United Kingdom – A series of trials funded by the UK-based Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) suggests it could soon be possible to recycle almost all plastic packaging waste from the home.
Despite the fact that more than 300 000 tonnes of plastic packaging is collected in the UK for recycling each year, more than 1 million tonnes still ends up going to landfill because of the difficulties associated with collecting and recycling films and with detecting and sorting black plastics; a further problem is the lack of high-value markets for non-bottle plastics.
A series of trials, funded by WRAP, has identified methods of recycling black plastics, complex laminated plastics, plastic films and polypropylene (PP) 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 colour, but can be identified by the optical sorting equipment used by many material recycling facilities (MRFs).
Another study has yielded the development of a technique that could recycle post-consumer PP into material suitable for food-grade applications. More work is still needed but WRAP believes this could help to grow high-value markets for recycled PP along a similar path to that developed by rHDPE and rPET. It could also deliver higher environmental benefits as retailers and brands start to use it in their packaging, WRAP points out.
Furthermore, work done with WRAP by leading retailers The Co-operative Group and Sainsbury’s 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 tonne (US$ 640-800). The cost of sending contaminated film to landfill in the UK currently stands at around £80 per tonne (US$ 128).
Marcus Gover, Director of Closed Loop Economy at WRAP, comments: ‘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 economically 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.’
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