Ireland-based Quinn Packaging has introduced a new range of patent-pending black plastic food trays, Detecta, which it says addresses the long-standing recyclability concerns around black PET.

The issues with black plastic for packaging are well-known: while being ‘recyclable’ in theory, the majority does not end up being recycled because the carbon black additive used to make them absorbs the Near-Infra-Red (NIR) beams produced by the optical sorting systems in most recycling plants, rendering them invisible to the sorting system. This means they often end up in landfill. While some companies are focused on creating recycling technologies that are able to distinguish black plastics, other voices have called for an outright ban.

Quinn’s solution has been to create its own black colour additive, which is says makes the trays easily identifiable, allowing them to be sorted on existing NIR equipment. If viable, then, this would also eliminate the need for costly refurbishment of recycling plants. The company says its new trays could divert thousands of tonnes of black plastic from landfill each year and provide ‘the first real possibility of a circular economy’ for black plastic packaging.

“In the last 12 months we have seen a growing desire within the food sector to move away from black coloured packaging,” said Thomas McCaffrey, New Product Development Manager at Quinn Packaging, speaking about the potential importance of this development. “For Quinn Packaging this was short-sighted. If we are serious about moving towards a true circular economy, where food trays are recycled back into food trays, then the ultimate packaging colour to achieve this is black. The new Detecta by Quinn range overcomes the issue of identifying and sorting black PET trays for recycling and will hopefully help the industry to move towards a true circular economy.”

Quinn Packaging partnered with Tomra, a provider of sensor-based sorting systems, to test the performance of these trays in challenging sorting environments. According to Tomra, the initial results were promising – although it should be noted that as patent is pending they have yet to be run in real-world conditions.

“We are delighted to have recently hosted Quinn Packaging at our Test Centre in Germany where we conducted extensive trials using the TOMRA Auto-Sort across all sorting situations,” said Steve Walsh, UK sales manager at TOMRA. “The results speak for themselves: the Detecta by Quinn trays proved to be fully identifiable in all respects.”

Apart from the recyclability question, Quinn says the development process also focused on producing a PET tray that is competitively priced while being blended with over 90 per cent recycled material.

Repak, which operates the packaging recovery compliance scheme for Ireland under licence from the Irish Government, has endorsed Detecta. Brian Walsh, Packaging Technology Executive at Repak, commented: “The EU Action Plan for a Circular Economy has a recycling target of 75% for packaging waste by 2030. To allow us to achieve this we need a collaborative effort from all stakeholders, identify where problems exist and then work together to bring forward solutions. The new Detecta by Quinn product is a perfect example of this. Quinn Packaging have worked closely with both the retail and the waste recycling sector to develop a new black PET tray that can be recycled. A great illustration of packaging design for recycling.”