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Industry sets deadline for recycling of black plastic packaging

A commitment to enable the sustainable recycling of all black plastic packaging bottles, pots, tubs and trays by the end of 2018 has been agreed by a cross-industry group, including leading retailers.

Packaging manufacturers, packers, retailers and brands, material reprocessors and trade associations have agreed a ‘roadmap’ to achieve the goal.

Their key challenge has been that black trays are the most efficient for ready meals and the colour is considered the most visually appealing for the presentation of many food items. Black plastic can be produced by mixing several colours together from different sources, including off-cuts from the production process.

Most black plastic packaging has carbon black pigments which absorb infra-red light and cannot be optically sorted by equipment using near infra-red detection technology. However, an alternative detectable pigment has been identified.

In 2011, WRAP estimated the volume of black plastic packaging entering the UK waste stream to be 30,000-60,000 tonnes, and in 2016 recycling charity Recoup put the figure from the grocery sector alone at 35,000 tonnes.

Marcus Gover, chief executive of WRAP, said that because detecting black plastic packaging was now possible, the whole industry had to take it up.

”This commitment to do that is welcomed and I look forward to seeing the action that will follow. Citizens want their black plastic packaging to be recyclable. Together, we now need to make that happen.”

The roadmap has three main objectives:

  • Use of a tried and tested detectable pigment
  • New technology solutions to sort existing black plastic packaging material
  • Implementing opportunities to change from black to an alternative colour

Results will feed into best practice guidance for brands, retailers and local authorities.

The industry group, which is led by Recoup, is committed ”to find sustainable solutions by the end of 2018 that will enable the recycling of all black plastic packaging bottles, pots, tubs and trays”.

Stuart Foster

900 Stuart Foster

Stuart Foster, chief executive of Recoup (pictured), said: “The ultimate aim is to drive black plastic recycling forwards in a practical and sensible way, turning ambitions and collaborative thinking into actual delivery.”

Iain Ferguson, environment manager for the Co-op, said black plastic use in ready-meal trays was one of the most challenging recycling problems faced by the industry: “Bringing key industry stakeholders together to co-operate and develop a solution for this complex problem is the way forward as we work towards our ambition of making 100% of our packaging easy to recycle.”

Jeremy Blake, head of recycling assets (polymers) at Viridor, said that a regional trial was the best next step in developing a sustainable national solution, while Kevin Vyse, senior packaging technologist at Marks & Spencer, said the company was encouraged by the development and “we are now close to a workable solution”.

Paul Vanston, chief executive of the packaging industry group Incpen, said the challenge had been securing agreement across the whole supply chain on the economic viability.

“This commitment by so many organisations is a brilliant example of how seemingly intractable problems can be solved when everyone works together. For customers and councils, delivering this commitment in 2018 will be a ‘win win’ on ease and consistency of recycling up and down the country.”

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