UK technical compounder Luxus, as part of a consortium with Nordic polymer processing partner, Polykemi and plastics manufacturer One51, has secured a £1.29m (€1.47m) investment, co-funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
The funding supports NIRSort, a new commercialisation project that aims to replace carbon black and many other pigments with a range of novel near-infrared (NIR) detectable alternatives for adoption by Europe's packaging, automotive and consumer durables manufacturers.
Luxus said in a 20 July statement that some 3.5 million tonnes of polymer are scrapped in the UK every year, since black and some other coloured packaging cannot be picked up by recycling sorters.
This is because the products contain carbon black that reflects very little or no radiation rendering it ‘invisible' to sorting machines in recycling depots.
The Luxus-led project will be in collaboration with processor Polykemi.
Polykemi will participate by formulating, processing and testing materials. The resulting materials will be then further evaluated for use in innovative packaging material via Polykemis subsidary, Scanfill.
The third consortium partner is rigid plastics manufacturer, One51 selected for its injection moulding manufacturing expertise.
The project is based on the previous work to identify NIR detectable alternatives to carbon black from specialist additive and masterbatch supplier, Colour Tone whom Luxus acquired earlier this year.
“It aims to develop a range of colourants for polymers that will enable NIR sorting operations to segregate black and coloured plastics from waste streams to a level of purity that they are useable in highly engineered polymers. Potentially even in our light-weight, high scratch-resistant polypropylene (PP) compounds range, Hycolene for example,” said Christel Croft, technical director, Luxus.
The company, he added, has defined a programme of development, designed to identify formulations with optimal cost effectiveness in packaging recycling and to extend the technology across to waste electrical and electronic (WEEE) and end-of-life vehicle applications, each of which has its own specialist requirements.
Black plastics, according to Luxus, represent around 5% of packaging – one million tonnes – and 30% of WEEE and vehicle polymers – two million tonnes – none of which can be recycled. A further million tonnes of coloured waste containing carbon black is also lost to landfill or incineration in the UK each year.