Holy Grail found in Swindon

100% Recyclable Plastic

In theory the collection and sorting of the majority of plastic packaging waste is not technically difficult, it is a mechanical process which, if helped by some initial sorting by the customer, simply involves the separation of the waste by floatation or infrared spotting. This is followed by shredding and washing ready for re-use. (It would of course be made easier by providing the consumer with a ‘traffic light’ colour code on the packs to identify the different films).

So, what are the problems?

  • The resultant recyclate is often lower quality than virgin material, this has limited reuse.
  • The costs incurred in the process result in limited financial benefit when compared with virgin material.
  • Around 20% of plastic waste can not be recycled mechanically as it consists of lamination of different plastics such as PE, PET, PP and ALU, all are used in various combinations to increase food ‘shelf life’.

It is this third factor which is the most difficult to overcome but, after several years in development, the solution to recycling mixed plastics is now available, simply convert these waste plastics back into virgin quality feedstock!

You may have read elsewhere of this proposal, but we were recently visited by Adrian Howarth, marketing director of Swindon based Recycling Technologies, who didn’t take long to convince us that theirs is a totally practical solution to the problem of recycling mixed plastics and that the pilot plant can be economically upscaled to handle much higher volumes of mixed plastic waste. 

The major reasons this is possible are; 

a) The conversion technology utilizes pyrolysis. This is a long-established method used for producing charcoal or tar. 
b) The proposed recycling plants are not large multi-million-pound capital intensive installations but are built in ‘kit form’ off site then reassembled at the bulk recycling depot. 
c) As a consequence, no extra transport or waste separation is needed, plastic waste that can’t be recycled mechanically is recycled by pyrolysis back into virgin quality feedstock. 
d) Most importantly, the resultant recyclate which the company have called ‘Plaxx’ is a high value material which can be used to make wax, high-quality engine fuel for shipping, or quality feedstock for processing into plastic.

After many years of development on the Swindon site, the first large scale production facility is currently being assembled in Perth, Scotland, with a capacity of 7,000 tonnes per year. Whilst this may not appear to be a high volume at circa £3million per installation, they suggest 2 plants could accommodate mixed plastic waste from a population of approximately 300,000 people. 

In effect, this technology is ‘The Holy Grail’ as this will mean 100% of all plastic packaging will be recyclable and unlike the bulk recycled material ‘Plaxx’ will be a high value product.

Most of the major food retailers are interested in pursuing this solution to the problem of mixed plastic waste along with some of the large petro chemical polymer producers; 
The major reasons being is that anyone who takes the time and trouble to consider the reasons why we use plastic for food packaging realises that this is the perfect material for food preservation, transporting and presentation.

Plastic food packaging is light weight, low cost, inert and infinitely variable. Its detractors who promote plastic replacement with paper, board, glass or (heaven forbid) aluminium simply fail to recognise the negative environmental impact these materials have on the use of the Earth’s resources and the additional contribution their manufacture and transport make to global warming when compared to plastics.