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Research flags up potential for recycling flexible packaging

United States – With adequate screening and optical sorting capacity, flexible plastic packaging can be efficiently captured in a single-stream materials recovery facility (MRF), according to a research report from US-based sustainability and recycling consultancy Resource Recycling Systems (RRS).

Commissioned by the Materials Recovery for the Future initiative, the project sought to arrive at an understanding of how flexible plastic packaging such as resealable food storage bags, detergent pouches and pet food/snack bags flow through a MRF utilising existing sortation technologies such as screens and optical scanners.

RRS developed the test methodology and conducted the research – including baseline testing, equipment testing and MRF trials. ‘With the completion of this research, we have established the first proof points towards our vision of being able to recycle flexible packaging,’ states Jeff Wooster, global sustainability director for Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics, which took part in the research.

‘The results show us that existing technology found in more automated MRFs can separate flexible plastic packaging from other recyclable materials.’ RRS principal Susan Graff comments: ‘This research provides evidence that it’s possible to sort flexibles into a bale, with positive implications for the quality of other MRF product bales.’

More work is needed, however, to address other points that will influence whether MRF operators and communities choose to accept flexibles in their recycling programmes. ‘Additional equipment testing to determine the costs and feasibility of required MRF upgrades, secondary processing and end market uses are critical to success,’ she adds.

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