Plastic fantastic as bottle plant closes the loop

The UK's first plant capable of recycling PET and HDPE plastic bottles back into food grade material has opened for business. Maxine Perella attended the launch

The world’s first mixed plastic bottle recycling plant has opened in London to reprocess plastic soft drink and milk bottles back into food grade packaging. The Dagenham facility, operated by Closed Loop Recycling, will take 35,000tpa of post consumer PET and HDPE plastic bottles from the household waste stream – around 875M bottles a year.

The material will come from kerbside collections or local council plastic bottle banks. Veolia will be supplying the material under contract to the £13M plant, which already has secured high profile customers such as Coca-Cola Enterprises and Marks & Spencer.

“This plant represents the evidence that the UK is undergoing a recycling revolution – until now there has been no facility to recycle bottles back into plastic food packaging,” says Chris Dow, managing director at Closed Loop Recycling. “In addition, each plastic bottle that we recycle reduces the bottle’s carbon footprint by around 25%.”

Equal proportions

The proportion of PET/HDPE handled by the facility is around 40% PET/40% HDPE, with the remainder being other types of bottles. The plant will produce two main types of food-grade plastic – HDPE for making new milk bottles, and PET for making food and drink containers such as bottles, trays and bowls for ready meals.

Recycling plastic bottles back into food grade quality materials involves three key stages – sorting, granulating and washing, and decontamination. The PET bottles are recycled using patented technology developed by US firm United Resource Recovery Corporation to sort, granulate and clean the recycled bottles to produce a high quality raw materials that has been extensively tested and is widely used in food applications in both the US and Europe.

Meanwhile, new recycled HDPE technology used in the plant has been developed and funded by WRAP in collaboration with Marks & Spencers, Dairy Crest and Nampak Plastics Europe. As well as grants from WRAP and the London Development Agency, the facility has been funded by private equity, with Foresight Group providing the majority of financing alongside seed funding from Closed Loop Environ-mental Solutions in Australia.

Thumbs up from Coca Cola

Coca Cola Enterprises, which has a goal to use on average 25% recycled PET across its European operations by the end of 2010, will be purchasing a significant amount of PET output from the plant. Its managing director Hubert Patricot welcomes the development.

“Sustainable packaging is something we are committed to,” he says. “Closed Loop Recycling’s plant will help us purchase recycled PET here in the UK. It’s very encouraging to see a process that allows waste to be collected from UK consumers, reprocessed locally, with the recycled product being put back to use in our factories across the UK.”

Sir Stuart Rose, chief executive of Marks & Spencer – another household name which will be taking material from the plant – adds: “We will be able to send some of our ‘food to go’ packaging waste to the plant for recycling and use even more recycled plastic in our packaging.”

Closed Loop Recycling has ambitious plans for expansion – funding has been secured for a larger second plant which will have a further 50,000 tonnes of capacity and recycle more than 1.25B bottles a year. The company is also looking to set up two more sites going forward and predicts that it will have 90% market share of the PET food grade flake market when the full infrastructure is developed around the country.

Maxine Perella is editor of LAWR

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