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Recycled plastics show new possibilities

Making new packaging from recycled plastics is seldom done today, but there is great potential here. With the right methods, plastics can be recycled up to seven times – an example application is the soap bottle produced from 100 percent recycled consumer plastic.

Plastic packaging accounts for around 40 per cent of Europe's plastic use. At the same time, the recycling rate of packaging is relatively low. In Sweden, approximately 17 per cent of the plastic is recycled, and the remainder is burned and becomes energy. 

– Although we in Sweden have a statutory consumer responsibility for, among other things, plastic packaging, and currently collect just over 40 per cent of the amount produced, collection is not enough. You must also make provision for the material collected, says Henrik Oxfall at RISE. 

Appearance and smell is a challenge

One of the challenges of recycling and creating new products made from plastics is that the quality of the recycled plastic is very different. Today plastics from recycled plastic packaging are often used as garbage sacks, pots or plastic mouldings, but rarely as new plastic packaging, for several reasons. Partly because it is difficult to achieve a food-grade quality, and partly because the colour and smell are not as pleasing as we consumers are accustomed to when it comes to packaging. 

In this case, RISE in collaboration with actors from the recycling industry, the packaging industry and ICA, has produced a soap bottle made of 100 per cent recycled consumer plastic. 

– With a bottle where we accept a varied grey colour, we can take the plastic and recycle it without adding new dyes, says Louise Nilsson, head of product innovation at ICA Sverige, who believes that the project will be of great importance moving forward.

– A large proportion of recycled plastics currently go to energy recovery because the demand for and uses of recycled plastics have been limited. The process description developed by ICA and RISE will benefit the entire industry.

A product that shows the way 

By producing this soap bottle, we have been able to demonstrate the possibilities of recycled consumer plastics, using a successful example. 

– We want to increase the use of recycled plastics, and show that it is possible. So the aim of the project has been to show that it is possible to manufacture packaging from recycled plastic, increase demand for recycled material and thereby change the entire packaging industry in the long term, says Henrik Oxfall, who says that if you demonstrate that it is possible to manufacture a soap bottle, the next step can be another product – a shampoo bottle, a car panel or other plastic applications. 

–  If you demonstrate that this works, there is no reason to use any other material. 

Cleaning solutions required

In order to manufacture a product that meets all the mechanical requirements of packaging, the plastic must first be processed. A solution that was needed to be able to use the plastic was hot water. 

– In this case, the plastic raw material was washed in warm water to remove various impurities such as food particles and grease. The water must be warm enough for all these residues to disappear, explains Henrik Oxfall.  

Facts: Test bed for plastic recycling

RISE runs a test bed within plastic recycling, which includes several projects. In the test facility, new methods are developed and tested for bringing the plastic back into new products. Here, sustainability and value-flow analyses and training are undertaken, as well as the provision of support on sustainability and technical issues regarding design, materials and recycling methods. The test bed is financed by the Västra Götaland region.