Resource Futures supports Europe’s largest plastic waste composition study with Near InfraRed technology

17 March 2021

Circular Economy for Flexible Packaging (CEFLEX) has appointed independent environmental consultancy Resource Futures to analyse and compare the composition of flexible and rigid plastic packaging found in post-consumer household waste and recycling streams of seven European countries.

Initiated by CEFLEX in partnership with leading stakeholders in the packaging value chain – Polyolefin Circular Economy Platform (PCEP), Petcore Europe, Styrenics Circular Solutions and MORE Recycling – the study will provide vital data on plastic packaging waste.

Information gathered on the amounts and types of plastic packaging collected in waste streams will help to determine and accelerate development of the infrastructure and end market applications required to help deliver a circular economy for packaging materials. Such insights can help Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and other schemes to understand what is needed to go ‘circular’.

Using insights from CEFLEX, partners and stakeholders on the types of packaging they use, Resource Futures developed a detailed categorisation of more than 200 categories to help verify the proportions – by percentage weight – of different flexible and rigid plastic packaging types.

Fieldwork at two UK SUEZ sites took place in December 2020 and work to analyse samples of waste from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain is scheduled to take place in Spring 2021.

“After months of collaboration and planning, we’re very excited to have launched the study and to see the attention to detail that is going into the sorting and identification of materials. The data will be key to understanding what collection, sorting and recycling solutions are needed to deliver a circular economy for packaging.

“Resource Futures’ experience in designing and conducting a range of representative waste composition analysis studies, coupled with their substantial working knowledge of waste and recycling infrastructure collection systems, makes them an ideal partner.”

Liz Morrish, Workstream Consultant at CEFLEX

The composition analysis involves hand sorting representative samples of packaging and mapping where the packaging appears in residual waste or recycling streams. The addition of Near InfraRed (NIR) analyser technology enables Resource Futures to provide in-depth knowledge of the proportions and types of different polymer combinations of multi-material plastic packaging on a large scale.

“It’s great to be working with CEFLEX and partners on such a complex and wide-reaching project. The work has enormous potential to bring about significant change; providing necessary baseline intelligence on the composition of flexible and rigid plastic packaging which our waste and recycling infrastructure needs to manage.

“This is also a fantastic opportunity for us to bring innovation in the form of Near InfraRed (NIR) technology and our own approach developed for rapid on-site identification. We are very pleased to be supporting joined-up work on better understanding the use of plastic packaging by providing important data needed from packaging stakeholders across the value chain.”

Sam Reeve, CEO at Resource Futures

Capture and capitalise on real-world material flows

Initial results of the first country analysis (UK) showed:

  • 4595kg of material was manually sorted and categorised at two waste management sites; of which 3240kg was residual waste and 1355kg was separately collected recyclables.
  • 66.5% of flexible packaging found in the residual waste samples was categorised as recycle ready mono-material – this includes mono-PE, mono-PP, mono-PET, mono-paper and mono-aluminium.

Summary: currently there is a significant amount of ready-to-recycle flexible packaging appearing in residual waste samples, where it is unlikely to be successfully returned to the economy and used again.

A market leader in providing waste composition analysis studies, Resource Futures regularly works on innovative and sector-defining projects. Its track record covers more than 300 studies at a range of scales and spans in excess of fifteen years. It includes a number of large-scale national composition analysis studies which have been used to inform UK-level policy and guidance recommendations for departments such as Defra and the UK best practice advisory charity on waste and recycling, WRAP.

Previous work includes conducting a kerbside plastic waste composition analysis for WRAP at materials recovery facilities and plastics recycling facilities in the UK which has helped to inform future policy decisions for the Government and the UK Plastics Pact.

Learn more about the Near InfraRed analyser: how it works, where it can be used, and the benefits it brings to the waste, resource and recycling industries.

Contact our Senior Consultant Pete Wills at for more information on how the analyser could add value to your work.