A project to research and identify new luminescent material that would be applied to labels to allow more effective sorting of packaging for recycling has secured £772,000 of funding.
The money has been provided by Innovate UK, the government agency, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
The consortium behind the project – Plastic Packaging Recycling using Intelligent Separation technologies for Materials (Prism) – said the luminescent material would be applied invisibly to labels on plastic packaging and was a “significant step forward in the sub-categorisation of plastics which are sorted automatically and at high speed”.
Professor Edward Kosior, managing director of Nextek, a London-based plastics recycling consultancy and lead group in the project, said the development could be the equivalent of an invisible barcode for plastics recycling.
“It enables new initiatives from brand-owners eager to recover their packaging as part of the circular economy. Of course, it also provides a massive impetus for new businesses in the recycling sector,” he added.
Waste charity Wrap, which is also a project partner, had worked with Nextek on the first phase which saw identification and separation trials achieving 98% yield and 95% purity.
Prism said the second phase was on-going and was looking at further optimisation of the system, including new fluorescent compounds, how they react through the supply chain and if the markers get completely destroyed after reprocessing.
According to the project group, the fluorescent label sorting system is designed to be integrated with the current near infra-red (NIR)-based sorting systems used in materials recovery facilities.
“While NIR retains its important role in identifying the different polymers, this system would be triggered by an ultraviolet (UV) light source that is detected in the visible spectrum. This is within the capacity of many modern automatic sorting units.
“The UV light adds an additional, high-value layer of sorting. PRISM technology captures the unique code created by the normally invisible application-specific luminescent compounds in the label,” it added in statement.
The Prism project consortium comprises Nextek, Wrap, Brunel University, Tomra Sorting, CCL Label, Mirage Inks, Evolve Polymers, Johnson Matthey and Enlightened Lamp Recycling.