High-profile global brands such as Nestle and Unilever are joining a collaborative project as part of efforts to divert more plastic flexible packaging from landfill.
The two-year REFLEX project, funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, will involve the entire supply chain from polymer production and packaging manufacture to waste management and recycling.
Others in the collaboration include Amcor, Dow Chemical Company, Interflex Group, Sita, Tomra and Axion Consulting.
Flexible packaging such as plastic bags, confectionery wrappers, frozen food bags and pouches makes up 32% of consumer plastic packaging in the UK, however virtually all of the 556,000 tonnes produced annually ends up in landfill.
Flexible film presents a number of challenges with low yields due to multi-layer barrier materials, difficulties in sorting it from bulk waste and high ink loadings that affect the final recycled product colour.
Axion director Roger Morton said the aim of the project was to remove the barriers preventing such packaging being recycled.
“To achieve this, innovative recyclable flexible package designs and materials are required, where all the materials used can be reprocessed together. Recycling these materials is still very technically and commercially challenging.”
The project will include innovative inks, new barrier polymers, novel packaging designs and a new automated sorting technique. Industry-wide guidelines for recyclable packaging will be agreed.
Research is underway into how flexible packaging can be collected, sorted and then reprocessed into high-quality recycled plastic pellet suitable for use in the manufacture of a wide range of products.