PRISM: Plastic packaging Recycling using Intelligent Separation technologies for Materials

Summary of the technology

PRISM is a process for rapidly automatically sorting packaging based on intelligent labels with invisible markers. Codes are written using luminescent materials, typically inorganic phosphors. At the recycling facility the articles are subject to excitation radiation of a specific wavelength and a few seconds/milliseconds later are subject to infra‑red detection as currently. This 2‑step process can identify articles according to the codes and sort them as specified. The benefits include increased recycling rates, the ability to sort articles by their end use (food, non-food) and composition increasing the value of such plastic. Incorporation into existing recycling facilities is easy and cost‑effective with a limited need for capital investment.

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Of the 3.7 million tonnes of plastic waste generated annually in the UK, only 1.2 million tonnes is recycled with a low value of ~£250/tonne. If the latter were recycled into a high quality resin its value would be over £850/tonne for non-food and £1100/tonne for food-grade. This represents a loss of £400m-£550m annually.

Currently the automatic sorting systems for plastics is based on detection of the molecular signature of the plastic by Infra-Red spectroscopy. This system has several drawbacks: it is unable to detect highly pigmented plastic and can not segregate plastic according to its use - it is unable to differentiate between food‑grade, non‑food grade or toxic products. Currently no automated technology exists to overcome these obstacles. Today, this degree of sorting can only be performed manually at slow speeds and high costs. 

The ability to detect the type of plastic and its use, as part of an automated high speed recycling process, would greatly increase the sorting of high value plastics. EU food contact regulations require a minimum of 99% food-grade content for the recycling of HDPE and PP and at least 95% for PET. 

Technology Overview

This technology makes use of intelligent labels and sleeves for carrying invisible codes for post‑use sorting, as well as for decoration and information sharing. Alternatively the codes can be printed directly onto the articles.

Codes are written using luminescent materials, typically inorganic phosphors, that have a relatively slow decay time. In particular long persistence phosphors are used that decay very slowly and release on stimulation with infra‑red radiation. 

At the recycling facility the articles are subject to excitation radiation of a specific wavelength and a few seconds/milliseconds later are subject to infra‑red detection (as currently). This 2‑step process can identify articles according to the codes and sort them as specified.

The process of excitation followed by detection by IR can be easily and cost‑effectively introduced into the existing recycling process with only minimal capital investment. This 2 step process, using specific long persistence phosphors, reduces any issues of signal contamination from other luminescent materials present, for example optical brighteners in paper/polymer labels and in washing powders/liquids. These materials will not be detected by the IR.

After sorting of the articles, the labels are removed, generally by an alkali wash that dissolves the adhesive. This prevents downstream contamination of the recycled plastic with the luminescent material.

The sorted materials can then be recycled into resins for incorporating into the relevant plastics increasing the level of recycling particularly for high value food‑grade plastics.


  • Ability to sort articles by their end use and composition according to pre‑defined labels to increase the value of such plastic
  • High accuracy rate as other luminescent materials are not recognised by the IR detector
  • Easy and cost‑effective incorporation into existing recycling facilities with limited need for capital investment
  • No detrimental effect on speed of recycling
  • Does not depend on the integrity of labels (eg: bar or QR codes) during processing (e.g.: objects may be crushed)
  • No high dose radiation, if initial blue light excitation implemented, therefore no need for additional protective equipment for workers


Separation of post‑consumer waste plastic packaging according to both plastic composition and product use.

Adaptation to WEEE (Waster Electronic and Electrical Equipment)

Adaptation to composite materials.

Intellectual property status

Patent already applied for

Patent application number :

Where : WO 2018193261

Current development status

Working prototypes

Desired business relationship

Technology selling

Patent licensing

Technology development

New technology applications

Adaptation of technology to other markets

Related Keywords

  • Electronics, IT and Telecomms
  • Electronic circuits, components and equipment
  • Materials Technology
  • Protecting Man and Environment
  • Environment
  • Waste Management
  • Recycling, Recovery
  • Packaging / Handling
  • Separation Technologies
  • Food Packaging / Handling
  • Agrofood Industry
  • Industrial manufacturing, Material and Transport Technologies
  • Consumer related
  • Consumer Products
  • Industrial Products
  • Pollution and Recycling Related
  • Chemical and solid material recycling
  • Health and beautty aids, Cosmetics
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