Plastics Recycling Charity, RECOUP, have been leading a cross-industry forum to address the barriers and improve the recycling of black plastic packaging. 

A new published report provides the latest position and the progress which has been made since the forum was set up at the end of 2017. It represents genuine and open collaboration from RECOUP members across the plastic packaging supply and recycling chain.

It was clear from the Forum’s inception that while pressure was growing, research and developments so far had not led to any practical improvements in the recyclability of black plastic. It was accepted by all concerned that to do nothing was not an option and a variety of solutions were explored. The need for recyclability was further recognised through recent DEFRA consultations with the expectation that unrecyclable packaging placed on the market could be subject to higher taxes in future years when compared to recyclable items.

The forum focused on the sorting and reprocessing of black and other undetectable coloured plastic packaging. The work established that there are a number of solutions either available or in development including use of transparent packaging or alternative detectable colours, use of detectable black pigments, and development of sorting technology for the existing carbon black packaging.

Stuart Foster, RECOUP CEO commented, “Despite the inevitable politics and positioning behind issues such as black plastic packaging recycling, our role at RECOUP is to bring the various groups and stakeholders together to make practical steps forward. I hope we have helped to avoid knee jerk reactions to the challenge of improving plastic recycling potential, and instead have turned ambitions and collaborative thinking into actual long term solutions.”

The report highlights a range of ongoing individual and collective actions, which is expected to cut the undetectable black packaging coming into the market by 2/3 by the end 2019. Given one solution is detectable black pigment, it also appears that specifically excluding or highlighting black packaging as a problem colour will no longer be valid.

Paul East, RECOUP Packaging Technologist and project leader added “We appreciate it can take time to deliver the changes needed to improve recyclability, but there is no reason why all plastic packaging can't adopt the basic principle that it must not inhibit the sorting or recycling process, as part of the design specifications. As shown in the new report, removing or coming out of black in favour of a transparent pack or detectable colour has been seen as the quickest solution in many cases, and therefore most popular. To balance this, the report also includes the potentially important role of black and darker plastic as a base colour as we move towards the requirement for greater recycled content.”

Although some of the work is still ongoing, the report provides an overview of the options, including details of a range of independent projects undertaken in 2019.