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Don't overlook 'unrecyclable' material, warns plastics specialist

A leading UK plastic recycler has warned of the danger of losing opportunities to recover raw materals by labelling some plastic waste products as ‘unrecycable’.

Axion Polymers’ director Keith Freegard says that sending such plastics to landfill or energy-from-waste plants is bad practice, given the rate of progress in resource recovery technology.

“There’s a danger that if materials which are currently not recycled, such as post-consumer multi-layer films, black trays and heavily-printed flexible packaging, find their way down the EfW route, then they get locked in to that waste disposal system for a long time due to the industry’s long-term investment strategies and inflexible long-term waste supply contracts,” he says.

Freegard warns that such an approach could stifle innovative redesign to create new recyclable packaging products and hold back development of new technology that allows existing plastic packaging materials to be captured, sorted and recycled.

He quotes the example of automotive shredder residue from end-of-life vehicles being processed at Axion Polymers’ Trafford plant in Manchester. At one time it was considered unrecyclable and sent to landfill but can now be counted towards recycling targets.

“Pull-through from some enlightened end-users wanting recycled products, alongside increasing landfill tax, has helped to create the drivers needed for investment in large-scale processing plant.

“It’s a great closed-loop success and, with support from the whole value chain, there’s no reason why this couldn’t be replicated with other so-called ‘unrecyclables’.”

Freegard has called for stronger links between political will, demand-led legislative drivers and technological developments that will encourage greater stakeholder involvement and the creation of fresh markets for new materials.

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