Why black plastic can’t be recycled by EDDC

PUBLISHED: 17:24 17 July 2017 | UPDATED: 16:45 18 July 2017

East Devon District Council has admitted that currently it cannot recycle black plastic. However it's continuing to collect it, 'making it easier for householders to recycle'. Picture: Paul Strange.

East Devon District Council has admitted that currently it cannot recycle black plastic. However it's continuing to collect it, 'making it easier for householders to recycle'. Picture: Paul Strange.


Although East Devon has made a ‘remarkable start’ to its new recycling service, council chiefs have admitted that currently they cannot recycle black plastic.

Instead the black plastic trays – often used for microwavable meals and meat – go to landfill or are incinerated.

But East Devon District Council (EDDC) says it will continue to collect black plastic from residents, ‘thereby making it easier for householders to recycle’, although it ‘cannot guarantee it will be recycled’.

The problem of recycling black plastic packaging is not just in East Devon, but an issue across the UK.

The material is made from the polymer CPET (crystallised polyethylene terephthalate).

A pigment – carbon black – used to colour black plastic, is not detectable to infra-red optical sorting equipment. Light cannot pass through the plastic, so UK recycling plants cannot identify and divert black plastic for recycling.

Consequently the majority of black plastic ends up being treated as residual waste. The problem first came to light earlier this year in a report on BBC TV’s The One Show and in the national press.

EDDC says that an estimated 30,000 tonnes of black plastic packaging is disposed of annually across the UK - and ‘this figure is expected to increase. Currently, this represents an estimated six per cent of the total volume of plastics presented by households in the UK for recycling - some 492,623 tonnes in 2015.

“We are continuing to collect black plastic as much as possible, thereby making it easier for householders to recycle, as it can be put out in the recycling sack,” said an EDDC spokesperson. “However, we cannot guarantee it will be recycled, as it is a challenge for reprocessors to deal with.

“We will continue to monitor the levels produced and will review the situation periodically.

“To improve this, the recycling industry is lobbying food manufacturers and retailers to cease the use of black plastics as a packaging material. At the same time recycling processors are seeking ways of separating black plastics from the recycling stream to improve the quantities that are recycled.”

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