Around 58 per cent of plastic bottles are currently recycled, and many of those involved in the production and use of cardboard and paper are right up there when it comes to environmental disposal and recycling.
Yet while everyone from bottle manufacturers to cardboard tube suppliers are leading the recycling charge, there is still one area where more work is needed – the sector of flexible packaging.
Whilst the vast majority of waste from the likes of cardboard tube suppliers and paper manufacturers is now recycled, almost all of the 556,000 tonnes of flexible packaging that is created in the UK each year ends up taking up space in overcrowded landfill sites.
Now a new two-year project, called REFLEX, has been launched in a bid to see the creation of a circular flexible packaging economy that will involve the whole of the supply chain, including those producing the polymers to create the plastic bags, sweet wrappers, pouches and frozen food bags and those responsible for their waste management.
The project is being funded by Innovate UK, Britain’s innovation agency, and involves Axion Consulting and a range of global brands, including Nestle UK Ltd, Unilever UK Central Resources Ltd, TOMRA Sorting Ltd, Interflex Group, SITA Holdings UK Ltd, Dow Chemical Company Ltd and Amcor Ltd.
The aim of the project is to get rid of barriers which currently prevent the recycling of flexible packaging in order to divert the waste away from landfill. This will involve the use of innovative recyclable packaging that incorporates both materials and design.
The project will involve the use of new inks, barrier polymers and new sorting techniques to allow materials to be reprocessed together and to remove both the technical and commercial difficulties of recycling plastics.
There is also the aim of reducing confusion among the general public, many of whom do not understand which flexible packaging can be recycled, leading to problems with recovering the materials for recycling.
Research has begun in a bid to create recycled plastic pellets that can be used in the creation of a broad variety of products. Experts hope that this will lead to in excess of half of all the flexible packaging being kept away from the over-stretched waste stream within a decade. This is about the time period it took for plastic bottle recycling to mature to reach the point where in excess of 50 per cent of waste was being recycled.