Axion Consulting, Dow Chemical, Nestlé, Unilever and other global companies say they have made “significant” process in a project that aims to improve the recyclability of flexible packaging.
Axion Consulting is leading the collaborative R&D project, called Reflex. The partners include: Amcor, Dow Chemical, Interflex Group, Nestlé UK, SITA Holdings, Tomra Sorting and Unilever UK Central Resources.
The two-year project is co-funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.
Research so far has focused on exploring and evaluating alternatives to previously difficult to recycle multi-layer films, which are potentially more suitable for recycling and yet still deliver the performance requirements and technical properties needed for products ranging from confectionery to detergent.
Axion’s project engineer Richard McKinlay says the group has taken multi-layer packaging structures that currently use incompatible polymers and redesigned them using polymers, which can potentially be recycled together.
Another success includes optimization of NIR (Near Infra-red) sorting technologies to detect and separate mixed polyolefin (PP and PE) packaging, such as sweet wrappers, crisp packets and bread bags. This has broadened what can be sorted and separated for recycling from mixed post-consumer flexible packaging.
Capturing this mixed polyolefin packaging would divert more of it from landfill, while opening up interesting new options for the types of recycled polymers that could subsequently be made from it.
Flexible packaging such as plastic bags, confectionery wrappers, frozen food bags and pouches makes up nearly a third (32 percent) of consumer plastic packaging in the UK; however virtually all of this 414,000 metric produced annually ends up in landfill or energy recovery. By contrast 58 percent of plastic bottles are recycled.
Further studies will follow into how flexible packaging can be reprocessed into high-quality recycled plastic pellet suitable for use in the manufacture of a wide range of products. The group anticipates 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.
Last year Coca-Cola Enterprises, Tesco, Nestlé UK & Ireland and other companies received funding from the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to develop viable approaches for collecting flexible packaging materials containing aluminum, such as toothpaste tubes and pet food sachets (pictured), to improve recycling and the remanufacture of aluminum.