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Plastics: boost for ‘barcode’ sorting project

United Kingdom – A UK project investigating the use of an ‘invisible barcode’ made from metal oxides to facilitate the sorting and separation of plastics packaging for recycling has been awarded £772 000 (US$ 1.17 million) in funding.

The Plastic Packaging Recycling using Intelligent Separation technologies for Materials (PRISM) initiative has secured funding from the UK government innovation agency Innovate UK, as well as the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and commercial partners. The PRISM project will develop new fluorescent materials from novel metal oxides as well as converting reprocessed powders from recycled fluorescent lamps into suitable fluorescent materials.

The PRISM project is being led by plastics recycling consultancy Nextek, with the other partners being Brunel University London, Tomra Sorting, CCL Label, Mirage Inks, the Waste & Resources Action Programme, Evolve Polymers (formerly ECOPlastics Recycling), Johnson Matthey and Enlightened Lamp Recycling.

‘This could be the equivalent of an invisible barcode for plastics recycling,’ comments Professor Edward Kosior, managing director of Nextek. ‘It is a significant step forward in the sub-categorisation of plastics which are sorted automatically at high speed.’ The initiative has the potential to provide ‘a massive impetus for new businesses in the recycling sector’, he adds.

The fluorescent label technique is designed to be integrated with the current near infrared-based sorting systems used in materials recovery facilities. It would be triggered by an ultraviolet light source that is detected in the visible spectrum – something which is ‘within the capacity of many modern automatic sorting units’.

The project partners claim that, if successful, this approach could allow food-grade polymers to be distinguished from non-food-grade, black plastics to be identified and full-length shrink-sleeves to be tagged according to the underlying plastic.

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