RECOUP has been leading a cross-sector forum to address improving the recyclability of black plastic packaging and has concluded that while research and development has not led to any “practical improvements”, there are various solutions either available or in development.
The plastics recycling charity published a new report that provides the latest position and the progress which has been made since the forum was set up at the end of 2017.
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According to RECOUP, it was clear from the Forum’s inception that although pressure was growing, research and development has not led to any improvements in the recyclability of black plastic.
It was accepted by all those concerned that “to do nothing was not an option and a variety of solutions were explored”.
The need for recyclability was also acknowledged through the Defra consultations, with the belief that unrecyclable packaging placed on the market could be subject to higher taxes in the future when compared to recyclable items.
From this, the forum focused on the sorting and reprocessing of black and other undetectable coloured plastic packaging.
The work found that there are various solutions either available or in development including the use of transparent packaging or alternative detectable colours, use of detectable black pigments, and development of sorting technology for the existing carbon black packaging.
RECOUP chief executive Stuart Foster said: “Despite the inevitable politics and positioning behind issues such as black plastic packaging recycling, our role at RECOUP is to bring the various groups and stakeholders together to make practical steps forward. I hope we have helped to avoid knee jerk reactions to the challenge of improving plastic recycling potential, and instead have turned ambitions and collaborative thinking into actual long-term solutions.”
The report highlights numerous ongoing individual and collective actions, which is expected to cut the undetectable black packaging coming into the market by the end of 2019.
Given one solution is detectable black pigment, it also appears that specifically excluding or highlighting black packaging as a problem colour will no longer be valid.
RECOUP packaging technologist and project leader Paul East said: “We appreciate it can take time to deliver the changes needed to improve recyclability, but there is no reason why all plastic packaging can’t adopt the basic principle that it must not inhibit the sorting or recycling process, as part of the design specifications. As shown in the new report, removing or coming out of black in favour of a transparent pack or detectable colour has been seen as the quickest solution in many cases, and therefore most popular. To balance this, the report also includes the potentially important role of black and darker plastic as a base colour as we move towards the requirement for greater recycled content.”