Nextek aims to recycle packaging waste into food-grade recycled polypropylene (rPP).
The sustainability consultancy has launched a global project (‘NEXTLOOPP’) aiming to replace polypropylene from consumer goods and cosmetic packaging.
Polypropylene (PP) is one of the four plastics which dominates the conventional plastics market, yet at 1-3%, its recycling rate remains shockingly low.
The rigid plastic favoured for deodorant and shampoo bottles is usually headed to landfill, where decomposition may take anywhere from 20-30 years. This has a detrimental ecological impact, quite apart from the danger of toxic additives contained in PP such as cadmium and lead leaking into the environment. Other alternatives to treating PP waste include incineration, which risks air contamination, as well as down-cycling of the relevant plastic into lower grade applications, which comes at the cost of precious resources.
The recycling process so far has been complicated by the fact that cleaning PP is difficult. Recycled polypropylene has the tendency to smell of whatever product it originally housed. In the case of gasoline or mouldy yoghurt, the smell could be particularly offensive. Research into the area met success only as recently as 2019 yet a commercially viable alternative is currently not available.
The absence of food-grade recycled PP (FGrPP) can also be related to the strict consumer safety standards exacted by the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA), which demands that all recycled plastic be of the same quality as conventional virgin plastics and that said recycled food packaging needs to stem from 95% original food packaging plastic.
NEXTLOOPP plans to tackle the recycled PP challenge by bringing together stakeholders across the supply chain. Members range from major global organisations and industry bodies such as the UK Plastics Pact.
The ecological benefits to the approach have been quantified by the project. NEXTLOOPP’s initial Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), completed by the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich, shows that by switching from conventional PP to recycled PP will save 105,600 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year in the UK alone.
Professor Edward Kosior, founder and CEO of Nextek Ltd, maintains that producing food-grade PP packaging would not only address an existing gap in the packaging recycling industry but also help countries reach zero carbon emissions targets.
“It will allow brand owners to meet their recycling targets and significantly reduce the use of virgin plastics from petrochemicals. It will also greatly reduce CO2 emissions and divert waste from landfill and waste-to-energy”, he said.
Using commercially proven technologies to separate and decontaminate food-grade PP, the project is set on delivering on its promise of a world-first, high-quality food grade recycled PP (FGrPP) by 2022.