A consortium led by UK-based Axion Consulting has unveiled the findings of a research and development (R&D) project, Reflex, that aims to find ways to recycle flexible plastic packaging in the UK.

Co-financed by Innovate UK, the two-year Reflex project has brought together various firms involved in polymer production, packaging manufacturing, waste management and recycling.

After examining the commercial value of packaging recovered by recycling, Reflex found that attractive yields of reusable materials could be achieved.

The project also addressed many technical challenges in establishing an infrastructure to collect, sort and recycle polyolefinic flexible packaging across the country.

The Reflex consortium includes Amcor, Dow Chemical Company, Interflex Group, Nestlé UK, SUEZ, TOMRA Sorting and Unilever.

"We think that these changes and further technology optimisation can improve the economics of recycling flexible packaging."

Axion Consulting senior engineer Richard McKinlay said: “We think that these changes and further technology optimisation can improve the economics of recycling flexible packaging and make the concept more attractive to investors and recyclers.”

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Trials conducted during the Reflex project demonstrated that polymers could deliver the required performance and technical properties for various items, including boxes, crates or drainage pipe products.

With the completion of Reflex, the consortium plans to enhance collaboration between brand owners, converters and related companies across Europe to confirm and validate design guidelines for recycling.

It is estimated that flexible packaging, including plastic bags, confectionery wrappers, frozen food bags and pouches, account for 27% of consumer plastic packaging in the UK, the majority of which end up in landfills or energy recovery systems.

Image: Majority of UK’s flexible packaging ends up in landfills or energy recovery systems. Photo: courtesy of Axion Recycling.