While the world is turning towards the Olympic Games for the sport this summer, one UK-based company is benefitting from the event to boost recycling.
Eco Plastics, which is based in the UK and operates a plastics sorting facility, is making the most of the Olympics this year, collecting colourless PET waste from London 2012 Olympic venues and mixed PET from elsewhere to produce some 80 million bottles at its £15m Continuum Recycling plant in Lincolnshire.
Continuum is a recycling joint venture with Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) that produces food-grade rPET.
Olympics waste will account for 20 million bottles and the plant will reprocess a fifth of the Games' consumer waste. At full tilt, Continuum will more than double the UK's previous production capacity for rPET, according to the partners.
Continuum is working with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog) to try and fulfill a 'zero waste to landfill' goal set out in the committee's Zero Waste Games Vision.
During the Games, colour coded icons or marks on packaging will indicate three primary waste streams – recycling, food and compostable packaging, and non-recyclables – and waste bins have icons that co-ordinate with these colours.
Locog will receive daily reports on the amounts of waste handled and the proportions sent for recycling and composting.
The Continuum deal has been hailed as a step-change for the industry. The entire Hemswell site can process 150,000 tonnes of mixed plastics annually and currently generates 11 different streams of plastics, including food-grade rPET, and almost no waste is left over.
The process on site involves categorising waste for shredding and washing before machines supplied by Norway's Tomra sort flakes by size and remove impurities.
"At maximum capacity, Continuum Recycling will produce 25,000 tonnes of rPET pellets per year," said Nick Brown, associate director for recycling at CCE. "Taken together with Eco Plastics' existing capacity of 15,000 tonnes of rPET, the Hemswell plant will be capable of producing around 40,000 tonnes of food grade rPET (annually)."
There are clear benefits for CCE when it comes to the carbon dioxide (CO2) greenhouse gas emissions generated in plastic bottle manufacturing.
Continuum's partners say the new facility will generate some 0.83 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of rPET compared with virgin PET's footprint of around 2.15 tonnes of CO2 per tonne. They estimate this will save around 33,500 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.
Brown said: "This equates to taking around 15,715 cars off the road or the average annual electricity consumption of 12,180 households. In terms of savings per (rPET) bottle, it represents a 15% reduction in the footprint of the PET bottle."
According to Eco Plastics' Jonathan Short, the market for rPET will grow exponentially over the next decade.
Short credited initiatives such as the Courtauld Commitment with encouraging leading grocery brands to embrace sustainability through using recycled plastics. The Courtauld Commitment is a voluntary packaging, waste and sustainability agreement between grocery retailers and all levels of government. CCE has made an initial £5m equity investment and Eco Plastics raised an additional £10m. It guarantees a minimum supply of rPET to CCE, which has right of refusal over the 25,000 tonnes annual output of rPET pellet (or 40,000 tonnes of bottles) for the next 10 years. CCE expects to use all of this material.
However, Continuum is not the only company that is set to help recyle materials during the games. Other food-grade rPET recyclers set to benefit include Close Loop Recycling, based at Dagenham, 5 miles from the Olympic stadium, which has contracts to collect plastic bottles from London's underground rail system and from several administrative areas of the city.