A major international collaboration to provide independent, scientific data linked to design, sortability and mechanical recyclability of flexible packaging has published its first report, with a focus on Near Infrared (NIR) technology.
The Circular Economy for Flexible Packaging (CEFLEX)-led initiative clarifies exactly how a NIR sorting device sees flexible packaging, understands a range of material, and classifies them into different recycling streams. Co-funded by UK Research & Innovation’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge, delivered by Innovate UK, it provides extensive new data based on industrial-scale testing of a unique set of 240 samples and over 100 structures. The results will help to inform more circular design decisions and optimise the sorting of flexible plastic packaging with NIR.
CEFLEX worked with stakeholders from across the value chain to assemble the extensive set of packaging material samples for testing. Academic partners and respected test centres in Germany and The Netherlands all collaborated to deliver the programme. The principal results and data are now available in an open-source report for public download.
“NIR is an established key technology for sorting plastics across Europe, so rigorous, independent data of exactly what it can – and cannot – achieve is essential.”
“As a result of this research, specific cases or thresholds where materials and elements of the packaging structure can disrupt sorting are clearly established. These insights are being shared openly to boost industry knowledge and will enhance our ‘Designing for a Circular Economy’ (D4ACE) guidelines. Designers of flexible packaging now have a new level of detail on exactly how to achieve the best outcomes.”Graham Houlder, Project Coordinator, CEFLEX
“In addition to establishing exactly how NIR sees packaging structures, the data shows how orientation, layer sequence, and opaque and reflective materials – such as carbon black, metallisation, aluminium, paper – can affect the sorting outcomes and at what thresholds”.Liz Morrish, Design Lead, CEFLEX
Testing demonstrated that, for many multi-material, multi-layer structures, the NIR spectrum contains information about all layers of the structure. The report also reveals thin layers such as adhesives, coatings and most inks generally do not influence the sorting results. The publication is just one part of an extensive testing programme with a network of leading laboratories, universities and industry experts to generate open-source, robust and independent data to strengthen flexible packaging design guidance across the board.