Recycling research and development consultancy Nextek has created a fluorescent marker for food packaging labels to help improve recycling rates. In an article published by Plastics Today on January 15, 2020, the technology is described as a way to better separate food grade plastics during the recycling process and meet the EU’s 95% purity requirement for recycled food-grade polyethylene terephthalate (PET). It works by adding a fluorescent marker made of non-rare earth-based compounds to the label on plastic food packaging. This marker is invisible to the human eye, but quickly detectable by automated sorting machines. The technology has been tested in municipal recycling facilities (MRFs) and is complementary to existing near infrared technology that many facilities already have installed. Nextek writes that the next step is to bring brand owners and MRFs on board to expand its use.
To avoid chemical contamination and migration, plastic packaging used by non-food products (such as cleaning solutions) should not be recycled into materials later used for food contact. However, ensuring proper sorting is difficult, and currently many systems rely on sorting by consumers only. According to a 2019 assessment report by the European Commission, in 2016 only 31% of plastic went to recycling facilities, with the remainder being incinerated or ending up in landfills.
Plastics Today (January 15, 2020). “New fluorescent tech can light up food packaging recycling rates.”
Fin Slater (January 23, 2020). “New sorting technology seeks to simplify the recycling process.” Packaging Europe