Officially launched last April, CEFLEX had 57 stakeholders at the beginning of February this year, spanning the supply chain from raw material suppliers and converters to multinational brand-owners and retailers.
Attitudes in the UK media, government and some retailers towards plastics have become more hostile over recent months. But this is not true for the rest of Europe, according to project co-ordinator Graham Houlder.
“Collection and infrastructure are often better developed,” he said. “France and Belgium, for example, are actively moving towards the collection of flexible packaging. In the UK, it’s just not the same. The Packaging Recovery Note [PRN] system simply doesn’t generate the funds necessary to build a good infrastructure.
‘Plastics are far too efficient’
“Whatever the politicians say, plastics are far too efficient and effective to turn away from. We need to find ways to collect and recycle them, and design them for better collection and recycling.”
According to CEFLEX, over 70% of flexible films put on the market in the UK are monolayer polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP). The rest consist of more complex structures, including those incorporating paper, aluminium foil, polyamide and polyester. Stakeholders have been assessing these different combinations for ease of identification and recycling.
“We’re hoping to have the first wave of materials guidance, with robust data based on sorting and recycling trials available for consultation within CEFLEX by the end of the second quarter of this year,” said Houlder. He added that a final version would be made public by the autumn. “We’re currently looking at 140 or 150 different material combinations.”
Issues such as the presence of adhesives and the ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) oxygen barrier are a key part of this process. “As a ‘sandwich’ layer inside PE, for example, EVOH levels of around 5% are perfect, if the film is to be recycled, but up to 10% is still acceptable,” said Houlder, who is based in the Netherlands.
‘A balance had to be struck’
Film converter FFP Packaging Solutions joined the consortium late last year. Business development director Gary Tee said a balance had to be struck with laminates: “The various layers need to complement each other and be compatible with the same recycling process, while at the same time functioning well and providing the necessary shelf-life.”
At stakeholder Marks & Spencer (M&S), a spokeswoman said it had committed to ensuring that by 2022, all of its UK consumer packaging would not only be ‘recyclable’ but ‘widely recycled’.
“To achieve this, we will actively collaborate with others to bring about changes in local government recycling policy.” By 2025, M&S would assess the feasibility of using just one polymer type for all its plastics packaging, she added.
Tee at FFP pointed out that an emphasis on recycling was only one of several approaches to sustainability. Some customers might focus on down-gauging or on the use of biopoly