Progress made on plastic flexible packaging recycling solution

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A consortium that is investigating developing solutions for the recycling of flexible plastic packaging has reported on progress at the end of the two-year project.

Led by Axion Consulting, the REFLEX project involved Amcor, Dow Chemical Company, Interflex, Nestlé, Suez, Tomra Sorting and Unilever.

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So far, the project has shown the commercial value of materials recovered by the recycling process and demonstrated that attractive yields of recycled materials could be achieved.

It has also addressed technical challenges in establishing infrastructure to collect, sort and recycle polyolefinic flexible packaging in the UK.

This includes improvement of the packaging design, including digital watermarking that can be used for identification by infra-red sorting machines.

Axion Consulting senior engineer Richard McKinlay said: “We think that these changes and further technology optimisation can improve the economics of recycling flexible packaging and make the concept more attractive to investors and recyclers.”

Amcor director sustainability Gerald Rebitzer said: “Flexible packaging excels in terms of material efficiency.

“This creates a cascade of environmental benefits throughout the entire value chain, and avoids waste at source. What is still in its infancy is an end-to-end solution for this packaging type. This research could help close that gap.”

Now that the research project has come to a close, the next stage will be wider collaboration with brand owners, converters, waste management companies and recyclers to finalise guidelines for the recycling of plastic flexible packaging.