Lifecycle Focus

Design, Collection, Sortation, Processing


REFLEX, a UK project, undertook a range of research activities with the intention of increasing the recyclability of post-consumer flexible packaging along each stage of the value chain. This included the design of flexible packaging, sorting, processing and recycling. Projects were developed to explore all aspects of the plastics recovery lifecycle:

1. Design: Research and trials were carried out for the development of packaging designs that would aid mechanical recycling at end of life. The initial blueprint for industry-wide guidelines for recyclable flexible packaging was started but are not currently available for public release as further testing work is needed.

2. Sortation: A variety of sortation technologies were tested for their ability to identify and sort recyclable flexible packaging from the waste stream at material recovery facilities (MRFs).

3. End Markets: A variety of reprocessing techniques to create end markets for blended polymers were explored.

Effective January 2017, all project work will be transferred to CEFLEX to help develop and grow insights for application across all of Europe. 

Key Learnings

  • Polyethylene (PE) and Polypropylene (PP) can be re-processed together without impacting tensile strength. Mixes with polyethlene terephthalate (PET) however, should be re-purposed separately as they produced final products with weak tensile strength.
  • The use of compatibilizers with Polyethylene (PE)/Polypropylene (PP) layers improves recycling properties significantly.
  • Near Infrared (NIR) optical sorters can detect different types of multi-material flexible packages at sorting speeds, however more investment into sorting and reprocessing will be required before this can be considered a viable solution.
  • Digital watermarking showed promise as a future technology to help with sortation.
  • Although technically possible, it is not economically feasible to remove inks during the recycling of Polyethylene (PE) and Polypropylene (PP) films.

Funded by Innovate UK, this project was led by Axion Consulting.

Additional Partners Included:

  • Amcor
  • Dow Chemical Company
  • Interflex Group
  • Nestle
  • Suez
  • Tomra Sorting Solutions
  • Unilever

Website: Reflex Project

Final Report: A Summary Report on the Results and Findings of the REFLEX Project.

Additional Information