Source: PRISMSource: PRISMA U.K. consortium has developed identification technology to help distinguish and separate food grade plastic packaging from non-food grade plastic packaging in recycling facilities to reduce plastic waste and improve recycling efforts.

The initiative is called Plastic Packaging Recycling using Intelligent Separation technologies for Materials (PRISM) and it includes members such as Nextek, R&D Brunel University London, CCL Labels, Enlightened Lamp Recycling, Johnson Matthey, Mirage Inks, Tomra Sorting and WRAP UK, to name a few. PRISM technology can be incorporated on the labels of plastic packaging using luminescent materials to identify types of plastic packaging and their previous uses.

Using fluorescent components recovered from discarded fluorescent lamps, the team developed fluorescent markers to incorporate into the labeling, creating a bar-code-like feature that reveals the type of recycled plastic packaging it is and what products it previously held, for instance, milk or bleach. Because a polymer container that held bleach is not recyclable as a food-grade polymer container, the label would dictate the appropriate recycling stream for the packaging to enter.

As the recyclables travel down the conveyor in a recycling facility, an ultraviolet (UV) light source would summon the PRISM label, which can then be scanned, sending the packaging to the appropriate recycling channels based on the information held within the fluorescent labeling. The system’s developers believe that the technology is adaptable to most sorting facilities.

Currently, sorting plastic recyclables, particularly food grade from non-food grade, is a complicated process that results in plastic waste being incinerated or landfilled unnecessarily due to the absence of a dedicated process for sorting polymer containers into recyclable and non-recyclable categories based on application. Currently, systems can sort by polymer type, but not according to what the packaging previously held. As such, the consortium believes the PRISM process will improve recycling efforts, preventing plastics from needlessly ending up in a landfill and consequently contributing to the world’s growing plastic pollution crisis.

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