Everything you need to know about the recyclability of black plastic packaging
Answering your questions:
What are carbon black pigments?
What is NIR detectable black?
Is black plastic recyclable?
Answers to these and many more questions on our black plastic packaging hub
We receive hundreds of questions from UK Plastics Pact members and wider industry about black plastic, and its use in packaging.
UK Plastics Pact members are moving out of non-recyclable black plastic. Many have made good progress with most companies either having phased it out (many replacing with clear plastic with a higher market value, or adopting a 'no additional pigment' approach), in the process of phasing it out, or adopting NIR detectable black. Many waste management companies, also members of The UK Plastics Pact, are committed to the direction of travel on black plastic.
You can see what individual members of the Pact have been doing to eliminate non detectable black plastic packaging within the Members Progress Report.
Below are some of the most frequently asked questions on the subject to help inform you on this material and aid your decision making when it comes to using black plastic or not.
We also reference some key reports which add the extra layer of detail on the subject.
Your essential reading list
1 April 2020
1 November 2022
Innovations and best practice
Major brands and supermarkets are taking action on black plastic
- Major supermarkets remove non-recyclable black plastic - Aldi, ASDA, Lidl, M&S, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and Waitrose have made significant steps to remove non-recyclable black plastic. Morrisons and Co-op have removed black plastic from all its own brand food and drink packaging.
- Moving from black to clear - Leading brands, Mr Kipling & Cadbury have moved their cake trays from black to clear plastic. Removing 500 tonnes of black plastic annually.
- Detectable black plastic – In collaboration with the recycling sector, Unilever (owner of the TRESemmé and Lynx brands), have changed their bottles to contain a detectable black pigment making them recyclable.
Other innovations that enhance recyclability
Manufacturers are moving to clear plastic to enhance recyclability
- Clear is the new green - Sprite bottles have always been recyclable, but they have recently switched the iconic green bottle to a clear bottle to make the recycling process even easier and to help ensure the plastic can be turned into another bottle.
- More green to clear - Sainsbury’s have also moved all of their sparkling water bottles from green to clear.
Increasing recycled content in food trays
- Leading retailers embrace circular design in ready meal trays - Waitrose , ASDA and Morrisons have adopted ready meal trays containing 80% recycled PET which fluctuate in colour reflecting the blend of recycled bottles and trays they are made from.
- Asda boost recycled content levels - By the end of 2019 ASDA will have introduced a minimum of 50% recycled content into all their produce trays (excluding mushrooms).
Your FAQs answered
What is Carbon Black, and why is it a problem?
Carbon Black is the name of a common black pigment, it appears black because it reflects almost no light in the visible part of the spectrum and also strongly absorbs in the ultra-violet (UV) and infrared (IR) spectral range. This means that plastics containing carbon black pigment are invisible to equipment that sorts material for recycling.
What is NIR detectable black?
Near-Infrared or NIR detectable black is a pigment that does not contain carbon black but still appears to give the appearance of black plastic. As it does not contain carbon black it does not absorb light to the same degree as traditional carbon black pigments and is therefore detectable by NIR equipment that is used within the recycling sector.
What should we use as an alternative?
If using food grade aPET switch to clear PET
If using non-food grade aPET switch to clear PET
If using cPET switch to ‘Natural’ or unpigmented
If using food grade HDPE switch to natural or uncoloured (not white)
If using non-food grade HDPE (i.e. milk bottles) switch to any NIR detectable pigment
If using PP switch to any NIR detectable pigment
For more information check out our Polymer choice and recyclability guidance