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How to Recycle

Black plastic - can it be recycled?

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We have all become very aware of how much plastic we consume daily through the products we encounter; from food, drink, beauty and toiletries. Many of these items are surrounded in or made up of plastic, some of which can be recycled. However, there is one type which seems to be causing confusion… black plastic! Helen Bird, our plastics expert here at Recycle Now, has put together a valuable Q & A; which should help with confusion surrounding the disposal of black plastic.

Why is black plastic difficult to recycle?

When plastic packaging goes into the recycling it is sorted into different types of plastics which are then baled up ready for reprocessing. Near infra-red (NIR) technology is used to do this sorting. Black plastic is difficult for the NIR lasers to see and therefore it is generally not sorted for recycling.

If it is not being recycled, then why are companies using black plastic?

Ideally, when plastic packaging is being produced, as far as possible, companies should be using recycled plastic. Making plastic packaging black can help to ‘mask’ imperfections and potentially enables coloured plastics to be used to make new packaging.

What is being done to solve the problem?

As far as possible, in food packaging, businesses are moving out of black plastic, using clear plastic instead. This is beneficial because clear plastic can be made back into clear plastic as well as coloured plastic. However, clear plastic cannot be used in all cases, for example ready meal trays. 

In other cases, businesses are using a special type of black plastic which can detected by NIR technology. In order for this special black to be sorted in the recycling system, the waste management companies need to fine tune their NIR equipment.  Our sister organisation WRAP runs The UK Plastics Pact and is working with the industry to roll out this two-stage solution.  Meanwhile, one waste management company is manually sorting black plastic.

So, can I recycle black plastic?

The best thing to do is to check with your local authority. They will know if their waste management company are either manually sorting black, or if the recycling facility it goes to have fine-tuned their equipment in order to recycle the special detectable black plastic.

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