For the past two years, Axion Consulting has led the REFLEX R&D project as it has investigated the development of recycling options for flexible plastic packaging. The results were delivered in October, at the K Show.
Flexible packaging accounts for 27% of consumer plastic packaging in the United Kingdom. The majority of these plastic bags, confectionary wrappers and pouches end up in landfills.
In terms of material efficiency, flexible packaging has potential; however, lacking an end-to-end solution, research into recycling this type of packaging is still necessary.
Axion Consulting recently led the two-year REFLEX R&D project, which looked into moving the end of life recycling process forward. The research collaboration has led to the completion of several successful trials and studies.
The consortium consists of various value chain participants; from polymer production and packaging manufacturers, to waste management and recycling companies. A number of Axion’s partners – such as TOMRA Sorting, Amcor, Interflex Group, Dow Chemical Company, Unilever and SUEZ – are involved in the project.
Taking the commercial value of recovered materials into account, the consortium’s research aimed to demonstrate that impressive yields of recycled materials can be achieved.
The project, which was co-funded by Innovate UK, has tackled a number of technical challenges, which have hindered the establishment of an infrastructure responsible for the collection, sorting and recycling of polyolefinic flexible packaging.
The consortium concluded that, by making changes to packaging and optimising technology, the economics of recycling flexible packaging could be improved; this would make the concept more attractive to investors and recyclers alike.
The group’s research looked at improving flexible packaging designs; digital watermarking could be embossed on packaging that is suitable for mechanical recycling, to ensure easy identification.
The project also considered the use and development of near infra-red sorting technologies.
The consortium has developed a series of guidelines, advising brand owners, retailers, packaging designers and technologists on the creation of design flexible packaging that is suitable for mechanical recycling. These ‘Design for Recycling’ guidelines will be released after further testing work has been carried out and validated by European bodies.
In addition, the group’s practical trials have suggested that recovered polymers can deliver the performance requirements and technical properties required for items such as boxes and crates or drainage pipe products.
The two-year project has recently come to an end; over the next few years, Axion Consulting hopes to collaborate with more brand owners and converters to finalise and authenticate the ‘Design for Recycling’ guidelines, with more input from waste management companies and recyclers across Europe.
The consortium welcomes the creation of a new European stakeholder platform, which will focus on increasing recycling levels of plastic packaging. The notion has received support from Plastics Europe, European Packaging Converters and Plastic Recyclers Europe.
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