A research project is underway into replacing carbon black and other challenging pigments in plastics packaging with alternatives that are detectable by near-infrared (NIR) sorting technologies.
Lincolnshire-based compounding specialist Luxus is working with manufacturer One51 and Swedish processor Polykemi in a two-year project backed by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
The £1.5m funding package for the NIRSort research project is a development of previous work to identify detectable alternatives by the masterbatch supplier Colour Tone, which Luxus acquired earlier this year.
Polykemi will formulate, process and test materials with further evaluation of their potential use in packaging material by Polykemi subsidary Scanfill. One51 is involved because of its expertise in injection moulding manufacturing.
Each year 3.5 million tonnes of polymer is scrapped in the UK because black and some other coloured packaging cannot be picked up by recycling sorters. These products contain carbon black that reflects very little or no radiation, rendering it ‘invisible’ to sorting machines in recycling depots.
Black plastics represent around 5% of packaging and 30% of polymers used in electrical/electronic equipment and vehicles. Coloured waste containing carbon black is also lost to landfill or incineration in the UK each year.
Christel Croft, Luxus technical director, said: “This pioneering project … aims to develop a range of colourants for polymers that will enable NIR sorting operations to segregate black and coloured plastics from waste streams to a level of purity that they are useable in highly engineered polymers.
“We have defined a programme of development, designed to identify formulations with optimal cost-effectiveness in packaging recycling, and to extend the technology across to WEEE and end-of-life vehicle applications, each of which has its own specialist requirements.”