Packaging Innovation
November 15, 2016

Recycling plastic packaging just got even more interesting

The UK packaging industry is currently experimenting with a new technology that will take recycling plastic packaging to a whole new level. If successful, an invisible ‘barcode’ made from metal oxides will make sorting and separating plastics easier than ever at an incredibly high speed.

Intelligent separation technology for plastic packaging

PRISM (Plastic Packaging Recycling using Intelligent Separation Methods) is an innovative technology that enables recycling plants to rapidly sort plastic packaging by detecting ‘intelligent labels’ containing invisible markers. The markers consist of fluorescent materials developed from novel metal oxides as well as recycled fluorescent materials made by converting reprocessed powders from recycled fluorescent lamps.

An invisible barcode for recycling plastic

In charge of the PRISM project is plastics recycling consultancy firm Nextek. “This could be the equivalent of an invisible barcode for plastics recycling. The initiative has the potential to provide a massive impetus for new businesses in the recycling sector”, explains Professor Edward Kosior, managing director at Nextek. “It is a significant step forward in the subcategorisation of plastics which are sorted automatically at high speed.”

Perfectly compatible with existing infrastructure

PRISM has been specially developed to integrate with infrared-based sorting systems that are currently used by materials recovery facilities. The fluorescent labels are triggered by ultraviolet light that is within the capacity of most modern automated sorting units. If successful, PRISM will enable recycling facilities to distinguish food-grade from non-food-grade polymers, identify black plastics in a snap and tag full-length shrink sleeves according to the plastic underneath.

Partners of the PRISM project

PRISM project partners include the Waste & Resources Action Programme, Tomra Sorting, Mirage Inks, Evolve Polymers (formerly ECOPlastics Recycling), CCL Label, Johnson Matthey, Enlightened Lamp Recycling and Brunel University London. The project is funded by Innovate UK (UK government innovation agency), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and commercial partners.   Inspired by Packaging Connections