Fiberight, a South Wales, UK-based resource recovery company that has developed proprietary water-based sorting technology, is leading a three-year £10 million large-scale demonstrator project focused on the capture, recovery and recycling of so-called ‘Uncaptured Unrecycled Plastics’ - plastic packaging currently lost to landfill and incineration.
The Fiberight team are working with four partners on the Uncaptured Unrecycled Plastics (UP) project: Impact Recycling, Moulding Solutions, Ranela Recycling Services and ProAmpac. The aim is to establish and operate a commercial-scale demonstration facility for the recovery, sorting and recycling of post-consumer plastic packaging from mixed waste streams, for example, reject material from Materials Recycling Facilities and on-the-go or food retail outlet waste. In these streams, plastic packaging is mixed with other types of packaging, including glass, metal, paper, cardboard as well as food waste, making it unrecyclable in the UK’s current plastic recycling infrastructure.
“By 2028, we aim to increase the amount of flexible plastics recycled in the UK by 300% - compared to 2021 levels of recycling,” said Nick Thompson, co-founder and managing director of Fiberight.
“Ultimately, we are confident the project will showcase a game-changing innovation in the waste and recycling industry, thereby enabling access to finance for future commercial ventures,” he added.
Fiberight has developed technology it calls Hydracycle,which uses water as a separation medium to clean and segregate materials. Food waste and organics are ‘washed off’ the raw resources in mixed waste so that clean, contaminant-free materials are obtained for recycling. The dirty water, containing food waste, is treated via anaerobic digestion to produce biogas. Clean water is recovered after treatment and re-circulated back to the plant. Fiberight is developing bolt-on technologies for each raw material stream that can be integrated with Hydracycle to upgrade the recovered resources into new materials and products.
Such bolt-on technologies include hydrolysis, pyrolysis, gasification and fermentation, said Fiberight. Bolt-on technology has already been developed for the separation of rigid and flexible plastic packaging into purified mono-material streams.
The demonstrator facility will be built at Swansea and use feedstock from local MRFs, initially contaminated MRF films and contaminated rigid plastics, before moving up to processing MRF reject materials. The plant will have an annual capacity of up to 60,000 tonnes, and in the longterm, will generate 40 jobs.
Each of the participating partners has a specific role in the project. Impact Recycling is contributing expertise in the form of their patented, automated, water-based BOSS polymer separation solution that separates post-consumer mixed rigid plastic waste into two consistent streams of post-consumer resin: polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), each with a 98% purity. The system is also colour agnostic, separating black plastic to the same 98% purity as other colours. Impact Recycling’s BOSS systems will be integrated with Fiberight’s Hydracycle technology, offering a comprehensive water-based separation process for the recovery and recycling of different plastic types and packaging formats.
The key off-take partner for the recovered rigid plastics is rigid plastics recycler Moulding Solutions, who will process these into resin used by UK manufacturers of products such as utilities pipes, wheelie bins and packaging.
Ranela Recycling Services, a flexible plastic recycling specialist, will advise on product quality, recycling equipment and routes to market for finished flexible or film-based plastics products.
The fourth partner, ProAmpac, a market leader in flexible packaging will provide technical advice and support to the project.
The UP project has been granted £4.2million in co-funding from Innovate UK’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge.
“Capturing and recycling plastic packaging that otherwise would be sent for incineration as part of a MRF reject stream will help the UK to increase its plastic recycling rate and reduce the environmental impacts associated with disposal. This large-scale demonstration will prove if this technology is capable of achieving that and at commercial scale,” said Paul Davidson, Innovate UK’s Challenge Director – Smart Sustainable Plastics Packaging,
Fiberight has also secured £100k funding from the Welsh Government towards a £200k plastics R&D project aiming to commercialise a near-to-market application for flexible plastics.