Closed Loop proceeds with the HDPE line, it will use Vacurema vacuum sorting technology from Erema Engineering Recycling Maschinen und Anlagen GmbH, Kosior said, as it is ``more efficient for both sorting and decontamination.'' For PET bottles, the firm said it plans to use a process developed by United Resource Recovery Corp. in Spartanburg, S.C., to sort, granulate and clean them.
Two U.S. firms have expressed interest in Closed Loop's HDPE process, he added. The company expects to ``make headway in the United States'' since it obtained a letter of nonobjection from the Food and Drug Administration last month, clearing the way for the recycled resins to be used in food-contact applications.
If it does not go ahead with the HDPE bottle-to-bottle line, Closed Loop said it will sort and bale the HDPE it receives and sell it to other companies for reprocessing.