23 March 2015 by Will Date

WRAP concludes major plastics recycling research

The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has today (March 23) concluded a series of work on plastics recycling that it is hoped will stimulate investment in the sector, and help to boost recycling rates for the material.

The organisation has published a series of reports on plastics recycling, which includes work on developing end markets for the commercial recycling of PET pots, tubs and trays as well as work to assess the viability of using machine readable inks to make the sorting of food-grade packaging more accurate.

WRAP has published a series of reports on plastics recycling today

WRAP has published a series of reports on plastics recycling today

Results of an in-market trial on the collection, sorting and reprocessing of black plastic food trays, carried out jointly by WRAP, retailers, local authorities, waste management firm Biffa, plastics body Recoup and plastics producers have also been published today.

PTT

Work on clear PET pots, tubs and trays was carried out in order to address the lack of end markets for the material, which according to WRAP represents a significant proportion of the household plastic waste stream.

The project reviewed existing practices and possible markets to separate and reprocess clear PET PTT collected from households. This was undertaken through identification of end markets, technical trials, and assessment of financial viability.

According to WRAP, around 39,000 tonnes of the material could feasibly be reprocessed in the UK, if the material can achieve a value of around £190 per tonne. Potential new markets identified by WRAP include reprocessing into PET sheet, coloured PET bottles, pipe, pallet or fibre production.

The project followed two loads of clear PET PTTs collected from Veolia through the stages of reprocessing and to product manufacture.

Material was sent to Anson Packaging to assess the technical viability of using the flake as rPET sheet in the manufacture of new trays. Material was also sent to Solocup Europe to prove that PET from PTTs can be used for mono-thermoforming material. For the third packaging trial, pellet was produced by PET Processors and then sent to RPC, Blackburn, to use in the production process for injection moulded containers.

Click here to access WRAP's Developing End Markets for PET Pots, Tubs and Trays

Click here to access WRAP’s Developing End Markets for PET Pots, Tubs and Trays

In its report on the project, WRAP concluded: “The feedstock value, output material value and process yield loss will all have significant impacts on financial viability. The system is particularly sensitive to increases in feedstock value. Financial viability is also dependent on achieving the identified average value of £190/te or more.

“When the initial capital expenditure and potential operating income and expenditure is incorporated into a 10 year profile using the default model parameters, it suggests a capital payback period of five years. Alternatively, the annual pre-tax profit is £808k including the capital repayment across 10 years.

“The data indicates a potential requirement for nine clear PET PTT process lines by 2017 representing an investment cost of £31m. This increases to 11 process lines by 2020 with a total investment cost of £39m. This review assumes that 100% of material is retained for reprocessing in the UK, but does not account for any potential imports of clear PET tray bales.”

WRAP is now seeking to form a working group following on from the findings of the report to assess the technical and financial results of the project and to develop a road map to progressing the clear PET PTT recycling opportunity during 2015.

Sorting

Among the other reports published today is WRAP’s study into the feasibility of using machine-readable inks to help improve the separation of material to meet the quality standards required for the material to be processed into food grade packaging.

To access WRAP's Optimising the use of machine readable inks for food packaging sorting report, click here

To access WRAP’s Optimising the use of machine readable inks for food packaging sorting report, click here

This is seen as one of the main barriers to greater reprocessing of PP packaging in particular, as it is difficult for sorting facilities to identify whether material has previously been used to package food – and can therefore be used for food processes again – or has come from a non-food source.

According to WRAP, by using inks with fluorescent pigments on labels that can be detected by sorting machinery, different grades of the same polymer type can be sorted to allow a greater level of sorting to take place.

In its report, WRAP concluded: “Based on the audit of current PP waste, results indicated 55% detectability of existing packages. Together with potential yields of 98% from the sorting trials, it can be estimated that of the 143,000 tonnes of PP food packaging in the market each year, theoretically 77,077 tonnes could be recovered and processed back to food applications each year in the UK if all of the PP was captured by the recycling infrastructure and sorted at MRFs.

“In practice if a recycling rate of 50% was assumed, recovery levels would reach 38,538 tonnes per year. This would increase dramatically if label design and application was modified according to protocols, to better accommodate identification and sorting requirements. Also with higher value applications for the recycled PP materials, collection and recovery rates may also increase.”

The organisation is now seeking to conduct a large scale trial of the method of sorting, alongside retailers and recyclers with the aim of identifying the commercial opportunities of the system.

MRFs

Elsewhere, WRAP has also completed a comprehensive study into the composition of plastics that is received at MRFs, which concludes that around 17% of commingled recycling collected from households is made up of plastic.

Its report ‘Plastics Compositional Analysis at MRFs’ states that bottles and PTT are the most common plastic formats, with bottles making up around 7% of total MRF inputs and PTT 4%. PET, PP and HDPE polymers were the most common among these, accounting for 81% of plastics collected.

Black trays

Results have also been published today on the recycling trial for CPET black plastic packaging, led by retailer Marks & Spencer.

Research has been conducted into the feasibility of collecting and reprocessing black CPET trays

Research has been conducted into the feasibility of collecting and reprocessing black CPET trays

The trial set out to demonstrate that detectable black CPET trays could be collected for recycling and reprocessed into new trays instead of being sent to landfill.

The six month long trial began when with the detectable CPET tray went into production and were then used in a range of M&S and Sainsbury’s ready meals. The trays were then recovered from the waste stream before being washed, flaked and tested against the latest industry standard for inclusion into new trays.

The post-consumer packaging recovery was undertaken by Biffa and the Closed Loop Plastic Recycling Company and supported by Nextek, Brunel University and Faerch Plast for the final testing of the recovered materials.

Commenting on the trial, Claire Shrewsbury, WRAP’s packaging programme manager said: “The project’s success in proving the recycling potential for black CPET should help to drive further work to enhance this opportunity. WRAP is pleased to have been a part of the collaborative partnership and looks forward to seeing how industry considers next steps.”

Reports published by WRAP today include:

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