Until now, nobody has been able to produce large quantities of food containers using recycled HDPE which meet safety standards.

The trial backed by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) involved the production of 60,000 recycled content milk bottles for commercial sale and is the culmination of a three-year project building on early research by Linwood Foods.

The project was carried out by a team involving experts from the food, plastics and materials recovery industries who worked closely with the Foods Standards Agency.

It is the first ever commercial demonstration of ‘closed loop’ recycling for milk bottles takes used plastic bottles from both kerbside and bring schemes in the UK and recycles them back into new milk bottles.

With some 130,000 tonnes of plastic milk bottles in use, this technology could significantly improve the future of plastics recycling in the UK.

Jennie Price, Chief Executive of WRAP, said: “This is a major breakthrough for UK recycling. Incorporating recycled plastic into everyday products like milk bottles is vital if we are to gain the maximum environmental benefit from recycling, and is great news for the growing numbers of people who are recycling their plastic bottles.”

Once collected, the old bottles are sorted by infra-red detectors and by hand to separate out natural HDPE bottles.

The sorted bottles are flaked and washed in at very high temperatures to remove all surface dirt, paper labels and adhesive.

The flakes are then dried and colour sorted before the dried flakes are put through a ‘super-clean’ recycling process.

The new food grade polymer is then added to virgin HDPE at 30% and made back into polythene milk bottles.

The 60,000 bottles were used by Marks & Spencer last December and the supermakrket received no negative feedback about their quality from its customers, suggesting that the bottles were indistinguishable from those made with virgin plastics.

Paul Davidson, plastics technology manager for WRAP, said: “This large scale trial proves beyond doubt that milk bottles containing recycled material from this process are every bit as good as 100% virgin bottles.

“They meet all the necessary criteria, both in terms of safety, production, filling and transportation, and, critically, consumer acceptance. We are now looking forward to seeing milk bottles containing recycled plastic becoming a common occurrence on UK supermarket shelves.”

WRAP is now negotiating contracts to provide financial support to potential recyclers to get the process commercially established in the UK.

Sam Bond

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