Major UK investment aims to make plastic a sustainable packaging choice

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has announced it is to invest £20 million in four cutting edge recycling plants in a bid to make plastic a sustainable packaging choice.

The initiative will also look to put the UK at the forefront of plastic recycling, with the funding aiming to boost the number of available recycling facilities in the UK and expand on the range of plastics being recycled.

The £20 million investment from UKRI comes alongside over £65 million of industry investment, with the two figures representing the largest investment made in UK plastic packaging recycling technologies.

The technologies being invested in include a hydrothermal liquefaction process to convert waste plastic into chemicals and oils for use in the manufacture of new plastic; a thermal cracking procedure to transform end-of-life plastics into hydrocarbon oil that can be used in plastic production; and a depolymerising facility that extracts colour from waste allowing easier reuse.

Recycling Technologies of Swindon is one of the firms to benefit from the investment. The funds will be used by the firm to open a chemical recycling plant in Perth. UKRI said that the facility will utilise thermal cracking to recycle a wide range of plastic waste that cannot be recycled by conventional methods.

The plant is designed to process 7,000 tonnes per annum of hard-to-recycle mixed plastic waste, producing 5,200tpa of a hydrocarbon oil which can replace crude oil in plastics production – allowing plastic to be recycled an unlimited number of times.

UKRI added that the likes of Nestlé and Unilever will be involved on the project, with the firms aiding the development of chemical recycling and turning hard-to-recycle plastic packaging – such as films, sachets and pouches – into recyclable items.

A plant centred on a Catalytic Hydrothermal Reaction (Cat-HTR) has also been planned to be built in Wilton, with ReNew ELP behind the facility. Once up and running, UKRI said that the plant will convert 20,000 tonnes per annum of end of life plastic into chemicals and oils for use in the production of new virgin grade plastics – including naphtha, waxes, and a bitumen-like residue suitable for use in road construction.

Poseidon Plastic aims to commercialise its enhanced recycling technology through the construction of a 10,000 tonne per annum PET recycling facility, thanks to their share of the investment.

The project will see the Redcar firm partner with waste collection and mechanical recycling experts BIFFA, alongside PET resin producers Alpek Polyester UK and DuPont Teijin Films UK. The initiative will aim to demonstrate how post-consumer and post-industrial packaging, film and other hard to recycle PET waste can be chemically recycled back into new consumer end-use goods.

A collaboration between Unilever, Charpak Ltd, HSSMI and Veolia will see the development of the UK’s first dual PET bottle and tray recycling facility, which UKRI said will be capable of recycling 100% of clear rigid PET in a closed-loop system.

Unilever will investigate the non-food contact recycled PET produced at the facility in its home and personal care range, while Charpak will use the flakes produced in its trays to make tray-to-tray recycling a reality.

UKRI said the project will create a new, complementary non-food closed loop for reycled PET and widen availability of the material for use in bottles and trays.

Paul Davidson, challenge director of the SSPP challenge, said, “To help protect the planet from waste pollution it is critical that plastics are more readily recycled and sustainable. The plastic packaging industry is changing, to become more responsive to our environmentally conscious concerns.

“The work of our four demonstrator winners will go a long way to reinstate plastic as a sustainable packaging choice. In particular, our winners demonstrated they have a lifecycle approach to plastics packaging, thinking through the use of a material from its raw state, through to its transport, its use by consumers and its disposal.

“This funding is just the start and we are planning further competitions in the near future.”

UK Government environment minister Rebecca Pow, added, “The Government is committed to both clamping down on the unacceptable plastic waste that harms our environment and ensuring more materials can be reused instead of being thrown away.

“By investing in these truly ground-breaking technologies we will help to drive these efforts even further, and I look forward to seeing them develop and deliver real results.”