Innovate UK have funded a four-way Ecosurety collaboration to develop a new technology that will add value to currently unrecyclable coloured plastic.
The unique PolyMet project – a collaboration between recycling compliance scheme Ecosurety, plastic innovations specialist Impact Solutions, recycling specialists Impact Recycling and plastic injection moulding company McLaren Plastics – has been awarded £0.8 million by the Government’s Innovate UK grant scheme. Ecosurety originally helped to fund the initial round of research into the PolyMet process in 2017.
The purpose of the Innovate UK grant is to help develop and bring to market the new recycling technology called PolyMet, which seeks to be the first commercially accessible process for removing the pigment in coloured, rigid plastics without destroying the polymers. PolyMet has the potential to create a new market for currently low-value, unrecycled plastics through the production of a reusable plastic feedstock.
Importantly, the technology will help to mitigate the negative impact of coloured plastics on the environment by diverting them away from landfill and into a circular plastics economy.
Transforming a contaminant into a recyclate
The UK alone sends an estimated one million tonnes of coloured, rigid plastics such as single-use black plastic food trays to landfill or incineration each year. Unlike clear or white plastic, some coloured plastics – particularly black – cannot be detected by machines used in the plastic sorting process and the dark pigment limits its uses.
As a result, these plastics have a lower market value and most Material Recycling Facilities (MRF’s) view them as contaminants, with landfill or incineration often the most cost-effective options for disposal.
Impact Solutions’ PolyMet technology uses a chemical process to remove the pigment from coloured rigid plastics without destroying the original plastic polymers. With the coloured pigment removed, PolyMet-treated plastic then becomes a material that can be reincorporated into the plastic manufacturing process as a high-value recyclate.
Great potential for new UK PRNs
By using PolyMet in line with current recycling processes, a significant new stream of plastic feed-stock could be created by reprocessors at high volume and low cost.
Additionally, plastic manufacturing companies could incorporate the additional recycled plastic into their virgin resin grades, helping them to reach the 30% recycled plastic target recently proposed by Government in the packaging consultations.
An increase in the amount of plastic available for recycling would simultaneously increase the number of Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs) available. Ecosurety analysis has shown that increasing the number of plastic PRNs by 1% could prompt a 10% reduction in their price, thereby helping to stabilise the cost of recycling evidence for producers whilst helping the UK to build a more circular plastic economy.
Increased capacity, revenue and jobs
Tom Rose, Innovation Manager at Impact Solutions commented: “As plastic technology specialists, finding a solution to the 3.5 million tonnes of plastic material currently being dumped in landfill by the UK each year was a challenge we couldn’t resist.
“This £0.8 million Innovate grant is welcome recognition of the work we have undertaken so far and an endorsement of the positive impact that PolyMet could have for producers, reprocessors and on the environment.
“We look forward to working with Ecosurety, Impact Recycling and McLaren Plastics over the next two years with the shared vision of creating a new technology that can transform the UK recycling market through increased capacity, revenue and jobs.”
A more transparent, resilient and sustainable future
CEO of Ecosurety, James Piper, commented: “The long-term objectives of Impact Solutions – to develop a technology that can add value to a plastic contaminant – fits perfectly with Ecosurety’s broader vision of driving forward positive change through increased recycling capacity in the UK recycling sector.
“We are delighted that the huge potential of this collaboration has been recognised by Innovate UK and look forward to working with Impact Solutions over the next two years.”
The Innovate UK grant will see Ecosurety provide consultancy support on the two-year PolyMet project, offering market insights from its producer and reprocessor members to ensure the technology is developed in line with industry requirements. McLaren Plastics will specify post-process material properties and validation of material suitability for injection moulding – a key route to market valida-tion step.
The vision is for PolyMet to become a low-cost technology that can easily be incorporated into existing recycling facilities. By providing an alternative to plastic material being landfilled or incinerated, PolyMet could create jobs in a number of regions across the UK whilst moving the UK’s recycling sector towards a more transparent, resilient and sustainable future.