Industry sets black plastic packaging challenge

A cross-industry packaging recycling group has committed to finding a solution that will enable the recycling of all black plastic packaging by the end of 2018.

The group, which includes members from packaging manufacturers, packers, brands and retailers, material re-processors and trade associations, has agreed a range of new actions and commitments to tackle the long-standing challenge of recycling black plastic packaging.

The majority of black plastic packaging, which is commonly used in microwave meals, is coloured using carbon black pigment. These do not enable packs to be sorted by the optical sorting systems that are widely used in plastics recycling. As a result, black plastic packaging commonly ends up as residue and is disposed of in landfill or recycled into lower value materials.

Led by plastic recycling charity RECOUP, the group has developed a Recycling Roadmap, which will enable the collection, sorting and recycling of black plastic packaging, and the development of sustainable solutions which can be embraced by all members of the supply and recycling chain. The roadmap details activities that explore available and new opportunities, including:

  • Building on previous work, assessing the impacts of black plastic packaging items and use of detectable black packaging on material sorting facilities;

  • Developing a defined roll out of detectable pigment;

  • Encouraging and enabling technical providers to develop sorting and reprocessing solutions;

  • Testing the viability of using different colours and shades to ensure any changes of pack colour will demonstrably improve detectability for recycling;

  • Assessing new alternative sorting solutions;

  • Researching and testing closed and open loop end markets.

Stuart Foster, CEO of RECOUP, said of the work: “Despite the inevitable politics and positioning behind issues such as black plastic recycling, our role at RECOUP is to bring the various groups and stakeholders together to make practical steps forward and build on the great work of individual organisations to date. The ultimate aim is to drive black plastic recycling forwards in a practical and sensible way, turning ambitions and collaborative thinking into actual delivery.”

Marcus Gover, WRAP CEO added: “WRAP has been working for a long time to make black plastic packaging recyclable. We have a solution which means that we can produce black plastic packaging that can be detected in the sorting process and recycled. We now need the whole industry to take up that solution – from packaging producer and retailer to waste manager and recycler. 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.”

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

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