Work to increase the amount of recycled materials that can be used in plastic beverage bottles could have “significant long-term environmental benefits”, says the academic leading a new research project.
While more than 580 billion polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles are produced each year, most of them contain little or no recycled material.
This is because variations in recycled plastic can affect the color and clarity of the finished product – and can also lead to bottle failures that could see soft drinks go flat.
Today, scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have secured funding from Innovate UK to develop additives and processing methods that could dramatically increase the amount of recycled material that can be used.
It is hoped the work – carried out in conjunction with Glasgow-based firm ENVIROPET and scientists from the University of Strathclyde – will help companies meet UK and EU requirements for all new PET bottles to contain a minimum of 30 % of recycled materials from 2030.
Professor David Bucknall of Heriot-Watt University said: “We want to solve the problems encountered by using more recycled PET content in plastic bottles, which currently results in significantly lower quality bottles in terms of mechanical properties and appearance.
“We will test how the additive improves the performance of recycled PET blends in a number of critical properties that directly affect the behavior of the PET bottle. We will measure gas permeability through the plastic, which has a direct impact on the shelf life of the product.
“To have a long shelf life, the plastic must prevent oxygen from entering the bottle and affecting its contents, but also prevent CO2 from escaping so that carbonated drinks do not go “flat”. .
“Our colleagues at the University of Strathclyde will incorporate artificial intelligence and deep learning to ensure that the correct amount of additive is included when melt processing PET blends.
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“It will help manufacturers use this system so that the correct mix ratios and processing conditions are automatically maintained to produce consistently predictable products.”
He added: “This project is exciting because we may be able to exceed 30% recycled material in any PET bottle, which would have significant long-term environmental benefits.”
Douglas Craig, Managing Director of ENVIROPET, said: “Our technology will help manufacturers comply with recycling targets and legislation and improve their bottle quality and environmental performance.
“This could potentially save companies millions by reducing the amount of raw material needed for new bottles, as well as the energy resource needed to manufacture them.
“All the major PET bottle manufacturers have outlets in the UK, which means we have a gateway to a global market.”
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