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aluminium tubes
As simple toothpaste tubes become more complex, the downside is environmental. Old-style aluminium tubes, made from a single slug of the metal, were far more recyclable than their laminate counterparts.
"Typically the laminate is polyethylene (PE) and aluminium foil bonded together with an adhesive and so difficult to separate," says David Boorman, business development manager of specialist laminate recycling company Enval. "For recycling purposes these laminates are not strictly aluminium, nor are they pure PE, so instead they typically go to landfill or incineration."
But now Enval, a company formed as a spin-out from Cambridge University's Chemical Engineering department, has set up the first plastic/aluminium laminate recycling operation. The process, which is based on research carried out at the university, separates the aluminium from the laminate by heating in a low-oxygen environment to vaporise the plastic. After 12 months operating a pilot scheme in Cambridge, the company has now opened a larger-scale facility in Luton.
"We see much more environmental benefit and financial value in recovering the aluminium," says Boorman. "It does not lose its value and can be recycled infinitely. And then there's the replaced energy consumption to create it in the first place."
As a result, Enval is working with big toothpaste brand owners to develop a recyclability certification scheme so waste tubes can be sorted more accurately. But no matter the mix of waste tubes, the company claims it can recover 100% of the waste material - either as aluminium scrap, or the waste oils and gases from the polyethylene, which provide fuel for heat or electricity, or can be used as chemical feedstock.
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