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A new beginning for black plastic recycling?

Europe – Marks & Spencer (M&S), Sainsbury’s and other leading UK companies have joined forces to boost the recycling of black plastic CPET trays, an estimated 1.3 billion of which are used annually in the UK’s ready meals packaging sector.

CPET was first produced by Danish firm Faerch Plast in 2012 and, despite their recyclability, the black plastic has been too difficult for near infrared sensors to detect, meaning it frequently turns up in landfills. However, preliminary trials are indicating that use of an alternative colourant will finally change this.

To monitor sorting success in a ′live′ environment, Faerch Plast has produced roughly 2 million ′detectable′ CPET trays especially for M&S and Sainsbury′s. The trial will run for four weeks and is targeting the south east of England. Automatic sorting, decontamination and recycling will be overseen by Nextek and Biffa. Faerch Plast will then conduct a final assessment of the scope for converting them back into black CPET trays.

′Whilst the trays offer great convenience for consumers, the recycling challenge results in unnecessary waste and technically recyclable material being missed,′ comments Andrew Speck, commercial and environmental packaging manager at M&S. Finding a viable solution is key and retailers have a ′very important role′ to play in achieving progress.

′After four years of development work to improve the detectability and recycling of black packaging, it is great to see cross-sector engagement that allows us to trial its effectiveness in the real world,′ adds Claire Shrewsbury, packaging specialist at the UK′s Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

The consortium says that the technology has the potential to be shared with other packaging and durable applications such as appliances, office equipment and automotive components. It could effectively ′mark the beginning of a new capacity to capture black plastic products at high speeds in the modern MRFs used throughout Europe′, it is claimed.

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