The recycled content in food packaging could be increased following a successful pilot scheme.
WRAP has completed the technical testing of a method of sorting food grade plastics and is aiming to start a commercial trial of the sorting process, as it works to encourage recyclers and packaging producers to create a nationwide system.
WRAP’s research focused on polypropylene (PP), a polymer widely used in food packaging. Some 40% of pots, tubs and trays in the UK are made of PP.
Only PP that has been in contact with food can be recycled into new food grade PP under UK and US food packaging regulations. So the first issue WRAP had to solve was finding an economically viable process to separate PP that had been in contact with food from that which had not.
As manual sorting would be too expensive, WRAP developed an automatic system to separate materials using a process called diffraction gratings.
The process consists in marking PP material with lines that can be scanned by a laser to reflect a specific pattern. The pattern is then captured by a camera connected to a computer system able to separate the marked PP packaging.
Claire Shrewsbury, programme area manager for packaging at WRAP said: “It’s hoped that these results [of the technical trial] should provide confidence to the packaging and recycling industry to take on the development using the methodology presented in the report to develop and commercialise a food grade recycling process for post-consumer PP packaging.”
Packaging PR and communications experts Pelican welcomed the development. “Increasing the amount of recycled content in food packaging is another way of demonstrating the environmental credentials of packaging with cynical consumers,” commented MD Michael Bennett.
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