Flexible plastic packaging could be easier to recycle and use in a wide range of end products, following the results of a two-year research project co-funded by Innovate UK.
Results of the Reflex R&D project were unveiled at the K Show in Düsseldorf earlier this week.
According to Axion Consulting, which led a consortium including Amcor, Dow Chemical, Nestlé UK and Unilever, flexible packaging – including plastic bags, sweet wrappers and food pouches – makes up 27% of consumer plastics packaging in the UK, much of which gets sent to landfill or burnt in energy recovery plants.
The project demonstrated that “attractive yields of recycled materials could be achieved”, while it also looked at packaging design, digital watermarking on packaging that was suitable for mechanical recycling and the use of near-infra-red sorting technologies.
Recovered polymers from flexible packaging could deliver the performance and technical properties required for products such as boxes, crates and drainage pipes.
Roger Morton, a director at Axion Consulting, said the project demonstrated how state-of-the-art technology in sorting and preparation for recycling could help increase the rate of flexible packaging recycling.
“It also showed how novel packaging designs and potential new marking techniques may further increase recyclability and efficiency of the whole process.”
The next steps would be a wider collaboration with more brand owners and converters and with more input from waste management companies and recyclers across Europe, to finalise and validate the design guidelines for recycling, Morton said.
“It is pivotal that the value chain works together to address the challenge of flexible packaging recycling.
“Technical advances made in the Reflex project and the guidelines should help the plastic packaging value chain in future to manage better the end of life packaging and progress towards a more circular model,” he added.