Resource Use

Black plastic recycling project wins £800k of government funding

A new collaborative project aimed at making black plastic easily recyclable has been awarded £800,000 by the government’s Innovate UK grant scheme.

The project is a joint effort between recycling compliance scheme Ecosurety, plastic innovations specialist Impact Solutions, reprocessors Impact Recycling and plastics injection moulder company McLaren Plastics. The companies will be working to develop and bring to market Impact Solutions’ recycling technology, PolyMet, a process by which the pigment in coloured, rigid plastics can be removed without damaging the original plastic polymer.

Coloured, rigid plastics – particularly black plastics – pose a significant headache to recyclers, with around one million tonnes of the packaging entering landfill or being sent for incineration every year. The issue stems from the fact that coloured plastics, especially black plastics, cannot be detected by sorting technology and the dark pigment in them limits their uses. As a result, these plastics have a lower market value and are treated by most materials recycling facilities (MRFs) as a contaminant, leading to them not being collected in recycling boxes and subsequently being disposed of in landfill or incineration.

Black plastic recycling project wins £800k of government funding
One of Impact Solutions' plastic tech specialists at work.
It is hoped that the PolyMet technology will stimulate new markets for this currently low-value, unrecycled form of plastic by turning the previously hard-to-recycle material into a reusable plastic feedstock, diverting it away from landfill and incineration.

Having been in development for the last two years and completing a proof of concept design in 2018, the vision for PolyMet is that through the commercialisation of the product, using the £800,000 funding from Innovate UK, it can become a low-cost technology that can be easily incorporated into existing recycling facilities.

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Commenting on the innovation, Tom Rose, Innovation Manager at Impact Solutions, says: “As plastic technology specialists, finding a solution to the 3.5 million tonnes of plastic material currently being dumped in landfill by the UK each year was a challenge we couldn’t resist. This £800,000 Innovate grant is welcome recognition of the work we have undertaken so far and an endorsement of the positive impact that PolyMet could have for producers, reprocessors and on the environment. We look forward to working with Ecosurety, Impact Recycling and McLaren Plastics over the next two years with the shared vision of creating a new technology that can transform the UK recycling market through increased capacity, revenue and jobs.”

The technology could also provide a boost to domestic recycled plastic production, helping producers to comply with the proposed plastics tax on packaging containing less than 30 per cent recycled content, originally put forward in the Autumn Statement in October 2018 and included in the Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS) released in December. The precise nature of the tax will be determined following a period of consultation that opened last week.

According to Ecosurety’s analysis, an increase in the amount of plastic available for recycling could impact the UK’s current produce responsibility regime for packaging, leading to an increase in the number of Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs) available for purchase by producers as proof of recycling. A one per cent increase in the number of PRNs could prompt a potential 10 per cent reduction in their price, stabilising the cost of purchasing recycling evidence for producers – although a new full cost recovery extended producer responsibility (EPR) regime is also currently being consulted on as part of the RWS.

CEO of Ecosurety, James Piper, said: “The long-term objectives of Impact Solutions – to develop a technology that can add value to a plastic contaminant – fits perfectly with Ecosurety’s broader vision of driving forward positive change through increased recycling capacity in the UK recycling sector. We are delighted that the huge potential of this collaboration has been recognised by Innovate UK and look forward to working with Impact Solutions over the next two years.”

Increasing attempts have been made in recent times to find a solution to the issue of recycling black plastic, with Viridor launching a project with major retailers last July, while the cross-industry Black Plastic Packaging Recycling Forum has previously agreed a range of actions to improve recycling of the problem material, including rolling out new detectable pigments and assessing alternative sorting systems.

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