As retailers and manufacturers look to develop more sustainable packaging solutions by replacing virgin plastic with plant-based materials, reprocessors are struggling to extract value from the composite mix.

Difficulties begin with collecting and identifying plant-based packaging through to separating it out and then selling on any recovered material as end-markets for bioplastics are still in their infancy.

Speaking at Ecopack in Birmingham yesterday (February 29), Tina Benfield – a senior technical officer at the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management – said it was proving both costly and time-consuming for the waste sector to process mixed plastics.

She told delegates: “It costs us time and effort to identify these materials and separate them out – is the end-market value of the material worth it? We don’t seem to be seeing the pull for buying that material back yet – why is that, is there an issue there for the packaging industry?”

Benfield said there needed to be greater collaboration between the packaging industry and waste management sector on material specifications and more understanding about the market level of plant-based plastics coming through.

“If you want to increase the amount of plant-based plastics to 50% of content rather than 25%, what impact does that have? A bottle with 25% content may carry a higher end-market price tag than one with 50% – these are big issues for the waste industry.”

She also questioned whether reprocessing standards would be set for incorporating bioplastics into packaging in the future, and warned that this could lead to further problems for waste operatives if the standards weren’t met.

Maxine Perella

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