World First Project to Enable NIR Sorting of Black CPET at Existing Recycling Facilities in UK

An in-market trial programme aimed at significantly increasing the number of black CPET trays that are recycled has been launched in the UK.

An in-market trial programme aimed at significantly increasing the number of black CPET trays that are recycled has been launched in the UK.

The project, consists of a consortium of of organisations from the UK's packaging, retail and recycling industries, led by retailers Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury's.

Sainsbury’s explained that approximately 1.3 billion black CPET trays are used in ready meal packaging in the UK every year.

Whilst these trays are recyclable, the retailer said that they have proven difficult for the UK recycling industry to process as the black colour of the tray is not detectable with Near Infra Red (NIR) optical sorting equipment at plastic sorting facilities. As a result, they are usually missed and end up in landfill or being sent to waste to energy facilities.

The project team consists of: WRAP, M&S, Sainsbury's, Faerch Plast, the Kent Resource Partnership, Biffa Waste Management, Recoup (RECycling Of Used Plastics Limited), and Nextek Limited.

Faerch Plast has manufactured approximately 2 million detectable CPET trays which will be used by M&S and Sainsbury's across their ready meals range. These meals will be sold in the UK over a four week period, with a high density in the South East of England, where the recovery of the trays is planned to take place.

For its part, waste and recycling firm Biffa will take a lead in using NIR detection technology reprogrammed to sort the detectable black CPET trays. Guidance for reprocessors wanting to make this change on their systems is available on the WRAP website.

Nextek, which has developed an NIR detectable plastic colourant, will assist with the automatic sorting and supervise the recycling and decontamination of the material back to Faerch Plast for assessment of the ability to manufacture them back into black CPET trays.

The team said that they will now seek to prove the effectiveness of the new trays through an in-market trial, commencing mid-July by demonstrating the ability to manufacture, distribute and recover the trays through household recycling collections at plastics sorting facilities.

It is planned that the trays will then be reprocessed using proven decontamination technologies for assessment of the ability to manufacture them back into food grade black CPET trays, aimed at achieving a closed loop system.

The project partners added that a public report will be available once the trial is completed and a full review has been carried out. This will examine sorting efficiency, carbon footprint reduction, disposal cost reduction and commercial viability.

"Around 1.3 billion CPET trays are used in the UK every year and, whilst they offer great convenience for consumers, the recycling challenge results in unnecessary waste and technically recyclable material being missed,” commented Andrew Speck, M&S's commercial and environmental packaging manager.

Councillor Paul Barrington-King, chair of the Kent Resource Partnership added: "This important partnership project between public and private sector organisations could mean all Materials Recycling Facility operators install updated NIR technology so that the recycling of CPET trays becomes standard practice.”

“That has to be good news for councils when it comes to MRF contract specifications and value for money to taxpayers," he continued.

Edward Kosior, managing director of Nextek, the project is a world first on several levels in the recovery of black plastic CPET trays from the post-consumer stream.

"The trial represents the logical extension of over four years of technical investigations sponsored by WRAP to fine tune the development of these special colourants so that they function without any negative impacts on the manufacturing and recovery of these widely used plastic trays,” he said.

“The technology has the potential to be shared with other packaging and durable applications such as appliances, office equipment and automotive components and could mark the beginning of a new capacity to capture black plastic products at high speeds in the modern MRFs used throughout Europe,” added Kosior.

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