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Tuesday 23rd April 2024

The Recorra solution to the plastics issue

It's Earth Week, and we’ve remembered that we should, in fact, be mindful of the impact we’re having on the planet. Except, at Recorra, that thought lies at the heart of all that we do; helping our customers reduce their environmental impact and minimise their waste output. 

This year’s theme is Planet vs Plastics – not because we want to see turtles fight it out with plastic bottles, but because the ever-expanding amount of plastic entering our planet’s ecosystems has presented a huge problem to life on Earth.

Globe covered with plastic

According to the UN, the world produces over 400 million tonnes of plastic every year, and we know that less than 9% of this gets recycled.1 This week, Recorra is asking itself: how can we help you, our customers, recycle plastics and minimise your impact on the planet?  

With a brand-new name and look, our Circular Box service is designed to capture flexible plastics for recycling. Flexible plastics are notoriously difficult to recycle, and recycling plastics in general can feel complicated and can sometimes cause confusion, so we’ve broken down the basics for you here today.

What are flexible plastics?

Flexible plastics or soft plastics are any kind of plastic that can be easily scrunched up due to their flexible nature (the kind of thing you struggle to open when you need it most). Whilst we may know flexible plastics as crisp and sweet packets, science says the most common flexible plastics are not packets of Thai Sweet Chilli Sensations but: 

  • Polyvinyl chloride (also known as PVC, used for children’s toys and credit cards) 
  • Low-density and high-density polyethylene (PE-LD and PE-HD, used for shampoo bottles and milk bottles)  
  • Polypropylene (PP, used in furniture and rugs)

Example of widely used flexible plastics

There are good reasons that flexible plastics are popular. They are lightweight, versatile, and cost-effective. Most industries depend on plastic to one degree or another, including construction, manufacturing, packaging etc. They’re everywhere in the workplace: 

Examples of how they are used include: 

  • Packaging and wrapping for parcel deliveries 
  • Plastic bags 
  • Beverage bottle labels 
  • Bread bags 
  • Crisp packets 
  • Food packaging 
  • Tissue wraps

Why flexible plastics hard to recycle?

Whilst incredibly useful, flexible plastics are pesky and hard to recycle. This is because most of these kinds of plastics are made up of more than one polymer (lots of small substances that can be bonded together), making them harder to separate. We sort plastics by type because these different substances do not mix well when melted down. Small amounts of the wrong type can degrade the quality of a whole batch and cause it to be thrown away altogether as general waste. 

Even before that process can commence, most waste collection vehicles do not have separate compartments for flexible plastics. Another reason they are harder to recycle is that flexible plastic (if collected within mixed recycling) can easily get caught in sorting machinery at recycling facilities, which causes jams and delays. This is why flexible plastic recycling can be more expensive. 

Recorra's materials recovery facility (MRF) sorting line

However, cost has never intimidated us from providing innovative solutions. Recorra were the first company to collect coffee grounds, and compostable packaging, and we put the first electric RCV on the roads of London; we do this because we understand that ‘difficulty’ only means there is important progress to be made.

Today it is not uncommon to find packaging with a recycling label asking consumers to return packaging to collection points at supermarkets, as companies step up their game to prevent flexible plastics from going to landfills. (Side note: we do not and have never sent waste to landfill.)

Recorra’s Circular Box

To address this issue for our customers we developed the ‘Recorra Circular Box’.  Our newly rebranded box has been designed to capture traditionally hard-to-recycle items such as flexible plastics and recycle them right here in the UK, and right on time for Earth Week. 

Through this service, we collect: 

  • Plastic coffee pods 
  • Crisp packets 
  • Snack wrappers 
  • Plastic toiletries 
  • Plastic film 
  • Cup lids

Recorra's Circular Box for recycling flexible plastics

Once filled, the Circular Box is collected alongside Recorra’s standard waste and recycling collections from the workplace, meaning no extra road miles are needed to roll-out this service. Since launch, we’ve recycled over 4,000kg of flexible plastics, and counting!  

The difficult-to-recycle low-grade plastics collected are reprocessed into Stormboard™, at our recycling partner ReFactory in the north-west of England. This is an exciting and innovative new material with many applications, such as an alternative to plywood in construction, waterproof garden furniture or even waste sorting tables. Where flexible plastics were previously discarded, now we can find exciting new uses for them; our customers use StormboardTM on-site for all sorts of things, including planters, waste sorting boards, and even Christmas trees!

Savills, Ropemaker Place's innovative Stormboard waste sorting table

“It's wonderful to be able to reuse materials from the site in such a productive way. We’ve seen great results, with a recycling rate of 77% and climbing, and with our Stormboard™ table we can segregate even more materials on-site!” 

- Ropemaker Place Property Management team

What is the future of flexible plastic recycling?

By April 2027, both households and businesses will be required to recycle their flexible plastics, following the new Simpler Recycling legislation brought in by the UK government last year. While collection, sorting, and recycling infrastructure will be important to help the country deliver this, there is also the question of how we will segregate it at source. We are working with entrants to the Innovate UK funding challenge to test their prototype bins. This is so we can aid the development of a potential national solution and help develop a commercial-setting version for our customers too.

Recorra's trial flexible plastic containers

Our Circular Box service empowers our customers to go beyond standard recycling practices and recycle what we once thought was unrecyclable. With flexible plastics being diverted from general waste, we have seen our customers drastically improve their recycling rates and reduce their carbon footprint. 

So, whilst the world might have a plastic waste problem, Recorra is tackling this one crisp packet at a time, and you can too. Get in touch this Earth Week, to find out how we can help your business beat the plastic problem.

helpdesk@recorra.co.uk

020 7407 9100

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