A government supported initiative, which aims to make the separation process of plastic packaging for recycling significantly easier through the use of an 'invisible barcode', has been boosted with £772,000 worth of funding.
Plastic Packaging Recycling using Intelligent Separation technologies for Materials (PRISM) aims to identify new luminescent materials which can be applied invisibly to labels and plastic packaging to aid the sorting process for recycling facilities.
Funding for this project has come from Innovate UK; a government investment programme for two years, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), matching funding from the commercial partners involved in the project.
Work on PRISM is being led by plastics recycling consultancy Nextek alongside researchers from Brunel University London, equipment manufacturer Tomra Sorting, CCL Label, Mirage Inks, WRAP, Evolve Polymers, Enlightened Lamp Recycling (ELR) and Comply Direct member, Johnson Matthey.
The barcode has been described by Professor Edward Kosior, managing director of Nextek as "A significant step forward in the sub-categorization of plastics which are sorted automatically at high speed." he stated that "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."
This fluorescent label sorting system is designed to be integrated with the current near infra-red based sorting systems used in materials recovery facilities.
Should this project be successful it could allow food-grade polymers to be distinguished from non-food-grade, black plastics to be identified and full length shrink-sleeves to be tagged according to the underlying plastic. It could also create the possibility for brand owners to establish their own 'closed-loop' collection of specific types of packaging.
WRAP Packaging Programme area manager, Claire Shrewsbury, said: "The new technology could help boost recycling plant yields, and UK plastics recycling as a whole, with more efficient ways of sorting materials such as polypropylene (PP) packaging, high density polythylene (HDPE) milk bottles and sleeved polyethylene terephthalate (PET)".
WRAP have also released a study into the use of machine-readable inks to improve separation on food packaging. With the support of companies like Johnson Matthey, WRAP are able to make huge improvements to the recycling separation process.