BANBURY, ENGLAND (Sept. 23, 12 p.m. ET) — The findings from a trial funded by Waste & Resources Action Program (Wrap) indicate it could soon be possible to recycle almost all domestic plastic packaging waste.
According to Wrap, despite more than 300,000 metric tons of plastic packaging being collected for recycling each year in the United Kingdom, more than a million metric tons still ends up going to landfill because of the difficulty of collecting and recycling films, the difficulty in detecting and sorting black plastics and the lack of high value markets for non-bottle plastics.
A series of Wrap-backed trials has identified methods for recycling black plastics, complex laminated plastics, plastic films and polypropylene that would typically be destined for landfill.
For example, by using non-carbon pigments in the manufacture of black plastics, it is possible to create a material that is almost identical in color but can be identified by the optical sorting equipment. This could lead to the widespread recycling of the most common plastic used in packaging.
Feedback from retailers has been encouraging, and the plastic trays could be recycled into high value single-polymer materials.
Complex laminated packaging, the material used in toothpaste and cosmetics tubes, contains a layer of aluminum sandwiched between plastic, and a second trial has identified a way to extract this high value aluminum. Wrap estimates that there is around 140,000 metric tons of this laminated packaging in the U.K. waste stream with an aluminum content of around 13,500 metric tons.
A third study has seen the development of a technique that could recycle post-consumer PP back in to material suitable for food-grade applications. More work is still needed, but Wap believes this could help to grow high-value markets for recycled PP, following a similar path to that developed by recycled HDPE and recycled PET. It could also deliver higher environmental benefits as retailers and brands start to use it in their packaging.
And work done by the Co-operative Group and Sainsbury's, in partnership with Wrap, has identified a variety of uses for plastic films recycled in-store by customers and staff. These applications include bags for life, in-store signage and external cladding.
A system has also been developed that cleans and recycles contaminated film, producing a pellet with a sales value of £400 to £500 per metric ton. With the cost of sending this material to landfill currently £80 per metric ton, the advantages are clear, according to Wrap.
Marcus Gover, director of closed-loop economy at Banbury-based Wrap, said: “When we first looked at recycling non-bottle plastic packaging back in 2007, we carried out detailed studies to make sure it would be technically and economical viable.
“We also carried out a thorough life-cycle assessment to make sure it was the best environmental option. We're now seeing this recycling becoming a reality, creating jobs and re-invigorating the manufacturing industry in the UK reducing our reliance on exports,” he said in a news release.
“There have been, and there are still, barriers to overcome and Wrap will continue to work closely with the industry to develop these new methods and technologies so that, in the future, local authorities can offer their residents a way of recycling even more of their plastic packaging.”