New NIR-Detectable Black Plastic Tray Colour Tackles Cost “Barrier”

Wales-based additive and masterbatch manufacturer, Colour Tone, has launched a new generation of near-infrared (NIR) detectable masterbatches to satisfy end of life recyclability concerns for problem single-life black plastic tubs, trays and films.

Masterbatch is a concentrated mixture of pigments and/or additives encapsulated during a heat process into a carrier resin which is then cooled and cut into a granular shape. Masterbatch allows the processor to colour raw polymer economically during the plastics manufacturing process.

The first two black masterbatches from this latest colouring system are developed for polypropylene applications, but can be applied to any other polymer offering improved colouring and coverage capabilities compared to previous formulations.

Its new masterbatch satisfies EU food contact legislation and is available at an economic 0.21p per tray, this represents a substantial 60% price saving compared to the costs quoted in the first WRAP commissioned project to commercialise this technology, ‘Development of NIR Detectable Black Plastic Packaging.’

“Despite being a world leader in this technology that facilitates the NIR sorting of difficult to recycle plastics packaging, the UK’s kerbside collections have remained disappointingly slow to recognise this need.”

Tony Gaukroger, director, Colour Tone, said: “Historically the price premium for NIR technology has been a ‘barrier’ to its adoption. We now have a masterbatch that delivers to brand owners and retailers the required eco-benefits at a competitive price that has significantly reduced the ‘gap’ between this and conventional carbon black pigments.”

While the “NIR black 95893” supports those applications required to meet the ‘Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), code of Federal Regulations’ criteria (when limited to a maximum dosage of 10%), this is a market first for an NIR detectable black masterbatch, the company says, and will benefit those global companies who supply to US markets.

Colour Tone helped to pioneer the development of the first NIR colourants that were proven to enable black plastics to be made “visible” to optical sorting methods. Since most black plastics packaging featured carbon black and other pigments that absorb infra-red light rendering them “invisible” to NIR spectrophometers.

With the UK’s consumer packaging recycling rates currently stalling at 30%, much lower than our European neighbours, it confirms that considerable work still has to be done to help brand owners “close the loop” on difficult to recycle single-use plastics.

Tony Gaukroger, continues: “Recently we’ve seen ‘knee-jerk’ responses to ensure that single-use packaging is recyclable, with some retailers finding bio-degradable cardboard and other alternatives. This is despite the fact that these materials are less eco-friendly, since cardboard requires massive energy to produce compared to plastic.

“The focus should be instead on finding ‘end-of-life’ solutions for reliable and proven plastics packaging, if we are to continue benefiting from a material that can triple a food’s shelf-life; reduce spoilage and therefore prevent unnecessary food waste.

“If recycling is to be effective it also requires materials in bulk, by adopting these varied alternatives it will become a problem for recyclers to even sort, so a consistent approach to materials we specify is very much needed now.

“Despite being a world leader in this technology that facilitates the NIR sorting of difficult to recycle plastics packaging, the UK’s kerbside collections have remained disappointingly slow to recognise this need. While in Europe, single-use plastics recycling is accelerating, with new markets developing to reuse the materials sorted from the mixed plastics waste stream, shouldn’t we be following their example?

“Finally, by specifying these ‘next-generation’ NIR colourants it not only allows for the effective detection and recovery of black plastics at ‘end of life’, it also enables brand owners and retailers to find an alternative substitute to using virgin plastics, so they can effectively ‘close the loop’ on this valuable waste stream.”

According to Plastics Europe figures, each year since 2012, there has consistently been a 4% rise in global plastics production.

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