Up until now it has not been possible to recycle black plastics commonly found in supermarket packaging due to the use of a carbon black pigment which prevents packaging being recognised and sorted by existing global recycling technologies.
Later today, Monday, 13 March, BBC1's The One Show will feature how the companies have teamed up to develop a new tray which they predict could solve the issue for good.
Nextek, funded by government recycling experts WRAP, has created a new black pigment system, which makes use of black materials without using carbon black, allowing it to be sorted at source by existing near infrared (NIR) technology. Trays made with this system are reported to have been trialled at Viridor's specialist £15m plastics facility in Medway, Kent.
Viridor and Nextek will appear on The One Show with The Co-Operative Group and Medway Council to discuss how this development can put an end to the supermarket food tray waste mountain.
"With recycling rates falling in England, down 0.7% in the last year to 43%, the innovation is badly needed," said Sarah Heald, director of corporate affairs & investor relations at Viridor's parent company Pennon. "Viridor knows that the public want to do the right thing - but the company's UK recycling index shows that 64% are confused about what they can recycle with black plastics being a prime example. As recently as last week, government recycling experts WRAP called on councils to add black plastics to their not recycled list."
Heald added: "Viridor's national network of high-tech plants have no problem sorting most plastics. But current generation ready meal or meat trays, while shiny and inviting on supermarket shelves, do not reflect light and make it impossible for recycling technology across Europe to detect.
"Working with Nextek has allowed us to test the potential for a new UK technology to transform the global problem of supermarket black plastic packaging into a new recycling stream."
Professor Edward Kosior of Nextek described the collaboration with Viridor and the Co-Op as a "potential breakthrough in tackling the global black plastic problem".
He continued: "Bringing together all the main parties for the first time, from us as technology innovator, to the Co-Op as retailer, and Viridor as the recycler is momentous. I'm confident that together we have found a technology solution to end these trays filling up landfills. This is a technology that can work immediately in virtually all recycling facilities across UK, Europe and USA."