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More plastics recycling a key 2012 focus, predicts Axion Consulting

Increasing UK plastics recycling tonnages will be a key focus for 2012 as the sector continues to extend pioneering work done on PET and HDPE bottles recycling, predicts Keith Freegard, Director of Axion Consulting, one of the UK’s leading resource and recovery specialists.

With UK plastic bottle recycling rates nudging 50% for drink and dairy bottles, Keith believes that further investment in technology and equipment to extract a wider range of materials from mixed plastic collections offers major potential for improvement.

"To get even higher bottle recycling rates, UK Plc has to find viable technologies to deal with mixed rigid plastics, films and the inevitable residuals," asserts Keith. "Kerbside collection data points to a huge untapped source of rigid, non-bottle packaging items becoming available as local authorities offer collections of more household plastics, as well as an often-ignored, high volume of post-consumer films."

While full mixed plastics collections are very popular with local authorities, they can only realistically be initiated when processing infrastructure is in place, otherwise recovery of the materials that are currently targeted will actually decrease.

Greater emphasis on rigid post-consumer plastic packaging and films could also lead to more ‘co-ordinated’ approaches in overcoming challenges presented by these more difficult-to-recycle waste streams.

"Today’s primary sorting Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) and bottle-sorting Plastic Recovery Facilities (PRFs) were developed in response to PET and HDPE recyclate demand," continues Keith. "Next-generation infrastructure must be capable of extracting value from other rigid plastics and films if we are to achieve higher overall plastic packaging recycling targets."

New investments must complement continued growth in annual bottle recovery and be capacity-matched to the inevitable rise in other rigid and flexible plastics generated from existing plastic recycling infrastructure.

"People are realising we need to tackle more difficult waste streams. One solution would be to build more integrated ‘resource parks’ where varied and mixed waste streams can be processed in complementary ways," explains Keith. "For example, residual materials from sorting commingled waste streams can be used as an energy source to provide local heat and power for adjacent washing and reprocessing units."

However, such novel ways of dealing with plastic and other waste streams would require fundamental changes to how Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) assess and handle their infeed and output waste streams.

Keith adds: "2012 will see increasing importance placed on MRF optimisation, including the use of sophisticated modelling, sampling and analysis services like those provided by Axion. Accurate and representative measurement of inputs and outputs is vital to highlight where plant control responses are needed to optimise operational efficiency, maximise profits and ultimately recover the valuable resources that would otherwise be discarded."

Axion Consulting, part of the Axion Group, develops and optimises processing and collection methods to recover value from waste resources for a wide range of clients within the recycling and process industries.

Axion designs and builds innovative process plants for companies in the recycling sector, advising on plant design and equipment selection. Its specialist teams have particular expertise in mixed waste plastics and biofuels.

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