A new United Kingdom project hopes to significantly improve the recyclability of flexible packaging and divert more of it away from landfill, although it anticipates it will take at least a decade to reach the point where this figure hits 50 percent.
The two-year Reflex project, funded by the U.K.'s innovation agency Innovate UK and led by Manchester-based Axion Consulting, aims to create a circular economy for flexible packaging by getting the whole supply chain involved.
Interested parties would include polymer producers, packaging manufacturers, waste management firms and recyclers, the project leaders said.
Companies on board so far include Dow Chemical, Nestlé UK, Sita Holdings and Unilever UK Central Resources.
Roger Morton, a director at Axion, said the project would include looking at innovative inks, new barrier polymers, novel packaging designs and a new automated sorting technique.
“Flexible plastic packaging represents a huge challenge to current recycling routes, because seemingly ‘simple' packages, such as a biscuit wrapper, may incorporate several functional layers to deliver heat-sealable, oxygen barrier, metallised, printed and varnished packaging with high tear strength, good puncture resistance and minimum cost,” he added.
The project's backers said research had already started into how flexible packaging can be collected, sorted and then reprocessed into high-quality recycled plastic pellet suitable for use in the manufacture of a wide range of products.
“It is anticipated that the market will follow a similar model to that for plastic bottle recycling and take 10 years to mature to a point at which more than 50 percent of flexible packaging is diverted from the waste stream,” Axion said in a statement.