UK firm hopes to add more packaging to recycling program

UK-based environmental services company Enval's pioneering technology will provide the recycling solution for a project to assess the feasibility of including flexible laminate packaging, such as food and drink pouches, pet food pouches and toothpaste tubes, in existing household recycling schemes. The project is being conducted in partnership with Anthesis LRS, SUEZ environnement, Nestlé UK & Ireland, Coca-Cola Enterprises.

Funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Action Based Research program, the nine-month trial began on February 16, 2015, targeting locations across the country. The collections and initial sorting are being managed by SUEZ environnement. Enval will recycle the material at its commercial demonstration facility at the Alconbury Enterprise Zone, near Huntingdon.

The trial will cover 260 households, in local authority areas of Bracknell Forest Council, London Borough of Hounslow and Calderdale Council. Different methods of engaging with residents and collecting the material at the curbside are being tested and the results of the trials will help determine best practice to increase the amount of flexible laminate packaging collected and recycled in England. They will also provide insight into how different communications approaches, consumer behavior and brands influence collection models across different demographics.

"These trials are providing an important opportunity to prove that we can successfully capture and recycle the valuable aluminum, as well as recover the plastics as a fuel oil product. This will present a solid business case for Enval's microwave induced pyrolysis technology to be bolted on to existing materials facilities and help increase levels of recycling across the UK," said Carlos Ludlow-Palafox, managing director, Enval.

Flexible laminate packaging has been widely adopted by fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies to improve product to pack weight ratio, reduce the transport costs and environmental impact attributable to packaging. Its popularity is also driven by the functionality that aluminum provides as a barrier, protecting products from oxygen, moisture and light.

The UK uses more than 160,000 tons of flexible laminate packaging each year, containing more than 17,000 tons of aluminum. When unrecyclable, this is a massive problem. With a recycling solution, rigorous life cycle analysis indicates it to be a highly sustainable packaging solution as well as a substantial commercial opportunity, with a potential revenue stream of approximately GBP200 million (US$315 million) per year in Europe from the sale of aluminum alone.

 Enval has created the first solution to recycle laminate packaging and retrieve the valuable resources contained within it. The patented process is based on a technology known as microwave induced pyrolysis, a pyrolytic process in which microwave energy is used to heat and degrade plastics into useful pyrolysis oils. The fragile aluminum foil remains undamaged and can be extracted clean and ready to be reintroduced into the aluminum supply chain. Life cycle analysis shows that the aluminum obtained via this process has a carbon footprint 72% lower than that of primary aluminum. 

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