A tweak to black plastic makes it recyclable, says packaging specialist working with Viridor

Viridor is working with Nextek to trial a new UK technology to transform supermarket black plastic packaging into a new recycling stream.

Viridor has teamed up with packaging specialist Nextek to find a way to deal with supermarket food tray waste.

Similar to the issue of coffee cups, the companies are seeking to end the over 1.3 billion of black plastic ready meal trays sold by UK supermarkets needlessly being sent each year as rubbish, rather than becoming valuable resource.

Up until now it has not been possible to recycle black plastics commonly found in supermarket packaging due to the use of a carbon black pigment which prevents packaging being recognized and sorted by existing global recycling technologies.

In March, BBC1’s The One Show featured an item on how the companies have teamed up to develop a ground breaking new tray which could solve the issue for good.

Nextek, funded by government recycling experts WRAP, has created a new black pigment system, which makes use of black materials without using carbon black, allowing it to be sorted at source by existing near infrared (NIR) technology. Trays made with this system have been trialed at Viridor’s specialist £15m plastics facility in Medway, Kent.

Viridor and Nextek appeared on The One Show with The Co-Operative Group and Medway Council to discuss how this development can put an end to supermarket food tray waste.

Viridor’s national network of high-tech plants have no problem sorting most plastics. But current generation ready meal or meat trays, whilst shiny and inviting on supermarket shelves, do not reflect light and make it impossible for recycling technology across Europe to detect. (Editor note: One sorting equipment manufacturer claims to be able to help with the problem of sorting conventional black plastics).

Sarah Heald, Director of Corporate Affairs & Investor Relations at Viridor’s parent company Pennon, said:

“Viridor is constantly working on solutions to simplify Britain’s maze of recycling systems, to cut collection costs to council tax payers and to align next generation resources with the needs of UK industry.

“Working with Nextek has allowed us to test the potential for a new UK technology to transform the global problem of supermarket black plastic packaging into a new recycling stream.”

“We are committed to working with manufacturers, packaging designers and supermarkets to accelerate innovation using less packaging, designing in recyclability then simplifying recycling systems so that everyone can do the right thing and put the right stuff in the right bin.”

Professor Edward Kosior of Nextek described the collaboration with Viridor and the Co-Op as a potential breakthrough in tackling the global black plastic problem. He said:

“Bringing together all the main parties for the first time, from us as technology innovator, to the Co-Op as retailer, and Viridor as the recycler is momentous. I’m confident that together we have found a technology solution to end these trays filling up landfills. This is a technology that can work immediately in virtually all recycling facilities across UK, Europe and USA.”