Plastic material plays a major role in providing comfort, quality and safety in modern life, from extending the shelf-life of fresh produce to providing a flexible lightweight solution for many labour saving devices around the home.
Heightened awareness of the pollution caused by plastics however, has led to calls recently for improved recycling measures to help producers effectively ‘close the loop’ through better ‘end-of-life’ recycling.
Since 2012 the UK alone has exported over 2.7m tonnes of plastics waste to China, but with the National Sword initiative having come into effect in January, exporting on this scale is no longer sustainable.
We believe that the process of change must begin by designing for recycling itself, as we all have an interest in increasing the recyclability of the plastics we use.
In response to our increasing plastics waste problem, Luxus subsidiary, Colour Tone www.colourtone-masterbatch.co.uk has pioneered the development of a novel near infra-red reflecting (IRR) colourant as part of a WRAP commissioned project. The aim was to help solve the problem of how to recycle black plastics used for ready meal tubs and trays.
This ground breaking technology, has been proven in a series of material trials to allow for the detection of all carbon black containing colours by replacing pigments which reflect little radiation, with the new IRR colourant. It effectively ensures that black and coloured plastics are ‘visible’ to the spectroscopy equipment used at recycling depots to aid sorting.
Novel colourant technology
We intend now to take this technology a step further by applying it to a diverse range of new applications for the first time as part of a new EU Horizon 2020 funded project, NIR Sort. We have secured a £1.29m investment as part of a consortium with partners Polykemi and One51.
This two year project aims to commercialise the IRR colourant so it can be adopted for completely new applications within the automotive, reusable packaging and consumer durables sectors. It will take for its focus therefore, new plastics types that include, polyester (PET) and polyethylene (PE) used for packaging and polypropylene (PP) specified in automotive parts.
We have a development programme designed to identify new formulations with optimal cost effectiveness in packaging recycling and to extend the technology across to WEEE from domestic appliances and ‘end-of-life’ vehicle applications, each of which has its own specialist requirements.
Luxus is effectively developing a technology that’s a good 3-5 years ahead of the market. It aims to enable the capture of our valuable plastics resource, enabling new end-markets to be explored in the process.
‘Closing the loop’ on waste
We believe therefore, that producers must adopt a new mind-set by asking how products can be optimised for ‘end of life’ recycling. The solution we believe is simple, producers must ensure that the colours they specify do not inhibit NIR sorting as part of the design specification – so we can all ‘close-the-loop’ on plastics waste.
The Luxus IRR colourant is now available to producers and retailers initially for use in polypropylene packaging applications, from coloured yogurt tubs to shampoo bottles.