The use and disposal of synthetic polymers in packaging and other applications is now a critical environmental issue

We must curb the rapidly accelerating increases in plastic pollution and consequent societal, government, community, and industry challenges. Plastic waste management is an urgent priority for governmental authorities, industry producers and users across the globe.

Of the many end-of-life options, recycling is the most energy efficient. The packaging sector has the highest adoption potential and motivation for incorporating recycled plastics.

Consequently, there is rapidly increasing importance of production and use of recycled plastics, particularly post-consumer recyclates, and the incorporation of increasing levels of recyclate content in plastic products, particularly packaging.  It is thus necessary to develop reliable, rapid methods for direct measurement and auditable certification of recycled content in these products.

The academic team at The University of Manchester has developed a novel method to quantify the recycled plastic content in a plastic product or packaging using a unique tracking marker technology. This methodology provides a rapid and reliable analysis method to determine and certify recycled content. The technique is standardized, can be used for a wide range of polymers including those derived from chemical recycling, is applicable across different business models and can be used by polymer producers, recyclers, compounders, converters, and brand companies.

The technique can be applied directly to a plastic material, product, or a component of a product and be used as a quality control method. Within less than 5 minutes, the recycled content of the product can be reliably assessed accurately and precisely to 5-10wt%. The method can be expanded using a three- pronged analytical approach to minimize fraudulent imitations of recycled content. The technique has shown success with high volume plastics used for packaging, including polyethylene (HDPE and LDPE), polypropylene (PP) and poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) and shows no limitations for applicability to polystyrene (PS), poly(vinyl chloride) (PVC) or engineering plastics.

This novel technique offers a fast, accurate and robust solution to quantify and certify recycled plastic content to complement the assessment of plastic packaging taxes and show conformity with the various, yet strict legal requirements.

The academic team is currently further developing the technology for packaging applications and is investigating detection limits, compatibility with common additives, dyes and pigments used in packaging polymers, and applicability across polymer systems.

The University of Manchester Innovation Factory is looking for feedback regarding this approach. The academic team would also be interested in discussions with potential collaborators, particularly in the packaging supply chain, to accelerate the market use and commercialization of the methodology. Contact the Project Manager for more information.