Viridor has launched a scheme with three UK supermarkets to use recycled black plastics in new food grade packaging, but say this will not immediately lead to widespread kerbside collection of the material.
The waste management company said that it has come up with a process to add black plastics to the coloured plastics stream already recycled, and the recycled material will be used in new packaging for M&S, Sainsbury’s and Tesco products. Food packaging manufacturer Faerch Plast will also be part of the partnership
This will see 120 tonnes a month of material recycled at Viridor’s plastic recycling facility in Rochester, Kent, with the volume of material “steadily increasing” over the next 18 months.
The process was described by Viridor as the “first stage” of ensuring black plastics become a resource and not waste, and that at the moment it tackles the material currently in the system.
Viridor added that it has previously endeavoured to recycle as much black plastic as possible but this has been through open loop recycling options, such as clothing fibre. The new process will aim to create a closed loop (tray to tray) recycling option.
Viridor has said that its message to local authorities on black plastics recycling remains unchanged.
Looking across the local authority sector, at present it’s a mixed picture across the UK in terms of whether black plastic trays are collected. In West Sussex where Viridor has its Ford MRF, the message is that the colour of plastic bottles and containers does not matter.
In Somerset plastic trays are not collected although they will be from 2020 when the Somerset Waste Partnership upgrades its service. In Ealing plastics pots are collected, with no mention of colour, in South Gloucestershire, trays are collected but black ones are not. In Cornwall, the message is “no”, with the explanation that “Black plastic pots tubs and trays – plastics are predominantly sorted with lasers that can identify the different types of plastic. The lasers cannot ‘see’ the black plastic and it ends up in the reject pile at the end of the process and is not recycled.”
In March last year, WRAP gave general advice to councils to add black plastic to their ‘not recycled’ list unless council contractors say otherwise, and consider the material ‘rubbish’ (see letsrecycle.com story)
Helen Bird, resource management specialist for WRAP, told letsrecycle.com that while she welcomes the proposal, there is still a lot left to do.
“While there’s work to do, this is a positive first step and we welcome this initiative’s drive to prevent plastic waste. We would advise local authorities to continue to check with their reprocessors in order to make an informed decision about whether they can collect black plastic from kerbside.”
Viridor’s commercial director, Paul Ringham, explained that the process proves that black plastic from household mixed recycling can be recycled into “higher quality mixed colour jazz flakes” and added that in the future it can be extended across the country.
“The project team, working together since January, has proven that black plastic from household mixed recycling can be recycled into high quality mixed coloured ‘jazz’ flakes to create food grade packaging,” he explained.
He added: “The project has proved a commercial process which can be extended across the UK.”
The project was also endorsed by the environment secretary Michael Gove, who said in a statement that the “global leading project” has potential to lead to a drop in the export of waste from the UK.
Mr Gove said: “This scheme has the potential to mean the UK exports less of its waste, could divert huge amounts of plastic away from landfill and prevent virgin plastic entering the market in the first place.”