Study looking at potential environmental benefits from drinks bottles

More than 580 billion polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles are produced each year.

Heriot-Watt study into ‘significant’ long term benefits of using more recycled plastics in bottles iStock

The potential long-term benefits from increasing the amount of recycled material used in drinks bottles could be “significant” for the future of the environment.

More than 580 billion polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles are produced each year and research is being carried out on ways to increase the amount of reusable material involved.

The project is being led by scientists at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University who have received funding from Innovate UK to develop new processing methods that would increase the amount of recycled materials that could be used.

The academic leading the project has said they want to find ways to solve problems with recycled plastic that can affect the colour and clarity of the finished product such bottle failures which could see fizzy drinks go flat before opened.

Professor David Bucknall of Heriot-Watt University said: “We want to solve the problems faced by using more recycled PET content in plastic bottles, which currently results in significantly poorer-quality bottles in terms of their mechanical properties and appearance.

“We’ll be testing how the additive improves the performance of recycled PET blends in a number of critical properties that directly affect the PET bottle behaviour. We will measure gas permeability through the plastic, which has a direct impact on the product shelf-life.

“To have a long shelf-life the plastic must prevent oxygen permeating into the bottle and affecting its content, but also stop CO2 escaping so that carbonated drinks don’t go ‘flat’.

“Our colleagues at the University of Strathclyde will integrate artificial intelligence and deep learning to ensure that the appropriate amount of additive will be included during melt processing of the PET mixtures.

“This will help manufacturers to use this system so that the correct blend 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.

“It could potentially save firms millions by reducing the amount of raw material needed for new bottles, as well as the energy resource required for their manufacture.

“All of the major PET bottle manufacturers have outlets in the UK, which means we have a gateway to a global market.”

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