Providing the 30% recycled content for food packing (PFP): An integrated stakeholder approach to solving 'hard to recycle' plastic packaging

Lead Research Organisation: Brunel University
Department Name: Chemical Engineering

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem of plastics in the environment, impacting on waste management across the UK, EU and globally. We have seen increased demand for single use plastics for public health purposes, disruptions to the usual distribution pathways and variations in reuse, recycle and retention which are all vital to developing a circular economy. As countries begin to ease lockdown restrictions it is likely that citizens will face greater pressures in managing their waste with potentially more home based working, less travel and socialising and increased single use plastic packaging (e.g. medical equipment, customer avoidance of 'loose' retail products).

An explosion of interest in the ongoing problem of plastic waste has seen a diverse range of solutions being proposed. Recently we completed the PRISM project (2015-18) with a number of industry leaders that has shown a real and sustainable proof of concept that promises to be a significant part of the solution to this problem.

We will address the automatic sorting of waste plastic containers used in food and non-food grade applications as is partially done at waste recycling plants. Current automated near infra-red sorting techniques are unable to identify food grade from non-food grade packaging which consigns high value polymer resins into low grade; non food grade uses or worse still, landfill and incineration. We will enable a low cost labelling system suitable for commercialisation, to make this sorting a reality; support the long term viability for closed loop sorting of these materials (PP, PE, PET, e.g. plastic milk bottles, drinks containers to household detergent bottles). Previously our consortium demonstrated a labelling system that can be used for high speed sorting of various crushed plastic bottles at high belt speeds with high purity and high yield which has received a great deal of interest from global brands.

To commercialise this proof of concept it is desirable to optimise the luminescent materials that will be taken forwards so we will develop a sustainable low cost luminescent marker system using low toxicity and environmentally safe materials, thus lowering any commercial barrier to enter the market.

Once this technology is proven then we will be in a strong position to seek wide implementation of our technology and run full scale field trials with major brand owners facilitated through our NextlooPP partner. This transformative project will have the effect to reduce inappropriate plastics disposal and increase recycling rates by increasing the monetary value of the recycled material. This will address the Plastics Pacts objective of 30% recycled content by finalising the underpinning luminescent labelling technology to be implemented. Implementation of this technology into the NextlooPP process will facilitate the availability of rPP granules for food, cosmetics and lower grade applications thus reducing the demand for virgin polymer.

Tackling the systemic problem of plastic waste effectively cannot be achieved through purely technical means and our research offers fresh insights into people's perspectives on recycling and how consumers (UK, Spain, Germany) engage with surface markers on plastic packaging in their households, a neglected but important site for managing waste. This project thus moves beyond the technical infrastructure of waste management and design of products to address people's perceptions and behaviour with plastic packaging in their every day life and how their perceptions and behaviour might have changed in light of COVID-19.
This ambitious project will thus help position the UK at the forefront of innovation in sorting hard to recycle plastics and offers fresh insights by integrating technical, business, policy and consumer focused elements to ensure that we are in alignment with stake holders all across the plastic packaging supply chain.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The project could be viewed as having 2 themes: materials development and social perceptions from the public across Europe.

For the materials development we have made new very low cost luminescent materials whose performance is approach the current fluorescent compounds' performance used to date.
For the social perceptions the results are just becoming available following interviews in Spain and Scotland but the data analysis has not yet taken place on these. Initial results indicate widely differing views around packaging waste / polymer pollution across the geographical locations.
Exploitation Route We are exploring the commercial production of our materials. The consortium are keen to undertake wider scale field trials on-label for this project.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Retail

 
Description Co author of UN report on reducing plastics waste
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Gave evidence to shape UK plastics policy
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://consult.defra.gov.uk/environmental-quality/consultation-on-proposals-to-ban-commonly-littere...
 
Description Written evidence to shape Scottish plastics policy
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://www.gov.scot/publications/draft-environmental-protection-single-use-plastic-products-oxo-deg...
 
Description Written evidence to shape UK policy
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://committees.parliament.uk/work/1391/plastic-waste
 
Title METHOD AND APPARATUS FOR IDENTIFYING ARTICLES WITH A LUMINESCENT MARKER FOR RECYCLING 
Description The composition of articles can be identified using luminescent codes printed or coated onto the articles (or labels on the articles) by means of an ink which contains long persistence luminescent materials. Radiation is used to excite the luminescent materials and this is then extinguished before the article passes beneath a spectrometer. An infrared beam then strikes the article in order to stimulate emission from the long persistence luminescent materials, via a detrapping mechanism, and the spectrometer detects the emission in order to identify the article. 
IP Reference US2020038915 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2020
Licensed No
Impact Industry partners are actively pushing the technology in this area.
 
Description Academic presentation to Canadian microplastics researchers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Lesley Henderson gave an invited paper on Social Aspects of Plastics Pollution - "Media and Microplastics: Shaping public perceptions and policy" Microplastics Research Cluster, University of British Columbia (UBC) Vancouver
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://allevents.in/online/social-aspects-of-plastic-pollution/10000214390145697
 
Description Academic presentation to engage with science communicators and practitioners in Berlin 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact gave academic presentation to engage across traditional academic boundaries with practitioners and inter disciplinary colleagues from across EU
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://peritia-trust.eu/trust-in-a-changing-media-landscape/
 
Description Engaging in social science and communications to enhance recycling behaviour change with recycling practitioners 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Engaged with recycling practitioners to champion social science and communications approaches to recycling behaviours which engaged ongoing interest in my research with follow up requests- • 2021 (November 17) Invited Speaker "Plastics and Publics: The role of communications in meeting the recycling challenge" RECOUP industry event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.recoup.org/p/392/recoup-webinars-2022
 
Description Joint Industry/ academic focused publication 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Lesley Henderson and Edward Kosior co wrote an editorial/opinion piece for industry recycling magazine Recycle Now to encourage engagement in recycling issues in the current pandemic context and publicise SSPP research involving social science and industry in a unique collaboration. Kosior, E. and Henderson, L. (2021) Opinion: Unblocking the road to plastic recycling. Let's Recycle. November 29. https://www.letsrecycle.com/news/opinion-unblocking-road-plastic-recycling/
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.letsrecycle.com/news/opinion-unblocking-road-plastic-recycling/
 
Description Presentation at Global Research & Innovation in Plastics Sustainability (GRIPS) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Session 12:00 16th March in session on Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Conference Reaching the 30% Target

Speaking in session with Nestle, Berry/Plasgran and WRAP about the progress in materials and public perceptions from our project.

Joint talk with Lesley Henderson and George Fern,
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://www.ukcpn.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/GRIPS-2022-Programme-Complete-2-min.pdf
 
Description Science Communications Workshop Leader for Pan European science communications practitioners The Future of Science Communication Conference brings together European actors from research and practice of science communication. It is co-organised by Wissenschaft im Dialog, the organization for science communication in Germany, and ALLEA, the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities.Berlin. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Engaged in leading a workshop exploring science communication in uncertain times which led to additional requests for engagement and collaboration
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://allea.org/future-of-science-communication/#:~:text=The%20Future%20of%20Science%20Communicati...
 
Description Talk to industry consortium to share social science insights on plastics packaging and behaviour change 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Talk to Nextloopp consortium to share insights from my social science research with audiences and households regarding recycling and to engage business in understanding the importance of social dimensions of the plastics problem
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Talk to the multinational toy industry regarding plastics pollution and behaviour change 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact 2021 (February) Invited speaker. "Entertaining for Social Change: Case studies in Sustainability" Toys as a Force for Good. Webinar event with major toy industry/brands (including Hasbro, Mittel, CBeebies) Organised by Extended Plastics Partnership for Innovation in Circularity and Products of Change with Wastebuster, a leading UK not-for-profit environmental educational organisation. The event explored how cross-sector working through a new collective impact partnership programme, could unlock considerable social, economic, and environmental benefits for society (UK and International) There was considerable interest with follow up requests
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.productsofchange.com/news-article/join-webinar-on-circular-economy-for-toys/